When I would run over in Elysian Park, after I first moved here to LA, I had this loop I would do which I called the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As I loped through the the subtropical triple-canopy jungle that overlooked Interstate 5, my dumb transplanted hillbilly ass would see sights and wonders:

Eventually, I gave it up for the astonishing solitude of Griffith Park...

The word "cockfight" also refers to a fight to the death between prisoners in the South. This took place, generally, between the late 1800s and the mid-1900s. The "contestants" were chained wrist-to-wrist, and fought, with no interference from the spectators.

Picture this if you will. An enclosed pen, a smoke filled room reeking with the stale smell of sweat and alcohol. The crowd is comprised of mostly men who have gathered to watch two gladiators fight to the death. The atmosphere is tense with anticipation as the participants make their way to the ring. Bets are laid as to the outcome of the fight. Just who are these noble warriors that are getting ready to do battle? Two combatants will enter the ring, and only one, if they’re lucky, will leave!

Well, as it turns out, these gladiators aren’t men at all. In fact, quite the opposite, they’re chickens!

Okay, roosters to be more precise

The “sport” of cockfighting is one that pits two gamecocks against each other in a duel to the death. Nature, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to equip the participants with spurs that they would normally use to defend themselves. Apparently, when it comes to the sport of cockfighting, nature wasn’t good enough. The owners of these birds have taken to sawing off nature’s handiwork and replacing them with razor sharp steel blades that range anywhere between one to three inches in length. They use these in order to try and gaff and kill their worthy opponent.

Normally, these birds wouldn’t be so antagonistic towards each other and fights that occurred between them usually involved either mating territories and food sources. In order to cure that, the birds are often injected with stimulants designed to induce aggressive behavior. Some of the more popular ones include strychnine, caffeine, amphetamines and the ever popular epinephrine.

One might be tempted to say “So what? They’re just chickens!” To that statement I’d offer up the following. After your typical cockfighting tournament is over, over half to two thirds of the participants are dead. Those lucky enough to survive usually suffer some form of permanent injury such as gouged eyes, punctured lungs and the inevitable broken wing or two. Chances are, they won’t survive a second fight.

Once thought of as an ethnic tradition, cockfighting is now banned in 47 states. New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana are the only states that haven’t fully banned the practice. Louisiana is making some headway though, most counties have laws on the books designed to prevent the activity. As a matter of fact, in 22 states it is a federal offense to engage in the "sport". In 33 states, you can be charged with a crime for just watching a cockfight take place.

As we all know, just making something illegal doesn’t prevent it from occurring. In the backwoods and the bayou’s the sport still goes on despite law enforcement's efforts to put an end to the practice. It seems that some folks who have “grown up” battling these roosters refuse to change their ways.

Personal note: Here in my adopted home state of Ohio, which I consider quite civilized, it isn’t uncommon to read about cockfighting tournaments getting busted every now and then. Usually, about a thousand or so birds meet their end during an “average” tournament. I shudder to think what goes on in more isolated locations.

artofcock.hypermart.net/ -
Jeff said, "If i let you loose in a room with that rooster, he'd go right after your leg."

I pondered that for a moment. i weigh about 240 (220 kilos) and i bend steel pipe for a living. But the lowliest pre-teen is way, way out of the weight class of even the most testosterone-soaked chicken. You'd expect any creature under ten pounds to run like hell whenever the top of the food chain enters the room. "What if I kicked him across the room?"

Jeff laughed. "He'd come right back at you."

Roosters are chickens. That means they're inhabit a tiny subset of vertebrates who sometimes manage to keep walking after they've had their head chopped off. This means they ain't too bright. And they're mean. Really mean, because they feel some primal need to control the henhouse and anything that might get between them and some hen hottie deserves to die. They've got to be the meanest, most stubborn herbivores on Earth. They're stupid enough to attack a species that regards them as food. They're mean enough to want to kill anything nearby. And they're stubborn enough to keep on the attack after they'be been really badly hurt. Bugging out doesn't seem to occur much to these fowl beasts, even when they're right about to be killed. They usually fight to the death.

This utter meanness, and the fact that chickens are farm animals has led to the practice of cock fighting, a rather barbaric practice that is common in many rural areas of the United States. Cock fighting is a felony in all states except Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico. Which doesn't stop it, even here in Ohio.

Cock fighting is very old, and was practiced in ancient Persia, China, India, and later into Greece and Rome. It has alwasys been controversial, and many attempts to ban it have been made. Still it persists. The 'sport' probably evolved from simple economic circumstance. Hens lay eggs, and generally get along with each other, which means hens are a lot more valuable than roosters. One rooster is all that's required, and given the natural propensity of roosters to fight, one is probably all that any farmer might want, given the desire for a peaceful barnyard. And some meat on the table.

That made for a rooster surplus on many farms. And boys will be boys. One way to kill boredom is to drop a few of the surplus fowl into a pen and let them fight it out. Side bets naturally would follow. The loser would end up battered, fried and served with mashed potatoes. Farm boys ended up with entertainment and dinner all in one not-so-tidy package.

That's how it probably started. But some time ago things turned deadly. Today, fighting roosters are bred, with the biggest and meanest carefully raised. Their natural spurs are removed, probably to make them safer to handle. That didn't make the fighting less deadly. They strap knives called gaffs to the rooster's taloned feet, just to speed matters along a bit. I haven't seen them in person, but i've seen the catalog. Imagine a strap-on boning knife, available in different sizes and shapes. Most gaffs are around three inches long. Sometimes the birds are fed drugs to hype them up.

The birds are also carefully trimmed, raised and there is an 'art' to attaching the gaffs, which is referred to as 'heeling'. Their combs are trimmed short to reduce vulnerability to beaks. The birds are fed a careful diet, and a steady exercise regime to prepare them for the ring.

Cock fights are generally clandestine, with a simple meeting in someone's barn. Place your bets, drop two armed roosters into a pen, and watch them go until one or both is dead. The lure is gambling, with big money involved. Jeff raised birds until his arrest. Once he took home $20K in a single evening. A very nice payday for a chicken farmer. And they are bloody, with both losers and winners cut to ribbons. The bloodiness and the fact that cock fighting is practiced only by a country minority probably accounts for the illegality.

Attempts to ban cockfighting are almost as old as the activity itself. Today even those who think PETA and other animal right activists loony generally find cock fighting repulsive. But you can bet that somewhere in the hills, there's two roosters slashing each other up even now.

Although cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, proponents of this blood sport beg that the opposition understand their point of view.  Alabama (at this writing) is considering changing its law from a misdemeanor to a felony for engaging in cockfighting.

So let's put forth the arguments to overlook this activity:

 

Hey man. It's only a dumb chicken!

"It's not like people who fight dogs.  Now that is cruel.  And they are not race horses who we all love and get upset when they break a leg.  These are just dumb chickens.  These are farm animals first and foremost.  Have you ever eaten a chicken? So it gets a little bloody.  Ever been to a hog killing?  Now that's bloody.   These birds have no intelligence whatsoever.  They don't even try to run away.  Just a dumb chicken.  Like us.  We fight 'em then we eat 'em.  What's the big deal?"

 

We treat our birds good! 

"We see that these birds are well fed, well sheltered, well groomed and even given medical care when needed.  A badly injured bird is no good to us so we learn to do some doctoring.  And the cutting off of their comb is to protect them from frostbite.  Yep, no dumb farm animal is  better taken care of. "

 

We stimulate the economy!

"We are proud that we make a good living with these birds.  The buying and selling of dumb farm animals is a great life.  And a little betting on the side is just good fun, really.  Don't take our livelihood away without considerable thought to the good that we do for the economy."

 

Keep your nose out of our business!

"Listen.  We aren't hurtin' nobody.  We don't come to town and tell you how to live your life do we?  So don't tell us here on the farm how to live ours.  Have you ever heard of the 'domino effect?'  First, you want to take away our chickens.  Next you'll want to take away our guns.  We all got a nice  collection of guns, too.  Want to see?"

 

And so the arguments go.


 

When will this blood sport stop?  The Humane Society of the United States, PETA, state legislatures in 38 states and animal lovers from all walks of life and all countries of the world would like for it to stop now.  Cockfighting is more than two barnyard chickens having a little argument.  It is big business and animal cruelty.


 

Thanks to YouTube, LLC you can see a cockfight for yourself by clicking here.  

If you live in Alabama, take part in the fight to stop this cruel sport by clicking here.

Wherever you live, check your states statutes and make sure your state has strong laws against cockfighting. 


UPDATE: March 16, 2009

Cockfighting is definitely not just a farm or back woods problem as you'll see from this article from The Boston Globe.

Cock"fight` (?), n.

A match or contest of gamecocks.

 

© Webster 1913.

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