The understanding of basic genetics has helped the modern breeder maintain and improve some of the great families of gamefowl that have been passed down through the generations. Maintaining and improving bloodlines is the primary goal of cockers. Some would say that cockfighting is practiced to provide an avenue for gambling or to satisfy a primitive bloodlust. The core of cockfighting is about the perpetuation of an ancient, noble and beautiful feathered gladiator by breeding the best to the best.
An effective breeding program is a process that requires a systematic approach. Consider the process equivalent to a road that leads to a particular destination. A cocker can choose the vehicle (bloodlines) and the route to take.
Some important components to any successful breeding program. The following steps, hard work and a little luck will help a gamefowl breeder produce quality gamefowl.
Step 1: Establishing Goals
Establishing goals or objectives is the most important part of the breeding program. Goals for a gamefowl breeding program are probably most easily measured in terms of the winning percentage of the offspring (progeny testing). Having a breeding goal that is quantifiable, or can be measured, assists the breeder when evaluating the success of the specific mating and the bloodlines used in the breeding program.
In the following table, it will group traits according to their relative degree of importance in my breeding program, and the degree of selection intensity is merited to each group. Although the groups are arranged by relative importance, all traits in groups A, B & C are important, and all require careful monitoring and consideration.
- Cutting Ability Maximum Accurate; efficient; deep
- Health Maximum Resistant to disease and stress
- Gameness Maximum Tries to destroy the opponent 100% of the time
- Fighting Style Maximum Intelligent, adaptive, head back
- Strength High Capable of powerful blows
- Speed High Able to overwhelm/avoid opponent
- Endurance High Ability to give and take for long periods of time
- Body size/type/conformation High Avg. 5 lbs./upright/football
- Station High
- Disposition High Gentle
- Winning percentage High 70%
- Bone size Medium
- Spur Alignment Medium Low on shank/aligns with prop toe
- Eye color Medium Red or Orange
- Plumage condition Medium Flexible, long feathers
- Leg Color Low Characteristic of the breed
- Comb Type Low Characteristic of the breed
- Plumage Color Low Characteristic of the breed
Step 2: Identifying and Obtaining Broodfowl
Finding and obtaining the broodfowl that will meet or exceed expectations is essential to success as a breeder. A breeder should take his time before rushing out and buying fowl.
Identifying a desirable bloodline is best determined by their offspring’s performance in the pit.
Attending derbies are all ways to get an idea of how they have performed for other cockers. The fowl should be very strong in the group A and B traits that were identified when planning the goals of the breeding program, and adequate or better in as many of the group C traits as possible.
Step 3. Selecting Superior Individuals
Once the bloodline has been identified and the breeder has agreed to sell some of his fowl, the selection of specific individuals is required.
The goals for the breeding program should be consulted during the selection process. Every cock and hen should be evaluated with respect to the goals. Selected individuals must be extremely healthy, active and in good flesh. They should be balanced, proportional and represent the characteristics of the bloodline. Both cocks and hens should be relatively calm and good natured.
Consider what we do as cockers very similar to what happens in nature, where every individual is competing for survival each and every day. Individuals that can’t compete or adapt do not survive, thus their DNA does not get passed to the next generation.
Step 4. Choosing the Right Breeding Strategies
Inbreeding is a long-term breeding strategy. It is most useful as a way to strengthen and preserve valuable genetic information in a bloodline.
Individuals from these inbred bloodlines are valuable for producing hybrid battle crosses.
Inbreeding increases the number of homozygous genes. Remember that this applies to desirable and undesirable genes equally. If inbred fowl are mated and the progeny display undesirable traits, both parents and offspring should be removed from the breeding program because the parents are carriers for the recessive, undesirable gene expressed in the offspring. These individuals could be retained for crossing.
Linebreeding is a form of inbreeding in which superior individuals are used multiple times in several generations in the development and maintenance of a bloodline. Linebreeding increases the probability that desirable genes from the superior individuals are passed on to the subsequent generations. Care must be taken when linebreeding apparently superior fowl to other closely related individuals because of the potential for uncovering and passing on undesirable genes.
Outcrossing is the mating of unrelated individuals within a bloodline. It is a valuable strategy to maintain a bloodline with minimal effects from inbreeding depression. This strategy requires the maintenance of two or more families within a bloodline.
Crossbreeding is the mating of unrelated individuals from two or more separate bloodlines. When compatible bloodlines are used, crossbreeding often results in hybrid vigor, which occurs when the offspring exceeds the performance of the parent fowl.
Step 5. Evaluating the Progeny
The ultimate measure of success of any breeding program is the quality of the resulting offspring. The relative success of the mating is determined by the ability of the offspring to meet the criteria defined in the goals of the breeding program in Step 1. When breeding inbred families to produce broodfowl, it is only possible to initially evaluate their outward appearance, body structure, health and disposition.
Information learned about fighting style, speed, cutting ability and other important traits should be gathered, analyzed, and used to guide the breeding program in future breeding seasons. Only through experience and being present at the pit when his warriors are doing battle can the breeder learn the weaknesses and strengths of his fowl and make adjustments to the breeding program.
It is true that superior battle cocks don’t always make superior brood cocks. However, history has proven that superior battle-cocks make great brood-cocks frequently enough to consider breeding a few great winners every year.
The level of competition is an important factor to consider when evaluating battle-fowl. It is a good idea for the breeder to compete a few times each year at the highest level of competition that he can afford.
Step 6. Managing Broodfowl
It is often said that if two cockers were given identical bloodlines, it would take just a few generations for the descendants of the original parent fowl to look and act completely different. Most of this phenomenon may be related to a different emphasis on specific traits when selecting broodfowl, and it is also related to differing environments (soil, water, climate, feed). However, another significant effect is due to management.
The following generic recommendations should be considered to optimize the productivity and performance of the broodfowl. Specific management techniques should be employed in certain situations (e.g., disease; predators; environmental conditions, etc.).
- Employ a regular de-worming and de-lousing program.
- Control the body weight of the broodfowl through diet and exercise. Trim the feathers around the vent of each cock and hen to maximize the mating efficiency.
- Provide enough pen space to minimize stress from overcrowding.
- Provide a round roost pole, approximately 2.5 inches in diameter. In flock mating system, adequate roost space is an important detail, as the dominant hens will force the submissive hens off the roost until it is nearly dark. This is stressful on all of the fowl.
- Provide clean, fresh and dry bedding material in the pen.
- Provide a nest that is big enough so the hen can turn around freely and is protected from the weather. Use clean straw, shavings, or other material in the nest.
- When using an incubator or a surrogate mother to hatch the eggs, eggs should be picked up at least once per day, kept clean and stored between 12 and 15 degrees Celsius.
- Discard undersized, oversized and odd-shaped eggs.
- Wash dirty eggs soon after gathering.
- Feed a breeder pellet if available. The breeder diet is balanced to promote optimum fertility and hatchability, as well as good egg shell quality.
- Provide oyster shells free-choice for strong eggshells.
- Feed fruit and vegetables to penned fowl.
- Always provide clean fresh water and use a high quality vitamin/electrolyte product 1-3 days per week or more often during extreme heat.
- During the off-season when fowl are not breeding, allow them access to grass.
- Practice biosecurity. Keep visitors to a minimum, and require shoe disinfection for those who do visit.
- Minimize the introduction of new fowl onto the premises. New fowl are potential disease carriers. Isolate new fowl for at least two weeks before introducing them into your breeding program.
Step 7. Record Keeping
To keep track of the specific individuals and mating used in the breeding program, it is necessary to keep accurate records. This will help when the breeder needs to go back and figure out exactly how specific fowl were bred or to determine the degree of relationship between certain individuals within a family or bloodline.
Records should identify the individuals used in the brood pen, including their bloodline, toe mark and wingband number. The toe-mark and wingband numbers for the chicks produced from this mating also needs recording in the record book. I also record the number of eggs set, chicks hatched, and date hatched.
During the growing period, I also record mortality caused from predators, disease, culling or other reasons, and note the broodpen number. If I use medication or vaccinate, I record what, when, and why it was used and the results.