Raising Peafowl on the Homestead
by Michelle Marine Five years ago, our family went on a three-week summer road trip from Iowa to Seattle and back. When we came home, we found a full-grown peacock named James Potter living in our chicken coop. He wasn’t a planned addition, nor even really wanted. But he needed a home after his family moved to town, and he seemed content to stay put. So, we kept him. For about six months, he was the only bird we had on the farm apart from our tom turkey, Tarzan.
Tarzan and James shared a special love-hate bird bond that humored so many people. They followed each other around, strutted for each other, and sometimes tried to fight. They were almost always together, and they roosted very close together at night too. Watching them strut for each other was one of the funniest things I’ve seen!
Sadly, James got sick in the winter of 2020 and died in February. Death is part of the homestead experience, but James’ death was particularly hard on the family. We all really grew to love that peacock in the years we had him. That spring, my husband gave me a new peacock pair for my birthday. We named them Tony and Cleo and they have been amusing us ever since. Peacocks are an entrenched part of our homestead now, even though we never set out to own them.
Peacocks, most closely related to pheasants, are beautiful, majestic birds. There are three main types of peafowl: India Blue, Green Peacocks from Myanmar and Burma, and Congo Peacocks from Africa. The India Blue variety is the most common and is the type we have. They’re winter hardy omnivores and eat a varied diet of foraged bugs, plants, flowers, seeds, and sometimes small mammals like mice. Their tales grow in slowly as they age, and they don’t reach full sexual maturity until about three years of age.
Technically, only the male is the peacock. The female is a peahen. However, most people call them all peacocks interchangeably. Male peacocks have lovely eye-feather trains that can reach five feet long by the time they’re full grown. They lose these feathers each summer during their annual molt and regrow them by late winter.
In early spring they are ready for their mating ritual of fanning their tails and shaking their tail feathers. If you’ve never seen a peafowl strut, you are really missing out! They shimmy and shake with the best of them, making a noise that sounds a bit like a rattlesnake! In the typical bird fashion, the peahen is much more drab. She does not have the colorful eye feathers or the full tail, but she still struts her little brown tail in much the same manner as the peacock!
Drawbacks of Peafowl
Peafowl aren’t very common on homesteads, and most people have a strong love or hate relationship with them. They’re known for their loud screeches, especially during mating season in the spring, and they sometimes fight their own reflections in house windows, car windows, or anything reflective. We often find them standing on our cars, and they also enjoy perching on porch railings and house roofs. Their poops are big, and they will happily deposit them everywhere, including on your car, your porch, your roof, etc.
They can be difficult to keep around and must be trained to stay put. We successfully trained ours by keeping them locked up for several months, but other people report their peafowl flying off, never to return. My biggest complaint about peafowl though, is that they will destroy your garden if they’re so inclined. They are strong flyers, so tall fences won’t necessarily keep them out, and they love to scratch for all the seeds you plant. Our female especially loves to dig up my seed potatoes and spring peas.
What are peafowl good for?
With so many drawbacks, you might be wondering what on earth peacocks do to earn their keep. Obviously, it’s all perspective, but peacocks are good for some things around the farm. Collecting their feathers is a favorite pastime. The feathers can be used for crafting or an extra income source. They’re fun to use in home décor or for turning into homemade wreaths. Since they lose and regrow their feathers every single year, there are lots of opportunities to collect feathers!
Peafowl are also curious and friendly, and they can be trained. I don’t discount their amusement factor as enough to warrant their place on the farm. Watching a peacock in flight with his tail streaming out behind is beautiful to watch!
If you’re looking for natural pest control, peafowl will happily eat all kinds of bugs around the farm, including ticks. They are reputed to be good snake fighters, but I have never personally seen this. They’re also not afraid to go after small rodents like mice and rats. They’re good foragers and don’t need to be fed much — but they do like cat food and chicken food as well!
The last benefit to raising peafowl is monetary. Hatching eggs, chicks, and full-grown peafowl can be hard to find and can command a high price. Peahens hatch a clutch of three to five eggs once or twice a year. After a 28-day incubation period, the eggs hatch into the cutest little birds! We were surprised when our Cleo started laying eggs at just over two years old. She laid five but only hatched one. Peahens don’t have a reputation for being great mothers, and we learned the hard way that any future chicks will need to be kept locked up, so we don’t lose them to predators.
Even though we never set out to have peafowl on our farm, I can’t imagine not having them here! Keeping them for amusement and feathers is reason enough as far as I am concerned!
MICHELLE MARINE is an Eastern Iowa based freelance writer, photographer, and digital content creator living on five acres with her husband, four teens, and menagerie of birds, pigs, sheep, goats, dogs, and cats. She publishes the eco-friendly lifestyle blog Simplify, Live, Love, and is also the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat (Skyhorse Publishing 2020).
Originally published in the March/April 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.