FOWL BUSINESS:of game fowl breeders and breeds

CandelariaAs of press time, aspirants to the much coveted title of 2013 Candelaria 7 Cock Derby Champion have psyched themselves up to meet the rigors and stress of the five day event. A total of seven cocks will be fought, four of which are “must fight”, two on the first day of each set and the next two on the second day. Those who submitted their weights on January 28 will fight on the 29th and 30th and if qualified will fight their remaining three cocks.

The preparation for the derby is in itself a struggle and if one overcomes where finally he puts up a show (meaning a team of seven birds conditioned to fight on it topmost form) and has the necessary capital to back up the show, he has hurdled the first stumbling block. His next is then to prepare for the final phase which is to make sure his roosters are well-pointed (a term that means that the bird is focused on winning or prevailing over the opponent) at the time of fight and when released, becomes explosive enough to exterminate the opponent as fast as he can.

Preparing the birds is just like preparing for an athletic event. In most part, the activity is science-based. First comes the science of genetics where the breeder applies scientific principles to produce what he thinks will be winners not only for fighting by himself but also for sale to those who just want to fight but neither have the interest to breed or raise the birds by themselves.

Breeders usually trace the roots of the brood materials before breeding them. Or, to shorten their process of selection, acquire quality materials from known breeders who either kept breeding certain strains that proved superior in a particular type of fighting or are selling birds that they themselves have proven in the pit. Known breeders like Lance de la Torre not only perpetuate their own lines like his famous Lemon 84 and the Boston Roundheads but still scout around the US from time to time for better breeds either to infuse to their existing lines not only to “perk” these up, but to develop another line that they think will out fight others in the upcoming derbies.

However, genetics is not only a mathematical process where percentages are computed and the degree of one blood against the others infused are calculated. The bigger aspect is the “eye” of the breeder for selecting the best candidates for the breeding pen. Here comes the art of selection where both the brood cock and the brood hens ( a cock can mate with up to 10 hens) are chosen based on certain criteria such as purity in terms of phenotype (outside appearance), body conformation, well set pair of legs, broad shoulders wide or narrow breast, station or the angle of the body when set on the ground.

For the perfectionist breeders, even the scales and the “senyales” are considered. One can never be too perfect, especially if one aims for the major derby circuits and the lucrative market of stags and cocks sought after by the big cockfighters mostly based in Luzon. Cockfighting lore is filled with both folk belief and science that one has to spend time to sort which is which. But for those who apply science in their selections, the “senyales” are just genetic markers, unique to a specific individual which has shown superiority and has the prepotency to pass on the traits to their offsprings.

For example, the famous Lemon 84 of Rafael Paeng Araneta exhibits a specific mark on their combs and scales where those in the know usually look for when told that the cock or stag is a Lemon 84 progeny. Their absence puts the authenticity of that particular bird in question. The same is true with other breeds from the US like the Judge Lacy Roundhead where breeders look for a prominent row of scales at the back of the shanks that goes from the back of the knee to the base of the prop toe.

Uniformity of the offsprings is also a mark of the skill of a breeder. When one sees a row or several rows of similar looking beautiful birds on the farm, one can only conclude that indeed the breeder knows his business. A while back I was invited by Mr. Sublime Altavas of Bmeg Derby Ace to help cover the farms of brothers Martin and Marlon Escolin of Roxas City. We were treated to a sight of rows and rows of similar looking Sweaters that they breed, sell and fight. These same spectacle we also saw in the farms of small commercial breeders in Villa Arevalo, specifically Engr. Art Aguirre, Nelson Tingzon and Romel Planta who collectively raise about 600 or so stags every year. Each specialize on a specific line which their respective buyers choose because they had been winning with these types of birds.

But winning performance in the arena is the final gauge of one’s produce. No matter how beautiful one breeder’s birds are if they don’t perform in the pit and win for the breeder himself or for his buyers, his business is ruined. At the most, the buyers will buy once and if they don’t perform and win, they won’t be coming back in the future. My mentor, Mr Serafin Moreno once said, “The ultimate breeder is one who breeds both beautiful and winning birds”.

The game fowl industry is big business and even the small participant has a niche to fill in. Farmers raise corn, sorghum and legumes fed to the birds. Small breeders who sell their stags and cocks at a lower price have their own markets here and in other places where cockfighting seems to be non-stop. For decades, these small raisers have fed their families and sent children to school. Those making paraphernalia like cord strings, gloves for sparring, tepees, knives and others earn stable income because of the demand. But big money is in the hands of multinationals who joined the industry supplying feeds and veterinary medicines and supplements.

But of course, the industry is threatened. Do-gooders declared a war on cockfighting because of their argument that it is animal cruelty. They refuse to understand that the roosters had been genetically altered for more than a millennium starting with the Romans and simultaneously with our Asian ancestors who first observed cocks fighting in the jungle for the right to mate with the alpha female. The cocks fought a century ago is vastly inferior to the modern game fowl because of the selection process that chose only the alpha animals to mate. Human (breeder) intervention has resulted to a vastly superior warrior that will soon meet an equally superior opponent in the cockpit. And still the bottom line is that while the ultimate sportsmanlike conduct is observed at all times, this is simply business and profit is the bottom line.