Cold weather kills birds at Iowa peacock farm that produces much of nation’s hatching eggs

Cold weather kills birds at Iowa peacock farm that produces much of nation’s hatching eggs
Dennis Fett, otherwise known as "Mr. Peacock", holds some of the peafowl chicks he raises on his farm in Minden. (COURTESY DENNIS FETT)

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa – The extreme cold weather that enveloped southwest Iowa beginning in December and has continued has devastated the available breeding stock at The Peacock Information Center operated by Dennis Fett and his wife, Debra Buck, near Minden.

Fett, widely known at Mr. Peacock, said he has lost about 1/3 of the breeding stock that produce much of the nation’s peacock hatching eggs as a result of the prolonged cold weather.

He said he and his wife lost about 50 percent of their breeding stock when the farm was hit by a tornado in 2014. Fett and Buck have been working to rebuild their peacock breeding stock and were almost back to pre-tornado numbers until the onset of the current cold snap, when record below-zero temperatures caused the demise of the majority of their breeding stock.

“And we still have another week of this cold weather in front of us,” Fett said Tuesday morning.

The couple said it has also heard from people around the country wanting to purchase adult birds for replacement of their birds that they lost to the same conditions.

“This is going to create a major shortage and a huge price increase for people wanting to have peacocks on their farm or ranches,” Fett said.

It will also take three years at best for the nation to build up the peacock breeding stock from the prolonged arctic plunge.

Fett said his flock produced between 1,000 and 1,500 peacock hatching eggs prior to the tornado in 2014. Last season, as he worked to rebuild his breeding stock, the number of eggs produced had dwindled to about 600.

“We’ll be lucky to have 300 eggs this coming season,” he said.

Fett said he started his operation 37 years ago with five peacocks. By the time the tornado struck three years ago, he had about 200 peacocks on the farm, with about 50 percent of the birds lost to the tornado.

“Now we’re down to about 50 to 60 birds. It’s really hard to lose your favorite peacocks after taking such good care of them from eggs to adulthood in all sorts of Iowa weather conditions over the last 37 years,” he said. ”I did not give up after the tornado in 2014, and I will not give up after this severe winter weather loss, I’m here for the long run”.

The Peacock Center appears to have taken the brunt of the losses for area livestock.

Chris Clark, a beef program specialist with the Iowa State University Extension who works out of the Armstrong Farm office near Lewis, said he hasn’t received any reports of losses for farmers. Treynor-area farmer Scott Casson said he’d received no word about losses either.

“It’s cold, but I think most farmers were ready for it and had their livestock ready for it,” Casson said.

Clark said preperation for cold weather for cattle includes a focus on nutrition. That includes increasing the amount of feed for the cattle.

“Farmers can supplement with high-energy feed — hay, corn and corn silage,” are examples, he said. Corn silage is a product made from using the entire corn stock.

“The other thing, really, is a lot of common sense stuff,” Clark said, noting that offering wind breaks and bedding for insulation “between the cold ground and the animal” are a big help.

For farmers with out buildings that can handle it, bringing the animals inside helps, of course.

“If you got space and it’s feasible, that can help — especially when there’s a lot of precipitation. When they get wet, it increases the cold stress they experience,” he said.

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