Join Date: Feb 2005
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WHY did the chicken cross the street?
Certainly not to be roasted, not yet anyway, but to seek perhaps its own arena and fight the way of the ancient gladiators—as good-bred cocks are meant to be.
And even as this is frowned upon by some, its association with Filipino culture has given the game fowl industry an anchor to assert itself as a legitimate industry.
Thus, from its pre-Hispanic beginnings, this “other chicken industry” has grown beyond the backyard into a fully developed multibillion-peso business.
Based on quarantine records of the provincial veterinary office of Negros Occidental, about 140,000 game fowl are being shipped out of the province yearly. At an average price of P4,000 each, that’s about P558 million or half a billion pesos worth of chickens crossing the Visayan seas to be bred or pitted against others elsewhere.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The figure would balloon many times more if game fowl bred and sold in other provinces are counted, as well as the value of collateral businesses—from the smallest supplier of gaffs and knives, feeding cups, scratch pens and cords to the biggest manufacturer of agroveterinary products.
Industry insiders estimate that at any given time, the country has 10 million stags being conditioned to fight or readied for breeding.
Negros Occidental is the virtual mecca of gamefowl breeding.
“This is because Negros came in first in the industry,” says former La Carlota City Mayor Juancho Aguirre, president of the Negros Gamefowl Breeders Association (NGBA). “Being so, it is here where expertise in game fowl breeding was developed. And it takes a lot of patience and money to breed good chickens.”
One of the country’s more successful breeders, who had been in the business the last 30 years, Aguirre enthused that one must love the sport to be able to breed good chickens.
“If you don’t love what you’re doing, you cannot produce a good chicken,” he said. And by that he meant, a game fowl that can “kill its opponent the fastest time possible.”
To achieve that is every breeder’s secret. But all told, a good breed stems from a good bloodline enhanced by proper training and conditioning. Thus, the many game fowl farms in Negros literally became the laboratory for breeding this kind of chicken.
Negros’ mountainous parts and vast rolling hills also provided a perfect home for the birds, Aguirre said.
With Negros also being the country’s sugar base, some people took to game fowl breeding as a hobby while waiting long months for their sugarcane to mature. This pastime developed into something more when people’s skills evolved and the potential for it to be another source of income and employment became evident.
With the boom in the sugar industry then, it was very likely that the wealth that made barons out of sugar planters was the same stream that sustained this capital-intensive activity. For who else could afford to import game fowl from the United States and then breed and crossbreed them here?
In time, enthusiasts and breeders would get their brood from Negros Occidental and very often, they would bring along to their farms local handlers or trainers. Others would buy farms and set up base right at the mecca.
Soon enough, even agroveterinary companies took special interest in the evolving industry, setting up depots, even feed mills, here. Multinational companies have even developed feeds and other formulas carrying a Filipino tag as distinct as the “labuyo.”
Today, thousands of breeders have sprung across the country. They have formed associations and confederated into national organizations, such as the National Federation of Gamefowl Breeders. This group alone counts a long list of member-organizations, one of which is the NGBA.
One of four species believed to be the forebear of today’s gamecock is the Red Jungle Fowl or Labuyo. These birds are endemic in Asia, including the Philippines. Stories of old say that the Filipino’s penchant for cockfighting is traced to the realization that this type of chicken can do a little more before landing on the dining table. And so we were told that cockfighting had already been a pastime of Filipinos—way before the Spaniards came into the country.
Today’s gamecock, however, is already the product of science and local ingenuity. When Aguirre ventured into breeding, he went to the United States to buy his first “trio”—two hens and a cock. These were bred and crossbred with other bloodlines or with the same bloodline to produce a better fighter than its predecessor. Normally, birds displaying good fighting characteristics are propagated or crossbred with another bloodline, but losers in the pit are culled to prevent further losses.
Aguirre made quite a name in breeding Duke Hulsey Lemons and Greys—two imported bloodlines that he was able to propagate locally.
He experimented in crossbreeding. With his Duke Hulsey Lemon, he was able to produce a hit he called the “lemon gwapo.” But as to what he crossbred this Hulsey with is the secret of his trade.
Art and science
Speed, cutting accuracy, intelligence, gameness, power and good health are standards that determine a good breed. But the only place to test these qualities is in the cockpit. To make sure that the breed will be successful as a mature fighting cock, he usually joins stag derbies. A stag, a young fighting cock (6 to 11 months), is usually ready for the pits at 8 to 9 months.
The bird is prepared for the fight right after hitting about 6 months. Conditioning starts by delousing and deworming. The feeds are also changed to one that has more protein to develop the bird’s muscles.
Walking, flying and running exercises are also employed through controlled conditions, such as the cord walk (the bird is tied to a meter-long cord beside a teepee or a shaded area under a tree). Running and flying is limited to a roost or a flypen that is 4 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 10 feet high.
There, too, is the scratch pen meant to exercise the claws. It is a 27-cubic-foot enclosure with scratching materials. In summer, only light scratching is recommended. Thus, the materials are usually dried banana leaves. During the cold months, the bird will have corn shacks or hay as an in-between.
At some point, the bird is made to “spar” with another chicken. If he shows all the fighting qualities, he is selected as a candidate to the pit.
So much more goes into this. Aside from breeding a bird with good fighting genes and conditioning them with physical and mental exercises, nutritious feed, vitamins and minerals are included in their diet.
In sum, a good bird is a product of the art and science of breeding, which is both genetic and environmental.
So why all the fuss over a bird just to have it face death? “That’s what makes it a sport,” Aguirre said. “The best of the good birds survive.”
As this is done, so, too, businesses spin off to meet the breeding requirements. Feed producers, for instance, have different concoctions for each stage of development: a chick booster (day old to a month), stag developer (1-4 months), enhancer (4-6 months) and conditioner pellet (6 months and beyond).
A stag consumes about 100 grams of conditioning feeds a day, at an average cost of P50 per kilo. For the 10 million stags the country is estimated to have at any given time, this translates to about P50 million worth of feeds bought and sold each day.
And this is not even the kind of chicken raised in poultry houses and served fried or broiled on the table.
Dewormers come in varied types as there are a dozen other vitamins and protein supplements. Incubators and scales have been developed with the game fowl in mind.
Backyard smiths or the panday who used to pound steel to produce gaffs and knives (tari) have been replaced by branded producers.
Recently, digital technology caught up with the industry. Digital thermometers and hygrometers measure the temperature and moisture level of the chicken and even the house where the chickens stay while awaiting their turn to fight.
Microchip IDs have been developed and imbedded into the bird in lieu of the traditional ring or wing band for identification.
At the cockpit, the bird is the commodity. A winner creates a name brand for the breeder. Consistency of their breed is noted as they bring out more winners and from here, the multimillion-peso business cycle continues.
As for Negros, more than its inasal (grilled), it is this other chicken that brings the moneyed to the area to find the good bird—to breed, crossbreed, fight and breed again—as it has been through the years.