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 struggle leap 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 appears to be like like an idol or influencer. She is neither. Higher often known as 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 coming into Super100, a TV expertise present that allowed her to indicate off her experience on birds.
Mod watches the struggle from the entrance row, elbows propped on a plastic-coated mushy barrier, cracked and flaking from a historical past of clenched palms. Her chicken is within the ring, and if it wins there’s critical cash to be made – not essentially from playing, however quite extra from the gross sales of her champion’s offspring.
Cockfighting is a longstanding a part of Thai tradition. In contrast to some Southeast Asian international locations, betting on the result of a struggle is authorized at licensed venues and spurs on the chicken’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 revenue is commonly additionally decrease than in Bangkok. Mod’s farm, positioned a couple of hours from Chiang Mai, is surrounded by rice fields. Over the previous few years, the game has reworked from a farmer’s facet hustle into an entrepreneur’s major supply of revenue.
In a rustic with one of many widest wealth gaps on the planet, gamefowl breeding has turn out to be a uncommon gateway to upward social mobility. Mod’s mom was a housekeeper, and nearly all of the household’s neighbours are farmers.
“Fowl breeding didn’t use to have standing and solely not too long ago is it being thought-about a major career,” Mod advised Al Jazeera.
“Today, chicken breeders can have a automobile, home, and a much bigger revenue than individuals with strange jobs.” Her farm is residence 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 gymnasium.
Status is vital
A combating chicken can promote for between 3,000 Thai baht ($85) and 50,000 Thai baht ($1,450), however with the suitable 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 embrace the prize cash from fights,” stated the aptly nicknamed ‘Fowl’ 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 may seem to be the tip objective, however for businessmen like Fowl, these are largely PR stunts. Promoting the offspring of his winners is the place the true cash is made.
Like Mod, Fowl recollects rising up poor; as a baby, he would complement his household’s revenue by working meals to spectators at his native cockfighting ring in Ayutthaya. At present, 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 immediate communications app, from a number of smartphones in entrance of him.
Status – curated by fastidiously deciding on their fighters’ opponents – and relentless digital advertising and marketing are among the largest components figuring out a farm’s success.
As soon as a cockerel has gained its highest-grossing match, it’s unlikely to struggle once more in order that the breeder can protect its worthwhile repute. Breeders will take reservations for the offspring of high-stakes winners earlier than the chicks have even been born.
Fowl’s farm has about 250,000 followers on LINE and many of the chicks are offered 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 kinds and strengths.
Like Fowl, 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 vital strategy to increase 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 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 store, he movies YouTube movies to offer troubleshooting recommendation to different small scale breeders. The pandemic may need slowed down the playing facet of the trade, however Thongprasert feels monetary instability has contributed to an increase in curiosity in gamefowl breeding.
Households of low-income teams had been probably 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 revenue. Since mid-2020, Thongprasert’s YouTube channel has gained greater than 10,000 subscribers.
Mod’s enterprise could be on the up at the moment, however she was not all the time met by help. Not least from her mom who was initially apprehensive the trade wouldn’t present a steady revenue.
“To start with, my mom didn’t like this career for me; it’s nonetheless new in Thai society for ladies to lift combating chickens,” she stated.
The blood-sport repute, majority male viewers, and preliminary enterprise start-up prices imply that it’s nonetheless uncommon to see girls breaking into the trade.
“Folks usually look down on girls who get into working environments with lots of males. However persons are turning 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 chicken breeding could be a great way for ladies and men alike to make supplemental revenue, they need to attempt it out first.
“There may be lots of soiled work behind a farm’s repairs, and it’s removed from a glamorous career,” she stated.
Again on the ring, Mod’s chicken 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 chicken’s head. One other member of her workforce 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 chicken cowers and runs away 3 times in a row, thereby dropping the struggle.
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 chicken again to her truck, she passes promotional posters for different groups that includes pictures of ladies in lingerie posing subsequent to their greatest performing roosters.
Tomorrow, Mod’s birds will struggle in Chiang Mai – at a much bigger stadium and with larger stakes.