On every farm and ranch operation, there is a partner who is often overlooked.
Some people love them, others hate them. A few just tolerate them.
But most would agree. They have their place. And, it’s an important place.
Stinky Pete, Little Joe, Peaches, Molly, Ollie, Freckles, Pickles, Twila Sue, Missy Mae, Jazzi, Mama, Calico Cat, Hoky and Poky, the names go on and on.
Some go unnamed, they are like ghosts in the darkness. We know they are around because the food pan is empty come morning.
Others have a special place. They take up residence on the back porch. Perhaps little boys and girls sneak them in when mom and dad aren’t watching. Others have a place of honor on the laps of the farmer/rancher while he or she reads the paper or takes a “calving season snooze.”
They are the barn cats we know and love.
In the old chicken yard, that’s now been planted to grass, many a cat lie in eternal rest. There are those who met with the unfortunate demise in the wheel well of a tractor, a fatal mistake in running in front of a pickup or made the poor choice to consume a field mouse who had eaten stray poison. Some disappeared, we kids would search high and low, hoping against hope to bring them home and lay them to rest. And then there were the special old timers who succumbed to time and age. Dad could always be counted on to help dig a hole while we kids carefully laid them to rest, and then he stood by while we covered them with dandelions or stray summer blossoms. I can’t begin to guess how many rest in the farm cat cemetery, but I always smile when the opportunity arises to tell my own kids about the ranch cats of the past.
Today’s ranch cats roam near and wide, running the perimeters and keeping mice and rats at bay. Their work often goes unnoticed, as they are doing their hunting and mousing at night. Some of them like to claim bragging rights, dropping their fresh kill by the back door to be admired when we step out for morning chores. Still others might be spotted out the kitchen window, chowing down on their hard-fought prizes. Keeping the rodents away may seem like a small task, or not of much value. It couldn’t be further from the truth. These creatures can destroy a grain crop, wreak havoc on the carefully stacked bags of mineral and feed that cost us a small fortune, and they can spread disease that is harmful to all.
Those who don’t understand this life often chide us to do our part to get them spayed or neutered. They lecture us about food quality and shelter. They mean well, and at the same time do not understand that nature often keeps things in check for us, or that our feed store sells us a great ranch cat variety food that comes in a 50 pound bag. Nor do they understand the warm feelings that come when a new nest of kittens is discovered in the hay loft, or behind the stall walls. The little squeals of delight brought forth by my girls, and the smiles they wear when they run to tell me the news are some of my favorite things that come in the newness each spring.
As I made my morning rounds, I stooped up to pick up our senior mama cat, Molly. She has already beaten the odds and been here much longer than most of her peers. Sure enough, her belly is growing round with the promise of spring. And, while we all anxiously await the promise of spring, and the new lives that come with it, I can’t help but be thankful for these little partners who do their part to keep this operation going another year.