I remember when Valentine’s Day was largely a grade school affair, when we bought enough tiny, cheap cards (usually of a very corny nature) for our entire class, stuffed them through a slot into a cardboard box, and waited with anticipation at the end of the school day to receive one back from everyone else in the room. There was always a hint of anxiety about the outcome ,would be, but the teacher always made sure fair was fair.
Now in these more commercial times, we are inundated daily by reminders to buy “our loved one a dozen long-stemmed red roses” or to treat that “special loved one” to a celebratory restaurant meal. (Somehow, I have always preferred the old fashioned “beloved” to that rather creepy sounding “loved one,” which to me reeks of funeral parlors.)
Here at Turkana Farms, such rituals would be regarded by our livestock to have come from the moon. In our barnyard, there are no one and only “loved ones,” no long term, exclusive attractions, no endless, unrequited longing, no shy advances, no tempting love offerings, no eternal, unbroken unions. And certainly no wine and roses.
In the henhouse, the closest thing to a Valentine ritual is one of the tricks our rooster pulls all the time, and largely gets away with: he will strut about making the kind of clucking sounds that signal to the hens he’s found something really tasty (a worm?, some corn? a maggot?) and they all, being the supreme opportunists that they are, instantly scamper over to gobble up the spoils, whereupon the rooster jumps the nearest hen, has his rough way with her, and then jumps a few more. End of relationship. It works every time. ”Happy Valentine’s Day, my fine feathered hens,” he seems to say as he struts about, puffing up his feathers.
For most of the year the ram and ewes live together harmoniously, completely oblivious to sexual desire. Their Valentine’s Day, if we can call it that, comes on the first late summer evening when the temperature goes below 55 degrees, which seems to trigger both estrus in the ewes and the amorous desires of the ram.
Then a rather perfunctory courtship begins, necessarily perfunctory since the ram has to give his Valentine to thirty-some ewes.
We know that sheep Valentine’s Day has come when we see the ram standing erect. his body extended, rigid like a statue, his head drawn back, his chin raised, and his upper lip curled up revealing his teeth. All sure signs that he is, as they say, “horny.” A ewe responds by seductively stopping in front of him, her rear pointed towards his face, to squat and urinate.
This “come hither” proves irresistible to the ram who, skipping the roses and the nice restaurant meal, quickly mounts her without a howdy-do. “Happy Valentine’s Day, whoever you are,” he seems to say and moves on to the next squatting ewe, never acknowledging his partner-of-a-brief-moment again, and never sensing that he has had anything to do with the lamb that appears five months later. He plays no favorites and has miles to go before he sleeps.
Our cattle celebrate their Valentine’s Day on a grand scale, since Titan, our bull, weighs close to 2,000 pounds, and his lady friends between 1200 and 1600 pounds. The bull may have Valentine’s Day on his mind much of the time but gives no hint of it till a cow or heifer goes into estrus nearby, the odor of which drives the bull into a frenzy, often a moody, agitated, dancing frenzy. The mad pursuit begins with the lady initially in a coy mood, loping about the pasture, followed by the bull who grows increasingly agitated until he mounts, and she partially squats. And says the bull from his perch “Happy Valentine’s Day!” And as he returns to his grazing, “See you in nine months!”
As for the pigs, given their intelligence, things are a bit more complicated and, shall we say, evidence a bit more porky savoir faire. While the boar, like human males, may always be in the mood, the sow must first be in estrus and willing. And apparently (it is becoming clearer now that we have two intact boars) she must be confronted (or should I say “approached at the rear”) by the favored boar.
Sometimes the Valentine celebration can be consummated with a sudden violent, noisy onslaught. Or, if unsuccessful, end in one hell of a fight! Whether the raucous roars and screams indicate pleasure or pain, love or war, come hither or get away, it is often difficult to determine.
Sometimes, if the sows are new to the game, or for some reason, not in the mood, or not sure if the boar is Mr. Right, there ensues a kind of foreplay that hints at possible pig Valentine observances yet to come, that is, when pigs reach a higher stage of being.
To win his hard-to-get prize (who could be playing hard to get to intensify the pleasure), the amorous boar will seductively sidle up to his “loved one,” rub up invitingly against her sides, pirouette coyly, make pleasant sounding grunts and snorts, and even give her little love bites on her jowls. Usually this works (It’s certainly cheaper than wine and roses), and amidst what sound like yelps, screams, snarls, and roars its “Happy Valentine’s Day, Mrs. Sow! See you after you have had your litter!” And on to the next.
Puzzled though our barnyard critters are, dear readers, by your strange ways of observing Valentine’s Day, the assembled chickens, sheep, pigs, and cows at Turkana Farms nevertheless wish you, no matter how you celebrate it, a Happy Valentine’s Day.