Oct. 18, 2006
By Susan Green
Waking to loud, eerie peacock screams is not the way most of us would like to start our day, but Barbara Baker doesn't mind. In fact, she barely notices. Including bobwhite quail, seven breeds of peacock, Baker and her husband Larry raise over 5,000 exotic and game birds on their immaculate 100-acre farm in Reedsville, Ohio.
The couple became interested in exotic birds when a friend of theirs, who raises peacocks, gave them one as a gift. "We thought the bird was just beautiful," Baker says. "So we decided to start raising them and that led to buying more exotic birds."
Male peacocks in full plumage are among the most beautiful pheasants in the world and their tail feathers can create a wingspan of up to 10 feet.
Breeding the gorgeous peacock is easy, but caring for them is labor intensive. Baker, a 12-year veteran of the university's custodial staff, spends her nights cleaning university buildings and her days caring for the birds, which are housed in kennels.
"We have one peacock for every three peahens," she explains. "During breeding season, which is March through April, they holler as part of their courting routine. And they can holler for days! You get used to it."
Normally, the birds like peace and harmony, but breeding males become combative. While keeping younger males at bay, the peacock fans and shivers his tail feathers in front of the peahens. He's showing off because peahens choose mates based on the number of ocelli, or eyespots, on the tail feathers.
But breeders don't let the hens choose their mates.
"One year we had a pair that never produced fertile eggs," Baker chuckles. "The peahen saw a more attractive male in a different pen and wouldn’t let the male in her pen breed her. Now we only let the females see the peacock that's in the pen with them."
During breeding season, peahens lay one egg every other day; the eggs need to be gathered, placed in an incubator and monitored. Two days before they're due to hatch, the eggs are transferred to a hatcher.
Once hatched the Bakers raise the birds and then sell them as yearlings to other breeders, and the cycle begins again.
As if caring for more than 5,000 birds isn't enough to keep Baker busy, she and her husband also are volunteer emergency medical technicians.
"It's all a lot of work," she says. "But we really like it. It's cool."
Susan Green is a writer/editor with the College of Osteopathic Medicine. If raising exotic birds sounds interesting to you, Barb would be happy to help you get started. You can send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.