Clinic Stories

Gamecocks

Cock fighting is now illegal in all states. It wasn’t always so. Until 10 or 20 years ago many states allowed chicken fights but arrested people for gambling. My first exposure to fighting chickens was in 1984. I was a resident in avian medicine and working at a poultry diagnostic laboratory in Pennsylvania. A cock fight raid resulted in the confiscation of several dozen chickens. I was asked to examine the chickens to evaluate their health. There where cocks ready for battle, some roosters used as warm up and hens and younger chickens brought for sale. They were all well cared for and in good health. All but the fighting cocks were placed on farms. The fighting roosters were deemed dangerous and scheduled for euthanasia. That job fell to me.

These roosters were groomed for Puerto Rican cock fighting. In that style of fighting the feathers are removed from the body, the spurs are shortened and replaced with curved metal spurs fastened to the legs by a leather band. The chickens fly up, then bring their legs down onto the body of their opponent. The metal spurs and exposed flesh increase the carnage and they fight until one can no longer continue, sometimes until death.

Chickens can be quickly euthanized by pulling their necks to separate the spinal cord. Cervical dislocation is an approved method of euthanasia in poultry but they do a lot of flopping around afterwards, as in the saying - a chicken with its head cut off. I euthanized the first rooster and laid him down to get the next. It didn’t go as planned. As he went through his death throes, the other roosters took it as a fighting dance and ran to the front of their cages, ready to attack. I removed the first rooster, waited for the rest to calm down, then euthanized the remainder out of sight of the rest.

In 2002, I was asked to give a presentation at a meeting in San Miguel de Alende, Mexico. It was held at a Holiday Inn, the only hotel I have ever stayed at that had a bull fighting ring. The farewell ceremonies featured amateur bull fighting (actually heifers with respiratory disease chasing volunteers over the wall) and cock fights. The style in Mexico is very different. The chickens are not plucked and have their natural spurs. They are held by their handlers, dropped together on cue, and scooped up within seconds. This goes on for several rounds with great excitement and cheering, money changes hands and no blood is shed. I could not understand the scoring but everyone else seemed to.

Cock fighting still exists, even in New Jersey. On occasion someone asks me if I can sell them performance enhancing drugs for their roosters, which I do not do. I will likely never see another cock fight, and I can’t say I will miss it.

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