THE FINISHED TUNNELHOUSE
The end-frames and doors have yet to be finished – they’ll be made from ‘polyweave’, a woven, reinforced plastic which takes fastenings easily – but Anna is in there already, working on her garden. The lemon trees never left, and the space has a new lease of life. It’s a definite aesthetic improvement too.
Is it more sustainable than metal and glass? That depends how and what you count. Plastic film is mostly made from natural gas, so is ultimately unsustainable. You’d make an awful lot of it though, if that was the only use we made of the gas. There is also the question of adequate disposal or recycling, a debate in itself. Glass takes a lot of energy to manufacture and to recycle, but you can recycle it indefinitely.
Steel versus timber? Timber wins, hands-down: less energy in the production, less of a finite resource, more locally-supplied.
Does it matter? Probably not. We consume so much pointless garbage anyway, whereas this is a food-related and therefore useful use. One of the bevy of helpers on ‘plastic day’ reported that her plastic 1980s-bought tunnelhouse covering had lasted 20 years. If this structure continues to nurture good organic food for that long – and it’s hard to see why it won’t – then it’ll have paid its way in spades.
Besides which, it’s just beautiful, isn’t it?
They range over a much more vast area than your average chicken, so they’ll happily patrol the garden, the orchard and your pasture, and probably your neighbour’s pasture too. The only caveat is never encourage them into your vege garden as while they’re not as vigorous in their scratching as a hen, they will damage plants, and you’ll need to keep them out of the orchard during fruit production time (or pick up your fruit very quickly).
However, these protein-hungry birds probably won’t find everything they need to maintain peak condition all year round, so they will need some feed available – see page 61 for more information. If you can persuade a female guinea to use nesting boxes or at least areas near to the hen house, you’ll get an egg a day during the laying season (spring-summer). It’s easier to either hatch your own eggs or buy keets when they are very young so you can contain them and imprint a ‘home’ area on them, although there’s no guarantee that this will mean they lay where you want them to lay.
Otherwise you may need to watch carefully for nesting areas – females often share nests so egg numbers can quickly build up – and get to them daily.
The cream-brown, sometimes speckled eggs are very thick-shelled compared to a chicken, and they’re smaller; when you’re cooking, you’d use three guinea fowl eggs in place of two chicken eggs.
When it comes to eating the bird, think of them as a plump chicken, with a bit more flavour, slightly gamier – closer to pheasant – which makes them a popular delicacy meat in the US and Europe.
The average, full-grown adult guinea fowl weighs 1.4kg, but because of its lighter bones, it’s actually more meaty than it looks, dressing out at around 75% of its liveweight (vs 70% for a chicken). Once processed – the same as for chicken – it will provide enough to feed two people. Its tasty dark meat is lean, low in cholesterol and rich in essential fatty acids.
Ideally, you want to go for a younger bird (around 12 weeks, weighing 800g-1kg), and if you’re growing some for meat then consider containing them and feed them a protein-rich poultry pellet so it’s easier to catch and process them.
You can use almost any chicken recipe with guinea fowl. The older the bird is, the more you risk the lean meat drying out during cooking. Roasting or casserole are the best options; if you go for a roast, it will need regular basting or you can cover it with bacon to maintain moisture.
The frustrating thing about owning guinea fowl is their independent and very cautious nature compared to the pretty friendly nature of the chicken, but that’s also what helps make them very low maintenance birds by comparison. They do well in most climates (except snow), don’t tend to get sick, and rarely need worming, unless you are keeping them contained in a small area over their lifetime (not recommended unless short term in the case of birds for meat).
Guinea fowl live in family groups and pair up for life, so you have the delight of watching a growing family (or not, see page 62 on breeding and raising guinea fowl).