It was Friday afternoon, March 6th, when Diane at the West Tisbury Post Office called. “Your keets have arrived,” she said, “and they sound healthy.”
Howie and I piled into his pickup, he shifted into 4-wheel-drive, and we eased our way out of the plowed-but-icy drive and headed for our first foray out of the house since the big snow of January 27th.
The 26 keets, or baby guinea fowl, had been mailed by Purely Poultry, a family run farm in Wisconsin, the day before, the same day they’d broken their way out of their tough eggs. Keets can go for a couple of days without food or water, living on nourishment leftover from their eggs.
We’d prepared a big cardboard box that Howie’s computer screen had come in by building up the sides to about 10 inches all around. On the bottom of the box we laid down a piece of old shower curtain cut to size. On top of that we spread about two inches of pine shavings we’d bought at SBS, the grain store, and on top of that a layer of paper towels about two towels thick. The keets need a draft-free place and warmth, 100 degrees to begin with, so we set the box in what used to be the summer cookroom, now the breakfast room. We can shut the door that leads from the kitchen to the cookroom to keep out the draft, and also to keep Daphne, the cat, from expressing too much interest in our new family members. For heat, we hung a brooder heat lamp from one of the overhead beams and lowered it until it was about two feet above the keets’ new home. We got the brooder lamp from Shirley’s Hardware in Vineyard Haven along with an oil-filled radiator just to make sure we kept the babies warm enough. We bought chick mash, a finely ground high protein feed, at SBS, and filled a long metal trough designed for easy access by chicks. For their water, we put polished beach stones in a flat old fashioned china soup bowl so the keets could drink without danger of drowning.
Howie bought a book called “Gardening with Guineas,” and between the directions sent by Purely Poultry and the new book, we started the keets out in their new life. That meant, according to the book, dipping their beaks into water, so they understood what water was for. Howie undertook the task.
I should mention here that Howie has huge hands. I found a place that sells XXXL gloves that fit his hands snugly. With those huge hands he can do the most delicate work, such as needling a splinter out of my finger.
The 26 keets had arrived snuggled together in a box about ten-by-ten-inches. He lifted each of the tiny fluff balls out of the box, dipped each tiny bill, still with its hard egg-cracking spot in place, and lowered it into its new home.
It’s been a week since the keets arrived. We’d ordered 25, but 26 were mailed. One was dead on arrival. This was to be expected, according to the book, as guinea keets like to pile on top of one another and sometimes the one on the bottom gets smothered.
We invited family over for drinks last Monday, my sister Ann and my nephew and niece, David and Libby. Instead of drinks by the parlor fire, it was drinks around the keets’ box in the much-too-warm cookroom. The conversation focused on baby guineas. Not a word of politics, ISIS, or disasters.
My sister Ann was still holding a sleeping keet when it was time to leave.
“One of the best cocktail parties we’ve attended,” said David. “Maybe the best.”
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