Friday, November 19, 2010
What? Walt Disney got the biology of critters wrong? Say it ain't so!
Spring is not the season of twitterpated. At least it isn't around here.
As the plant world and the invertebrates* die or tuck themselves in for the year in the forest and farm, the local tetrapods are getting busy. Late fall is the time for making babies. When I say you can smell the sex on the air, I'm not being hyperbolic or metaphorical. I'm hoping the wind doesn't shift from the goat pasture towards the house.
Rosie is in season, which makes her pushier, snarkier, cuddlier, and generally underfoot. She harasses the eunuchs and has her way with them. Neither Moe nor Cole got the memo about their testes, so they are happy to oblige. It's hazardous to turn a corner suddenly around here -- always a little disconcerting to walk in on a couple of dogs in flagrante delicto.
I've had bitches who became uncharacteristically stupid or wacky when they came into season, and were unreliable in their work. Pip and Rosie just add energy and intensity to their already driven performances. Rose has done a bang-up job on her last two trails; her estrus is a good time to throw extra distractions and new challenges her way. Canine sublimation?
Next estrus is put up or shut up time; we'll be deciding soon whether she will be a mother.
The deer rut means that I see more of them, as caution takes a back seat to libido. Six paraded through the south pasture at dusk; I think it was five does and a buck, but there may have been two bucks. Their rubs are particularly shreddy this year.
Our new rabbit herd got off to a slow start. The first doe that my original buck bred, back in September, did not "take," though she seemed to have. It's likely that his swimmers' soup was overcooked by the summer heat. The second doe had a litter of six, around the same time that the buck sadly succumbed to (what turned out to be) a urinary blockage. I got a new unrelated young buck from a different breeder, and have just integrated him and a new doe in the colony. Within two minutes of being released, New Guy had scent marked ten places in the stall, bred one of the younger does, and gotten his ass kicked by the dominant doe. With five does in the colony, I expect an early winter population explosion.
Gollum the barn cat, fearsome slayer of mice, voles, rats and chipmunks, has taken to sleeping amongst the rabbits. No shit. He ignores the babies, which are hardly larger than a large rat, and I've spotted him nuzzling with more than one of the does. Gollum said buh-bye to his little friends at a tender age, so I don't think he's joined in any Samhain barncat orgies, but he did get into a fight recently, which for a cat is much the same thing. His face wounds healed up fine, and he kept claiming that I shoulda seen the other guy. His sister does not corroborate his account, however.
It's not just dogs who can† discriminate between "ours" and "other" without explicit instruction and control their predatory impulses accordingly.
Meanwhile, I have to remind myself that our baby chicks and turkey poults were also freaking adorable, and grew up to be delicious.
Speaking of bucks, and urine.
Jefferson the he-goat is visiting from Rachel and Stan's farm.
He's got a lovely calm temperament. Pity about his personal habits. I do everything I can not to touch him. There's burdock in his beard and on his rump, and he's just going to have to cope, because there is no way I'm combing him out. Also, I know just how far backwards he can reach; he could groom that burdock out if it was a priority for him.
His job here is to settle Patsy and Edina. Lovely term that. Knock them up.** We'll know in a couple of weeks whether he's succeeded.
He courts the ladies by applying Capraxxe body spray, waggling his tongue, blubbering, flaunting his flehmen, and -- well, now I know what inspired the odd-looking phalli on all those vases depicting Bacchanals.
The wethers swear that he's been hanging around the playground wearing a trenchcoat and talking about a lost puppy. I'm monitoring the situation.
Jefferson gave me some crap about the gate his third morning here. Cole, who is deathly afraid of the electric fence around the goat pasture and never willingly approaches it, came flying off the back porch, through the gate, and straight at the he-goat's nose. Cole doesn't think much of visiting he-goat, and he interpreted a little stroppiness as a genuine threat. And now I know what he does when he thinks I'm threatened.
Good to know.
Finally, a weirdly untimely ray of hope in our disappointing heritage turkey breeding season.
Three or four weeks ago I noticed that the Bourbon red hen who had not succeeded with a clutch this year was not coming in to roost or running with the flock. But I would sometimes spot her for a few minutes in the morning around the feed trough before she would dematerialize.
Far too late in the year to be setting a nest, but the signs were unmistakable.
I finally found her Tuesday morning, close to the barn and setting a dozen eggs. She'd already pushed out three eggs -- a good sign, actually, indicating that she was paying attention to their viability and keeping the live eggs protected -- and this nest and eggs were clean, unlike her previous nests.
It is now far too cold and snotty for her to set outside, and I lost two shrubbery-setting hens this year to a raccoon, so in she came, whether she wanted to or not. The answer was Not. A twelve-pound bird can be surprisingly strong when she Does Not Want, but in she came with her eggs to a private stall. I candled them Thursday, and found squirming embryos in seven of them. Fingers crossed. It's a ridiculous time to raise turkeys, but I cannot say no to her.
The broody hens work so hard. It breaks my heart when things don't go well for them. Such devotion demands fulfillment. The only thing harder than brooding a clutch is the hero's journey of hatching out of an egg. It's hatch or die, and if anyone takes pity and helps the little warrior, it's likely to kill or cripple him. We mammals know nothing of birth struggle.
Spring may be the time of vegetative abundance and enthusiasm, but as the death and dormancy of Winter looms, the animals flaunt their eternal optimism. Snow all you want, we'll make more.
* Including the hornets, wasps and bees that make life exciting and possibly brief, and the $#@^$ stink bugs that make it annoying.
** For the dairy-animal uninformed: A goat (or cow) can produce milk for about a year after giving birth (kidding or calving), provided she is nursing offspring and/or milked regularly. To continue to get milk, the farmer must breed her every year. The onset or resumption of lactation is called freshening. She'll lactate just fine while pregnant. It's the usual practice to dry her off a couple of months before she's due again. So I'll stop milking the girls, and wean their 2010 kids, in February in preparation for April kidding.
None of this applies to the "Happy California Cows" of agribusiness fairy tales who calve and freshen, then receive hormone injections to keep them continuously lactating until their udders break down and they become hamburger. (The cows. Come to think, the udders, too, both metaphorically and probably literally.)
† Can. Can. Not necessarily will. And an absence of formal, or even conscious, training does not equate to a guidance vacuum or magical thinking.