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A gamecock or game fowl is a type of rooster with physical and behavioral traits suitable for cockfighting. The first use of the word gamecock, denoting use of the cock as to a “game”, a sport, pastime, or entertainment, being in 1646. after the term “cock of the game” used by George Wilson, in the earliest known book on the sport of cockfighting in The Commendation of Cocks and Cock Fighting in 1607. Game fowl appear more like their wild cousins the Red Jungle Fowl, a shy wild chicken from forests in South Central and Southeastern Asia, than other domestic chickens because they have been bred to promote the fittest individuals rather than to promote mutations which increase egg production or feed conversion for meat. The territorial instinct among sexually mature males is the driving force behind their desire to dominate and eliminate other males that would compete for breeding rights in their territory. "Gameness" describes not only initial aggressiveness in the males but also the requirement to remain aggressive even when severely injured as this is necessary to win a fight in "the pit". Hens typically also show above average aggression compared to other domestic breeds and in some cases must be kept separate if not raised together. Other breeds of domestic chickens which are bred primarily for egg and meat production have been bred over many generations to cohabitate on farms or other smaller pieces of land and gameness has largly been bred out of them.
The roosters will fight each other regardless of human contact; it is their natural instinct to fight. There are numerous chicken breeds that fit the gamecock type, but a gamecock is not in itself a breed. Today, cockfighting, like most blood sports, is illegal in most of the world, but exceptions exist. Ireland, England, the U.S., and Spain are well known for the quality of their gamefowl.
The gamecock selection process starts when the young pullets and stags are free ranged to further develop their physical traits. When the stags begin to fight to establish pecking order, the first stag who puts himself as the alpha male will be harvested and isolated from the rest to prepare for the conditioning process. The selection process is being repeated until there is a stag left in the range who, less developed, might be a battered stag and might be a candidate for culling. Cockers gives these stags a bit more time in the range or build up the battered stags by introducing hens (a year older) to eliminate trauma and further boost his morale.
A gamecock will undergo conditioning process in preparation for a fight. The conditioning process is referred to as a "keep" and is designed to, among other things, tame the cock so that he can be handled during a fight. The primary purpose of a keep is to ensure that the bird is physically and mentally fit for its upcoming match, similar to the conditioning a boxer or wrestler goes through. The keep usually includes a special high energy diet as well as physical exercise.
Prior to physical conditioning, a gamecock that is to be fought or shown is often groomed. The comb (the red skin on top of the head) and wattles (skin under the beak) is usually trimmed at around a year old. This process is called “dubbing”. Dubbing is a tool for cockers determine the gameness of a candidate stag (cockerel being prepared for the keep) and prevents any billhold from the opponent during the fight. The feathers are sometimes groomed as well. The sickle feathers of the tail may be trimmed or any long feathers that a cock might trip on during a fight. In some cultures (particularly among Cuban game fowl enthusiasts), the feather trimming is much more extensive. The feathers of the chest and the back are sometimes shorn completely off. The reason for this extensive trimming is to help prevent a bird from overheating during a longer match. The reasons for this vary among individual game fowl enthusiast. Some trim their birds according to a tradition and others do it because they believe that losing the “bulky” feathers improves mobility during a fight.
Because of the physical attributes of gamecocks, they are often raised not for fighting but as “show fowl”. The athletic musculature and usually long colorful plumage causes them to be well suited for chicken beauty pageants.
Cockfighting is a seasonal sport. From September to November, gamecocks go through their molting stage (lose old feathers and grow new ones). This is a sensitive time for the gamecock, so no fighting occurs.
Gamecocks are bred for traits that make them less suitable for barnyard use, and are kept today in the developed world primarily for exhibition purposes. There are several breeds of chicken, such as the Modern Game and Old English Game Bantam, which fit the gamecock type, but are not directly used in cockfighting. Although cockfighting is illegal in the U.S., in Puerto Rico it is very popular.
This term is popular as a nickname for many U.S. athletic teams. For example, the teams at the University of South Carolina, Jacksonville State University in Alabama, New Brockton High School (New Brockton, Alabama), Sumter High School (Sumter, South Carolina), and Screven County High School (Sylvania, Georgia) use the name.
A fighting cock is the emblem for the English football club Tottenham Hotspur F.C.. The male sport teams of the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras are named "Gallitos" ("Little Roosters") after gamecocks. "Gamecock" is sometimes used as a nickname for people who are considered fierce fighters. During the American Revolution, General Thomas Sumter earned the nickname in his battle against the British forces in South Carolina.
The Tufts University Men's Track and Field team created an alter ego division 1 fictional school called Jumbo State, and have designed shirts representing the Jumbo State Gamecocks combining a cock and an elephant (the Tufts mascot is Jumbo the elephant).
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- gamecock - Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary - first use of word - 1646