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 combat 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 punctiliously pencilled eyebrows, Phromanas Jumpa seems to be like an idol or influencer. She is neither. Higher generally known as 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 combat from the entrance row, elbows propped on a plastic-coated delicate barrier, cracked and flaking from a historical past of clenched palms. Her hen is within the ring, and if it wins there’s critical 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 international locations, betting on the result of a combat is authorized at licensed venues and spurs on the hen’s legs are sometimes wrapped in tape to stop critical harm.
Whereas rings are ubiquitous throughout the nation, tournaments are largely in rural provinces the place family revenue is commonly additionally decrease than in Bangkok. Mod’s farm, positioned just a few hours from Chiang Mai, is surrounded by rice fields. Over the previous couple of years, the game has reworked from a farmer’s aspect hustle into an entrepreneur’s main supply of revenue.
In a rustic with one of many widest wealth gaps in the world, gamefowl breeding has develop into a uncommon gateway to upward social mobility. Mod’s mom was a housekeeper, and nearly all of the household’s neighbours are farmers.
“Chicken breeding didn’t use to have standing and solely just lately is it being thought of a main occupation,” Mod informed Al Jazeera.
“As of late, hen breeders can have a automotive, home, and a much bigger revenue than folks with extraordinary jobs.” Her farm is residence to greater than 100 birds. Gross sales can attain 100,000 Thai baht (simply over $2,900) a month – rather more than the 300 Thai baht ($8.70) a day Mod earned beforehand as a receptionist at a health fitness center.
Repute is vital
A preventing hen can promote for between 3,000 Thai baht ($85) and 50,000 Thai baht ($1,450), however with the proper 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 embrace the prize cash from fights,” mentioned the aptly nicknamed ‘Chicken’ 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 seem to be the tip objective, however for businessmen like Chicken, these are largely PR stunts. Promoting the offspring of his winners is the place the actual cash is made.
Like Mod, Chicken recollects rising up poor; as a toddler, he would complement his household’s revenue by working meals to spectators at his native cockfighting ring in Ayutthaya. At this time, 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 prompt communications app, from a number of smartphones in entrance of him.
Repute – curated by way of rigorously choosing their fighters’ opponents – and relentless digital advertising are a few of the greatest elements figuring out a farm’s success.
As soon as a cockerel has gained its highest-grossing match, it’s unlikely to combat 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.
Chicken’s farm has about 250,000 followers on LINE and a lot 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 recognized to have completely different preventing types and strengths.
Like Chicken, Mod makes use of LINE to promote her gamefowl nationwide and overseas, transport them in wood bins to Laos, Malaysia, and Indonesia. She sees abroad consumers as an vital solution to develop her enterprise.
Breeding as a brand new monetary alternative has led to a gradual change within the sport’s demographic. Cockfighting is just not 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 development ironmongery store, 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 essentially the most considerably affected by pandemic-related losses, with about 50 p.c of farming actions and non-farm companies shedding greater than half of their revenue. Since mid-2020, Thongprasert’s YouTube channel has gained greater than 10,000 subscribers.
Mod’s enterprise may be on the up immediately, however she was not all the time met by assist. Not least from her mom who was initially fearful the trade wouldn’t present a secure revenue.
“To start with, my mom didn’t like this occupation for me; it’s nonetheless new in Thai society for ladies to lift preventing chickens,” she mentioned.
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 loads of males. However persons are turning into extra accepting,” mentioned 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 every of her Thai pedigree birds in 2018, famous that whereas hen breeding generally is a great way for men and women alike to make supplemental revenue, they need to attempt it out first.
“There may be loads of soiled work behind a farm’s maintenance, and it’s removed from a glamorous occupation,” she mentioned.
Again on the ring, Mod’s hen has misplaced a watch.
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 shedding the combat.
Unable to hedge her bets in time, Mod additionally loses 5,000 Thai baht and just a little 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 greatest performing roosters.
Tomorrow, Mod’s birds will combat in Chiang Mai – at a much bigger stadium and with larger stakes.