Yorkshire farmer hauled before courts after training birds and staging brutal cockfights

The conditions at the premises and of the birds at Douglas Price's Valley Farm, Low Lane, Bradford. (Photo: RSPCA / SWNS)
The conditions at the premises and of the birds at Douglas Price's Valley Farm, Low Lane, Bradford. (Photo: RSPCA / SWNS)

Douglas Price, 39, was arrested after the RSPCA found hens and cockerels on his land with fighting injuries, feather loss and without food or water.

He was found guilty of charges including causing unnecessary suffering to animals and sentenced to nine months in prison, which was suspended for 18 months. Bradford Crown Court also banned from keeping the animals.

West Yorkshire Police and the RSPCA attended Valley Farm in Low Lane, Bradford, last February and found 22 hens and cockerels in makeshift pens.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said some were found without food and water, and some suffering from featherloss and injuries consistent with fighting. Seized mobile phone footage later revealed that Price was keeping and training the birds to fight.

Cock-fighting has been outlawed in the UK since 1835, but the RSPCA says it received more than 350 reports of the barbaric bloodsport between 2012 and 2020. It sees trainers breed cockerels specifically for fighting and trained using practice birds. They use muffs to cover their sharp claws - or spurs - during training.

Fights can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, but fights with sharpened spurs may only last a few minutes as a puncture wound could kill a bird quickly.

RSPCA inspector Demi Hodby said: "All of the birds at the site appeared to be underweight with feather loss on their chest and the majority of them were bald in this area. On closer observation, a number of the cockerels had injuries and all appeared to have had their combs cut. There was a limited amount of food and water provided in each pen and some had no provisions at all.

"Inside one of the wooden pens there was a hen which was unable to bear weight on one of her legs. Inside the metal pen there was a cockerel which was limping and had a swollen leg and inside a shed there was another hen which was also limping.

"Due to the number of animal welfare concerns, I contacted a vet immediately who confirmed to me that a number of these birds would have been suffering."

The vet found that a total of 14 hens and cockerels were in a state of neglect and some had been caused unnecessary suffering. One dead cockerel was found at the scene and three birds were tragically put to sleep on the advice of the vet to end their suffering.

Ian Muttitt, chief inspector for the RSPCA's special operations unit, said: "It was very clear to me that several sequences of the footage obtained from Price's mobile phone depicted cockfight sparring sessions. It was clear to me that the person responsible for these birds has an unhealthy interest in cockfighting and was keeping and training these birds for the purpose of animal fighting."

In mitigation, the court heard that Price is illiterate, with no formal education, and is also the sole carer for his children and grandchildren. He runs a working farm and so his business and his home could be at risk if he was jailed and any disqualification order would impact his ability to run the farm.

For causing unnecessary suffering and failing to meet the needs of hens and cockerels, Price was handed a suspended sentence of three months for each offence to run concurrently. For the training of birds to fight, he was given a six month suspended sentence bringing his custodial term to nine months. This was suspended for a period of 18 months.

He was also ordered to carry out 20 rehabilitation activity days and 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay a £128 victim surcharge and £400 in costs. The poultry owner was also disqualified from keeping hens and cockerels for 12 months. The surviving birds were taken into the RSPCA's care and were subsequently rehomed.