Lampang, Thailand – With every cockerel’s kick, wisps of white down feathers float into the air above the densely packed spectators. The lads watching the battle soar out of their seats to shout odds, voices swelling like singing cicadas.
Among the many viewers on the cockfighting ring in Lampang province in northwestern Thailand, one face stands out.
With the ends of her lengthy hair curled with a flat iron and thoroughly pencilled eyebrows, Phromanas Jumpa seems like an idol or influencer. She is neither. Higher often called Mod, the 27-year-old is one in all Thailand’s up-and-coming gamefowl breeders, rising to prominence as “The Angel of Gamefowl” after getting into Super100, a TV expertise present that allowed her to indicate off her experience on birds.
Mod watches the battle from the entrance row, elbows propped on a plastic-coated smooth barrier, cracked and flaking from a historical past of clenched arms. Her hen is within the ring, and if it wins there may be severe cash to be made – not essentially from playing, however reasonably extra from the gross sales of her champion’s offspring.
Cockfighting is a longstanding a part of Thai tradition. Not like some Southeast Asian nations, betting on the end result of a battle is authorized at licensed venues and spurs on the hen’s legs are sometimes wrapped in tape to forestall severe harm.
Whereas rings are ubiquitous throughout the nation, tournaments are principally in rural provinces the place family earnings is commonly additionally decrease than in Bangkok. Mod’s farm, situated just a few hours from Chiang Mai, is surrounded by rice fields. Over the previous few years, the game has remodeled from a farmer’s facet hustle into an entrepreneur’s main supply of earnings.
In a rustic with one of many widest wealth gaps on the planet, gamefowl breeding has grow to be a uncommon gateway to upward social mobility. Mod’s mom was a housekeeper, and the vast majority of the household’s neighbours are farmers.
“Chook breeding didn’t use to have standing and solely not too long ago is it being thought of a main occupation,” Mod informed Al Jazeera.
“As of late, hen breeders can have a automobile, home, and a much bigger earnings than individuals with unusual jobs.” Her farm is dwelling to greater than 100 birds. Gross sales can attain 100,000 Thai baht (simply over $2,900) a month – way more than the 300 Thai baht ($8.70) a day Mod earned beforehand as a receptionist at a health health club.
Status is essential
A combating hen can promote for between 3,000 Thai baht ($85) and 50,000 Thai baht ($1,450), however with the correct publicity, gross sales can attain much more profitable heights.
“I make round 15 million baht ($435,000) per thirty days in income, and that doesn’t embody the prize cash from fights,” stated the aptly nicknamed ‘Chook’ S Meesuwan, one other gamefowl breeder.
In January 2022, his champion cockerel Trickster received a match with a prize of 70.2 million Thai baht ($2m). Success at excessive stakes matches like these would possibly appear to be the top objective, however for businessmen like Chook, these are largely PR stunts. Promoting the offspring of his winners is the place the true cash is made.
Like Mod, Chook remembers rising up poor; as a baby, he would complement his household’s earnings by operating meals to spectators at his native cockfighting ring in Ayutthaya. In the present day, he’s the proprietor of one in all Asia’s most profitable gamefowl farms.
“Even 15 years in the past, I used to be making 3,000 baht a day in gross sales, however now it’s 300,000… 500,000… and even 1,000,000 per day,” he says, speaking over a buzz of notifications on LINE, an prompt communications app, from a number of smartphones in entrance of him.
Status – curated by means of fastidiously deciding on their fighters’ opponents – and relentless digital advertising are a number of the greatest elements figuring out a farm’s success.
As soon as a cockerel has received its highest-grossing match, it’s unlikely to battle once more in order that the breeder can protect its worthwhile popularity. Breeders will take reservations for the offspring of high-stakes winners earlier than the chicks have even been born.
Chook’s farm has about 250,000 followers on LINE and many of the chicks are bought to smaller-scale breeders who’re hoping for a genetic pay-off.
Some crossbreed their native birds with others within the area; various kinds of chickens are identified to have totally different combating types and strengths.
Like Chook, Mod makes use of LINE to promote her gamefowl nationwide and overseas, transport them in picket packing containers to Laos, Malaysia, and Indonesia. She sees abroad consumers as an necessary approach to develop her enterprise.
Breeding as a brand new monetary alternative has led to a gradual change within the sport’s demographic. Cockfighting will not be solely attracting extra low-income opportunists or girls like Mod, but additionally social media-savvy entrepreneurs.
In Bangkok, businessman Thongprasert Luengsupapit has been rearing a handful of gamefowl for the final two years.
From an enclosure behind his building ironmongery shop, he movies YouTube movies to provide troubleshooting recommendation to different small scale breeders. The pandemic may need slowed down the playing facet of the business, however Thongprasert feels monetary instability has contributed to an increase in curiosity in gamefowl breeding.
Households of low-income teams have been essentially the most considerably affected by pandemic-related losses, with about 50 p.c of farming actions and non-farm companies dropping greater than half of their earnings. Since mid-2020, Thongprasert’s YouTube channel has gained greater than 10,000 subscribers.
Mod’s enterprise could be on the up right now, however she was not all the time met by help. Not least from her mom who was initially frightened the business wouldn’t present a secure earnings.
“At first, my mom didn’t like this occupation for me; it’s nonetheless new in Thai society for ladies to lift combating chickens,” she stated.
The blood-sport popularity, majority male viewers, and preliminary enterprise start-up prices imply that it’s nonetheless uncommon to see girls breaking into the business.
“Individuals typically look down on girls who get into working environments with plenty of males. However individuals are changing into extra accepting,” stated Mod.
Bussarin Choeybanditthakul, who has been breeding birds for 29 years and turned down a suggestion of 20 million Thai baht ($57,800) for one in all her Thai pedigree birds in 2018, famous that whereas hen breeding generally is a great way for men and women alike to make supplemental earnings, they need to attempt it out first.
“There’s plenty of soiled work behind a farm’s repairs, and it’s removed from a glamorous occupation,” she stated.
Again on the ring, Mod’s hen has misplaced an eye fixed.
In a short interval, Mod’s supervisor fusses over the cockerel like a Muay Thai boxer, wrapping its wings in plastic luggage to maintain them dry whereas draping a sizzling towel over the hen’s head. One other member of her staff wafts steam from a bunch of singed lemongrass underneath its breast to assist revive it. Their efforts are in useless; within the subsequent spherical, the hen cowers and runs away thrice in a row, thereby dropping the battle.
Unable to hedge her bets in time, Mod additionally loses 5,000 Thai baht and somewhat little bit of dignity.
As she carries the hen again to her truck, she passes promotional posters for different groups that includes photos of ladies in lingerie posing subsequent to their finest performing roosters.
Tomorrow, Mod’s birds will battle in Chiang Mai – at a much bigger stadium and with higher stakes.