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    Hundreds of roosters might have to be euthanized after Northampton cockfighting bust

    The bust is one of the largest-ever of an alleged cockfighting operation in the state. No charges have been filed yet. Above: The birds at the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen on Tuesday.
    Lane Turner/Globe Staff
    The bust is one of the largest-ever of an alleged cockfighting operation in the state. No charges have been filed yet. Above: The birds at the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen on Tuesday.

    NORTHAMPTON — From the outside, Ravenwold Greenhouses appeared to be the picture of a quaint New England farm, touting its houseplants, mums, asters, and “fields filled with vegetables galore’’ on its Facebook page a few years ago.

    That verdant scene was a far cry from what Northampton police detectives discovered last week when they raided the 58-acre farm and seized nearly 400 roosters that authorities say were “purposefully bred for cockfighting,” a vicious blood sport outlawed in all 50 states.

    In one of the buildings on the Florence Road property, several miles outside the bustling college town, authorities found a blood-spattered ring apparently used to train the birds for combat. Trained cockfighters can fetch as much as $600 on the black market.

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    As of Tuesday evening, no charges had been filed in the case, which was one of the largest busts of an alleged cockfighting outfit in Massachusetts.

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    The adult birds eventually will have to be euthanized because they cannot be rehabilitated, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said Tuesday. The seized birds are now at MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen.

    “It’s heartbreaking because we’ll be the ones who are going to be taking care of them day to day, but we know it’s better for them to be euthanized here than to die in the ring,” said Mike Keiley, who heads the adoption centers and programs at Nevins Farm, where the rescued roosters took up two floors of the barn. Volunteers working with them wore gloves — and earplugs, amid an occasional cacophony of crowing.

    The MSPCA said 45 rooster chicks, though bred for fighting, eventually might be suitable for adoption, and about 100 hens will probably end up in sanctuaries or homes when their medical and behavior checks are completed.

    Paul Duga Jr., listed as the owner of the Northampton farm, said Tuesday that he is not involved in day-to-day operations of the property. “They basically grow flowers and vegetables,” he said by phone.

    Staging cockfighting in Massachusetts is a felony, carrying a fine and up to five years in jail.
    Lane Turner/Globe Staff
    Staging cockfighting in Massachusetts is a felony, carrying a fine and up to five years in jail.
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    A man who answered the phone at the farm Tuesday declined to comment on the case in detail.

    “There ain’t nobody that wants to discuss it, and there’s nothing to do with the greenhouses,” the man said before hanging up.

    Later, at the farm, two employees who identified only by the last name Adams said they did not know about any cockfighting on the premises or the seizure of roosters. During the interview, the sound of a rooster called out. When asked if they heard anything, the men said they did not.

    At the Pine Grove Golf course, across the road from the farm, longtime co-owner Shirley Slahetka said she could not recall hearing a rooster crow emanating from the farm.

    “Maybe they were kept in a barn, or on the opposite side of the property,” Slahetka said. “I’d know if I heard a rooster call.”

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    Though rare, cockfighting busts in Massachusetts — which was the first state to ban the sport, in 1836 — are not without precedent.

    Rob Halpin, a spokesman for the MSPCA, said the organization has investigated six cockfighting cases dating to the early 1990s. Staging such a contest in the state is a felony, carrying a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to five years in jail.

    During a raid in Middleborough in 2005, police discovered cockfighting paraphernalia and more than 400 chickens and roosters on a 15-acre gated property. Investigators determined that a man on the property was supplying birds for “cockfighting enthusiasts,” police said.

    In 2016, 24 people were nabbed in Tewksbury for their alleged roles in a cockfighting ring that yielded 18 roosters with spurs on their feet, five of them severely injured. Police also recovered several packages of spurs, kits with tape, and over $13,000 in cash.

    Regarding the Northampton case, Halpin said the birds probably “would have been brought to facilities beyond the Northampton property and there’s no telling at this point . . . where that might have been.’’

    Cockfighting is highly professionalized and underground. “Some of these birds could have been fighting in the basements of private homes,” Halpin added.

    The practice is as brutal as it is secretive, according to animal rights groups.

    The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says on its website that the roosters’ “natural fighting instincts are exaggerated through breeding, feeding, training, steroids and vitamins. A bird may undergo several months of training before a fight, which may involve running long obstacle courses (and even treadmills) and practice fights with other roosters.”

    Bets on fights can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands, the ASPCA says.

    “Once in the ring, roosters often wear knives or artificial gaffs that are sharp enough to puncture a lung, pierce an eye or break bones in order to inflict maximum injury,” the group added.

    In downtown Northampton on Tuesday, many people were hearing about the seized roosters for the first time. Jessica Sumner, a student at Smith College, highlighted the town-country divide that defines the area for some.

    “I’m not completely surprised something like that happened out there, honestly,” Sumner said. “There’s a lot of space to get away with stuff like that in the woods.”

    Elise Takahama, Emily Sweeney, and Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Jerome Campbell can be reached at jerome.campbell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeromercampbell.