Counting keets

5 Apr

Fifteen squirming keets in your shirt tickle a bit. Prickle, too, with their sharp beaks and needle claws.

I’m talking keets as in guinea fowl chicks, which, as you can see from the photo, are feathered in cuteness. These little ones were hatched on a mountainside farm near Scotland, Ark. I carried them in my t-shirt from the nest to the nursery at the chicken house. Hence the tickling.

 

Keets in the nursery

It’s one of those snippets of life that stick with you.

My friend Kari, who owned the farm, kept a flock of guineas. The bottom-heavy speckled birds roamed her expanse of lawn, eating ticks and cackling an alarm whenever any other living thing approached — dogs, deer, raccoons, men in camo.

During one of my weekend visits to the farm, Kari and I were riding past a flower bed on her four-wheeler when she stopped suddenly, then hopped off, shouting over her shoulder that she wanted to check a guinea’s nest. The hen there had been roosting long enough for its eggs to hatch.

They had. All 16.

Guinea chicks are vulnerable and often die during their first two weeks of life so it’s a good idea to round them up and put them in a safe place, like the heated nursery at Kari’s chicken house.

Kari began scooping keets from the nest, prompting a ferociously shrill defense by the momma guinea. Momma hens can screech like — well, it’s like this, no annoying car alarm could possibly compete in volume or insistency. A guinea guarding her keets packs a mighty peck, too, judging by the blood on Kari’s hands.

Kari tossed me a keet. Then another. I held two keets in each hand and they kept coming. I gathered the tail of my t-shirt to make a cloth cradle. As Kari passed keets to me, I plopped them in the shirttail sling. They squirmed and cheeped and pecked until the last one was in.

Then they were quiet.

I looked down at the huddle of feathers and saw the keets had arranged themselves so that they were nestled together, 15 knobby heads sticking straight up. Somehow they had settled so that all had room to breathe.

Clutching my shirttail with one hand, clinging to the back of the four-wheeler with the other, I held the chicks steady as Kari drove up a gravel road to the “nursery,”  a raised wood-and-chicken wire box on stilts. Inside, there was a lamp to keep them warm.

We took only 15 keets to the nursery, leaving the 16th with the momma hen; you just can’t take all of a hen’s keets. After sitting on the nest so patiently, she deserved to mother at least one.

I named the little white-feathered keet Collette. She was clumsy, goofy thing and I got a kick out of seeing her scuttling after her mother and the rest of the guinea flock. Every time Collette hit a low spot in the ground, down she’d go, with only the top of her head visible above the grass. Then she’d wobble out of the dip and chase the grown hens, tripping occasionally but always cheeping so they’d know she was there.

She was adorable. I had a long happy life planned for little Collete. I imagined she’d grow up to be a speckled beauty and spend her days contentedly eating ticks and bugs, running with the flock and sounding an alarm for trespassers. Some day, she would have her own nest of keets.

About a week later, I got the email. Collette had disappeared.

We think a snake got her.

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2 Responses to “Counting keets”

  1. Donna McGowan April 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    I’ve always wanted some guineas!

  2. Cici Davidson April 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    Snakes everywhere, damnit.

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