Conditioning the Gamecock for Battle
By Narragansett 1985
The matter of the ingredients contained in the keep feed has long been considered the great secret in preparing cocks for battle. I disagree.
My own experience indicates that the basic feed which a cock recieves in the three or four weeks prior to battle should vary but little from the feed to which he has been accustomed throughout his lifetime. Any wide deoarture from his normal diet cannot materially increase his strength, and in all probability will upset his digestive apparatus to the point where he will have les strength than he possessed prior to the introduction of the new feeds.
Consider this practical example: the Olympic games bring together the finest conditioned atheletes in the world. The Americans have their diet, the Russians have theirs, the Africans have theirs, the Japanese have still another. Yet they all win. However, everyone will agree that if in the last few weeks before the competition any of them had changed his diet to the one used by the champion from another continent, all he would have got out of it would have been a stomach ache and defeat. The same applies to keep feeds for roosters. Stick to the diet to which they are accustomed.
My basic feed consists of:
40% soaked race horse oats. Soaked in wooden barrles or plastic Ash cans out in the sun for three or four days so they begin to sour.
20% whole corn
10% dry race horse oats
7 1/2 % wheat
7 1/2 % Milo
5% sunflower seed
10% laying pellets
I mix up the dry feed and store in a barrel, then mix in the soaked oats just before feeding. This mixture is put together by using a good sized pan for measuring and dumping the grain in a big pail where it is mixed, then dump the pailful into a 55 gallon oil drum where it is mixed some more. The chickens get this feed from 12 weeks on as long as they live. That way they become accustomed to eating whoile corn which is the best way to feed this grain. In cold weather the proportion of whole corn is increased up to 40% of the total and the soaked oats reduced. In the keep feed I cut way down on the soaked oats but don,t eliminate them entirely. It is interesting to observe the reaction of the fowl to this grain mixture. In hot weather the whole corn is the last thing they eat, whereas in cold weather they gobble up every kernel of whole corn before they touch any of the other grains. I am a great respecter of nature, and endeavor to go along with it just as far as I possibly can in everything pertaining to the feeding and care of the fowl. You will notice that this basic feed which I use is heavy in sour and whole oats. This makes for prolonged slow growth and late maturity. Both features are desirable in growing young stock. Flesh and fat can be acquired in a relatively short period of time, but strong bone development and strong ligaments and sinews require time. You cannot hurry them. The longer you can keep young stock growing, the tougher and stronger their bone and sinew structure will be at maturity. It is far better to have stags strong and husky in April than it is to have them fully matured in September.
"Fresh green grass is No.1 feed in the world for chickens, especially from 8 weeks old until cooped, and all during the precondition and the Keep. The soaked sour oats described previously are next best. The more sour the better. Be sure to feed them from 12 weeks old, and forever after."
There are certain things in the conditioning feed line which you can do to advantage:
(1) If your usual feed is of poor quality, mix up the same ingredients from good quality grains.
(2) Blow out the dust and chaf by winnowing it in the open air.
There's nothing beneficial about dirt and husks. But don't put in alot of new grains.
(3) There are certain things which increase the appetite and aid the digestion. Anything which does this in a noraml natural way is good. But don't go to extremes. Strychnine will develop a voracious appetite, but it also stimulates other activities to the point where it does more harm than good. I've tried it but abandoned the practice. Certain so-called conditioning powders are designed to increase the appetite and are okay. For years I"ve used what the boys call my "Black Magic" for such purposes. It's easy to put together and cheap. The recipe appears at the end of this section.
(4) There are certain other additives that help, but use all of them sparingly.
(a) a Little wheat germ oil mixed in the grain stimulates the sex impulses which is good. Use once a day for the last week or ten days
( Do the same with cod liver oil at the other daily feeding.
Just a little. When using these ingredients feed in cups, not on the ground where the moist grain picks up dirt and filth.
(c) Raw eggs are good. They're a natural food. Mix up one in your grain to every four or five cocks once a day or even twice a day. The last three days use the white only of a hard boiled egg to every three cocks. Add it to your grain feed.
(d) Some people add a little concentrated Beef Extract as put out by Wilson and Company a few times during the keep. This is okay but I never saw that it did much good.
(e) A noon feed of chopped apple, chopped onion, chopped lettuce is good. Not much. Just a little.
Occasionally add a little chopped up cooked lean beef. Feed all of this in a cup. Not too much. If they don't eat it all in ten minutes, take it away and throw it out.
(f) Many good feeders use buttermilk on all their feeds. You might try it. If they like it, it means their systems require this ingredient, if they don't forget it and give them their regular feed.
(g) A little calf-manna mixed in your grain feed is good. About a teaspoon full to the cock once a day. You can get it at any grain or feed store. I consider it okay. Mix in a little layer pellets if the fowl like them.
(h) The last three days, keep cocks in cock house and feed mostly corn and hard boiled white of eggs. But just add more corn to your regular grain feed, don't feed corn exclusively. And by all means during this time feed less rather than more. Not more than two-thirds of what you have been feeding. You want your cocks hungry when they enter the pit.
There are countless drugs, steroids and other stuff which feeders try to increase the strength or desire or speedor something. I've tried all the ones I ever heard of but abandoned them all. Many people feel they are not really "conditioning" a bird unless they feed something extra. If you are one of them, here are a few thins you can do which probably will do no harm:
Add some bean sprouts chopped up fresh from the chinese restaurant to the noon vegetable feeding. Some cocks will not eat them, but if they do it is good for them.
Add a little brown sugar, or still better, some honey to their feed the last week. Both are strengthening and produce energy.
Some people feel they must add bone meal and fish meal to their feed the first ten days. This is okay, if fresh but if sour or rancid they could throw the cocks off their feed.
Others think the cocks should drink toast water or barley water instead of plain fresh water.
I don't have time to bother with any of these things, but if you wish to do so , go ahead. I doubt if they do much good, but they will do no harm.
Sometimes I add some concentrated gelatin, sugar and milk prepared in a double boiler and then cooled in a pan until it solidifies. Cut up little cubes about 3/4 inches and add to feed. This puts on weight like everything. Adds energy. Use only the last four or five days, especially in cold weather. Some people swear by it. " The formula--2 ounces knox gelatin, four ounces sugar, 2 cups milk."
Of far greater importance than what you feed is how much you feed. As one old master said, "The feed cup is the key to the keep." Cocks must be kept hungry, active, alert, and scratching throughout the keep. At every feed they should be "hitting the bottom of the cup" and making it rattle on their cock stalls. If they don't clean up every grain in five minutes and start looking for more, your feeding too much. If any individual cock leaves anything in his cup by the end of this time, take away his cup and feed less the next meal.
To feed accurately you need a feed cup which has a flat top so that you know exactly how much you are feeding. A whiskey higger is okay or one those little plastic measures which come in coffee cans. The important thing is for you to know exactly how much you are feeding. Every one-fourth ounce makes a difference. Measuring by a spoon or a handful is no good. Not accurate enough. Find out exactly how much your measure holds by weighing its contents of your dry grain mix on the scales and then feed a little or a little less than a cupful. Usually about 1 1/8th or 1 1/4th ounces is a normal feed twice a day. But the important thing is for you to know how much you are feeding and not be guessing at it. After that, note how each individual cock reponds to his feed, as indicated by his appetite and his weight, and measure his feed accordingly. But ever and always have him "hitting the bottom of the cup" and looking for more. It is far better to feed too little than too much. You wont increase his strength by feeding morethan he can digest quickly. You'll only make him sluggish and upset.
Keeping in mind that the purpose of any keep is tohave a cock (1) fresh (2) alert (3) active (4) confident and (5) happy. If anything in this keep or any other one interferes with those objectives, abandon the practices or the feed which you think is causing the trouble and do something else. No set schedule or formula will cover all conditions of weather, state of health and flesh, temperament of cocks, etc. You must appraise all these things as you go along by observing the cocks and noting their responses to what you are feeding or what you are doing to them. I'm a great believer in changing the cock's location frequently during the keep. Coops on green grass one day, fly-pen another, regular small pen with dirt or sand bottom the next, etc. Such changes keep them fresh and eager. Whenever the weather is favorable, I like to keep them outdoors during the daytime.
I'm not afraid of getting them "loose" on fresh grass provided they have been on grass prior to entering the keep. It keeps them fresh. You wouldn't like to be shut up in a close, hot stall and neither do they. It's the same on cold or windy or rainy days. Put them were they'll be most comfortable. Don't be a slave to a schedule. Keep water in front of them all the time until the last 24 or 48 hours before fight time, then give them less depending upon the weather. I do like to keep them quiet and resting the last three days or 72 hours prior to their fight, but use judgement on this too and by all means have them comfortable and happy.
What you feed, how much you feed , when and how you exercise the cocks will vary somewhat with every bunch you put up. Just keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish, as stated previously, by observing the reaction of the fowl to what you are feeding and doing, and dont be a robot to this or any other system.
During the entire keep, notice the droppings every day. They should be firm but soft. Not hard and dried up, but not watery either. If they are either, try to determine the cause and correct it. They are a sure sign of a cock's condition and his ability to assimilate his food. He will not prosper if his droppings are not right. Sometimes it is the feed that is the trouble. Other times it is caused by nervousness or environment.
Whatever the cause, try to eliminate it. No matter what feed or other procedure you are following, your fowl will be going down hill instead of improving if his droppings are off. One good conditioner i knew was called a "bowel man." He placed more stress on a fowl's droppings then upon any other indication of a bird's health. So pay attention to them. They are important. Toward the end of the keep the droppings should firm up somewhat due to the character of the feed and less water. Regulate both to bachieve the result. You will have to work that out for yourself. No formula can anticipate all the conditions which you will encounter during the keep.
The use of scales during the keep is important. Weigh each morning before the cock has been fed and when he has been without water all night. By weighing at that time you get a more accurate and uniform weighing.
Record such weight day by day on a chart right to the quarter ounce so you can determine whether a cock is gaining or losing weight which is a excellent indication of his health, and whether or not he is prospering on the quality and quantity of feed he is recieving. A cock should be at about his proper fighting weight when he enters the keep following a week or two of the preconditioning process. During the two week "keep" period I like to drop him off an ounce or two through the quality and quantity of feed during the early part of the keep, and then bring him up toward the end of the keep so that he weighs as much as when he entered the keepor an ounce or two more. Make such increases and decreases in weight gradually. Don't go to excessesin achieving such results. I he does not change, don't fret about it. Such uniformity in weight indicates that a cock is jus about right in weight, and you should not attempt to change it.
By all means concentrate on having a cock "coming up" in weight, health, spirit, , and freshness as the day of battle approaches. Note especially Spirit and Freshness. If the cock does not have those qualities the minute he enters the pit, and has become stale or "gone by" as some men express it, he is an almost certain loser no matter how much you have done for him during the preceding four weeks. Many good cockers make their selections on the day of the fight based largely on a cock's freshness and eagerness on fight day regardless of how he has shown in his previous sparring sessions.
I am a great believer in freshness and in having lots of moisture in a cocks tissues when fought. One excellent cocker I know who has a splendid record for setting down cutting cocks attributes much of his success to having cocks with a lot of moisture in their muscles. He actually forces in the moisture by feeding aloof oatmeal soaked in buttermilk, and alot od stale bread soaked in water. Personally, I think he overdoes this feature of feeding, but you can't argue with success. My own fowl have a splendid reputation for cutting, and I always have plenty of moisture in their systems. Certain it is that a cock will hit short and not "reach out" with his blows.
The matter of a cock's proper fighting weight is a topic of dispute among even the best conditioners. Some men like for a cock to carry two, four, or even six ounces more flesh than other equally good conditioners. Both win and apparently show equally strong and durable fowl. Some families, and especially round headed fowl, seem to require more meat on them than others. You don't want any gut fat in them . That's sure. But other than that you'll have to come to your own decision as to your fowl's proper fighting weight basd upon your experience and observations. In any event, approach this problem with an open mind and don't be a slave to the scales or preconceived ideas. Base your judgement on what you observe with your own fowl.
Probably the most inportant feature of the feeding, as well as all other procedures in the conditioning program, is that of timing, or of having the fowl at their peak at the hour of battle. It is no good to have them "ready" or at their peak, two days or even two hours prior to battle. They must "peak" at the hour they enter the pit. Many features contribute to this condition, but from a feeding standpoint the important part is to have them "comin up" just prior to battle, and fresh. To accomplish this you must feed less (mostly cracked corn), excercise less, and rest more-- complete rest the last 72 hours prior to battle. Not over one-half the feed the eveing before fight day unless fought at night and then only one-half white of hard boiled egg. Through this procedure, cocks will come up in weight, even on less feed, and be hungry and " a walkin' and talkin' in your hands" as they enter the pit.
Some conditioners endeavor to control this timing, or peaking, through the use of various drugs. I find that the best overall, and the most consistent, results are obtained by foloowing the procedure outlined here.
4oz. powdered charcoal
2oz. ground mustard
2oz. ground ginger
2 oz. red pepper
2 oz. cinnamon
1/2 oz. carbonate of iron (if obtainable)
Sprinkle liberally on moist feed like salt
"This is an appetite stimulator only. Use all during the keep."
The matter of selection of the fowl to be shown at a specific time is of the utmost importance to the cocker who wants to win. You have up a show of 12 birds from which you must show eight. Which ones should you use? In this respect, I always think of the advice given me by Elmer Ehrhart of York, Pennsylvania, over thirty years ago. He said : "Take only your Aces to the pit. Leave the Kings and Queens at home." Again: "Play no favorites, select your show from the ones which are "ready" today."On the negative side I often think of the advice given me by my father who said; "Many an attorney accepts a case which at first he thinks has no chance of success. But the more he works on the case he becomes convinced he has a chance, then when the verdict goes against him he is sunk." It is the same way with cocking. We put a second rate bird in the keep, but he improves and we "talk ourselves" into believing that he can win. But he doesn't.
So beware of "talking yourself" into a win. Rather follow the advice of old Elmer: "Take only the Aces to the pit." The Kings and Queens,well, use them for hacking or leave them at home. The chances are that they willmeet someone else's Ace and you will have a zero on the scoreboard.
Taming a cock is a feature in the conditioning process most keeps omit entirely.
Personally, I consider it of the utmost importance. Just as important as the feed and exercise parts.
Probably more important. By means of feed and bench work you can't improve a cock's hpysical strength a great deal, but by proper taming you can improve his readiness for battle 1,000 percent. Look at it this way: You bring a cock which has been accustomed to quiet surroundings and familiar people into a strange place, slap a set of heels on him, then take him to a brilliantly lighted arena with a different sort of pit surface, and a mob of strangers raising a racket like a boiler factory and expect him to ignore all these strange sitghts and sounds and turn in a superb exhibition of fighting. Under similar circumstances great opera singers have been known to become distraught and they could not utter a sound.
Gamecocks react the same way. Especially the high-strung ones which have been all keyed up anyway. I've see high-class cocks so confused by all the noise, lights, and commotion that they would not even leave their scores, and were killed before they lifted a foot. Cocks can become accustomed to airplanes passing overhead or a barking dog racing along the fence, but it takes some time and it's up to you to get them aquainted with such surroundings. Here's how:
Start in early when you first select your show four weeks before fight day, and as you pass his coop, drop in a little piece of white bread about the size of a dime. In a few days he will be looking for the bread and learn that when you stop by his coop that you are not going to harm him but rather that you have something for him which he likes. Pretty soon most of them will take bread from your fingers. Fine. You have made a good start. If he doesn't , don't insist, but drop the bread gently before him and move on. He will tame down in time.
Whyen you have to catch the cock to move him from one pklace to another do so very gently. Take your time. Avoid getting him excited or making him wild. If he goes to ramming or flying around, leave him alone for a while and let him settle down. Then, when you get him in hand, pet him and rub him slowly and gently for a minute or so before placing him in his new quarters. When you do set him down, do it slowly and gently. Don't heave him into his new coop. Let him know that you are not going to hurt him, that he can have cinfidence in you. Offer him a bite of apple while you have him in hand, if he accepts it, so much the better.
Now when you first bring a stag into the conditioning house, that is a particularly critical time. Everything there is new to him. Take it slow and easy. always have some pieces of bread or chopped apple on the work bench for him. Place him gently on the work bench, let him look around and get aquainted with the place for 20- 25 seconds, keeping your hands on him gently all the time. Then, when he gets ready to walk around, as he will in a few seconds, walk around with him very slowly and gently.
He may even eastsome of the "goodies" you have placed there for him. But keep your hands on him gently all the time, and make no quick or fast moves. After a minute or so, lift him gently off the board, rub him for a few seconds, and then carefully ease him into his cock stall, releasing him slowly, and quietly close the door.
I've gone into this with much detail which sounds like kindergarten stuff, yet I know countless men who have been conditioning roosters for 60 years who to this moment have their twice a day "go-around" with the cocks in their care. They never fail to remark when they visit me how tame my birds are and what a tussle they have with theirs. My birds aren't tame. By nature they are not as tame as theirs are since mine are more high strung. It's all a matter of how you handle them, and particular, how you start in.
The first few times you taka a cock out of a conditioning stall is another critical time. Do this very quietly and very gently. By all means avoid getting him "het up" and flouncing around in there. Better to leave him in there than to get him all excited and fighting you. Sometimes you can divert his attention with feed in his cup so that you can get your hands on him gently without raising a fuss. Once in hand remove him slowly from the cock stall, pet him for a few seconds, then put him on the work bench where the "goodies" are, and walk him around for a while as you did the first time.
Don't attempt to "work" him those first few trips. Rather, concentrate on having him aquainted with the place and liking it there. Another dandy tidbit to put on the work bench for taming a cock are little pieces of unsalted butter about the size of a pea. They love it; dance and jumparound calling the hens annd forgewt all about you and being afraid. While he is in that mood, take your hands off him and back away a step or two so that he owns the work bench himself. It's his now. Then slowly approach him with your hands down rather than extended as if to catch him and when you get alongside him, slowly and gently put your hands back on him, move him around a little, pick him up, pet him a few times, and carefully return to his stall.
All this seems like an awful lot of detail and actually takes longer to read than to do it, but if done right the first few times it pays big dividends, and saves a tremendous amount of time for all the remainder of the keep, to say nothing of avoiding countless scratches and bruises to yourself. In a couple of days you should be able to open the cock stall door and have the cock come out to you by himself, fly to the work bench, crow and strut around without your laying a hand on him. That's when you'll be glad you spent all that care with him at the beginning. Now you can work him with pleasure instead of engaging in a "free for all" twice a day. That same relationship carries over when you move him from pen to pen. He will be right at the door waiting for you to pick him up and carry him to new quarters. He always enjoys changes.
After a few days of this and the cock is thoroughly at home in the cock house and thinks the place is his, it's time to introduce him to noise and confusion. The best thing I know for this is a portable radio. Turn it to some station which carries on a continuous program of news, music and weather, turn it up full blast and let him listen to Rock 'n Roll, tom toms and all the rest of the noises including human shouting until he becomes as sick and accustomed to it as you are. Sports events are especially good with all the shouting.
Also make plenty of noise while you are in the cockhouse. Drop pans or buckets on the floor. Get him use to them and teach him they will not harm him. Let people come to the cock house and blab away while you're working the birds. Let him get use to them. He will encounter plenty of noise and confusion at the pit, so let him get use to them ahead of time. If a cock will be fought under electric lights, by all means work him on the training table under electric lights so that he will become accustomed to them. Likewise, if he is to fight at night, spar him at night and have the pit floor as nearly as possible like the pit floor where he will fight. Bring the radio to the sparring pit and have it blaring away as loud as you can while the sparring is going on.
I have a couple of little 3x2x2 portable, collapsible scratch pens which I take with me on multi-day meets. These are setup with some shucks or straw for litter in or about the cock house. After the cock has been worked I placed him in there for three minutes while I work the next cock. Throw a few grains of feed in there and he makes the straw fly. Placing him in there and taking him out also adds to the taming. Do it slowly, and gently so as to build up confidence between you and him. Many times I've carried the birds on a long night haul, and when they arrived at their destination were a bit squeamish with the new quarters. But, five minutes in the familiar scratch coops and everything was alright again. They owned the place. That's the attitude you want to develope. All these little things help to obtain it.
When heeling the cocks I greatly prefer to do the holding and to let someone else tie on the heels. I can tell the fellow how I want the heels put on and watch him while he does it,but I can't tell the cock that the fellow who is holding him in the most uncomfortable position possible, which is what most of them do, is a friend of mine and relax. The cock does not understand this. So I'll do the holding myself. The cock is used to me and my hands, so he is relaxed and comfortable and everything is fine. It's the same way with handling. By no stretch of the imagination am I an expert handler, but the cock knows me and is used to my way of handling him.
Accordingly, he is more relaxed with me amid all the noise and confusion than he would be in the hands of a stranger. If you or the man who put up the birds are not going to handle, at least have whoever has done the conditioning bring him into the pit, weigh him, walk him around while he becomes accustomed to the surroundings and then pass him to the handler just before the start of the battle.
So that is about all I can think to tell about taming a cock. Remember always that a cock cannot produce more than a fraction of his potential ability in the pit if he is distracted by the strange sights, sounds, and surroundings. It is your duty as a conditioner to aquaint him with those conditions ahead of time.
Don't condemn him as a dunce because he just stands there and gets killed in his bewilderment. Call yourself a dunce for not aquainting with such conditions in advance. That's what I've called myself, and worse names, many times.
Working or Exercising
I was brought up on the "100 runs 100 flies" practice of working a cock in order to strengthen his muscles, improve his wind, enable him to fight longer, and make him harder to kill. Such exercises may improve all of those desirable traits to a limited extent, but of one thing I am certain; they surely take the cut out of him! And I would rather have cutting ability than all those others combined. I don't care how tough and strong a cock is, he can't take many shots to the lungs or underneath the wings, and keep going. And that's were a real cutting cock is going to pop him.
Accordingly, long ago I abandoned the old heavy bench work practices, and concentrated on keeping a cock fresh, loose, alert , and confident wherever he is, especially in the pit which I want him to consider his own domain. That is the principal or basis of this keep. So have it constantly in mind. It all is designed to promote cutting and confidence.
It is my conviction that 90% of a cock's strength, power and endurance comes from his inheritance in the brood yard and from his 365 day feed and care. That leaves only 10% possible improvement for the conditioner to work on with his special feed, exercise and stimulants to bring a cock up to 100% potential. And while the upward limit is 10%, the downward limit is much greater, and I feel certain that many conditioning methods are more likely to decrease a healthy cock's chances than they are to improve them. Likewise it is my belief that a cock hits as much with his heart as he does with his feet and legs. Accordingly, everything you can do to encourage him to put all of his heart into his punches is of more importance than any small increase in physical strength which you can give him. As regards the latter, my experience has been that the exercise program forth here develops just as much strength and endurance as any other, and promotes infinitely more cut and desire. With this statement of objectives set forth, let's get going to the practices.
You will need certain facilities and equipment. Hopefully you already have most of them and can build the others at small expense
1) A cock house. I like to use peat moss in the stalls. It's sort of dusty, but the cocks wont eat it, it's soft on their feet and bodies, they soon find that there's nothing to eat in there, and consequently remain quiet and are not scratching around all day, and it's very absorbant of moisture. This latter is important, especially where you are shifting cocks from the outside to the inside frequently. Nothing is so dangerous for developing rattles as moisture in the cock house, and peat moss helps to protect against the hazard.
2) Fly pens. As many as the number of cocks you plan to put up at one time. "Here is where 90% of your work is done. Just don't overdo it like so many cockers do. Two days at a time for a total of 12 days over a period of three weeks should be enough. Little or non the last week." They should be about ten feet high, four feet wide, and fifteen feet deep. I like to have six inches or more of washed gravel for the floor or bottom. Dirt is too dusty and I don't like boards or concrete. The fly pens should be covered, if outside, with only the front open. For litter use corn shucks if you can get them. If not, use clean bright straw or hay. If you use straw or hay, put in fresh litter every keep or so. Cocks like to scratch in clean bright stuff. Don't put the litter in too deep. You don't want to stiffen the fowl by too strenuous scratching. There probably is more or less feed in straw or hay.
Watch out for this or the cocks might get a lot more feed when they first go in there than you want them to have. Sometimes I put a couple of hens in each pen for a day or so ahead of time to clean out the grain in the litter. If you can get alfalfa hay, that's fine. Throw in a small chunk of it from time to time. Not every day. The cocks will tear it up in great shape and probably eat some of it which is good for them. For roosts I like swinging perches alternating front and back. The cocks can see each other that way and do alot more flying up and down, which is what you want them to do. Keep the front covered high enough up so that the cocks can't see outside when on the floor. Have a few hens running loose outside. The cocks want to "watch the girls go by," but don't let them "stand on the corner" to do it. Make them fly up to their perches to enjoy the sights.
3) Regular outside coops 4x4x7 or some such dimension.
Smaller is just as good. No doubt you already have them. Put a few inches of washed gravel in there. No litter. You don't want the cocks to be scratching while in them. We will call these sand coops for identification.
4) The same type coops set outside on the grass, when there is grass. We will call them grass coops. I prefer to use coops on grass instead of tie cords.
5) Two or three small 2x2x3 coops set inside or near the cock house with a small quantity ofshucks or other litter in them.
These are cooling off pens. Place a cock in there for two or three minutes after you have worked him so he can scratch around while you are working the next bird. Then, return to his cock house stall for feeding.
Now that you have the equipment all set, let's get on with it's use. The fly pens provide most of the cock's work. It is natural voluntary exercise which will not stiffen the muscles if not overdone. Start in four weeks prior to fight date. Do not feed the cock in the evening prior to placing him in the fly pen.
Instead, give him a worm pill while he is empty, and a good delousing. Then, place him in the fly pen for the night. It is a good thing to remove him from his regular coop at night in order not to excite him by catching him in the daytime. The following dy don't feed him anything either morning or night. Instead, mix up a drink of black- strap molasses and water, about a half-cup full to a gallon. This black-strap molasses water acts as a tonic and a laxative. I prefer it to bread and sweet milk for such purposes, but if you can't get black-strap molasses, give the cock a good big feed of bread and sweet
milk that first morning he is in the fly pen but nothing at night. By the next morning he should be plenty empty and hungry. Start in then with your regular feeding program as described in the first section. Don,t doctor up your feed at all with any raw eggs or fancy stuff. Just dry grain scattered in the litter. Clean water before him all the time. Also grit and oyster shell.
The secret to using fly pens successfully is to keep the cock active, scratching and flying while he is in there. In order to accomplish this is don't leave him there for too long a stretch at a time. Break it up by removing him to the grass pen or the sand pen about every third day. Likewise, don't overfeed. Hence the feed measuring cup so you will know how much feed he is getting. Keep him hungry and scratching. I like to have the cock in the fly pen about two-thirds of the time for the first two weeks, and on grass (if there is any) the other third. If no grass, then in the sand pens. But don't be a slave to any rigid schedule. If a nice warm day comes along after a cold stretch of weather put him outside even if he was just outside the previous day. The sun will do more for him than the scratching. On the other hand, if on the day he is scheduled to go outside it is raining or snowing or blowing hard, don't put him out were he will be uncomfortable and miserable. Leave him were he is or take him into the cock house and let him rest. Anything for a change. I don't like to leave a cock in the fly pens for more than three days at a stretch. It works him too hard and makes him logey. If there is not grass give him some chopped apple, onion and lettuce in a cup every day or so. Even daily if you wish. Feed it at noon if it's convenient. If not, just before feeding is perfectly o.k. The whole point is that you want to keep him fresh, alert, loose, and happy at all times. That comes first. The schedule is secondary. Change it as neccessary to accomplish the main objective. Weigh the bird each time you take him out of the fly pen, note his state of flesh, make record of it on a chart, and feed accordingly. During these first two weeks it would be fine to give him the white of a hard boiled egg occasionally, about one to every three cocks. It wont put on any weight and he loves it. Anything to keep him happy. Also, don't forget to begin the taming routine by giving him little pieces of bread once or twice a day. By the end of two weeks he should be quite tame and friendly, which is important. That pretty well takes care of the first two weeks or so. "Be sure to change location of cocks every couple of days all during the pre-condition and the keep."
About two weeks prior to fight time bring the cock into the cock house, exercising all the care and gentleness described previously. It doesn't have to be exactly fourteen days. If there has been a long spell of foul weather and the 14th day is bright and fine, leave him out in the grass or sand pen for another day or two. There's no hard and fast schedule to be followed in the cock house. One thing to be avoided is to bring him in when he is wet. Don't do that ever. If he should get wet when outside at any time, put him in the fly pen to dry out over night and feed him in a cup out there. A wet cock in a condition coop stall is a dandy way to bring on rattles.
Up until 72 hours before fight time I like to feed in the cock house both morning and night, have him roost there, but spend the day outside whenever possible. Most of such outside time will be spent in the sand coops. I don't mind his being on grass if he's used to it. Alternate between the two during all that time. If the weather is bad you might give him a day in the fly pen but no more than one day at a time and only then to break up the monotony of the other quarters. I prefer not to use the fly pens at all the last two weeks, and never the last week. Feed in cups to discourage scratching.
The bench or hand work in the cock house is light, simple and easy.
Principally it consists of taming and making friends with him. You are not going to make his muscles any stronger or tougher than they are already by your hand work in the last two weeks. Instead of working him to death in there, concentrate on toning him up, building his ego and confidence in himself and in you, getting him aquainted with you and his surroundings and the many distractors he wqill encounter at the pit. Tone up his muscles through proper food and rest. Probably rest, enforced rest, will do more toward accomplishing that than anything else. Stimulate his desire through certain things you add to his food. Keep him fresh,loose, alert, confident, and happy.
When you first put him on the bench, take it slow and easy. Make the work bench a pleasant place for him to be. A play pen rather than a torture chamber. Walk him around and back and forth very slowly at first.
As he becomes accustomed to the exercise gradually speed it up and increase the number of runs. He should be on his toes, tripping along like a ballet dancer. If he enjoys this and keeps talking to you all the time, you can run him at the peak of his work up to 40 or 50 times, counting over as one and back as two,etc. But don't continue it beyond the point where he is enjoying and enthusiastic about the work.
If he does not like to be run, as some cocks don't, and braces himself against you stiff legged, don't run him at all. All you will accomplish is to stiffen his leg muscles and that's bad. Do something else with him in the exercise line which he enjoys.
Maybe he enjoys being flown or flirted. All right, do that. But for no longer liking it or enthusiastic about the game. Non of this " work till he begins to breathe hard and his mouth is open." I don't go for that at all. If he does not like being flown and tries to pop you the second he lands, don't do that either. Most cocks like to be flown toward the work bench. Step back a few feet and toss him toward it. When he lands he should flap his wings, dance around and crow. Gradually increase the distance of the flight. This is fun for him and very stimulating, so don't overdo it. Four or five times at the most. If he has already taken a goodly number of runs and flies, a couple is enough. I usually end up this session on the bench with this exercise, then weigh him and put him in a little scratch coop while I work the next bird. After you have worked or played with the birds for a week and you are well aquainted with each other, you might try placing him on his back on the work bench were he will have to struggle to regain his feet. You hope he will never get knocked into that position but he might, so he may as well get some experience in regaining his feet. No cock enjoys this exercise, so don't do it over a couple a times at a session.
Some people like to "tail" a cock on the work bench. It is a spectacular procedure, but I never saw the cock yet which did not hate it, which is reason enough for me not to do it. Besides it is inclined to stiffen a cock's leg muscles, which is equally bad.
Many people like to hold a cock by the thighs and make him flutter, or balance him on their arm and make him do the same. The fowl hate this too, and likewise, it is inclined to stiffen the leg muscles. So I don't do it.
Their leg muscles have already had enough exercise by the natural scratching in the fly pens and flying up onto the swinging perches. I,m More interested in having the cock feel friendly and have confidence in me, and I don't want to exercise him in any way which will decrease his cutting ability. Another thing to avoid is having a wild or noisy bird in the cock house. One such agitator in there is apt to make all the other birds wild and agitated, which is the last thing in the world you want to occur.So throw him out. If you are compelled to fight him, do so right out of the sand pen. You'll not be able to do him any good in the cock house, and he will frustrate the other birds.
The last three days or 72 hours before fight time, complete rest. This is the time you want him to build up his energy for the big effort. Nothing will accomplish this so well as rest. Complete enforced rest. Keep his exercise and scratching down to a minimum, just enough to maintain his appetite and to keep him from becoming bored and sluggish. A famous doctor once said that people would be far healthier if they spent one full day a every week in bed. Rest. Complete bed rest. Probably he was right. But who would do all the chores and pay the bills? Besides, look at all the fun you would be missing. So his good idea never gained acceptance. But fighting cocks are not under such compulsions. Observe what wild geese do on their long thousand mile migratory flights. Do they go flying exercising their muscles in preparation for such flights? No, they rest. Rest for days storing up energy for the big effort. And they do the same between the thousand mile hops. Rest and eat. That's all. I guess that's enough to give you the idea. During these 72 hours, feed less rather than more. The cock does not require so much food while he is resting, and you don't want to get him sluggish from overeating. Keep him a little bit on the hungry side during this time, and at the hour of battle he should be real hungry. It wont weaken him, and he will be sharp and eager. Just don't overdo it.
A few tips as to what to do and what to avoid may be helpful:
On a long haul, travel by night. The cocks rest better and it is cooler.
Tough on you but good for the cocks. A little discomfort or inconvenience to you is worth it, especially since you've spent weeks, months and years preparing for this event.
Be careful of odors. Any kind of odors. A cock's respiratory organs are extremely sensitive. If you want to paint or creosote your cock stalls or carrying cases, do it months in advance so that all the smells have disappeared. Be especially careful to avoid exhaust fumes from your automobile. These can ruin everything in just a few minutes. Avoid airconditioning units. These things affect adversely even human beings, and fowl are far more sensitive than people. Watch out for heat at any time, especially in the 72 hours. Heat weakens a cock tremendously. He can't sweat and throw it off like you can. Do everything you can to avoid getting a cock hot, particularly the 24 hours before battle.
On fight day feed only one-third white of hard-boiled egg and a few sips of water. If birds are to be fought in the afternoon, don't feed even the hard egg. You want them empty and hungry when they enter the pit. For exercise, just two or three short flies toward the work bench to keep their muscles loose. The lack of feed will not weaken them. Weigh in at the very last minute. Your birds may drop an ounce or two during the last few hours which will enable you to meet a smaller bird on the match list. Do all your trming out a few days prior to fight date. A couple a pecks at a cut orange or a sip of water after heeling is o.k, but many times I don't even do that.
To repeat: remember always that the foundation of this keep freshness, loose, relaxed muscles, alertness, eagerness, and confidence. Also remember that there is no substitute for your own thinking. No keep schedule can anticipate all the situations you will encounter. If you get into a jam, you might consult some other exoerienced cocker. He possibly could help you, but probably not, for he can not know all you have done or failed to do. In all likelihood you,ll have to figure it out for yourself. If the situation is real severe, which calls for drastic action, don't do it. Forget it, cuss me, and try again. At least you'll save your money.
I believe strngly that it is better to fight a cock when he is "ready" than when he is "conditioned". If a cock is in robust health, full of fire, and rarin' to go, that is the time to use him, even if he is a little heavy and has not been handled much. All any keep can do for a bird is put him is put him in the condition he is in right now. If you mess around with him for two or three weeks he very likely will lose that edge and not be as good as he is today.
After all it is the cock himself who must do the fighting. All any keep can do is to enable him to put forth the best effort of which he is capable.
I'll not tell you how good this keep is. That is for you to judge based upon your own experience with it. I've used it for years with conspicuous success in top company, and consistently set down outstanding cutting fowl. The system is as nearly foolproof as any I know.
So keep your old think tank working all the time you are following this keep, and I hope you knock'em all down!
In the first printing of this booklet I goofed through not saying anything about sparring. It is an important part of the conditioning process, and most cockers do not make the most of it. I like to have fowl reasonably tame and accustomed to being handled and aquainted with their surroundings before sparring at all. It is unfair and likely to produce faulty judgement to spar a bird when it is wild, nervous and distracted by all the new surroundings. When you have the birds reasonably gentled down and aquainted with you, proceed as follows:
1st sparring. Bill the birds until they are thoroughly mad at each other, and drop them down real close together. Practically on top of one another. They will go together like a shot. Snatch up as quickly as you can,point at each other and drop down again, just as close as the first time. Snatch up immediately. Do this four times. The entire session will not take over half a minute. This teaches them to swing into action the second their feet touch the pit floor. Pet and rub them gently and return to their quarters.
2nd sparring. Start out the same way. Only between rounds take a step backward. This requires them to run a few steps before breaking. But keep the rounds a continuous process. No wait or hesitation between rounds.
3rd sparring. The same as number two, only increase the distance between the birds when setting down. They should cover the distance between them like a flash before breaking into the air. If they don't, shorten the distance and try again. No hesitation between pittings. On the third round of this session let them go at each other for a while. This is when you can judge their fighting style: whether they are low-headed, duckers, hit deliberately or merely fan the air, look where they hit, wheel, all that sort of thing. This is when you select your show. Give them a rest, then set down fairly close to each other, snatch up as soon as they come together and return to fly pens or scratch pens. Throw out the ones that do not make the team. This session should be held about a week before fight day.
4th sparring. About 48 hours before fight day. This is just a tune-up session to keep them on edge. Set down fairly close to each other and snatch up immediately. Only two rounds. You don't want them to get stiff or sore.