PEAFOWL: Family Phasianidae

By Craig Hopkins

 

The Scientific Classification of Peafowl:
•Phylum: Chordata
•Sub-phylum: Vertebrata (Vertebrates)
•Class: Aves (Birds)
•Order: Galliformes
•Family: Phasianidae
•Sub-family: Phasianinae
•Genus: Pavo ¡
•Species: Pavo cristatus (blues) and Pavo muticus (Java greens)
•Subspecies for P. muticus: P.m. muticus  |  P.m. spicifer  |  P.m. imperator

There is another Genus [Afropavo] for the Congo peafowl. The sole known species is Afropavo congensis. Very little is currently known about the Congo peafowl, which was first scientifically recorded in 1936.

Peafowl are native to India, Burma, Java. Ceylon, Malaya. and Congo. Peafowl are relatives of pheasants. The main difference between peafowl and pheasants is in the plumage. Peafowl are very hardy birds and with proper care, can live forty to fifty years. The term 'peafowl" refers to the species name. The male is called the peacock and the female is called the peahen. Offspring under the age of one year are called peachicks.

Peafowl come in a wide variety of colors including blue, green. white. light brown. and purple. These colors and many other colors which were not mentioned have come from selective breeding done by people all over the world. The India blue and the green peafowl are the two most common colors of peafowl found in the wild. India blue peafowl are by far the most common peafowl in captivity and they are what most people are familiar with from visits to zoos and parks.

BREEDING

Peafowl normally reach breeding age at two years. Peahens will sometimes lay fertile eggs as yearlings. They will lay these eggs late in the summer after they have turned one year old. The best chance for a yearling hen to lay eggs is when she is in the same pen as a mature male. A mature male is a peacock which is at least three years old. A peacock will not have a full train until he is three years old. The tail train will lengthen and get fuller over the first two to three years. After the peacock is five or six years old, the tail train will remain consistent in length and quality for the rest of the bird's life as long as the bird remains healthy. The tail train is very important to the breeding cycle of peafowl. The peacock will molt the tail in late summer and this is when the breeding season will end. A two year old peacock that has a one to two foot long tail train will be a better breeder at this age than a peacock of the same age that doesn't have a tail train of any size.

A mature peacock in prime condition can be mated to as many as five peahens. The egg fertility rate for each male should be monitored closely to determine how many peahens each male is capable of mating with successfully. When selecting peafowl for breeding purposes, unrelated males and females should be selected. Inbreeding can lead to many problems with both the eggs and the chicks. No matter what age of peafowl are purchased or raised for breeding purposes, the birds must be healthy. A healthy bird will be active, have good feather quality, straight legs and toes, and clear eyes.

Peahens begin laying eggs in April and will lay eggs every other day until a clutch of seven to ten eggs is achieved. The eggs are light brown in color and are similar in size to turkey eggs. If the eggs are collected from the nest for artificial incubation, a peahen may lay as many as thirty eggs. Peahens which are allowed to roam freely about a farm, will hide their nests in tall grass, around shrubs, and in brush piles. The nest is a depression scratched out in the ground and lined with grass. Nests in such locations are many times destroyed by possums, raccoons, and skunks which will eat the eggs. Peahens that are setting on these nests are vulnerable to attack by coyotes, fox, and stray dogs which will kill the peahen. peahens which are kept in flight pens will use old tires, wooden nest boxes, and empty barrels for nest sites. These structures should be filled with hay or straw to provide nesting material.

INCUBATION

There are several methods of incubating peafowl eggs. The first method is artificial incubation. We incubate the eggs at 99-100 degrees F and at a wet bulb temperature of 83-85 degrees F. The eggs will hatch after 27 to 30 days of incubation. The eggs should be candled after 10 days of incubation to check for fertility. If an egg is not fertile, it should be removed from the incubator so that it doesn't spoil and possibly contaminate other eggs in the incubator. Eggs should be placed in the incubator as soon as possible after they are laid and no eggs should be held more than 10 days before incubation begins. This rule also applies to the alternative incubation methods that will be covered next.

Natural incubation of peafowl eggs can be done in several ways. The first is to allow the peahen to set on her own eggs and hatch them herself. Peahens normally do a good job of incubation but this method limits the number of eggs that a peahen will produce for the year. Once she has set on a clutch of eggs, she won't lay any more eggs for that season. Occasionally, if a nest is destroyed during incubation, a peahen will lay a second clutch of eggs and set on them. A second method of natural incubation, which allows for maximum egg production, is the use of broody chickens or ducks. The peafowl eggs are collected as they are laid and then set as a clutch under a chicken or duck. The size of the clutch is determined by the size of chicken or duck to be used for incubation. The eggs are left under the foster parent until two days before the normal hatch date. The eggs are removed from the nest and put in a hatcher. A new clutch of eggs is put under the hen and the process is repeated. If the eggs are allowed to hatch under the foster hen, the risk of disease in the chicks is much greater, and many times the hen won' t stay broody to allow for more eggs to be set under her.

The rule of thumb in brooding peafowl chicks is to start the chicks out with a brooder temperature of 95 degrees F and decrease this temperature by 5 degrees for every week of age. Brooders can be made at home or can be bought commercially. The brooder should provide a consistent heat source so that the chicks don't become chilled or overheated. The heating area should be large enough so that the chicks don't have to pile on top of one another to stay warm. The brooder should have a wire bottom floor so that droppings and wasted feed fall through. Brooders with feed and water troughs attached to the outside help keep the chicks healthy because the chicks can't get into them and make a mess out of the feed and water. The last thing that a brooder must have is a lid. Chicks that are only a few weeks old are surprisingly good flyers. The chicks are usually left in the hatcher for a day after they hatch. This gives them plenty of time to completely dry off and to gain enough strength to stand. The chicks are then placed in a small wooden brooder using a heat lamp for warmth. Chicks under a week old should be kept in small groups so that they learn to eat and drink without having to compete with one another. Chicks sometimes have to be taught to eat and drink. This can be done by placing a teacher chick, which is 3 to 4 days old and has learned to eat and drink, in with the new chicks. Baby chickens or pheasants can also be used as teacher chicks. If no teacher chick is available, I place a shiny marble in the feed and water container for the chicks to pick at. While picking at the marble, they will learn to eat and drink at the same time. I also provide the chicks with finely chopped lettuce or grass clippings along with their starter feed. The green color of these seems to attract the chicks' attention and provides a natural food source for the chicks.

FEEDING

Peafowl are not finicky in what they eat. They will eat shelled corn, cracked corn, oats, rabbit pellets dog food, trout chow, sunflower seed, grass, dandelions, insects, and many other foods. Since peafowl are members of the pheasant family, their diet should be structured with this in mind rather than feeding them like a person would feed a chicken. Breeders are fed a game bird layer feed during the breeding season. They are fed a game bird maintenance feed during the months prior to and after the breeding season. Dry dog food mixed with these feeds throughout the year provides a source of meat protein and also provides a treat for the birds. Shelled corn is added to the maintenance feed in the winter months as a source of extra calories to improve body heat. Chicks are fed a medicated starter feed for the first six months and then are switched to a game bird grower feed until they are a year old. After they are a year old, the birds are fed the maintenance feed until they reach breeding age.

HOUSING

The housing requirements for peafowl are dictated by the age of the birds. As mentioned earlier, chicks can be kept in small brooders until they reach the age of two to three months when they no longer require heat. The chicks can then be kept in small buildings or a large flight pen until they are sold or reach breeding age. Breeders require much more room because of the males' long tail train. A flight pen for breeders should be at least six feet tall and ten feet wide so that the male can fully spread his tail. The length of this flight pen should be determined by the number of birds to be kept in this pen. For example, a pen for a trio of breeders should be twenty feet long with a building or shelter attached to the end. The flight pen must be covered with wire or netting because peafowl are strong flyers. The building or shelter should be six feet tall and be at least eight feet wide and eight feet long. The roosts should be placed four to five feet off of the ground, and made so that they can be removed if a hen starts laying eggs while up on the roost. A flat roost such as a 2"X 4" board should be used rather than a round roost. If a round roost is used, there is a chance that the birds' toes will suffer frostbite in extremely cold weather because the toes are exposed while gripping the roost. A flat roost allows the bird to sit on its feet without having to grip the roost which prevents frostbite from occurring.

MISCELLANEOUS

Peafowl are very hardy birds but there are a few preventive steps that can be taken to insure the health of the birds. The easiest way to keep adult peafowl healthy is to worm them at least twice a year. Many of the diseases that peafowl are susceptible to are carried by internal parasites. There are several wormers available that can be given orally or mixed in the drinking water. The use of wire bottomed cages and brooders will help keep the chicks healthy. Feeding a medicated starter to the chicks will help prevent coccidiosis. The starter feed should be kept fresh because these medications lose their effectiveness over time.

This article originally appeared in the December 1997 Issue of The UPA Newsletter. Reproduction elsewhere in any form without prior consent from the UPA is strictly prohibited. © 1997 The United Peafowl Association. All rights reserved.