I get a kick out of watching animals breed. Most animals are a riot to watch getting it on. Monkeys, horses, pigs, cattle, insects, or zoo animals; I’m not only fascinated by the act itself, but by the behavior leading up to the main event. The prancing and posing to prove suitability by the males, along with the feigned resistance by the females, is far less removed from how human beings select mates than most of us would care to admit around a feminist.
Rabbit Breeding Day is an event around my house. The kids invite their friends over to watch (and possibly, learn a little bit), and we place wagers on things like number of laps around the cage, how many attempts before successful breeding, and duration of the act.
The only ones that seem to mind are the does, but they don’t put up near as much of a fight as you would think.
Ever wonder why “Ravish Romance” is such a popular category of romance novel? “Ravish” is just a polite term for rape.
I work in a virtually all-male environment chocked absolutely full of adventurous, alpha-male types. The sorts who take risks and pursue goals that involve the possibly of death or horrific injury, followed closely by death or permanent disability.
And each of us punches far above his weight class when it comes to attractiveness of our wives and girlfriends. There’s not an ugly woman between the lot of us, and I think I understand the reason.
Females of our species use similar mate selection criteria as any other species.
Eve, my first and best breeding doe, will be kitting her third litter for me any day now. Shelby, the other doe of the original breeding trio, will be kitting her second about the same time. We intentionally time the litters to coincide.
Needless to say, I’m excited, not least because their children are delicious.
You would think after nearly half a dozen litters between Eve and Shelby that imminent kitting would be something of a non-event, but you would be wrong. I still get excited when Eve’s mood turns dark. That’s how we know the time is near. Eve turns into a supreme bitch the last few days of gestation.
The sweet doe who meets my wife at the hutch door and follows her around the yard when not encumbered by a litter, begins to snarl, charge, and bit whenever she’s near kitting. I can understand disliking me, since I am the bringer of forced breeding and child death, as far as she is concerned. However, biting my wife is completely uncalled for.
Sampson, my breeding buck, is always thrilled to see me, since to him, I am the bringer of treats and girlfriends. I’m his buddy.
Like any good animal husbandry practitioner, I put a lot of thought into the breeding process for my rabbits. Once you have more than a trio of breeders, the possible combinations begin to boggle the mind, especially when you hold back a kit or two from each doe’s first litter. Within a year’s time, my wife and I have become accidental genealogists. All I wanted was to have a meat source that didn’t involve driving to Walmart.
Right now, we run them on a three-litter-a-year rotation. If I had my way, we’d be pumping out six a year, but my wife thinks I’m too aggressive and will wear out the rabbits. Where I’m more conservative is the genetics. We pay close attention to the bloodlines, so as not to cross them too badly, even though I will admit to one of my pairings being inbred due to them having the same father.
Considering that my intent is strictly for meat production, as opposed to improving the breed, I don’t feel bad about this mild bit of inbreeding. Were anyone interested in purchasing one of the offspring, I would certainly disclose the Flowers-in-the-Attic nature of their pedigree. I don’t know enough about rabbit eugenics to take the experiment further than the dead-end of my dinner plate, so I don’t pretend.
Oddly enough, the incestuous pairing has produced very desirable kits with no losses so far and no noticeable problems up to butcher weight. The buck we purchased a few months ago is a different story. It turns out he developed an overbite that we have not been able to manage just by letting him chew on hard things.
We bought him young, and I’ve dealt with the seller enough to know she would not intentionally sell us a bum bunny, so I chalk this one up to the unpredictable nature of life. Unfortunately, for this particular guy, I’m not willing to perform rabbit dentistry every six weeks to shave down his teeth.
Congratulations, buddy. You’re going to Freezer Camp.
For those who have bred rabbits, the phenomenon of “the fall-off” is nothing new. I have only seen it in rabbits and teenagers, but then again, my animal breeding experience is somewhat limited. I use it as an indication of a successful breeding, and, let’s face it, one of the more entertaining parts of my day.
Go to Youtube and search “rabbit fall off,” if you’re unfamiliar with the term. You will laugh yourself silly.
My earliest experiences with purposeful breeding of livestock came courtesy of Spanish Pete. It was August and time to back breed the cows, so they would calve in May, when the weather in was reliably warm.
Spanish Pete was the nearest thing to a cattle baron I knew as a kid. He seemed to own every sheep in sight and all but about three of the cattle. How in the world a Basque immigrant who arrived on the shores of America with literally nothing in his pocket could become the virtual Lord of Lassen County was beyond me, but he had done it.
It was a wonder I pondered until the moment Pete said, “You picked a good day to come. We’re knocking up cows today.”
After being assured the day’s activities would be a strictly bull-on-cow affair, Jake and I pulled on our rubber boots and followed Pete out to one of numerous outbuildings on his spread. Inside an enormous barn was a pipe pen divided into two sections, one empty and the other populated by half a dozen young bulls, barely a year old. Even at the tender age I was, the proportion of bulls to cows struck me all wrong. Come to think about it, there were no cows.
What the hell kind of bovine sausage party was Pete running here, anyway?
I was under the impression that very few bulls were needed for a large number of cows. Something was definitely wrong with this situation. Where were the cows?
Pete usually let nature take its course, but he had a few head he kept separate from the others because he was doing something particular that I don’t remember. The point is there were a couple dozen cattle assigned to the Spanish Pete Special Projects Division, where breeding was controlled.
I have always figured I had a pretty good life, all things considered, but these cattle were some pretty pampered animals. They didn’t spend their time out on the range in the weather exposed to predators. No, sir. They were kept close to the house, fussed over, and even saw a vet. I suspected they had cable TV in the barn for them, too, but I could never confirm it.
A ranch hand separated two of the fence sections, while another led in the lucky bull. Unlike the bulls at the opposite side of the pen, this one was impressive. He was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of bulls, and it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit, if old Pete told me this one survived on a diet of anabolic steroids and live sheep. It would explain why Pete was the only person in the county to run sheep.
As the behemoth lumbered into the pen, he scanned the young bulls lined up in the adjacent temporary pen and snorted with contempt. They all took a step back at the same time.
“That’s Sam. Ain’t he pretty?” said Pete, with a gravely Basque accent from behind a huge yellow grin. Sam was led by a rope attached to a ring through his nose. The opposite end was tucked into the back pocket of one of the ranch hands. “The rope won’t do any good, if Sam decides to do his own thing. It’s just a reminder from when he was young.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I still dry off inside the shower before stepping out onto the bath mat. To this day, I expect my mother to come flying around the corner and beat me with a slipper for dripping water onto the carpet.
Sam made a couple of laps around the corral after the rope was removed from his nose ring. The bulls in the other corral stepped back from the railing each time Sam passed. It seemed to me that Sam had established his bona fides with these fellas quite a while ago.
A few minutes later, another ranch hand with a rope in his hand appeared leading a steer by the nose and coaxed it into the corral with Sam. It was obvious the steer was nervous by the way the hand had to pull him into the corral. Hell, I was nervous for him.
I was starting to believe this was either some sort of elaborate practical joke or old Pete didn’t know as much about cattle as it would seem.
The ranch hand manning the corral opening produced a spray bottle. The ranch hand leading the steer held out his hand, his compatriot spritzed a liberal amount of the contents onto the other man’s hand, and the steer’s rope-holder rubbed his moistened hand over the steer’s rump.
Pete explained that Sam was a genetically superior specimen, but was such a massive beast that, as often as not, he would injure the cow. The solution was to artificially inseminate the cows with Sam’s sperm. And that’s where the steer would do his part.
It turns out, the spray bottle contained the urine of an ovulating cow.
Yes, you read that right. This castrated bull, presumably lacking an interest in sex, was getting Horny Cow Piss smeared on him to trick the bull into mounting him, so Pete could collect the…ahem, genetic material.
I’ve heard stories about these sorts of tricky shenanigans going on in Thailand, and they typically don’t end well.
I wondered about the poor bastard who had to collect this ovulating cow urine.
My mother tells the story of how, when she was about eight and still living in the Azores, Grandpa would thresh grain my laying it down and having one of the cows walk back and forth across the stalks. My mother was handed an old coffee can and given instructions to walk just behind the cow to collect anything that came out before it fouled the grain by landing on it.
My mother always said she loathed the task, but she should have been grateful for being taught one of the skills necessary for scientific selective breeding. There is no word what the cow thought of the entire arrangement.
And the bulls in the adjacent corral?
“They’re there to learn,” Pete growled. “You wouldn’t know what to do, if we threw you into a room with the Sports Illustrated magazine girls, would you?”
Ah, good old Pete, with his farmer’s understanding of the world. I didn’t respond. I just blushed at my lack of carnal knowledge in cows, women, and any other species. It turns out, they’re all pretty similar.
You know you’re pretty low on the priority list when your job involves acting as bait in the sting operation. How mad is this bull going to be when he figures out what’s going on? Then again, it wasn’t Sam’s first time doing this, so he might have been OK with the whole situation. There was just no way to know. Either way, this poor steer is taking the risk of getting severely injured from one end or the other of Sam the bull.
So, there’s me, Jake, Spanish Pete, and a couple of his ranch hands, standing by as bouncers in case the whole thing went south, and a corral full of teenage bulls staring at the transvestite sex show that’s about to go down.
It was horrible and wonderful, all at the same time.
Sam is sniffing at the air as the steer is led around the corral. I can tell he’s thinking, “It smells like a girl.” For his part, the steer is really nervous. He keeps looking over his shoulder at Sam and quickening his pace. Sam falls in behind the steer for another lap, sniffing at cow urine as they circle. As he passed us, the steer looked at Pete with hate in his eyes.
After about the fourth lap, Sam decides he’d rather take what he can get before the lights come up at last call. Sam swings his front legs over the steer’s rump and lines up to take care of business. The steer starts bawling in what I can only imagine is the cow equivalent of a convict calling out for the guards to save him from getting railed by another inmate. The teenagers, bovine and human alike, are staring wide-eyed at what’s unfolding in front of them. Out of the corner of me eye, I see Pete grinning and mouthing the words, “Atta boy. Get some of that.”
Before Sam can skewer the Thai Lady Boy steer, one of Pete’s ranch hands comes running through the corral with what can only be described as a sandwich bag for baseball bats and comes to a skidding stop underneath Sam, while simultaneously grabbing the bull’s cock with his free hand and slinging the plastic sack over it, all the way to the base.
Nearly thirty years later, the speed, accuracy, and sheer balls of that little, brown ranch hand still astounds me.
The ranch hand then spends about six and three-quarters seconds giving Sam the bull what might have been the world’s fastest handjob. Mission accomplished, the ranch hand hauls ass out of the corral carrying the plastic bagful of bull jizz before Sam realizes he had not only been doubly tricked, but embarrassed in front of the younger bulls, to boot.
The Artificial Insemination process was not nearly as exciting or as conducive to retelling to my schoolmates that fall. Looking back, I’m fairly certain that stories like that, or at least, the retelling in detail, is a significant reason I didn’t have a girlfriend until after high school.