Legg rules the barnyard of peafowl hobbyists with new colors and
|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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
“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
was more than I had ever spent on something like that.
But I wanted peafowl, and I wanted the newest thing.
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.
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
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
|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,
“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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.”
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.
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.
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
the people in the
are just hobbyists,” he
was a hobby, too.
It’s just gotten
out of hand.”
Peafowl Farm is open only by appointment. For more information, log
onto www.leggspeafowl.com or call (816) 781-4498.