Peafowl Nutrition 101

Discussion in 'Peafowl' started by Resolution, Mar 4, 2012.

  1. Resolution

    Resolution Chillin' With My Peeps



    This thread is dedicated to the actual dietary requirements of wild peafowl as it relates to captive peafowl and those domestic races of peafowl including their colour mutations.

    This is not a polemic against anything but rather a rediscovery of some useful information for peafowl hobbyists.

    Please visit these few links and read through them carefully. Some of the material is intentionally redundant.
    We're obliged to set aside yield and productivity (as defined in agriculture) to redefine the aviculture of peafowl.

    Raising wild animals in captivity has until fairly recently been its own discipline referred to as zooculture.
    Bird husbandry within this discipline has been referred to as aviculture.

    Today, more and more captive wildlife is artificially selected to create domestic races-the white tiger is a compelling if tragic case in point. Think of all the cage birds known only as mutations. Pure Indian Peafowl, Red Junglefowl, Golden and True Pheasants teeter on the brink of captive extinction via domestication. These species were once so common in captivity they weren't considered to be worth much, at least not in a pristine state. Mutations were worth more. Today pure specimens are not kept in sufficient numbers, indeed very few could really define what a pristine stock should even look like these days. Sadly, most genuine aviculturists have died out. Large scale hobby breeders that collect up stock, wheel and deal and commercially produce these species exactly like poultry are what remains. This generation of breeders know how produce and they know how sell. They also know how to dump stock that isn't going to sell at auctions and swap meets, and that is very good news for the new hobbyists as they can afford to get into the action. This is not aviculture. It's agriculture. There is exactly nothing wrong with agriculture. It's unfortunate that we are losing these species but facts are just that. Domestic strains of peafowl, pheasants and so on are probably all that's going to be left in a few decades if tings continue the way they are today. We should probably manage it better even if it isn't the rarest most precious stock in the world. There's no reason why captive birds of any species or lineage shouldn't be afforded first rate husbandry.
    Some times it can be a real challenge to open our minds to what may not be obviously intuitive, especially when it comes to sound nutrition as a primary goal of long-term management. We've already become so complacent with the production first; long term health second mindset at least half the people reading this will roll their eyes and sputter. No one wants to be told that what works for them is wrong.

    Orange flavored koolaid is not on par with real orange juice. Orange juice concentrate is not of the same nutritional quality as fresh squeezed orange juice. Some people are willing to give their kids orange flavored koolaid for breakfast. Other folks think they can't afford fresh squeezed orange juice so they spend their money on concentrate. A fresh orange is nearly as inexpensive as koolaid and has all the nutrients needed in one perfect package. Send the kids to school with an orange and encourage them to drink plenty of water. Stating the obvious will piss some people right off. I had a housekeeper from the inner city once. She fed her daughter koolaid in a baby bottle and it about drove me out of my mind. If I gave her extra money to buy real orange juice she'd spend it on something other than orange juice. She'd say she gave her baby a vitamin and that she herself was raised on orange flavored koolaid. Today I wonder if the baby has developed the same diabetes as her mother and grandmother. I also wonder if she's giving her own children orange koolaid. Regardless, I will never again tell, instruct, or plead with any mother about their child's health unless they specifically ask for my advice. As you'll just end up ticking people off when all they hear is shame. I can do apathy. It's really none of my business anyway. But when it comes to birds, where hundreds of people, actually thousands of people write me every few months for advice, I'll not be so indifferent. You're going to hear my opinions and I'll back them up.

    That said, taking care of peafowl is obviously not that complicated. People have been doing if for many thousands of years. Though let's be perfectly candid. Commercial peacock farming has only been around for a few decades. Before then, the vast majority of peafowl were free-ranging birds on ranches, farms, estates and zoological parks.
    Starting in the 1980's a small handful of poultry farmers took on small-scale commercial breeding of peafowl and each decade has seen a few more additions to the "peacock industry" as it's been coined.

    For some good reference material on animal nutrition please click on the following hyperlinks:


    BROWNIE POINT (generalised cheat sheet for avian nutrition)

    As we all know full well, there is nothing resembling an authoritative review of peafowl nutrition in literature. Consequently, these links have very little to do with peafowl per se. What we are reading together is something about the manner in which animal nutritionists determine just what captive zoo animals are eating and what data gleaned in these settings means for ethical animal managers. When you read materials you're unfamiliar with and you have even a tiny bit of intellectual curiosity, you gain a whole bunch of fun knowledge you never had before- and it didn't cost you a thing.
    With cyber space so readily at our finger prints, willful ignorance has never been so painfully out of style. I'm willfully ignorant about things like fashion, small talk and the etiquette of making the deal. I also don't like people telling me how to fence my hoof stock or shoe my horses. I also believe in corporal punishment as a child raising technique so I'm not off the hook by any stretch of the imagination. -Also a piss poor writer...

    Anyway, visit the links if for no other reason than to explore and tack some new vernacular to your home made paper bag book covers. Or, go to the trouble of bookmarking the page or even printing the information that interests you for future reading.

    This is meant to be a fun, interactive thread where we can learn about the facts that matter as opposed to over-generalizations you can readily digest elsewhere.

    I find fighting fish and peonies and iris and stone fruit things I just can't learn enough about. The history of their respective cultivations is a fascinating stroll through history. Likewise,

    Modern peafowl husbandry is the beginning of a chapter that has no set course but it's exciting to know there is no predetermined ending. You are the captains of your own destiny. Build the right ship and you'll contribute something lasting -something treasured far into the future.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2012
    2 people like this.
  2. Resolution

    Resolution Chillin' With My Peeps


    expand your knowledge
    advanced nutrition.

    One objective is to underscore significant differences between peafowl and other Gallomorphs including turkeys and pheasants so that animal managers might better understand how to end the cycle of disease and infection that plagues peafowl, while also increasing the reproductive success and survivability of rare species. A few people will argue that no such problem exists. I'll invite any objective member of this forum ( or any other) to write out the number of times someone has written in with health problems of their peafowl. What were those health problems? What was the advice meted out by the well-meaning experts and was it successful? How often was it successful and how often did it fail?

    Of course there are too many factors involved to make geuss work and treating someone elses birds sight unseen has its own issues. It should suffice to say that most people, many of them new to peafowl, the very same hobbyists supporting these commercial breeders, are not receiving adequate information. It is also likely that in many cases, many hobbyists are also purchasing birds with comprimised immune systems. Food is medicine. Lots of health problems arise consequent of insufficient diets.

    While domestic mutations are very popular with tens of thousands of birds hatched by hobbyists each year, there is no actual diet for peafowl widely prescribed that can be considered anything but guess work.

    People mix and match and do well by their birds. Nevertheless, everything from pigmentation and length of reproductive cycle is effected by diet. Birds that bleach in the sun and those whose feathers fray and break off well before moulting has commenced may represent peafowl on less than optimal nutrition, many of which are maintained in less than ideal facilities. Domestic Indian Peafowl thrive on sub-standard diets, at least in the short term.

    Case in point, here's a perfectly healthy and happy white Indian Peacock. He's lived its entire life in a flamingo exhibit as had his mother and grandmother. This flock of white peafowl have always subsisted almost entirely on flamingo food. Consequently, his plumage is bright yellow in those places where waxy secretions from his oil gland are most heavily applied during preening.

    This wild Maleo, a distant relative of the Peafowl, exhibits beautiful pigments on its lower breast, flanks and skin generated by its seasonal diet of terrestrial crustaceans it gorges on during the reproductive season. Itensity of pigmentation serves to communicate information about the health and well being of the individual. More importantly, intense pigmentation guarantees that the bird, occupies prime habitat. Egg yolks will be nourished with optimal nutrition and superprecocial chicks will have sufficent nutrients to sustain themselves through the next difficult stages in their development.The presence of intense pigmentation informs other Maleo about the health of wearer and by extension, the health of the environment in which it lives and nests in.

    A synthetic "nature-identical" version of the carotenoid astaxanthin has been developed, which is used in the flamingo feed that our yellow peacock has been nourished with. This is also present in "colour-conditioning" cage bird, fish and reptile supplements. It is also possible (but expensive) to obtain commercial quantities of the natural color from cultured yeast and algae. At least a few products contain cultured algae, which not incidentally, contain a wider range of natural carotenoids responsible for the brilliant pigmentation of bare facial skin and glossy plumage in all birds, fish and reptiles. These same products will contain a wide range of many amino acids, micro-nutrients, macro-nutrients and organic fatty acids responsible for superior plumage development from the cellular level.
    A white peacock can also be iridescent. There is a structural component to iridescence. Mutations of peafowl with no iridescence lack structural integrity of the keratin. They bleach rapidly and waxy secretions produced by their oil glands lack specific organic chemicals. The birds will never be as scintillating as a normal pigmented bird, but they can certainly be as glossy as a minx and as iridescent as reptile scales. The fact that they are not is written off as a matter of genetics but it's a more nuanced issue than just that. Diet is the crux of turning that around. The same is true for certain breeds of fighting fish and mutations of reptiles. Without supplementation, they simply lack whole layers of cell structure responsible for the expression of brilliant pigmentation. If the white peacock above had been nurtured on more appropriate nutrients, many along the same gradient as that formulated for flamingos and by nature substantially different than those engineered for the mass production of poultry- he may have exhibited a sparkling, prismatic gleam to his plumage. Of course a white emerald peafowl has more structural components in its plumage than a white Indian. Consequently, there is a greater proportion and degree of plumage to be so effected.
    Useless trivia of the moment: In Southern Asia White Indian Peafowl are called deepak ujaala mayur meaning "candle light peacock".

    So while this peacock is incredibly healthy and his plumage being constructed of superior amino acids present in flamingo food, will be slower to shed its outer layers of keratin. The plumage will be slower to bleach and wear out in the elements. It will be slower to moult. It is however an unnatural yellow snow colour. We also have no idea what the long term effects of these synthetic pigments on his liver and gall bladder may be. Moreover, levels of certain nutrients like Dicalcium Phosphate, Choline Chloride, Sodium Selenite, Calcium Propionate, Pyridoxine and Pantothenic Acid are formulated as maintenance and breeding diets ( two different formulations) for pelagic bird species. The base nutrients are designed for those species that live in saline conditions. Naturally this canary sprinkled deepak peacock is going to forage for lots of succulent forbs and grasses that will only help to flush the system of potentially toxic build ups ingested in its primary diet. He's also going to be hunting for cockroaches and and candied popcorn littering the grounds of the zoo.

    The point being, that it hatched nourished on an egg yolk built on nutrients formulated for flamingos.
    An objective animal manager with an eye for detail interested in long-term health might ask some important questions. How many eggs actually hatched from each clutch? How many chicks survived to their first month? How many survived to their first year? How many survived their first subadult moult?

    Of course a white peacock at a public zoo is not going to attract much attention as far as reproductive health, hatchability, survivability and sudden mortality or long term health are concerned.
    They are unfortunately expendable in the sense that they can be replaced. Commercial breeders of most species will assert that they've never had problems with any number of foods, drugs, and so on but they'll be hard pressed to substantiate with hard data. We live in such a me myself and I culture that whatever we pay for and take home belongs to us and us alone. Its previous ownership is quickly forgotten. We tend to lack a sense of stewardship in aviculture that endures in horse, dog and cat breeding. I hope that your generation will turn that around. We all benefit from more objective data and that comes from many sources and comes without petty jealousies and politics coming into action. And yes, of course these human foibles are rampant amongst the horse and companion animal set as well.
    However, they are not encouraged and breeders that lack scruples are selectively bred out of the equation. That's about 50% wishful thinking there but we can always set out standards ridiculously high in hopes that we almost reach common denominators that don't include silliness.

    Getting back to nutrition,

    More troubling is the issue of Dragonbirds aka Green Peafowl. It's a tragedy how our collective is keeping them. Their diets are a puzzling mess. The lack of documentation is appalling. Intentional cross breeding of endangered species is unethical and entirely unwarranted. I could go on but it should suffice to say I am deeply disappointed with the lack of stewardship of this important taxa ( I would say species but we're dealing with more than one lumped together as "sub-species").
    On topic of this thread, Green Peafowl- we know quite a lot about their biology in nature and yet captive stock everywhere, including Europe are maintained on substandard diets. It doesn't matter that the birds survive these diets. The data has yet to be compiled and crunched so far as the points mentioned above are concerned. Just how long are they living? What is their hatchability like? What is the survivability of hatchlings? And just as in the USA there will be experts that swear they are doing everything right.

    If it doesn't even attempt to duplicate attributes of their ~ 20 Million Year Old evolutionary history and completely ignores the basics of their behavioral ecology it's simply substandard and not acceptable.

    If you want to maintain domestic peafowl breeds and mutations like poultry that's your pregotative but noone is entitled to starve a wild species.

    What matters most is that we improve upon their captive ( _ and housing_) nutrition as a matter of respect for the universe that created them and a means to objectively and honestly examine hard to stomach truths about the health of captive populations of One of the world's most endangered birds.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2012
    1 person likes this.
  3. Resolution

    Resolution Chillin' With My Peeps

    Here are some inexpensive foods that will greatly increase the nutritional quality of your maintenance ration.

    In addition to your regular maintenance ration, be that gamebird, turkey or crane pellet, here are some invaluable foodstuffs every peafowl hobbyist should know the values of.

    Frozen Shrimp in the Shell provides all the amino acids that the body cannot create on its own. Walnut Pieces provide special forms of vitamin E essential for good health.

    The Banana- the older the better- you just can't find a better supplement for Amylase, which is very important for the production of certain enzymes in the crop.
    Celery is so good for Peafowl I've posted 2 photos. Every part of the plant is loaded with rare nutrients. Plant some around your aviaries. Mince it up and add as a top dressing on their maintenance feed or wash whole bunches of celery and freeze them inside paper bags. Placing the frozen celery out is a sure way to prevent feather picking.

    Kale- what a fantastic source of dietary fibre and caratoenids plus vitamins.

    Millets and Sorghum are the seeds peafowl are best equipped to handle and they're highly nutritious.
    Oats are high in special dietary fibre that help keep digestive system working perfectly. Cooked Sweet Potatoes with their skin another fantastic supplement.

    Unfortunately, Argus and Congo Peafowl will hardly touch vegetation. Skip out on the kale and celery unless its been put through the food processor together with cooked sweet potato and over ripe bananas.
    Peafowl including Argus and Congo Peafowl are fond of canned bamboo shoots and mushrooms.

    Of course the ultimate food for any species of peafowl -perhaps one you only serve on special occasions- are frogs legs.
    Every species of peafowl, including Crested Argus, Great Argus, Congo Peafowl and especially Green Peafowl have been well-documented frog hunters.
    Peafowl may even specialise on amphibians during certain times of the year. Canned frog legs are less expensive than sardines and quite a bit more palatable (for peafowl).
    Just make sure you don't get the salted variety.

    Just a few shrimp in the shell per week together with a cupful of diced raw kale per day is a great bottom line improvement to the diet.
    One or two walnut pieces and a half a soggy banana every three to four days compliments that unshelled shrimp and kale supplement.
    Conservative rations of these four ingredients added to the diet every week, in a consistent basis vastly improve just about any diet for peafowl.
    Let me reiterate that Argus and Congo Peafowl are unlikely to touch kale.

    Celery added to the diet on a more regular basis ( five times a week) for peafowl species of the genus Pavo will increase certain rare micro and macro nutrients that increase digestive health.

    Millet, sorghum and oats are filling and nutritious. If you feel like you've just got to put out grains or cereals for the birds and have a question as to what is the most valuable in their diet- these are my favorite choices. Unhulled sesame is my absolute favorite but not readily available and prohibitively expensive.
    Even the deep forest peafowl/argus will consume millet and sorghum though neither are fond of oats.

    Cooked sweet potato, canned bamboo shoots, mushrooms and frogs legs are for those of you working with Argus and imported Green Peafowl Dragonbirds.
    These are items that should be fed liberally at least three times a week in concert with the shrimp, soggy banana and cereals. Green Peafowl should have as much kale and celery that they will consume in a day and one or two shrimp per bird every other day. Frogs legs every week, especially chicks.


    Adding these specific foods on a consistent basis -fills gaps in the dietary rations of maintenance pellets formulated for gamebirds and poultry.

    Eliminating other foods can help you save money. For example, get out your calculator and decide if loaves of bread are worth the money when the nutrients you're after are covered in just a few walnuts and shrimp pieces. In order for these additions to the diet to have the most benefit for the birds you must feed consistently.

    For those of you trying to increase pigment expression in domestic mutations, shrimp in the shell, cooked sweet potato, kale and beets- including beet greens are going to help you meet some of your objectives.

    Argus will appreciate extra walnuts and are also fond of candied ginger.

    Dandelion greens, stems- roots, flowers- seed- are something that are particularly good for females after nesting, juveniles and moulting adults.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2012
    3 people like this.
  4. Hens and Roos

    Hens and Roos Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 6, 2009
    Cottage Grove, WI
    From the picture of the shrimp, they look raw, is that how you would feed them? Do you cut them up at all into smaller sizes pieces?

    We give our peas ripe bananas and walnut pieces and they like them - we hide them in a big bowl with other greens and veggies.

    Very interesting information that you are sharing.
  5. Resolution

    Resolution Chillin' With My Peeps

    Frozen raw in the shell appears to be the least expensive. Cooked is probably just as good. The underscore is to insure that you feed these ingredients consistently every other week at least, more if dealing with breeding stock, moulting adults or chicks of the year. I just hope that people will add these supplements to their feed manifests and understand why these very specific ingredients are described here rather than pet food or broccoli or frozen peas or what have you. These are the single most valuable additive ingredients readily and economically procured. When fed consistently and in the appropriate ratios- they will- in concert- the entire food pyramid - that includes maintenance ration- will meet the considerable requirements of growing peafowl.

    Of course shrimp are going to be far more important than anything else on the list if you want to meet all the amino acid requirements. That's expensive and that's why they're listed as something to feed out every few days in small portions. Each bird should have at least a thimble full of shrimp per serving- a very little goes a long way- provided it's fed consistently. One way to be most economical about it is to just put all the ingredients except for the cereals and grains into a food processor and mix thoroughly. The slurry produced can be frozen in ice cube trays and stored for future use. Each bird should receive ~ 1-4 slurry cubes per serving- at least twice a week. The cubes will thaw of course -where the birds will peck at them at their leisure. If you decide to create slurry cubes the rule of thumb is to make sure that each bird receives at least one cube every two -three days.
    If you are dealing with imported dragons, moulting heirloom stock or any breeding females or chicks that you care a great deal for, increase the ration by putting out 1-4 slurry cubes out at least thrice a week.
    I think if you look at your maths carefully you'll see this is affordable on even the tightest budgets.

    Let me reiterate again. If you are feeding Argus or Congo Peafowl skip out on the kale and celery and replace that ingredient mass with more cooked sweet potato and significantly more shrimp in the shell.

    Frog legs- well- frog legs are for special occasions. Is there any reason that you can't farm frogs yourself? Tadpoles are less heart wrenching a dilemma to harvest. Just scoop them up and place them in the freezer. Freezing them kills protozoa and parasites as does cooking them. But frogs have bones, marrow and a whole span of nutrients-

    Quote: When you look carefully at some of these nutrients in frog, you just can't mimic that without using the real thing and once you've recognized how important amphibians are in the natural diet of peafowls- it's difficult to see around it.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2012
  6. bandbaustin

    bandbaustin Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 21, 2009
    Valparaiso, IN

    Just trying to get your opinion on using the two following feeds together in a 2 to 10 ratio. I am planning on using ultra kibble as I finally was able to order in the 15 lb bag. I have been using these two together in the meantime. Usually I use a different scratch but found this that contains mostly milo.


    1 person likes this.
  7. Bigcreekpeafowl

    Bigcreekpeafowl Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 1, 2011
    Southern Indiana
    Good reading Resolution.

    We are changing the diet here somewhat. Adding some more foods that are more nutritionally sound for our peafowl.
    The shrimp, our greens are very fond of. My favorite Java hen has become my shadow when she thinks she's going to get her favorite new food.

    The humans around the household are wondering why the peafowl get fed better than they do. :lol:
  8. Resolution

    Resolution Chillin' With My Peeps

    Isn't that the way it always is? Half my grocery list is for birds. I think my country grocer must think I'm a bit odd for buying out all the peppercorns and pickling spice he has on hand.
    Everyone knows I don't go into the kitchen!

    You know I forgot a really important addition to the diet- the chick pea- appropriate eh?
    Soaked chick peas can be fed out every day- a handful at a time. Canned chick peas are high in sodium so I'd avoid them.

    1 person likes this.
  9. SuperPeacockman

    SuperPeacockman Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 1, 2010
    Long Island, NY
    Are any of the foods you listed just more important than the others? Which ones are really critical?
  10. Resolution

    Resolution Chillin' With My Peeps

    Your maintenance feed is the most critical, be that gamebird, turkey or crane pellets. They can't live without that ration. Well- they could but no guarantee as to how well or how long if they are enclosed. The most critical of the remaining items are probably celery, shrimp and walnuts. These foodstuffs expand upon nutrients provided in the maintenance ration and fill in gaps that commercial fare is lacking in. They need to be provided consistently for it to make a difference.

    The most nutritious treats (as opposed to proper supplementation) will be over ripe banana, soaked chick peas and frog legs. Doesn't that sound like something you'd order at health food diner?
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2012
    1 person likes this.

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