Master Cockfighter

After more than 70 years, Mike Ratliff prepares to retire from his blood sport

At the age of ten, he and his brother, who were out on horseback hunting for raccoons in the Texas brush, rode up on a circle of Model Ts down by a creek. Within the circle, a group of men were gathered around a pair of roosters fighting. It was the first cockfight Ratliff ever saw, and he was hooked.

Shortly after, he was given his first fighting rooster by a man named G.C. Byrd. The rooster won his first fight, to a chicken a pound heavier, which was an extraordinary achievement. Ratliff was so proud he says he named the bird after the man who gave it to him and kept the bird until the day it died.

He would never name another rooster.

Old photo of Mike Ratliff.
Courtesy Mike Ratliff
Old photo of Mike Ratliff.
MIke Ratliff with his sons on the cover of a fighting cock magazine.
Courtesy Mike Ratliff
MIke Ratliff with his sons on the cover of a fighting cock magazine.

Ratliff was always asking other chicken fighters their secrets, but they would never share them. He eventually found an old man who would. "Son," he said, putting his arm around Ratliff's shoulder, "on the fight day, give them all the yeller corn they can eat. He'll eat all he can hold. Give him all the water he can drink, too."

Ratliff was thrilled. He thought he'd never lose another fight. But he was wrong. The old man was lying to him. Filling the bird with corn and water didn't make him strong -- it made him weak. He could barely hold his head up to fight.

When Ratliff realized he'd been lied to, he decided he'd figure out for himself what made one fighting rooster superior to the other. After fights, he cut the losing roosters open to determine what they were eating that had made them weak. He learned how to recognize the best fighting birds on his farm. He looked for cocks with a natural tendency to fly above their opponents and strike them with their spurs, a claw-like appendage that grows naturally from the side of a rooster's leg. Cocks that struck their opponents on the top of the back, where the vital organs are, were selected for the official rooster-fighting competitions, called derbies.

Ratliff won his first derby in 1951 in Carlsbad, New Mexico. By 1968, he had won more derbies than any man alive. So he started a school to share his secrets.

It wasn't a cockfighting school, Ratliff says. It was a school to teach beginning cockers how to care for their birds, how to condition them and how to help them heal if they survived a fight. Classes were two weeks long. Instruction was detailed to the point of teaching the proper way to pick up a bird (one hand on the leg, the other on the breast to avoid hurting them). He even taught a technique for birds that became aggressive toward their owners. Feed them out of your hand, he'd say. At first, they'll peck you, but after a while they will eat the food, be it apples or grain or millet, and you will regain their trust.

Roosters overshadowed every part of Ratliff's life. He worked jobs -- from meat cutter to oil-field pumper -- that allowed him time to feed and care for his chickens. He raised his oldest son, Mike Jr., to become a cockfighting man. Finally, his wife had had enough. In 1974, after 30 years of marriage and three children, she said she wanted a divorce. It's either me or the chickens, she said.

"Well, honey," Ratliff says he told her, "don't let the door catch your shirttail on the way out."

Ratliff plowed on, taking his school on the road. He went all over the South. Once, in Georgia, he ran into two representatives of the Humane Society who protested his habit of killing the vultures and hawks that preyed on his gamefowl. Whenever Ratliff killed a hawk or a fox, he strung its carcass up on a fence around the property where he was holding his school.

There was a fine in Georgia for killing hawks, the man told him. Ratliff wasn't impressed. "We're just killing the damn things that eats our chickens," he says he told the man. "By the way, I'd just as soon hang your ass on that chain-link fence as one of those damn hawks or coyotes, and I mean it. You're just a bunch of damn people who have no business being American."

The Humane Society would always be a pain in Ratliff's ass. As soon as he finished building the cockfighting pit that now stands in Jal, New Mexico, a woman from the organization got a judge to put a padlock on it. Ratliff had to go all the way up to Santa Fe to argue his case.

"Our lawyer says to the judge, 'I understand you love to fish.' The judge nodded. So our lawyer asks him, 'Which is more harmful, to let two roosters fight in their way of thinking or to put a minnow on a hook?' The judge thought about that for about ten seconds. He said, 'I put my minnows on a hook.' Then he hit the gavel and said, 'Case dismissed.'"

But things changed over the years. In 1975, cockfighting was a felony in just a few states. By 2005, it was a felony in 33.

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12 comments
bebe1656
bebe1656

Im very proud of my self as one of the cocker and a smalltime gamefowl breeder in my country Philippines. After finish reading this articles, what a wonderful story about Mr. Mike Ratliff.Any one can give me the exact address where His gamefarm located in Blanket,Tx. Thank you more power....

Mharl_striker
Mharl_striker

I'm glad its legal in our country...proud to be a cockfighter...this is part of our culture and protected by our laws...

Xomox99
Xomox99

Not only Breeders of gamefowl need to UNITE, the Farmers, the grain mills, the Feed stores, the big name producers of feed, the Vendors of poultry products and the new cockers of today.Very one of these producers, merchants and breeders NOT TO MENTION the IRS will loss money. Uncountable millions.SO WHO IS GOING TO LEAD THE WAY TO A NEW WORLD ORDER OF COCKERS?THE GOVERNMENT WANTS A NEW WORLD ORDER OF MONEY AND GOVERNMENT LET'S BEAT THEM TO THE PUNCH.

Gani Reli
Gani Reli

As Ratliff says "probably just give them away but not just to anyone, I'll give them to a cocker".

Well, I am a cocker too, and it is legal in my country to own and fight roosters. Send some of them to me in the Philippines and I will take care of every single gamefowl I could get to continue the heritage and preserve the bloodlines to the best I could, he! he! he! But I am serious.

Thanks,

mark lee
mark lee

i want to purchase a set of of game hens. how do i do that from here?

aj
aj

the way i see it; all cockers must be united.we all have to think as one and fight for that reason. The humane society is a very strong organization. we can not fight them by just writing letters to our representatives, because it's just a waste of time.we all know that a lot of people in this country are being misinform about the matter. The group are bunch of liars, opportunistic fools that will stop at nothing to make millions... I strongly believe that by educating people about these birds it will help us all in the future.we just have to work together.......

joe
joe

i think cockfighting should be legal, because it is a way of life for many people and it is not cruel, and people do not make the roosters fight. they fight on their own, just like boxers and ufc fighters have the choice to fight, they are violent and cruel to each other, but it is not animal cruelty. some day everyone will see just how extreme the humane societ is, and see that the humane society really doesn't know much about animals, and the humane society are mainly after all the money they are getting donated to them, but yet they don't give any of the money to the animal shelters, the animal shelters get money from the taxpayers, not the humane society. john goodwin himself is a convicted felon, for burning fur traders homes, stores, and barns, he is also a high school drop out, all the humane society is worried about is getting money in their pocket.

thank you for your time

smyers.era
smyers.era

I know Mr. Ratliff may not keep up on this site with all the unecessary bs on it, but hopefully someone cool can just pass this on to him.

Just wanted to say hello and God bless you Mr.Mike Ratliff, from a couple of your O'l students! And we are honered to have been givin the opportunity to attend your, only one of it's kind, School. Our Graduation Certificates are proudly displayed on our Office wall next to the Trophys. Glad to hear you still have your General Cross's! I know you are of German decent, and honed and refined those Roosters with the same precision that the Germans did when they designed the Mercedes Benz! Anyone fortunate enough to be handed down such an amazing creature better damn well appreciate it! But you keep your beautiful birds for as long as you can. A wise man once told me they teach you alot about Life and they keep you healthy and happy! So live long and prosper Mike! Thanks for all that you have done for us, all the way to the Supreme Court you fought for our rights and won! You are an inspiration for fighting for, if nothing else, for what you believe in. We should all take note!

I understand that there are alot of people that don't care for the sport, I get it. But it's more than that, it is our very freedom as Americans that is at stake here. If they took our freedom away all at once, there would be a Revolution! So they are doing a little at a time, I guess so we won't notice it. I notice it! 

Signed, One of your best students, (once I learned the important difference between human chicks, and game chicks!) *Chuck Myers*, & following along with tradition, daughter, and second generation student, Sherri Myers.

 Still alive and kickin it out here in the good o'l US of A Oklahoma!

See you at the fights, where bein in the Pit's, is a good thing!

 

Old Roosters never die, they just get a new Cocker built!

smyers.era
smyers.era

Spell check, HONORED. They would not let me back in  to edit! ("~")

 
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