Getting inside the closed culture of cockfighting is an almost impossible feat for investigators.

But then, as authorities learned Sunday afternoon, there is always luck.

Keith Streff, a senior investigator with the Animal Humane Society, said Wednesday that an anonymous tip led to the discovery of a Lino Lakes breeding and training facility that he called one of the most sophisticated he has seen in 23 years.

Crowing nearby were Taiwanese fighting cocks seized Tuesday from the operation, some with feathers missing and now ensconced in near 6-foot-high cages at the society's Golden Valley facility.

Youa C. Vang, 61, owner of a small hobby farm in the 1400 block of Woodland Drive in Lino Lakes, has been charged in Anoka County District Court with felony possession of an animal for fighting purposes.

Eight other people were arrested Sunday on suspicion of attending a cockfight, a gross misdemeanor.

According to authorities, officers responding to a call about 3 p.m. Sunday found a large group of people, a fighting ring and an unspecified number of injured chickens.

"Police spoke with witnesses who told them they came to the home to watch the chickens fight," the charges say.

But Streff, who accompanied law enforcement authorities during Tuesday's search of the facility, said that it appeared the on-site fighting was more of "an incidental happenstance," a break from the raising of gamecocks to "whoop it up."

He said Vang has told investigators that his main business was leasing coops to other bird owners, but he also acknowledged having 20 to 30 gamecocks of his own.

Bred to fight

When authorities converged on the site Tuesday, they found 41 birds that bore signs of fighting. They left with them. Altogether, however, Streff said, there were about 500 to 1,000 chickens in a network of coops that he likened to a maze.

"It was literally like being a kid at a county fair," he recalled, saying the coops numbered in the dozens. And because each had its own padlock, he estimated the number of owners to be quite large, too, making it one of the more sophisticated enterprises of that type that he'd seen.

"By the looks of the facility, I'd say it'd been there for years," he added.

Authorities were unable to find any of the razors or curved blades that owners attach to the legs of roosters to maim or kill opponents. On one bird, however, Streff showed how the spurs on its legs had been ground down to allow for a leather strap with a blade to be fastened there.

Yet another rooster had strips of duct tape placed over the spurs -- again to enable more lethal instruments to be attached. With its long legs and powerful thighs, Streff said, "this bird is bred for fighting."

Local history

In 2008, authorities busted two Anoka County cockfighting events that also drew participants from the Southeast Asian community. Neither had the volume of birds found Tuesday in Lino Lakes, Streff said.

The earlier raids -- one in Ramsey and the other in East Bethel -- also had been a result of tips. Still to be determined is whether anyone involved in Sunday's event or in the Lino Lakes operation was party to the earlier busts.

As for what becomes of the birds seized Tuesday, Streff said that they were being examined by veterinarians, and by state law, "we have 10 days to figure that out."

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109