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Cockfights Legal in Surrounding Areas
Article first published in Vol. 11, 1993.
By Molly Hernandez. Research contribution by Martha Becher
Ordinary roosters are fed corn, meat scraps and leftovers. Gamecocks are given a high protein diet with vegetables and fresh fruits.
Roosters live with other roosters and hens. Gamecocks live alone. Roosters walk around the pen for exercise. Gamecocks receive intense physical training.
The gaffs are strapped onto the rooster's legs. Photo by Martha Becher
Cockfighting is illegal in Texas but legal in New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mexico, where it is considered a national sport. But the breeding of fighting roosters is not illegal in Texas. From September through mid-November, during the molting stage, the fighting roosters lose their old feathers and grow new ones. While the new feathers grow, the roosters are sensitive and do not fight, thus making cockfighting a seasonal sport.
After the molting stage, the gamecock's training and diet become critical. Fabens game breeder and trainer Benjamin Stevens says, "I feed my gamefowl food with at least 16% protein. They eat three ounces a day, so they won't get fat. Once a week they'll eat dog food soaked in water which has 21% to 26% protein. Three times a month I'll feed them bananas, berries, apples and oranges for the vitamins."
Stevens also explains that each gamecock goes through a two to three-week training program called "keeps." There are many different types of keeps and each trainer uses the combinations he prefers. Stevens describes the keeps he uses: "On the first day, I make them fly to a bench almost three feet away. Then they'll run from one side of a bench to the other. They will repeat this ten times the first day. Then for seven days I will increase the repetition by two. This gives them strength and endurance. I also lay them on their backs so they'll learn to get up quickly."
Breeders cut off the bird's crown when he is about a year old. This way his opponent will not be able to get hold of him during a fight, causing excessive bleeding.
A cockfight is held in a small arena or pit enclosed by a small fence. The pit is called a palenque in Mexico. Chairs are placed around the circle for the spectators.
The fowls are matched by weight or age. When they are matched by weight, they must weigh within three ounces of each other. When they are measured by age, the spur is measured. A bird with a dime-sized spur is still a baby; one with a quarter sized spur is a stage; and once the spur is cut off, the rooster is automatically considered an adult. A leather band with the chosen weapon is placed around the rooster's ankle when he fights.
There are two different weapons used in the fights. The gaff resembles a small, a curved ice pick and makes holes in the opponent. A fight between roosters using this weapon last two hours or more. When knives are used, they must be the same length and are carefully measured; they range from three inches eight inches long. The match can be over in less than 10 minutes when knives are used. Some fights are over when the trainer believes his animal is too hurt to continue. Others have a time limit. And some last until one rooster dies.
Many people believe that cockfighting is cruel. This may be why it has been banned throughout most of the United States. But since El Paso borders New Mexico and Mexico, where it is legal, numerous breeders live in the area.
For some people these fights have become part of the border tradition. Gambling is part and parcel of cockfighting, although some breeders say that raising a champion is reward enough. Other people look at cockfighting like other betting activities such as horse and dogs races. Winning becomes paramount.
Legal or not, cockfighting--and betting -- is a familiar border activity.