Photo courtesy of Just chaos' photostream
I have been planning on raising chickens to supply eggs and meat for several years now, held back only by lack of funds (and a reluctance to visualize hauling fresh water three times a day in the dead of winter).
The only space I have to let them free-range is in the yard where the flower beds and vegetable gardens are. The photo at the top here shows the exposure of a carrot root by a scratching chicken, and that idea poses a problem for me. I cannot afford to fence off all the garden areas, but I also do not want chickens always enclosed in a pen. To me, that defeats the purpose of having chickens!
I've come across several backyard poultry sites where they tout guineas, either mixed in with chickens, or just the flock of guineas.
Guineas are great for keeping down ticks, Japanese beetles and other bugs and at the same time, do not scratch up the dirt like chickens do... thus little to no damage to flower and vegetable gardens.
They make great 'watchdogs'!!
The birds are edible and a great alternative to chickens. The flesh is said to taste slightly gamey but less assertive than pheasant or grouse. The eggs are small but edible, and it takes 2 guinea eggs to equal 1 chicken egg. The positive side of the smaller egg size is there is more yolk per egg, and the egg yolk of any fowl contains the best nutritional values.
Guineas prefer to roost in trees, making them targets for predators. They also prefer to lay their eggs in hidden areas. However, I understand those traits can be changed by several methods. One helpful tip is handling the keets (babies) many times a day, and training them to come to you with millet treats. That makes them easy to train to a coop and cage at nightfall.
A tall cage around the coop fitted with tree branches inside gives them high roosting places. As for their penchant for laying eggs in hidden places... folks who have guineas AND chickens find the guineas will often lay their eggs in the hen boxes.
Guineas can be noisy, the hens more so than the males because the hens sing. An option is to have all males; unlike roosters, guinea cocks do not fight each other for dominance.
So my current thinking is to start with a half dozen or so males (if I can get just males), until I can afford to make my garden areas chicken-proof. That will get me back in the groove of the responsibilities of keeping domestic birds again, and help rid my yard of bugs, especially Japanese beetles. Guinea eggs are not essential for me; not many people eat guinea eggs anyway as they are more valuable as fertile eggs to hatch. If I have only males in the beginning, I will have time to decide if I want guinea hens, or chicken hens... or both.
If that doesn't work out for me, I can always butcher and eat them!