Wasti Atmodjo, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar
The increasing demand for sacrificial chickens has provided Denpasar poultry farmers with a new, profitable economic opportunity.
Head of Denpasar Husbandry Agency, Dewa Ngurah, said the demand increases significantly during months which have many auspicious days for conducting religious rituals.
"But there is, in fact, a stable market for sacrificial chickens and other sacrificial animals, because there are always at least two rituals each month in Bali," he said.
For instance, at the end of this month the Balinese Hindus will celebrate the Galungan and Kuningan festival, the six-monthly celebration of the victory of good over evil.
Animal sacrifice is an essential part of the mecaru (sacrificial offering) rite, which is usually held at the commencement of any festival.
The size and importance of the festival dictate the number and variety of animals to be sacrificed.
Eka Sato, the simplest and most common mecaru, uses one chicken, while the Eka Dasa Rudra, occurring once a century, requires hundreds of animals, including exotics such as white bulls, bears, porcupines and eagles.
In all festivals, chickens play a vital role in mecaru rites. Generally, three-month-old chicks are used.
"The growing market is the reason we have urged the poultry farmers in Denpasar's rural areas to pay serious attention to the business," Dewa said.
"A poultry farmer could earn a significant amount of money from this trade."
Poultry farmer Made Kanik, who has been raising sacrificial chickens since 1991 in Banjar Cenkilung on the northern outskirts of Denpasar, agreed, saying sacrificial chickens commanded higher prices than ordinary chickens.
"Sacrificial chickens with single color feathers -- white, red, or black -- could be sold for up to Rp 20,000 each, while the ones with all three colors can go for Rp. 25,000," he said, adding that prices in the market were often higher.
The tri-colored chickens, known as brumbun, are the most prized and difficult to find. Their colors of red, black and white are also the symbolic colors of Balinese Hinduism's most important deities, Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa, respectively.
"Previously, we never bought sacrificial chickens. If my family needed a certain sacrificial chicken which we didn't have in our backyard farm, usually one of our neighbors would give it to us for free," Made said.
"If a neighbor needed a sacrificial chicken we happened to have, then we would give it him, also for free," he said.
"But, we couldn't sustain that practice for long, because the need for the sacrificial chickens just kept growing. Because of this my family decided to start a sacrificial chickens farm."
Made is head of Kelompok Ternak Ayam Buras Sumber Rejeki, a cooperative of 30 poultry farmers raising sacrificial chickens in the area.
Each farmer keeps around 25 mature hens, each of which can lay two eggs a month.
In order to increase the possibility of hatching tri-colored chicks, the farmers usually pair a single-color hen with a rooster of a differing color.
The association is currently in the process of enlarging its operations. In early 2007, it purchased an incubator to deal with the increasing demand.
"Sometimes, the demand is so high that we simply can't keep up with it," Kanik said.