I haven’t visited a dairy farm yet that isn’t also home to another species: cats. When we bought our dairy farm, it came with a couple of barn cats. It wasn’t long before several more moved in. Then, as you can imagine, those barn cats led to barn kittens.
    When our kids were little, barn cats had the important job of keeping kids occupied and entertained. Feeding the barn cats and taming new kittens were two of the kids’ first jobs. Those jobs created close connections with our clowder of cats. Each kid has his or her own cat family, with kittens born from each family belonging to said child.
    Our barn cats have also contributed to the greatest lesson farm kids learn: life and death. When you think about it, barn cats live free, but perilous lives. As much as we would like to keep them constantly safe, the dangers of heavy equipment, the nearby road, and aerial predators are ever present.
    Peril seems to befall our fall-born kittens, especially. For some crazy reason, a couple of our queens are prone to delivering kittens in the fall instead of the spring. Come winter, when our barn turns downright chilly, fall kittens warm themselves by snuggling with the calves in our group pens. The sight is adorable. But, sadly, this leads to quite a few squished kittens.
    One of last fall’s kittens, named Ginny at birth by Monika (after her favorite Harry Potter character), however, defied all the odds.
    Ginny, who was nicknamed Scruffy over the winter, kept herself away from calves and, instead, gravitated towards humans. She quickly became what I call a shoulder cat: those cats who climb up your leg or a nearby gate to sit on your shoulder and purr in your ear.
    We’ve had shoulder cats before, but none like Scruffy. Past shoulder cats usually just climbed up to sit on our shoulders while we stood holding bottles for newborn calves. As soon as we started to walk away, though, the cats would leap down. Not Scruffy. She’d climb up and then hang on until we set her down. Given the choice, I think she would have ridden on a shoulder all day long.
    We often told her to go play with the other cats instead of following us around. But she seemed to prefer human company. And her favorite human was Glen. She often perched on Glen’s shoulder while he was driving the feed cart. And his shoulder was the first she sought during milking.
    “I don’t even like cats,” Glen would often say as Scruffy purred in his ear and he scratched the spot under her chin.
    Glen would let her ride on his shoulder for the first couple cows, then take her to the milkhouse to spend the rest of milking in safety.
    Scruffy didn’t care much for her solitary confinement in the milkhouse, so we tried to make it more enjoyable by giving her a personal milk dish and an old hat to curl up on.
    One day, Glen found Scruffy covered in milk, presumably from falling into her milk dish. After that, she really looked like her name.
    Shortly after, Glen gave her a bath. He was washing milkers when she climbed up onto his shoulder. He took advantage of the pail of warm, soapy water and dunked her in a few times, which she actually seemed to enjoy. He rinsed her off in the sink, which she clearly did not enjoy, and then set her to dry in front of the compressor. Scruffy was a bit upset with Glen, but got over it rather quickly.
    One afternoon while I was in town picking up supplies, I got a text message from Glen that read: Treats for Scruffy. I wasn’t sure if he was kidding. So I thought, what the heck, I can pick up a $2 dollar bag of kitten treats.
    The treats were an instant hit. The treats made solitary confinement in the milkhouse even more enjoyable for Scruffy. Everyone who passed through the milkhouse – Glen, me, the kids – loved stopping to give Scruffy treats. It reached the point where we had to start checking in with each other to keep Scruffy’s treat consumption within her daily allocation.
    On Tuesday morning, I had just finished pushing up feed when that “something’s not right” feeling struck me. It took me a second to realize what was missing: Scruffy.
    I looked in the calf pens. I looked in the barn office. I went back into the milkhouse to look there. There was no sign of Scruffy and I started to fear the worst.
    I soon learned the awful truth: Scruffy had an unfortunate encounter with the feed cart on Monday night.
    We are heartbroken. For the first time ever, the loss of a cat is even affecting Glen.
    Lots of tears have been shed around here for our departed feline friends, but the tears for Scruffy stung a bit more. I hope she’s found a shoulder to ride on in kitty heaven.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, 13, Monika, 11, and Daphne, 7. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.