The sound of clucking doesn't carry too far on Livingston Road, where residents Jeremy and Meredith Roy have set up a coop for a small flock of Guinea hens. The couple and Robert Connor, Meredith's father, acquired the hens to control their backyard tick problem.
Whenever the couple's two children played in the back yard, they would have to be checked for ticks on the way back in. So, the parents started researching various non-chemical methods to curb the pests. Chemicals weren't an option because the property is close to a vernal pool, not to mention concerns for their kids. Herbal treatments and Damminix tick tubes didn't quite cut it.
"They worked okay." Meredith Roy comments, "It was better than nothing."
Then a friend from Dover told them about Guineafowl. The insect-eating birds feed not only on ticks, but mosquitos as well. They're territorial birds, very aware of newcomers to the yard. Sometimes called the farmer's watchdog, they've historically been used to alert farm owners to intruders, as well as for poultry and pest control. What really sold them on the birds was a New York Times story about the birds being used in New Jersey.
There are ten birds in all, but they started with 16 before giving some away to friends. The Roy's flock is still being trained. They're kept in the yard with a simple chicken-wire fence. At 9 a.m., someone opens the coop and lets the hens out, and each night, the hens return to the coop at 5 p.m. when they hear a whistle blow.
"It's like training a dog." Roy comments, as she tosses a small amount of feed into an area the hens haven't been hunting in lately. "They are great with the kids," she adds.
In the winter, the guineas keep warm in the coop together. If the temperatures reach about 15º F, they will need a heat lamp to keep warm. They eat mostly the insects they hunt in the yard, but they will need some extra food, high in fat, for the colder months. In addition to building a coop, the couple needed a permit from the town to operate as a poultry farm.
The birds noticeably travel as a pack. The flock squawks a little bit, likely agitated by a newcomer with a camera, then fall silent for several minutes at a time.
"This is what they're like most of the time," Roy says, but adds that they did go through a "nasty adolescence" where they were making a lot more noise. They've since quieted down, and no neighbors have complained.
As for the pest control, there's a marked improvement.
"No more 'tick checks." Roy says, "I don't even worry about it anymore."