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Tahlequah Daily Press

Law means dilemma for cockfighting family

Fifty-six percent of Oklahoma voters helped pass a bill that continues to raise controversy in the rural areas, where opponents say the new law will destroy many families' livelihoods.
The ban on cockfighting makes it a felony to "keep places, equipment or facilities for cockfighting; to own, possess, keep or train birds for cockfighting; and to aid or assist in cockfighting." Though that may sound clear-cut, for some folks, things aren't that simple.
When State Question 687 went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, Bobby and Melinda Fairchild at Clear Creek Game Farm in Adair County weren't sure what to do.
"Things were gloomy around here for a few days last week," said Bobby Fairchild. "The law that passed is so unclear and so vague, that we aren't sure what we are supposed to do now."
So they did what they knew how to do. They got the kids off to school and went to work, feeding and watering the 980 chickens on one of the largest game fowl farms in the area.
This wasn't Fairchild's first try at running a business, but it has been his most successful. He tried his hand at owning and operating a paint and body shop in Wagoner, but that didn't pan out. Next he owned a concrete business in Cherokee County, and due to lack of manpower, it was also unsuccessful.
A native to rural Oklahoma, Fairchild became interested in the game fowl industry during a hunting trip 20 years ago.
"I was coon hunting with some friends who were game fowl fanciers, and they were how I became interested in it," said Fairchild. "From those friends, I started out with about a half-dozen birds. Today I raise, breed and sell over 1,000 roosters a year. So for 20 years, I've been in the business, and in the last five years, it has become very successful."
The history of cockfighting, one of the world's oldest spectator sports, goes back more than 5,000 years ago. The first reports were of cockfights in Persia. Then the sport quickly spread to India and Asia. One of the first known fighting grounds for game fowl was along the Sindu River in India, 4,500 years ago.
The activity quickly spread across Asia, became established in Greece and Rome, then moved through Europe and then into America. The export of game fowl is a huge industry. American commercial game fowl breeding operations, like the Clear Creek Game Farm, export to the main cockfighting regions - the Philippines, Mexico and Hawaii.
"Ask anyone at any of the main cockfighting regions where to get the best breed of roosters, and they'll all tell you 'Oklahoma,'" said Fairchild. "Oklahoma is well-known for having breeds with the best genetic characteristics and health of all the game fowl industry. Those are the two most important things about a rooster."
At Clear Creek Game Farm, calls are taken from all over the world from customers interested in their roosters. Fairchild said that 80 percent of those customers are calling from Mexico, where cockfighting is one of the most popular spectator sports.
"We have plywood boxes made special for shipping roosters, sent to us from a small business in Oklahoma," Fairchild said. "When someone orders a rooster, they get two hens with it at a cost of up to $1000, sometimes more. We put the chickens in their crates with a warm bed to lie on, and half of an apple to eat on their trip. They go to the post office and for a cost of approximately $33 a crate, and they get shipped overnight. So with the passing of this bill that is supposed to ban all of this activity, there will be a lot more businesses affected than just ours."
He said that at just his farm alone, there are three families that will be immediately affected by this bill. From there, the list grows.
Feed stores that supply the four to six tons of feed each month will lose his business. The petroleum industry will lose money on the fuel it takes to run the operation. The post office will lose money in the shipping fees. All the small local businesses where he buys his equipment - such as material for fence, lumber, pens, etc. - will all lose revenue. And the electrical suppliers and water suppliers that serve his farm will feel the pinch as well.
The biggest question for Fairchild and his business is, "What are we supposed to do now?"
"The law doesn't clearly define anything," he said. "When they can come up with some legislation that spells out just exactly what they want us to do from here, we'll abide by that law. We don't want to be called criminals. But there's nothing yet or no one who can tell us anything."
He and the other members of the Oklahoma Game Fowl Association will try their best to challenge this bill.
"Regardless of how you feel about [chicken fighting], this is a bad bill," he said. "It's poorly written and it doesn't clarify anything. I couldn't disperse of my farm in three days, even if I set it on fire. It would take longer than that to burn. I would like for someone to make some kind of silly suggestion as to what to do now."

DA comments on enforcing cockfighting law

State Question 687 passed 56 to 44 percent in Oklahoma last week, making it a felony to be involved with cockfighting in any way.
The new legislation defines "cockfight" or "cockfighting" as: "a fight between birds; whether or not fitted with spurs, knives or gaffs; and whether or not bets or wages are made on the outcome of the fight." Under the measure, approved by the majority of voters, it is a felony to "instigate or encourage cockfighting; to keep places, equipment or facilities for cockfighting; to aid or assist in cockfighting; to own, possess, keep or train birds for cockfighting."
Under this law, it is a misdemeanor to knowingly be a spectator at a cockfight. The measure also provides for the forfeiture of birds and equipment used in cockfighting.
Penalties for the felony charges can be up to 10 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. The misdemeanor charge can earn an offender one year in jail and a fine of up to $500.
The law became effective three days after it was approved, at 5 p.m. last Friday. Since then, rumors have been circulating of several game farmers all over Oklahoma killing all their birds, or merely turning them loose, to avoid being arrested Friday evening.
Calls have also been flowing in to local law enforcement agencies from people seeking advice on what to do to avoid criminal charges.
District Attorney Dianne Barker-Harrold said her office is taking a common-sense approach to the situation.
"We will continue doing the same thing as before, which is have a wait-and-see attitude about this," said Harrold. "We aren't going to go out and start barnstorming into anyone's house. One thing we will do is make sure that simple possession is not a concern. On the other hand, blatant annihilation [of the law] will not be tolerated. I am not in a position to require immediate reaction on this. People need time to get rid of those things."
Harrold said her office will allow time for the game fowl farmers to recoup their investments.
"I know that this is a way of life for some people. Three days was not enough time to do that," she said. "We will blend this with a certain amount of fairness. There will be no knee-jerk reactions."
She wasn't sure about the length of time that will be allowed for game fowl owners to try to sell their stock and equipment, because they do expect several challenges and legislative actions in regard to the law.
"We don't want to be in the situation where someone has been jailed and then they turn over the decision in three months," said Harrold. "On the other hand, if someone wanted to hold a cockfight in downtown Tahlequah, we'd stop it."
Harrold said she is neither for nor against the ban, but "the bottom line is that we, as prosecutors, always have to do a scale on what priorities we are going to assume and how we are going to best use our limited resources. Everything is handled on a case-by-case basis."
Harrold is about to attend the District Attorneys Fall Conference, and she's sure the cockfighting ban will be one of the main topics of discussion.