Walking down the sidewalk almost any late afternoon in the Pontchartrain Shores neighborhood of Metairie, you may catch an unusual sight: a man walking his hound dog — and three African guinea hens trotting along behind.
Bill Porche said his pet birds look like turkeys, with heads shaped like helmets, and are related to the chicken and partridge families. They’re named Eenie, Meenie and Miney.
“I love my new pets and walk them every day,” said Porche, 66, retired director of the Jefferson Parish Recreational Department. With them, he said, “you don’t need a TV (for entertainment) or a watchdog. They will ward off any cat, dog or even human.”
Behind his ranch-style house, Porche, who dabbles as a multimedia artist and photographer, has built a two-story tree house with a balcony for the birds to roost and live during the day.
He says the birds are protective of their yard, but he watches over them as well.
“I’ve set chairs on the balcony,” Porche said. “And I sit by them. I keep binoculars up there to look for hawks and owls because they are predators to these birds.”
Although they aren’t domesticated, the exotic birds can develop a loyalty to their owner and to other animals. Porche said Eenie, Meenie and Miney have a relationship with his dog, Bear. “Bear sleeps in their cage,” Porche said. “He can also round the hens up.”
The guinea hens are beneficial because they are insect eaters. “You will never have an insect problem if you get these hens,” Porche said. “Nor will you have to worry about any vegetable plant problems.” They eat insects like grasshoppers, flies, slugs and crickets that can damage crops.
The hens can be a loud bunch, creating a steady stream of whistles, chirps and clicks. “I whistle a lot,” Porche said. “That’s how they know where I am, because they listen for my whistle, especially when we are walking around the neighborhood.”
About five months ago, Porche purchased the baby guinea from a pet store in Pontchatoula. “These hens were brand new out of Africa, only about 5 inches tall,” he said. “They ate worms at first, but not anymore. Their palate has changed to lettuce as a treat and bugs.”
A baby guinea is called a keet, and keets are in constant motion. Since they are so small and delicate, they can be easily trampled during their first two weeks of life. An accident claimed Porche’s fourth keet, Moe.
Recently, Porche got three more keets to add to the family. He’s also planning to purchase an ostrich hen or two at some point to add to his family of pets.
“The hurricane (Zeta) took out a part of the top story of the treehouse,” Porche said. “So, I am going to convert that part of the treehouse to a chicken coop like a guesthouse.”
Following Zeta, Porche recovered a missing guinea hen from the home of a neighbor, who recognized it as his pet and contacted him. “This area is a bird sanctuary,” Porche said, “so everyone is watching out for them. It seems that now with so many ducks around, neighbors see these hens walk behind me three in a row like the ducks.
“They (the hens) are attached to me, and I am attached to them.”
Neighbor Helen Turner, 81, is amazed at the odd walking buddies. “Having grown up on a farm in Texas, I have never seen anything like this in my life as he walked his big hound past my front yard,” she said. “These hens were following closely behind him down my street. I thought they were small turkeys. They clustered together and were very attached to him and his big dog.”
Porche has been living in his ranch home since 1967. Draped with moss and salvaged pieces of art from Pontchatrain Beach, Porche’s home has been nicknamed the Ponderosa.
The environment he created for his hens fits the rustic name. In the tree house, he has set up a water pump and a cast iron skillet to feed them.
“I like the Old West. My roots are from Texas,” said Porche. “As a child, I raised chickens and quails. So, I have been collecting and caring for animals all my life, from a 7-foot alligator to raising quails.”
And his fondness for animals is continuing. “This has been so much fun,” he said. “How much time you invest in loving your pet, they will always give you back the same. When I finally get the ostrich hen, then you can call us the ‘Bill Bunch’ instead of the ‘Brady Bunch.’”
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