How to Sex a Mink
A friend's worst job he ever had
We were driving to a consulting job one morning, 90 miles each way, and often filled the time with stories. One morning, I asked my business partner what was the worst job he ever had. He replied that when he was in high school, he earned money sorting mink out by sex on a mink farm near Sheboygan, Wiscsonsin. Back in the 1970s, it was still permissible and quite common for farmers and others who raised animals such as rabbits and mink to refer to "sexing" them when sorting them out. Since then, the word "gender" migrated from language class to general use as a genteel euphemism. (When "sex" is used to label the difference, it causes averted eyes, blushing and awkward silences much like the f-bomb used to do before it lost its impact.) In this story, Sexing is the term that was used and this is how it was done:
Mink farmers like to increase their inventory. Animal husbandry is the only business where inventory reproduces itself. Animals like to pitch in and do their part. In the case of mink, there are some natural rules that govern the cycle and the process that must be respected.
Mink live fast lives. They breed once a year, usually in March. The young are born in May, about 5 to a litter. They are weaned in 8 weeks. When they are about a year old, those selected for reproduction are ready to breed.
That is when the sorting problem comes into play. Like human teenagers, once the males reach adolescence, the chance of them becoming unruly increases greatly. They must be separated from each other. When breeding season begins, owners can not accidentally put a male together in the same cage with another male. Rather than joining the rainbow alliance, they will immediately begin a bloody fight to the death. (Like in prison, they value priveleges. There isn't much else beyond the routine to do in there.)
So, my friends 'job was to put on some heavy leather gloves, which could occasionally be bitten through, accurately determine the sex of the mink, put males with females, and a month later, separate them again. The mink would twist, squirm, run, hiss, shriek, and act ferocious. Considering they are a swift and fearless predator, that is to be expected. So, holding a wriggling mink, this is how to determine their sex:
In the male, the urogenital opening (penis) is on the ventral abdomen (belly), but in the female the anogenital distance is short that is the vulva are located just forward of the anus.
In addition, the male has a penile bone which can be palpated (felt), beginning just to the rear of the urogenital opening and extending about half the distance towards the anus.
Nipples are more numerous and obvious in the mature females. In the male, only a single pair of nipples may be obvious. So, in large mink farm with thousands of mink, this had to be performed quickly and accurately. Mistakes came off the pay, or in the form of bloody nips from sharp teeth.
My friend does not miss those days. Perhaps microchips make sorting easier now, but they still have to sexed, I mean "sorted by gender," for chipping. And, I doubt they have grown to like it. Any volunteers?