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One of the greatest moments of the year is always when we get past the shortest day and begin to have longer periods of daylight.

I suppose humans are affected by the daylight periods, probably being a little more prone to depression or a little grouchier as they spend less time outdoors and more time in the dark. Some, but not all, of the animals are greatly affected by the photo period.

I have been observing the wild pheasants around my house as of late. There are five roosters that have buddied-up for the winter. They enjoy finding the grain around the barn that I scatter for them. They are a close group, doing a little play-fighting just for fun and practice, I suppose.

They flutter their wings and jump in the air to see who can get the highest. Athletic prowess seems to mean a lot in all the animal (or human) world. There used to be six of them, but one of them died on the road and probably made the local fox really happy.

The females are also bunched up in their own little sewing circle.

They scurry around another part of the pasture and never come close to the males at this time. I can only imagine all the rumors and discussions the two groups have about each other as they eye one another from a distance.

The changing of the length of light each day signals big changes in all of them.

Soon, the play-fighting will get more serious with the males, and they will parade around in brighter and shinier plumage that will make the females drool - or maybe coo.

Soon it will be decided which male will escort the females during the breeding season. There will be little time for anything else in their lives. Before long, the snooty females will have nothing to have with the glamorous males, and they will attend to nest building, egg sitting and finally brood raising.

Our domestic dogs have broken the seasonal cycle somehow. They are much more predictable about their breeding. There is no courting and showing off as with most of the animal world. They merely respond to a female's scent and heat cycle.

Female dogs become ready to breed about every six months - give or take a little. The correlation to the seasons seems to be totally lost.

Their heat cycle lasts about 21 days, with the fertile period being somewhere in the middle. The scent they produce will drive male dogs crazy for blocks - and maybe miles if the wind is in the right direction.

Cats are still closer to the wild animals, being much more affected by the daylight.

They are not as predictable as the pheasants, but many of the cats tend to come into heat in the late winter or early spring. They tend to be in heat only about a week, go out again for a short time and then do it again.

If bred, they stop their heat cycles. If not, Mother Nature keeps it going for a while to promote survival of the breed. Cats will also sometimes come into heat all over again in the fall.

Reproduction in the animal world is very interesting.

Some animals only breed if conditions are correct for survival, some produce more young if there is more food available and others don't breed every year at all. Some animals actually conceive and then can stop the growth of the fetus until conditions are favorable.

In crowded conditions, some animals consume their own young to correct the overcrowded conditions. It's a pretty fascinating part of the animal world.

Have questions about pets? Write to: PetVet; c/o The Billings Gazette; P.O. Box 36300; Billings, Mont. 59107-6300. Questions of general interest may become topics of future columns.

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