Monday, October 15, 2012

Live and let die?

Life on a mink farm gives extra meaning to seasons. Summer growth gives way to Autumn, when the animals begin to put on their thick fur coats. Winter harvests and a sigh of relief for a year's work done. Early Spring marks breeding season, when the cycle starts again.

By mid-April, we eagerly anticipated the first litter of the year. We could hear the mewing of the newborn kits from halfway down the aisle of the quiet shed in the still morning. My family viewed the first litter as a harbinger to the entire crop. If the first mother to deliver had a bunch of healthy kits it usually meant we would be rewarded for the long hours of attentiveness we put in during breeding season.

We'd find one litter by maybe the 17th of April(at the earliest, also my parents' anniversary, the date picked because it's really between busy seasons on the farm), and one or two a day until the 21st or so when we'd find hundreds of new litters every morning, the sheds a cacophony of kits crying for more milk. We covered the nest when we found a litter. We also turned the mother's card(her genetic records) sideways. For months afterward, we walked through the sheds with necks cocked at an angle to glean information from the cards. One day my brother said, "How about we turn all the cards sideways after breeding season, that way we can turn them straight when the kits come in?" Sore necks disappeared from the crew. Genius.

Mink come into the world hairless and about the size of your little finger. By ten days or so, they can make it out of the nest box and begin to explore their world. We often searched the ground for kits that had ventured far enough to fall out of their pens. (That reminds me of a catch and release owl project, maybe I'll check on the statute of limitations before I share.) At twenty-one days they open their eyes and start to eat solid food.

I bring this up because I can say with a certain amount of expertise that the striped mongoose kit I spotted yesterday was about ten days old, healthy and well-fed.

A band of maybe fifty mongoose live in my neighborhood. They come through in a wave twice a day. The mongoose spread out eating everything they find, from ants to adders. They're pretty fun to watch, if one finds a snake or lizard, he'll stand on his hind legs and meef (the term for the sound they make, perfect onomatopoeia) to his band mates for some help with the hunt.

I heard the mewing on the short cut to the hangar, he/she(I could have sexed it but that would have left human smell and altered the course of its destiny) crawled along the elephant path. I wanted to stay and observe. Would his mother return in time to carry him by his scruff back to the den or would he become birdsnack? Would he be able to pass on his rambunctious genetics or would they be lost along with his mother's because she stayed away from the den too long?

It remains a mystery, I found no sign of him on my return hours later.

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