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STUD WORK

By Kay Hill

If I were asked, "What is the greatest mistake one can make with a stud?" I would answer, "To hurry things."

I have had ample time, living as I have done for many years in a remote countryside, to study the behavior of semi-wild farm cats. Courtship is a ritual with meticulously observed rules, and one of these is the right of the female to accept or reject the amorous male exactly when it pleases her. There is a period, sometimes long , sometimes short, of extreme provocation, flight, coyness, and flaring rage, which suddenly subsides into acceptance.

I am convinced that kittens born of a happy natural courtship are better kittens than those from unhappy queens who fall into the hands of commercial breeders intent only on money. I have been told of a young Siamese stud with seven queens on the premises in a queue to be mater.

I allow a visiting queen several hours, often twelve, of complete quiet with time to eat, drink, use her tray, become used to my voice and presence and to the sounds and scents of new surroundings before I introduce her to the male. If she shows signs of invitation before that time, then the introduction takes place earlier.

Upon introduction, I judge the whole process by the behavior of my stud. He knows better than I do the state of the queen's mind, and, by the unmistakable tones of his voice, and working in complete harmony with him, I know what to do.

Often a queen seemingly reluctant and apparently quite nasty will respond to one's voice, or to a single caress. One can visit the stud house at 11:00 p.m. and meet with failure. At midnight there is instant success.

I have made it a rule over the twenty years or so I have owned males to never exceed two queens a week. On rare occasions I have allowed three, when the queens have been old hands, who have mated immediately. This gives each queen the matings to which she is entitled on one of the great occasions of her life. She goes home relaxed and happy, usually reluctant to leave.

When a young stud starts work, I refuse all maiden queens for a year, until he has gained confidence in his ability to master the female and protect himself.

One gets the odd queen, usually mishandled elsewhere, who presents a real problem, if not a danger, to both stud and owner. These above all need patience and i have found that one trick that works is to remove the stud at each sign o temper, until surprise brings the queen to her senses. I remember one queen, who launched herself, screaming, at my eyes every time I opened the door. She calmed in time, until she saw me put on a pair of gloves and went berserk. It was easy to guess what her previous experience had been! She eventually became a placid matron and produced lovely litters until extreme old age.

We hear distressing stories of stud kep in terrible conditions, overworked, lacking exercise, light and fresh air, but owners of queens should be warned that they c grossly mishandled in perfect surroundings, upset for days or weeks and made reluctant to repeat the process.

There is a price to pay for everything and I fervently believe that a faulty start to life, followed by the failure to neuter perfect looking kittens of faulty strain or stamina; raising weaklings on antibiotics; the fanatical pursuit of show awards (to benefit the owners not the cats), the exaggeration of the standard of points to the verge of insanity have resulted in the heartbreak of many purchasers of kittens and disaster to many breeders.

The last stud I will ever own is now ten years old. During his remaining years he will enjoy the visits of his old flames. I can therefore say now, without fear of being accused of self-advertising, that during my entire career I have never had a fading kitten or litter, and if there has ever been one among all the queens I have had on my premises, I have never been told of it.

Novices, now mature breeders, have followed my advice with success and are determined to put the health and stamina and happiness of their cats before fame or monetary gain.

The odd thing is that the wheel is beginning to turn. People are asking for kittens that are not of exaggerated show type. They say they cannot stand another heartbreak. I have been overwhelmed with inquiries. I have had to turn down orders. Commercial breeders would do well to heed this advice in the light of so many breeding troubles.

The cat "walks by itself" only to the extent that it has never become subject to man. It does not walk by itself where its own species is concerned, but constantly demands and enjoys physical contact, and an change of grooming, as distinct from sex. I had, however, a Siamese male, a most potent sire of large litters, who would drop any queen he was mating and let her squirm on the floor, if he saw food approaching - presumable on Kipling's principle that ,"a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke".

I do not believe that anyone with imagination will deny a stud cat every opportunity to feel that he is part of a household, human and animal. He should be able to see from his premises the comings and goings in both garden and house, and feel that he is the lord of his territory. The owner should snatch every opportunity to talk to him, caress him, make him feel important and loved. How ease it is, when preparing a meal, to hand over the tasty scraps to the queens and neuters, and how difficult to put on gumboots and a raincoat and go out in filthy weather to take a few scraps of chicken, a sliver of cooked fish, or a few prawns, to the gentleman in the garden. Yet how rewarding that deep, rumbling purr can be, putting one to shame for even hesitating.

It5 is the unexpected visit, the sound of a voice, a quick caress, the making of an excuse to go out when it is not technically necessary, that I think should be part of our debt and our conscience.

I am the last person to want to humanize my cats. To turn them into "pussies', to feel maternal towards them. I want them feline and beautiful, burning bright, like Blake's vision of a tiger. There is a subtler relationship between man and cat, described by David Garnett in "A Man in the Zoo", that i feel can, and should, exist between stud owner and stud cat.

"They were equals in everything, and there was in

their love none of that fawning servility on the

]one side and domineering ownership on the other

that makes nearly all the dealings of man and animals so degrading to each of the parties...

both were in their nature gay and sportive with

pleasant manners, which admirably concealed the

untamed wildness of their tawny hearts."