She had ordinary looks and an ordinary name, but Mama Kitty was the most extraordinary farm cat I've ever known.
A gray tabby with white and peach markings, Mama Kitty came with our farm when we bought it seven years ago. She wasn't as striking as the cat with long white hair and blue eyes, but she was just as friendly. She would follow us up and down the barn during chores and she never missed an opportunity to rub up against your leg when you stopped moving.
The funny part was, though, that when I mentioned how nice she was to the previous owners' son, he said that he didn't recognize her as one of their barn cats. Wherever she came from, I'm sure glad that we both ended up here at the same time.
Her name wasn't Mama Kitty at first. She earned that name after one of her countless litters of kittens was born. Mama Kitty was a terrific mother - with one exception. She didn't always choose the best locations for queening (giving birth). She delivered one litter of kittens in the manger in front of the cows. Another litter was delivered in the middle of the office floor. Yet another was birthed in Monika's barn stroller.
This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, because it gave us a chance to befriend the kittens before they turned into spitfires. We would put her kittens in an empty towel box and she was more than happy to take care of them there. And she always tolerated the kids' handling (er, manhandling) of her babies.
Mama Kitty was also an amazing hunter. She could always be seen slinking through the tall grass in the grassed waterway or crouching by the wall in the silo room, waiting for the mouse that she knew was hiding underneath the pallet. She came back from hunting trips with everything from full-grown pigeons to full-grown rats.
Farm cats come and go for many reasons. When I was a kid, the most common end for our farm cats was getting stepped on or laid on by the cows. None of our farm cats have made those mistakes, which I consider something of a miracle. Our cats usually just disappear - whether they move to another farm or meet a raptor of some sort out in the field we never know. I'm sure some meet cars out on the road. And I know one of them met a full feed cart. Oops.
Nadia, one of our cows, stepped on Mama Kitty's front paw shortly after we moved here. Mama Kitty was following me down the aisle while we were putting cows in their stalls. She learned fast from the incident and seemed to avoid dangerous situations after that.
So when I realized the other day that I hadn't seen Mama Kitty for a few days, I didn't think too much of it. She spent most of her summer rearing a litter of seven adorable kittens - two orange tabbies, two gray tabbies and three snow-white kittens with colored points. I figured that Mama Kitty had decided it was finally time to wean them.
But then I had a nightmare about finding Mama Kitty's body in the tall grass out by our silage bags. I tried to shake off the ill feeling I had when I woke up.
The next day, we needed to move a couple heifers from the heifer yard into the dry cow pasture. This highly efficient process involves using all available equipment to make a lane between the heifer yard and the dry cow shed, and then chasing the heifers through that lane down to the shed and out into the pasture. We don't use the dry cow shed for anything in the summer other than moving heifers and, occasionally, parking a loaded hay rack when it needs to be sheltered from rain.
Eden and Katie, the close-up heifers, were quite cooperative, so the move went very well. All was good until Glen came back out of the dry cow shed and said that something must of have died in there.
I immediately thought of Mama Kitty and my nightmare. Filled with dread, I made my way into the shed.
I found Mama Kitty by the row of bales stacked along the north wall of the shed. She had been dead for a while, but I could still tell that it was her. My heart sunk and tears spilled onto my cheeks.
The only clues as to what might have happened were several tufts of hair lying right next to her body. The hair wasn't Mama Kitty's. Was she killed in a fight? Or were those tufts of hair there before Mama Kitty died? I find it hard to believe that our best hunter was killed in a fight. Did she die for some other reason? She was old for a farm cat, but she seemed to be in very good health, especially considering that she had nursed seven kittens all summer.
My only consolation is knowing for sure that she died and that I don't have to wonder any more about where she might be.
Mama Kitty's legacy will live on in her beautiful kittens. Yesterday, I saw that King George, the gregarious, orange tabby kitten, had caught a small mouse all by himself.
Those seven kittens provided endless entertainment for all of us this summer. After I told Dan and Monika that Mama Kitty had died, I added that it was our responsibility now to look out for her kittens, so that they, too, could grow up to be extraordinary farm cats.