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Rural Missouri Magazine
The peacock king
Brad Legg rules the barnyard of peafowl hobbyists with new colors and patterns

by Bob McEowen

The common India Blue peacock remains one of the most striking of all peafowl, despite the efforts of Brad Legg and other hobbyists to develop new varieties. Many of the newest patterns and colors of peafowl were developed by Legg, a peafowl breeder and Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative member near Kansas City.

On the northern edge of Kansas City, with a sprawling housing development just over the next hill, Brad Legg’s farm is an unexpected sight amid a suburban sea of cookie-cutter houses.

A visitor arriving at Legg’s Peafowl Farm might spy an India Blue peacock perched on a sign in the front yard. The India Blue’s brilliant indigo chest, neck and head and feathers of green and gold perfectly match the image most people have of peacocks, a sacred bird in some Eastern religions but more commonly kept as yard decoration here in America.

If this farm is a surprise find at the edge of suburbia, what lies beyond in Brad’s orderly array of pens, cages and barns challenges expectations even more. Here the traditional blue peacock of India and three varieties of green peafowl from Southeast Asia are just the beginning.

“We have 95 varieties on this farm,” says Brad. The Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative member is widely regarded as one of the top peafowl breeders in the United States and probably the entire world.

Brad organizes freshly laid eggs by pen location at Legg Peafowl Farm near Kansas City. Careful record keeping is required to track the genetic experimentation that Brad conducts in pursuit of new patterns and colors of peafowl.

“He is probably the foremost geneticist that we have, bar none,” says Gwen Hibler, president of the United Peafowl Association, an organization that promotes peafowl and educates hobbyists in America. “He has done more, as far as developing new varieties, than anyone else.”

Peafowl — male peacocks and female peahens — are related to pheasants. In the United States, peafowl have long been favored as barnyard animals because of their brilliant colors. The males are especially beautiful during the spring mating season when they splay long tail feathers, or trains, to attract females.

While most people are satisfied to have one or two peacocks prancing about their yard, Brad is consumed with the task of breeding and crossbreeding peafowl in the pursuit of new color and pattern combinations in the regal birds.

“What I’ve always liked doing is making something that nobody has ever seen before,” says Brad, who enlists his four children and wife, Patsy, an employee of Platte-Clay Electric, in his efforts. “We enjoy taking these new colors that crop up in one variety and making them into the other patterns.”

On Brad’s farm, peafowl come in blue, white, peach, opal, purple, charcoal, midnight, bronze, cameo and jade. Besides the color variations, there are pattern differences as well. Some birds have barred wings while others are “black shouldered” — a solid pattern that can appear in a number of colors other than black. Some of the birds are “pied,” or spotted. Others are “white-eyed,” a reference to the eye-like formations on the male’s tale feathers. If that’s not enough, many of these distinctions are repeated in a hybrid breed called Spalding.

Patsy Legg rotates eggs in the incubator.

Growing up on a farm in northeast Missouri, Brad took an interest in all manner of farm animals. He showed cattle, horses, sheep, rabbits and chicken in 4-H and FFA. Inspired by a neighbor who kept a peacock in his yard, a 10-year-old Brad bought peafowl eggs for a dollar apiece and raised the chicks. By the time he was 18, he owned five common varieties of peafowl.

In 1980, when Brad was 20 years old, he bought his first exotic peafowl. He paid $1,000 for 10 one-week-old chicks in a creamy brown color mutation called cameo.

“I can still remember my mother and dad having a fit,” says Brad, who had just left home and taken a job managing cattle at the time. “It was more than I had ever spent on something like that. But I wanted peafowl, and I wanted the newest thing.

“I was driven with the birds,” he says.

The purchase proved to be a sound investment as Brad easily recouped his money selling chicks. It was no surprise when he later paid what was then an exorbitant sum for a new mutant bird.

Typical of India Blue silver-pied peafowl, this peacock has a body that is predominantly white but displays some colored markings. Brad found a mutant silver-pied bird at an auction and developed the variety.

Brad says new colors inexplicably appear in peafowl at a rate approaching one in a million. At least three times in his life Brad has been at the right place at the right time to take advantage of these mutations. The first came in 1992, when he got wind of an unusual-looking male chick offered for sale at an animal auction in Kansas. Unable to attend, he sent a friend with strict instructions.

“I told him, ‘Buy the bird, I don’t care what it brings. Don’t come home without it. If you don’t have the bird, don’t ever come back,’” Brad recalls. “Back then a high-dollar chick might bring $40 or $50. That was a lot. This chick ended up bringing $210, and he brought it home.”

Brad had discovered a new mutant pattern, a “silver-pied” variation of the India Blue, a white bird with splotches of contrasting colors. Fortunately, the seller also had a hen with the same markings and Brad bought her as well. Through careful breeding, he was able to recreate the pattern and establish a new variety of peafowl.

Brad thought fellow enthusiasts might like to see the new birds, so he sent photos to The Peacock Journal, a now-defunct publication that once was the lifeline for the peafowl hobby. As soon as the magazine was published with Brad’s birds on the front and back cover, his phone started ringing.

The whole Legg family is involved on the farm. Shown, from left, are Ashley, 19, Dallas, 7, Patsy (Brad’s wife), Caitlain, 5, Brad and Brandon, 17.

“I never got off the phone until clear into the night,” Brad says. “We had people from 26 states call in a 48-hour period, either wanting babies or wanting to buy those birds.”

The instant notoriety established Brad’s position in the peafowl world, and his celebrity status among breeders led to the discovery and development of two other mutant colors: midnight and jade.

About this time Brad’s employer was preparing to retire and sell his cattle. Brad quit his day job and went to work nights at a Kansas City film-processing lab. This new arrangement freed his days so he could concentrate on the birds.

With nothing more than a high school vo-ag education, a farm background and his own research, Brad began exploring the genetic possibilities of peafowl breeding with a passion.

Some peafowl traits are carried by recessive genes and pass easily from one generation to another. Others are sex-linked, appearing only in females, and are much more difficult to reproduce. Peafowl begin breeding at two years old and sometimes it takes several generations for a particular trait to reappear.

Because of the complexity of the genetics, Brad must work with a lot of birds to produce his desired results. In 2005 he hatched more than 1,000 peafowl chicks.

Dallas and Brad walk past a free-roaming peacock during morning egg collection chores. Once decidedly rural, the Legg farm is now all but surrounded by subdivisions. In fact, the northern city limit of Kansas City runs just inside the Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative member’s fence line.

While many of these babies display exotic hues and markings, most of them are common varieties. Brad sells these birds from his farm, through the mail and at auctions. While an exotic chick can bring $1,000 or more, India Blues are quite affordable. Chicks sell for as little as $15, while a grown male with a mature train might bring $150.

Brad now works fulltime on the farm. He also devotes time to sharing his knowledge and experience. His Web site includes information about building pens, incubating eggs and raising chicks. It also features the most complete photo gallery of peafowl on the Internet.

Each year, Legg’s Peafowl Farm hosts two open houses and invites hobbyists and breeders to tour the facility. In 2001 the farm hosted the United Peafowl Association’s annual convention. This October, the convention will return to Brad’s farm.

“He is an absolute wonder as far as disseminating information,” says UPA President Hibler, who raises peafowl in Montezuma, Kans. “Whenever I run into any kind of question, he’s the one I call.”

Ironically, many peacock fanciers have only a passing interest in the new varieties that consume Brad’s attention. Of the 350 members of the United Peafowl Association, Hibler says less than 50 are serious breeders or own more than a few dozen varieties. Most own just a few birds — usually common peafowl such as the India Blue.

Two newly hatched peafowl chicks take their first looks at the world.

Surprisingly, for all his attention to exotic peafowl, Brad is quick to recognize the appeal of the traditional colors and patterns. “There isn’t anybody who could take a look at that bird and tell you he’s not beautiful,” he says as a free-ranging India Blue struts through his yard with his train spread wide.

Brad takes the continued preference for time-honored varieties in stride. He says he realizes that not everyone shares his love for genetics. Most peafowl fanciers, he says, just want something in the yard that’s pretty to look at.

“Most all the people in the peafowl industry are just hobbyists,” he says. “This was a hobby, too. It’s just gotten out of hand.”

Legg’s Peafowl Farm is open only by appointment. For more information, log onto www.leggspeafowl.com or call (816) 781-4498.

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