PLANTERSVILLE • On Sundays, 74-year-old Sammy Hardin plants himself in the pulpit and preaches to the people at New Parkersburg Baptist Church in Houston.
During the week, he shepherds a different sort of assemblage – a populous pride of peacocks.
While most ornithology pros will tolerate the use of “peacock” for all peafowl by less educated birders, the proper terminology is thus: Males are peacocks; females are peahens; the little ones, peachicks.
Hardin’s wife, Melva, said there are probably about 250 of the long-necked birds in various stages of growth on the property behind her house.
Sammy Hardin doesn’t think so.
“I probably got closer to 300,” he said.
For those not numerically inclined, clearly, the peacocks are plentiful.
“Why peacocks?” brings a simple, short and speedy response.
“It’s just a hobby,” said the overall-clad Hardin, chuckling. “I’ve raised just about everything but monkeys.”
That’s not much of an exaggeration.
“I used to raise show banties; I raised rabbits for years,” he said.
His wife of 54 years speaks up and continues the list of live animals her husband has raised.
“He raised big horses and built stalls in the barn for big horses,” she said. “Then he raised mini horses and redid all the stalls in the barn to accommodate them. Then he went back to big horses. There’ve been cows and hogs, too.”
And about three years ago, the peacocks came to Plantersville.
“They’re the easiest things in the world to raise,” Sammy Hardin said. “I raised 150 the first year. But, it’s an expensive hobby.”
Hardin glances at his wife, sitting just across the table, before he speaks again.
“I’ve never told her but I’m gonna tell you – I’ve probably invested $20,000 to $25,000 in this hobby,” he said, as Melva Hardin shows not one smidgen of surprise. “It’s not a money-making hobby, for sure.”
That investment includes birds and buildings, fencing and feed. And don’t forget the time.
Feeding the fine, feathered fowl takes two hours or longer each day, Melva Hardin said. The Hardins have had help with that task this summer from their 12-year-old grandson Eli Causey.
“He’s some good help when you can get him off those computer games,” said the Amory sixth-grader’s grandfather.
If there was only a pair of peacocks on the property, perhaps they’d have names like Prewitt or Penelope, but at the Hardin’s Peacock Farm, the birds remain nameless.
“There are way too many of them,” Causey said. “You wouldn’t be able to keep up with any of the names.”
Always one to stay busy, Hardin worked as a roofer for several years and was an employee of Lee County for 15 years before he retired. He’s preached the gospel for the past 24 years.
When he began his latest hobby, Hardin said he didn’t know a lot on the subject of peacocks. But he’s learned a good bit from computer research and even more by trial and error.
Like a skillful follower of words on a teleprompter, Hardin holds forth: “There are probably 100 different colors of peacocks, if not more ... the more colorful the bird, the more expensive ... A common bird is the Indian Blue and a less common one is the Cameo pied white-eyed bird. The eggs usually hatch between 25 and 28 days. I put the eggs under game hens, then in commercial incubators for 18 days where the eggs are turned every few hours ... three days before they hatch, I stop rotating them. You know why? It lets the bird figure out which end is up, which way to go when it hatches.”
He can explain the temperature and the level of humidity necessary for the eggs to successfully hatch, and he knows it takes 30 to 40 minutes for a peachick to make its way out of its egg. He’s proud of his strong history of hatching.
“In three years of doing this, I don’t think I’ve lost over three babies,” he said.
The fan-like tail feathers for which the peacock is known are full in December; mating season is usually February to April; and after mating season, the birds shed their feathers.
“Some of the peacocks’ tail feathers will be 6 feet high and 8 feet wide,” Hardin said. “It’s something to see.”
Hardin has a few secrets that he now makes public: Every few days he feeds the peacocks dry cat food – they love it and the protein is good for them.
“And another secret to raising the blame things is keeping them on wire until they are 6 to 8 months old,” Hardin said.
It stands to reason if the birds are not allowed to eat their droppings, they’ll be healthier birds. So, Hardin’s peachicks are kept in cages above the ground for a while.
Hardin laughs when he recalls his earliest days with peacocks.
“I kept hearing about ‘white-eyed birds,’” he said. “I’d look into their eyes and didn’t see anything different. Then I learned it’s referring to the spots in their tail feathers.”
Not only are peacocks pretty, but the Hardins have learned they are smart and curious. And loud.
“Not long after they hatch, they just look around and peck on the glass of the incubator,” Melva Hardin said. “And all you have to do is tap on a bowl a couple of times and they will start eating from the bowl.”
Mostly during mating season, but also at other times, peacocks make a sound akin to a woman screaming. The Hardins have grown accustomed to the sounds. So, too, have their neighbors.
Sammy Hardin has shown no signs that he’ll soon switch to a different hobby. But he’s not one to take to a porch rocker for anything but a brief rest.
“I’m not going to stop until they throw dirt on me,” he said, laughing. “Life’s been good to us – real good. “I’ve got no complaints. Not any at all.”