What’s big (8-10 pounds), beautiful, watches you with 100 eyes, and has a scream that some have compared to a “goosed school girl.”  Did you guess pea fowl or perhaps just peacocks?  That’s right and while the birds are fairly rare in our area, some farmers do have a few, especially those who like something more exotic than the mundane ducks, geese, and turkeys.

Peafowl come from India, Ceylon, Burma, and other places home to tigers, elephants, and water buffalo.  They were hunted occasionally by British soldiers during World War II, and many a British or Welsh manor house had a small complement of the lovely birds.  These days there are a number of varieties dominated by the gorgeous India blue and the black-shoulder with other varieties that might be pure white.  

One man who raises these unusual birds is retired veterinarian Dr. Robert Scherer who lives in Shelby (Ohio) and currently has about 18 peafowl, evenly split between peacocks and pea hens.  He’s raised the birds for about six years, starting with a male and female he purchased from another Shelby resident.  “It was my wife’s idea to get a couple for the farm here,” he said, “but I like to see them and I mostly take care of them.”

Why raise pea fowl, other than for the pure joy of seeing a mature cock spread his tail feathers with their iridescent blue, green, and bronzy-brown feathers?  Making money is one possibility.  Doc Scherer paid $50 each for his young birds, but noted that full adults have been known to sell for $300 – 400 each, and even eggs can sell for $3 or more.  “You’d need to sell them young, of course.” The veterinarian noted.  “Otherwise feeding costs will be too high.  I spend about $10 – 15 a week for peacock feed.”

Another thought is raising them for wild game dinners.  Landowners around Ohio, especially the Amish, now routinely raise deer, wild boar and other creatures to be sold for game dinners, and peacocks would be an unusual addition to either these or to restaurants who occasionally feature wild game.  If you’re asking how they taste, those who have eaten pea fowl say they’re tastier than the finest pheasant.  And a lot larger.

In fact the Indian raj of the 1800’s often had peacocks as the centerpiece of their major feasts.  Cooks would carefully skin a magnificent male, the meat would be removed, added to that of other peacocks, and cooked with spices from saffron to pepper, then the skin would be stuffed with cooked peacock, and artfully arranged on a huge plate to look like a live bird.  You might not want to go that far, though.

Adult birds are tough, hardy animals that can handle even Ohio winters if they can get inside the barn on really bad days.  And they can run free around a farm, roosting at night in trees.  They favor insects, particularly grasshoppers, and will feast for hours on dearly loved lettuce, as well as ripe tomatoes and often flowers in the flower bed.

Doc Scherer feeds his flock primarily a mix of poultry feed and  laying mash, while other growers  might use a mixture of cracked corn, whole kernel corn, white millet, oats, and game starter with 30 percent protein.  A few growers will give them a slice or so of day old white bread, and maybe even a little catfood occasionally as a special treat.  The catfood is a good way to get birds to eat out of your hand.

If pea fowl have a problem, it’s that they’re tough to raise.  “I’ve seen them lay up to 30 eggs in a nest, if you keep removing them.”  Scherer said, “but the usual clutch is about a dozen.”  And you’d best find and remove those eggs, because they’re less than wonderful mothers.  If hens lay outside, raccoons will usually get the eggs as routinely happens at Kingwood Center in Mansfield.  “One of the caretakers there said that birds raised no young at all this year and only one bird last year, but the raccoons ate well. 

So, your best bet is to place eggs either under a broody hen or in an incubator inside a snug building with a heat lamp to keep temperatures warm and cozy after hatching.  Humidity should be kept around 70, and after the young birds hatch, temperatures should be dropped gradually from 100 down to 70, about five degrees a week.  After about six weeks they’ll be well feathered and can be let outside.

Where can you buy a couple?  Local peacock raisers might be willing to sell a small number of their flock.   Asking around among the Amish might turn up another source or two, and newspapers and exotic fowl magazines frequently will list a dealer in these big birds.  Whether you like the unusual, or want to sell some for (hopefully) profit, pea fowl are worth a try.  And if you don’t like what you’ve bought, you can always eat them!

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