Gamefowl millionaire: Thai women find fortunes in cockfighting | Agriculture News

Lampang, Thailand – With every cockerel’s kick, wisps of white down feathers float into the air above the densely packed spectators. The boys watching the battle bounce 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 punctiliously pencilled eyebrows, Phromanas Jumpa seems to be like an idol or influencer. She is neither. Higher often called Mod, the 27-year-old is one in every of 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 point out off her experience on birds.

Mod watches the battle from the entrance row, elbows propped on a plastic-coated delicate barrier, cracked and flaking from a historical past of clenched arms. Her fowl is within the ring, and if it wins there’s critical cash to be made – not essentially from playing, however relatively extra from the gross sales of her champion’s offspring.

Cockfighting is a longstanding a part of Thai tradition. Not like some Southeast Asian international locations, betting on the result of a battle is authorized at licensed venues and spurs on the fowl’s legs are sometimes wrapped in tape to stop critical damage.

Whereas rings are ubiquitous throughout the nation, tournaments are principally in rural provinces the place family earnings is usually additionally decrease than in Bangkok. Mod’s farm, situated a number of hours from Chiang Mai, is surrounded by rice fields. Over the previous couple of years, the game has remodeled from a farmer’s aspect hustle into an entrepreneur’s major supply of earnings.

Mod with her back to camera streams two birds engaged in a practice fight in the green-floored ring
Mod streams a observe battle reside on LINE, an instantaneous communications app, to her followers. She makes cash not from the matches themselves however from the offspring of her profitable cockerels [Mailee Osten-Tan/Al Jazeera]

In a rustic with one of many widest wealth gaps on the earth, gamefowl breeding has turn out 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.

“Hen breeding didn’t use to have standing and solely just lately is it being thought of a major occupation,” Mod advised Al Jazeera.

“Nowadays, fowl breeders can have a automotive, home, and an even bigger earnings than folks with peculiar jobs.” Her farm is house 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 fitness center.

Fame is vital

A combating fowl 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 30 days in income, and that doesn’t embody the prize cash from fights,” mentioned the aptly nicknamed ‘Hen’ S Meesuwan, one other gamefowl breeder.

In January 2022, his champion cockerel Trickster gained 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 tip objective, however for businessmen like Hen, these are largely PR stunts. Promoting the offspring of his winners is the place the true cash is made.

Like Mod, Hen remembers rising up poor; as a baby, he would complement his household’s earnings by working meals to spectators at his native cockfighting ring in Ayutthaya. At the moment, he’s the proprietor of one in every of 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 one million per day,” he says, speaking over a buzz of notifications on LINE, an instantaneous communications app, from a number of smartphones in entrance of him.

Fame – curated by means of rigorously choosing their fighters’ opponents – and relentless digital advertising and marketing are a number of the greatest components figuring out a farm’s success.

As soon as a cockerel has gained its highest-grossing match, it’s unlikely to battle once more in order that the breeder can protect its worthwhile fame. Breeders will take reservations for the offspring of high-stakes winners earlier than the chicks have even been born.

Hen’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; several types of chickens are identified to have completely different combating types and strengths.

Like Hen, Mod makes use of LINE to promote her gamefowl nationwide and overseas, transport them in picket bins to Laos, Malaysia, and Indonesia. She sees abroad patrons as an essential solution to broaden her enterprise.

A wide view of the cockerels covered enclosure at Bird's farm with a farm hand in an orange shirt feeds birds housed beneath domed cages
A farmhand at Hen’s farm feeds the cockerels. The small-time breeders who purchase his birds are hoping for a genetic payoff [Mailee Osten-Tan/Al Jazeera]
Mod sits among the other cockerel owners as they wait to pair their birds for a fight
Mod sits among the many different cockerel house owners as they wait to pair their birds for a battle. It’s uncommon to see girls in cockfighting [Mailee Osten-Tan/Al Jazeera]

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 in addition 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 videos to offer troubleshooting recommendation to different small scale breeders. The pandemic might need slowed down the playing aspect of the trade, however Thongprasert feels monetary instability has contributed to an increase in curiosity in gamefowl breeding.

Households of low-income teams have been probably the most considerably affected by pandemic-related losses, with about 50 % 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.

Soiled work

Mod’s enterprise may be on the up as we speak, however she was not at all times met by help. Not least from her mom who was initially fearful the trade wouldn’t present a steady earnings.

“At first, my mom didn’t like this occupation for me; it’s nonetheless new in Thai society for girls to lift combating chickens,” she mentioned.

Bird holding Trickster, the winner of a 70.2M THB fight in January 2022
Hen reveals off his prize-winning fighter Trickster, the winner of a $2 million battle in January [Mailee Osten-Tan/Al Jazeera]

The blood-sport fame, majority male viewers, and preliminary enterprise start-up prices imply that it’s nonetheless uncommon to see girls breaking into the trade.

“Folks typically look down on girls who get into working environments with plenty of males. However persons are changing into extra accepting,” mentioned Mod.

Bussarin Choeybanditthakul, who has been breeding birds for 29 years and turned down a proposal of 20 million Thai baht ($57,800) for one in every of her Thai pedigree birds in 2018, famous that whereas fowl breeding is usually a great way for ladies and men alike to make supplemental earnings, they need to attempt it out first.

“There may be plenty of soiled work behind a farm’s maintenance, and it’s removed from a glamorous occupation,” she mentioned.

Again on the ring, Mod’s fowl has misplaced a watch.

In a quick interval, Mod’s supervisor fusses over the cockerel like a Muay Thai boxer, wrapping its wings in plastic baggage to maintain them dry whereas draping a sizzling towel over the fowl’s head. One other member of her group wafts steam from a bunch of singed lemongrass beneath its breast to assist revive it. Their efforts are in useless; within the subsequent spherical, the fowl cowers and runs away thrice in a row, thereby dropping the battle.

A close up of one of Bird's cockerels, as one member of the team cradles it in his arms and another stitches its eye
A detailed up of one in every of Mod’s cockerels, as one member of the group cradles it in his arms and one other stitches its eye [Mailee Osten-Tan/Al Jazeera]

Unable to hedge her bets in time, Mod additionally loses 5,000 Thai baht and somewhat little bit of dignity.

As she carries the fowl again to her truck, she passes promotional posters for different groups that includes photographs of girls in lingerie posing subsequent to their finest performing roosters.

Tomorrow, Mod’s birds will battle in Chiang Mai – at an even bigger stadium and with higher stakes.