|Bantam breeding: Men raising the birds share their experiences.
by Tran Hoang
At a sidewalk cafe in Ha Noi, when people are gossiping or immersed in their smart phones, a young man sits passionately in a corner, patting a healthy rooster, resplendent in its plume and furry feathers.
Looking at the way he caresses the bird, one can easily guess how deeply he cares for his winged friend.
Hoang Viet, 26, began raising Malaysian Serama bantams as a hobby four years ago.
"Earlier, I reared fighting cocks, but after I once happened to see Serama bantams on the internet, I was bewitched. Now I only rear birds of this feather."
When he started, the price of chickens imported from Malaysia was at least VND12 million (US$570) a pair, he said. Since he was still a student, Viet had to work hard, even skip breakfast at times, to have enough cash to buy his favourite pets.
He would often spend almost all of his free time at home to take care of his chickens.
His rooftop courtyard is now a private space for 10 Serama bantams of various strains.
Every time he would go out into the street or go for a coffee with friends, Viet would carry along a chicken to compare with its peers that his friends reared.
Those who pursue the hobby of rearing chickens can go on for any variety of the fowls - from domestic bantams in Tan Chau (which originate from the southern province of An Giang), ga tre bac (northern bantams) and ga tre lai rung (bantams hybridised with forest ones) to foreign breeds like the ones in Thailand and Poland.
|Birds of a feather: A pair of Serama chickens, which are increasingly popular in Viet Nam.
Although Serama chicken species came late on the scene, these slim chickens from Malaysia seem to have won the heart of many young people.
Small in size, but walking with their chests puffed out proudly, no wonder the Serama are often referred to as the "upper class bantams."
There was a time when Tran Linh Hue in Quan Thanh Street used to raise four-legged beauties - felines and canines. He was the first person among the young people in Ha Noi who lost his heart to Serama bantams.
"Earlier, I raised dogs and cats but my house was small and soon started to seem cramped. It was difficult to raise them, and I turned to raising Serama bantams once I came to know about them. They are small and nice, and of course very friendly."
Hue proudly showed his Serama pets that could have fetched the highest price ever in Ha Noi, VND35 million (nearly $1,630), but he has refused to sell.
"Eating and sleeping with the fowls" is what Vu Hieu in Gia Lam District does.
"Perhaps I end up spending more time with my pets than with my wife," Hieu said humorously with a broad smile.
"I have chicks at my place of work as well as at home. Seeing the bantams growing every day, I feel no tiredness, and work pressure also disappears," he said.
Serama bantams previously used to cost VND15 million, and were imported from Malaysia. Nowadays, these chickens are much cheaper because Vietnamese have started raising these domestically.
|Close ties: Abreeder cares for his rooster. — VNS Photos Tran Hoang
The birds are now priced only VND3 million (nearly $140) for a pair, but if fans want to collect beautiful bantams, they must spend at least VND5-20 million apiece.
Hieu said buying bantams should be an exercise undertaken in consultation with the community as the Northern Serama Bantams Group now has nearly 700 members. Members exchange experience on how to choose and buy chicken.
They must study closely the parent chickens to assure themselves that the young chick would be beautiful. Therefore, the buyers always choose the sellers they already know to make sure about the pet's origin.
An interesting and different point is that Serama bantams keepers always attach a certain importance to distinctive characteristics of the chicken.
A bantam should have good looks, and be gentle and friendly. These characters are often a result of their owners' training. The training process will be easier for strains of good quality.
It is no coincidence that the bantams are often brought by their owners to the cafes or public places. This is how they're trained to have "the courage" to face the crowd.
Nguyen Ba Hieu in Long Bien District who owns 17 Serama bantams said raising them is not as hard as raising fighting cocks or other fowls.
"These pets are easy to raise as they are not choosy about what they eat. Just VND15,000 per day is enough to buy food for one to live healthily. However, it is different from raising a standard bantam," he said.
"In addition to training a chicken to have a good figure, each day I spend 10 minutes to make the pet walk on a table for discipline training and cultivating its ‘personality' in a span of six months," said Hue, who was a winner in the North Serama Bantams Competition in June 2013.
He said sometimes he skips meals, or forgets eating, since he is busy taking care of the pets.
Though Hue rears more than 30 bantams, he could choose only one excellent chick that is both beautiful and disciplined to participate in the contest.
Serama bantam is the smallest and the lightest among the chickens in the world (a matured bantam weighs under 500g). The Serama strains originate from Malaysia. As they have sleek and compact appearance, they are popular among many pet keepers in Viet Nam.
Initially, Serama bantams cost at least VND20 million for a pair. But, after a period of breeding in Viet Nam, their price came down and is now more affordable for a majority of the rearers.
With such an expensive species as Serama bantams, health care and prevention of bird flu are always noticed.
Baby chicks get vaccines when they are three months old, Hue said.
Taking care of chickens seems simple but is laborious. When they are grown and become nice, that is the reward for all the hard days of the rearers, he said.
That is why these "upper-class bantams" are increasingly attracting the interest of many young people. — VNS