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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Season of the kitten, once again.

Well, at least it isn't as bad as last year. We should only have two litters of kittens born this spring. Last year we had ten.

When the kittens just kept a comin', under every shelf, behind every hay bale and in every hay feeder last spring, I decided we had to take drastic measures to control the cat population on the Fisher farm.

Many farms just practice the survival-of-the-fittest rule for their feral barn cats. Every winter they lose a few of the less hearty cats to the cold, and to other common barn cat ailments. They feed minimal amounts of dry food, to encourage the cats to hunt rodents in the barn. If their cat population gets a little too healthy and prolific, they control it by culling some of the cats. It's definitely a controversial subject.

When I moved into the farm five years ago, the Farmer had about six cats, he figures. He put down one bowl of food a day and occasionally they would get table scraps for a treat. The first time I looked out the patio door and saw a tiny kitten sitting there, I was hooked.

The mother cat had fed her kittens in the hayloft for a few weeks, but when they were old enough to start wandering, she brought them up to the farmhouse. Perhaps she thought I would help her to care for them. She was right. Smart kitty cat.

I washed and medicated weepy, infected eyes. I took the worst cases to the vet, paying for medication and treatment, only to see these weak kittens succumb to their illnesses anyway. I mixed my own homeopathic medicines, bought quality cat food and provided them with a warm, dry place to sleep.

The next year we had ten cats. The third year we had twenty. The males came and went, after fighting for the leadership position, but the females stuck around. Last year all twelve females had litters. Forty kittens were born.

I put an ad on kijiji.com and over the next six months I adopted out thirty-seven kittens. Here's how I did it. The kittens that were born in the stable were easy to catch and handle every day, so they quickly became tame and easy to adopt out by the time they were eight weeks old. I soon learned what an eight week old barn cat looks like. It's typically smaller than a domestic cat. The 'extra wild' kittens had to be caught and wrapped tightly in a towel, or they would shred my arms with their tiny claws. I am scarred for life. Then I would take them in the house and down to the spare bedroom in the basement, which became a kitty nursery until they were tame and adopted. I handled them every day if possible, until they were ready to trust and accept being touched.

When Sheila, our self-proclaimed house cat, had kittens, she let some of the other kittens nurse from her too. She was a very helpful wet nurse. As her charges, biological and otherwise, were adopted out one by one, she would come and sit by my feet and complain loudly: "you give them to me, you make me feed them, then you take them away?!"

Now she has a collection of stuffed toys, all kitten-sized, that she carries around the house in her mouth. I spayed ten cats last year. I missed two. One went into hiding when she saw her friends being caught in the live trap and carted off, one by one. The other was caught in the cage, but when I opened it she darted out, climbed up my pantleg, jumped over my head and escaped out the open door. She freaked me out so much I decided not to try to catch her again last year.

The other day I went out to the barn and there were the two mamas that I missed last year, waddling around, hugely pregnant again. Now I have to find homes for two more litters.

And then I have to catch the mamas—perhaps the smartest mamas in the barn—and get them spayed. Does anyone want a kitten?

Listen to The Big Breakfast Show with Drew and Diana on Kemptville's new radio station, STAR 97.5fm.

1 comment:

Queenie said...

Diana, you are a kind and loving soul - on behalf of the cats and kittens, thank you.
xo