Sunday feature on chicken fanciers and their fight against regulations aimed at breeders of fighting cocks.
Los Angeles Daily News
OK, so he’s mean. Open the door of his wire mesh cage and he explodes, scaly spurs thrusting from a blur of red and gold feathers. His eyes are little black marbles of fury.
But isn’t he pretty?
The Old English Game Cock squirming in the arms of Ronna Jurow is a fine bird. His breeding is good; you can trace his lineage back to coops owned by Queen Victoria. He could end up winning a ribbon or two at the next poultry show.
He’s also a very tough chicken. This same breed is used for cockfighting, the illegal sport that has come under scrutiny recently from county officials. Birds like this one face off in concealed growves and makeshift arenas nearly every weekend. Curved razors are clipped to their legs. The winners are bloodied; the losers are burned.
In an attempt to crack down on farmers who raise fowl to fight, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors is considering a law that would limit farmers to one rooster for every 15 hens. Police say under current law, they can do nothing about farmers who openly raise as many as 2,000 fighting roosters.
But for chicken fanciers like Jurow, the proposal smacks of politicians meddling where they don’t belong. Of the 100 or so chickens Jurow owns, more than half are roosters. None are raised for fighting, but all would be targeted by the proposed law.
“It’s ridiculous,” she says. “There’s already a law on the books against cockfighting. Now they want to penalize me because they can’t enforce it.”
About eight local families raise chickens for show, Jurow says. Most are farmers, but many are professionals who simply love the birds,s he says.
A gynecologist with a private practice in Ventura, Jurow started raising chickens 10 years ago. She took up the hobby after a freak accident convinced her to leave Los Angeles and seek a more simple country life.
While outside a Burbank airport terminal, her husband was shot in the leg by a drunk hunter checking his gun. Shortly therafter, the couple moved to a six-acre avocado ranch off Highway 126 and set about raising their two young children.
She bought her first chickens for the eggs. A year later, the chickens still hadn’t produced anything. A neighbor informed her they never would; she had 10 roosters.
“I was so embarrassed I tried to learn everything I could about chickens,” she says.
She bought herself a copy of the American Standard of Perfection, which she calls “the chicken Bible.” She subscribed to The Poultry Press, the Henhouse Herald and the American Poultry Association newsletter. And she began making trips to pultry shows in Fresno and Pomona, where she discovered that her hobby was more like a subculture.
“Bird people are pretty weird,” she says. “You’ve got to have a sense of humor to love animals like these.”
Her first real love was a 12-pound Orpington she named Sparky. He was a big bird, smart and lovable, and when he got a bacterial infection she spent a bundle on veterinarian bills.
One bird led to another and pretty soon she built an incubator and rows of cages in the front of the house. Every morning now the family is greeted with cacophony of more than 100 chickens calling hello.
During hatching season in November, it’s not unusual for her to take a chick that has been cast aside by its mother. One little chick, a trembling black bird called Miracle, slept on her pillow between she and her husband for weeks before heading back outside.
She can’t choose a favorite, but these days she favors the Modern Game Bantams, a craggly black and orange breed so tame that even the males will eat delicately from her hand.
“This is the Wagner of the chicken world,” she says. “At first you think, ew, how ugly. But as you get into birds, they start to look elegant and beautiful even.”