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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How to deal with a bumper crop. Of kittens.

I’m sure by now you people are tired of reading about my cats. Well, I will try to make this the last cat story for a while. Just think of this as a wrap-up to the cat season.
On April 1st, our tame calico Penelope gave birth to 4 kittens. For the next month, her 9 sisters and cousins gave birth to their own litters. Not all of them lived. Some were just too little and didn’t survive. But by the middle of May, we had about 40 new, healthy kittens on the farm. It was a bumper crop, to be sure.
Now, most farmers will tell you that the feral barn cat is an absolute necessity on the farm. They control the rodent population, particularly when grain is being stored in the barn. Most barns have at least two or three cats on site. Larger farms need 6 to a dozen cats to get the job done.
Typically, the cats are fed once in the morning, and that’s it for the day. The farmer doesn’t necessarily measure out an exact half cup of feed per cat. He just puts one big bowl down and if they miss chow time, tough for them. Fights occasionally break out, and dominance is asserted. Males reaching adulthood have to prove their superiority, or they are quickly run off the farm by the resident alpha male. Mother cats just keep having kittens, sometimes two litters in a summer season, until they are worn out from childbirth and nursing. Kittens born in the colder months rarely last until springtime. Many get viruses that, left untreated, spread and wipe out the younger farm cat generation. Some people call this survival of the fittest. I call it depressing.
Before I arrived on the farm scene in 2007, my Farmer’s cat population was “managing itself”, by the aforementioned processes. But when I saw the first kitten stagger past me with infected eyes, I put gloves on and caught the scrappy little thing. I administered Polysporin eye drops and homeopathic respiratory remedies. When that didn’t work, I smuggled the cat to the vet. Yes, I know I was going against the typical farm system, but I couldn’t bear to see that kitten suffer. Two hundred dollars later, I had antibiotics to cure my kitten. He is now the large orange alpha male in our barn, and the main source of my kitty problems. The Farmer said he told me so. I interfered with nature and look what happened.
So? What to do. Those kittens are now my responsibility. I allowed them to be born. I took care of my 40 new kittens, their eye infections and their stuffy noses. I took one of them to the vet and shared his medicine with everyone else until they were all better. But 40 kittens, plus the 10 prolific mamas and handful of adult males we have on the farm are too many, even for a crazy cat lady.
After the kittens had passed the 8-week stage where they could be weaned, I put an ad on In the first week, 18 kittens were adopted out to what I determined to be loving homes. The adopters discussed plans and even provided appointment dates for getting their kittens immunized and eventually spayed. This made me feel good.
After another couple of weeks, 10 more kittens were picked up. Now it’s August and I’ve got just 7 kittens left. Three are in the “taming room” in the basement and 4 still roam the barn, too big and wise now to be lured into my cat carrier. Two adolescent males were shipped off to live on a new farm. I am still trying to catch the dominant orange male. The Papa Garfield. Big Daddy of them all. Of course, catching and finding homes for my surplus cats isn’t going to solve my problem. I realize this, so you can stop writing that email to me right now, cat activists. I know I have to get them all fixed. The problem is the cost, not the ideal, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t have $2,000 to throw around. Maybe when I sell my Farmwife book I can put part of the profits toward the cat situation. But in the meantime, it would be really nice if the municipality, along with some local veterinarians, would pitch in and help to solve this problem. I’m sure I’m not the only farmer in the area with a bumper crop of kittens this year. Or am I?

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