Near the village of Attleborough in Suffolk there is a very distinctive bird noise coming from one farm - the chattering of more than 20,000 free-range guinea fowl. These birds are a fairly recent addition to a farm run by Harry Irwin, who also supplies free-range Oakham Chicken and the new speciality free-range Cou Nu chickens to M&S.
So what prompted Harry to start keeping Guinea Fowl?
"Most free-range guinea fowl comes from France as there is no-one out there producing British high-welfare free-range guinea fowl. So we thought we'd give it a try," he explains. And he soon found that rearing guinea fowl was rather more of a challenge than chicken farming! "Compared to chickens, guinea fowl like to be kept in smaller groups and they are a lot more lively," Harry says
This makes it challenging to rear them in a free-range system without using the commonplace pinioning methods used by French producers to stop them flying away – something Harry wanted to avoid for welfare reasons.
But, after some innovative thinking, Harry has now built up an impressive system. Fertile eggs are imported from France and hatched in a small game hatchery nearby to ensure that the birds are genuinely ‘home grown'. The birds are then housed in mobile shelters until they have put on weight and grown a sufficiently protective complement of feathers for them to roam outside without getting cold.
Guinea fowlAround five kilometres of high wire fence has been constructed around the 25 acre site, giving the older birds plenty of room to run and fly around, without the chance of them escaping. And by doubling the number of entrances found on a standard hen house, some can be shut off depending on the prevailing weather, providing suitable shelter for the birds without compromising their access to the great outdoors.
Did you know?
- We are the first retailer to sell British free-range guinea fowl, which debuted in our stores in October 2011.
- Guinea fowl is a great source of protein and is usually a leaner meat (compared to red meats) and provides small amounts of B vitamins and some minerals such as selenium.