Daphne was playing outside in the yard the other day when she turned to me and said, “Thank goodness it’s finally spring!”
    Yes, thank goodness! After a winter that threatened to test my limits, it truly does feel like spring is finally here.
    As far as the animals are concerned, spring was supposed to be here a month ago. That’s when the robins and geese returned from their southern vacation.  That’s also when our first litter of kittens arrived. The second litter arrived shortly after.
    Sadly, the first two litters perished. One batch of kittens, as the kids call them, was eaten by a tomcat. The second litter got too cold while the mama cat was away (or the mama cat deserted). There were lots of tears from heartbroken children who had waited all winter for spring kittens.
    The disappointment was soon ameliorated, however, by the arrival of two new litters of kittens. Determined to keep these kittens alive, a feline nursery was established in our barn office – to keep the kittens warm and protected from crazy tomcats. A straw-filled box was set up for each mama cat and her litter. The kids dutifully check the kittens and feed the mama cats several times a day.
    Interestingly, the mama cats soon moved both litters of kittens into the same box and commenced co-mothering. One mama cat tends the kittens while the other takes a break and then they switch. Clearly, cats are smart creatures. Why don’t humans co-mother?
    We have a small digital scale in the barn that we use for weighing milk replacer. We started using it after reading an article about the inconsistencies that result from measuring milk replacer by the scoop.
    I have loved that little scale ever since. When mixing large batches of milk replacer, I would lose count of how many scoops of powder I had dumped into my transport pail. I would have to dump the transport pail back into the bag of powder and start over. I never measured directly into the pail of water; that would have been disastrous. With the scale, I don’t have to count; I can just watch the grams add up on the scale.
    We also use the scale now for calibrating the milk replacer powder dispenser on our automatic calf feeder. The calf feeder dispenses powder based on the number of seconds the dispenser runs, not by how many grams of powder are dispensed. So it’s important to ensure that the timer on the dispenser is correct. Milk replacer can have slight differences in density, so I recalibrate once a week.
    Our little digital scale now has a third use: precision kitten care.
    Glen gave Monika the idea of weighing each kitten every day and tracking their rate of gain. Monika loved the idea. She often weighs milk replacer powder for me, so she already knew how to operate the scale. Glen helped her make a chart for recording the weights and Monika proceeded with the first weighing.
    She ran into one small hang-up, but devised a clever solution. One of the litters of kittens has gray, apricot, and white calico markings, so Monika can tell the kittens apart and each has a name. The kittens in the other litter are all orange tabby striped and Monika can’t tell them apart. So, to weigh the orange kittens, she tares a small pail, puts the whole litter in the pail, weighs them, and records the litter’s weight.
    On the fifth day of weighing kittens, Monika came up to me with grave concern that one of the calico kittens hadn’t grown that day as much as the other calico kitten. I showed her how to look back at her data and consider the kitten’s growth overall. Two days before, the kitten of concern had outgrown the other kitten, so it appeared the kittens were just evening up.
    After a week of tracking the kittens’ rate of gain, Monika decided she would turn the activity into a 4-H project. Next up will be a lesson in spreadsheets and creating charts.
    All of this focus on rate of gain makes me think we should get a digital scale for our calves and track their rates of gain. I can see Monika already. She’d have her Jersey calves in the scale every day to make sure they were growing well.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children – Dan, 11, Monika, 8, and Daphne, 5. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.