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Bobby Jones, Game Fowl Breeder

By June 2011Comments

Photograph by Erin Trieb

Jones, who lives in Gatesville, has been raising game chickens for almost fifty years. He sells his birds to clients around the world, and in April he testified in Austin before Senate and House committees to oppose a bill that would outlaw the raising of game birds in Texas. Cockfighting, or “harvesting,” as it is often called by breeders, has been illegal in Texas since 1907, but there is no law against raising birds or attending fights. 

I began raising birds when I was twelve years old. It was more or less a hobby for years. But by 1977, I was traveling with my birds to states where game fowl harvesting was legal. That, along with construction, was how I made my living. In the late eighties, when the economy was bad, I started a business, Bobby Jones Hatchery. I raised as many birds as the market could stand: Sometimes it was 600 or 700 a year; other times it was 1,500. Soon the birds became my sole source of income. 
I began getting invitations to countries where harvesting is widely accepted, like the Philippines, Guam, Saipan, and, of course, Mexico.

The reason my birds were an overnight success is that in 1970 I secured two bloodlines from a famous breeder in Killeen, Joe Goode. He was a mentor of mine. He was breeding his fowl the way everyone does today, except he was thirty or forty years ahead of his time. Back then, breeders focused on pure bloodlines—the chicken business has as many as the cattle industry does, with its Holsteins and Herefords and Brahmans—but what Goode did was find a quality rooster, then breed the rooster’s sisters to another quality, tested rooster. If he found a bird with particularly desirable characteristics, he’d take him out of fighting and focus on breeding him.

Breeding game chickens is like breeding racehorses. I mean, think of how many foals Secretariat sired. You can’t tell if a bird is promising the moment it hatches; you have to watch it over time. Ultimately what makes a good bird great is the way you care for it. It’s a 365-day-a-year job: overseeing what kind of feed your birds get, their water, their nutrients and vitamins. This animal husbandry is where it’s all at; the harvesting is just a small part of a bird’s life. I now own five bloodlines: a straight-comb red, a straight-comb dark-legged, a pea-comb, a black, and what we call a gray—it’s actually more or less yellow. Most of these breeds are referred to by their colors.

Politics often gets in the way of my livelihood. There used to be a few small harvesting facilities around Texas that I’d visit in my early twenties. But Governor Dolph Briscoe formed a crime prevention task force to control, among other things, the drugs coming across the border—this was in the seventies—and I guess law enforcement got tired of chasing drug dealers, because they started shutting down our facilities, which were labeled organized crime. That sent me on visits to Oklahoma. In 1963 a judge on Oklahoma’s court of criminal appeals had ruled that a chicken was not an animal, so harvesting was alive and well across the state line. Then, in 2002, voters in Oklahoma banned cockfighting in their state too.

This spring I spoke at the Capitol against a bill that would outlaw game fowl breeding, to defend my right to own and sell birds. John Goodwin, of the Humane Society of the United States, testified in favor of the bill. He had gone undercover and filmed some so-called illegal fights, and then he said that harvesting is associated with crime, gambling, and prostitution. But it’s not like that. The women he filmed at the fights were nothing more than sisters, mothers, and daughters; his remarks are really unfortunate. I remember one time at a facility in Louisiana, some ladies of the night did show up. It took the owners all of fifteen minutes to tell those gals they weren’t welcome.

As for gambling, what goes on at harvesting facilities is no different from what you see at a golf course, the rodeo circuit, or a bass tournament. It’s a gentleman’s wager, like betting on a football game. The governors of Texas and Oklahoma bet on the Red River Shootout every year, and there’s no discussion about that. The law comes after us even though all the golf, rodeo, and bass people are doing the same thing.

I’m not the least ashamed of what I do. People try to make comparisons to harvesting—how it’s no more or less moral than a boxing match, say—but I don’t think those comparisons are apt or necessary. Gamecocks are an agricultural commodity. No, what I’d like to see is a law that gives rural counties the power to decide what they want, instead of being told what to do by people in cities. Why are people in areas like Houston and Dallas, where there’s practically no morality, able to dictate what we do in rural areas, when they know nothing about it?

Cockfighting came over on the Mayflower. It’s part of our nation’s culture. All your plantation owners in early American history, they had their racehorses and their game fowl. There are instruments that we use in game harvesting, like the slasher and the gaff, which is like an ice pick that is fitted onto the spurs on the fighting bird’s feet. Well, the gaff originated in England; it came over on the Mayflower. And the slashers—in Mexico they are about one inch long, and in the Pacific they are longer—are comparable to what Pilgrim’s and Tyson use to harvest their birds commercially. The difference is that we have rules that govern our harvesting. When a rooster has had enough, he’s had enough, and he’s counted out just like a boxer is.

A lot of breeders, their birds have been in their family for two or three or four generations. I’m completely outside that, because I fell in love with them as a kid for their tenacity and their looks. I checked both sides of my family tree, and nobody even knew what a gamecock was until I came along.

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  • conroy randolf mag-aso

    how much the pure trio?

  • Sharon Summerlin Henderson

    I would like to purchase two game hens and one rooster to run on my yard. Game hens make the best mama birds, Donald Bruce please let me know if you have any you are willing to let go to a good home.

  • andrei

    i am new with this gamefowl sir so i am willing to learn it from the experienced ones. i would really love to have good and quality chickens and to be mentored.

  • birdgirl

    I want to thank you sincerely for this article. I am in New England, not remotely a part of ‘game bird country’ but we have a long history here of fine poultry keepers. I admire the Games and appreciated learning more about the humane side of what is a vilified ‘sport.’ I am not a supporter of dog fighting or bull fighting any more than stag fighting because they are all orchestrated by humans and not the animals choice [as with human boxing] but I think this is a very well written article which gives a chance for people to see the breed as more than just a sport animal and those who keep them as more than criminals.

    • Enrique villasana

      Necesitas dejar de comer todo lo animal y sus deribados, y plantas y frutas porque tambien tienen Vida. Birdgirl.

  • Attius Clakeley

    Do you sell hatching eggs

  • Marilen Acosta-Jallorina

    Mr. Jones, you may have met my father, Dr. Terry Acosta, from Guam. He passed away Nov 2013, sir.

  • Daniel Garcia

    Where are you from Donald Bruce, fellow farmer right here from las cruces, New Mexico.is love to talk with you, maybe even check,out your birds sometime

  • Mel Barton

    I honestly do not think that Cockfighting should be made illegal. I mean it brings some income to farmers who raise them, and to those who bet on them. I find it no different then betting at a horse race (as far as the gambling goes). And the only time I feel that cockfighting is cruel is when the knives are placed on the spurs to make the fight more bloody and more cruel. If you get 2 good birds and let them go at it, nothing wrong with that. Its a commodity that has been around for centuries. So, I vote let it be legal (as long as the fights are kept “natural” (no knives or razors on the birds’ feet/spurs). Because that really is cruel, and not to mention people as well can get severly injured as well retrieving the birds.

  • Crow-town Show-fowl

    when they shut down Oklahoma for fighting game fowl, they not ONLY shut down the facilities in which they were tested but also a lot of businesses lost money as well as feed stores, hotels, lumber companies and many other as cocker’s bought lot of feed as well as wire and lumber, and for the one’s who had to travel they needed a place to stay for the multiple day contests, and many resturaunts lost customer’s as the cocker’s also had to eat, yes when oklahoma shut down the testing facilities they aslo shut down many business, and bad thing is that the small towns where most of the facilities were had no say in it , they just did the two large cities Oklahoma City and Tulsa, yes the state reps did a bad job on the small towns and counties when they passed that bill that closed MANY business’s down not just the test facilities

    • Alma

      I just had to pay….can anyone ship it to Philippines?

      • The Facts Don’t Change

        I can ship you birds what do you need?

        • Alma

          I’ve never done this before..but I like to buy some fightingcock..can you tell me if how to ship it to Philippines? And you guys can do it? Thanks

  • Ralph Abella

    anybody where to buy Gilmore hatch

  • MexicanJunkMan

    Here in God’s country, raising Game Fowl is legal and admired. Americans have the gov makeup their minds for them: cause they live in the greatest country, ever. I raise birds because they are more beautiful than any other. My birds have deep green and blue plum on a rich black background, both boys and girls. You can watch them for hours AND they are special. If you saw one for sale, you would buy with out asking the price!! Hehehe. If anyone figures out how to contact Bobby Jones? please post? thanks!!

  • Jonathan Tupaz

    Organized Derby and pay taxes would do. In the philippines you must enlist in an organization to participate with their derbies, then give the local government their share.

  • Jonathan Tupaz

    I admire you sir, but what else can we do to pursue our dreams of raising chickens?

  • rolando ordillas

    mr.bruce im interested in purchasing a trio if ur still selling pls. message me in my facebook