An ode to barn kitties

Feeding the barn kitties is, by far, my favorite morning chore.

I plod down the hall half-asleep and make my way to the laundry room where the cat food is stored. As I load a cup full of kitty chow, I can hear the cats outside bounding toward the door. 

I call them barn kitties, but they actually reside beneath our barbecue on the front porch and, on occasion, in a nearby juniper bush.  

This year, there are seven in total between the two litters. The first bunch is from a fluffy grey cat we call Mama Cat, while the rest are from her daughter, Siren. The tabby was so-named for her continuous meowing reminiscent of — you guessed it — a siren. 

As soon as I fling open the door, the mother cats storm in, circling my feet, while their kittens mew impatiently outside. I shake out the food in a line before them so they can each find a spot at the morning trough. But they aren’t exactly a patient bunch, and often I’ll find one kitten stretched out over another in its rush to chow down. 

I love to sit back and watch all nine of them munch away.

As they eat, the kittens let out little meows of appreciation. Their mothers, on the other hand, barely stop to breathe. 

Sooner or later the kittens, having finished breakfast, begin the morning ritual of attacking each other on the porch. They’ll dart in between chair legs, wrestling and biting, to the point of exhaustion. Usually by the time I leave the house, I find them fast asleep on top of each other in groups of three or four — any play-fighting animosity quickly forgotten. 

But all cuteness aside, the kittens are on the ranch to work.

Thanks to their mothers, they’re talented hunters and do a wonderful job of keeping the mice at bay. In fact, I haven’t seen one in the house for more than a year.

But as much as their mice-eating skills are appreciated, I’m more thankful for the joy they bring me each morning before I set off for work. If I’m lucky, I’ll even nab one or two for a quick cuddle. 

I’m getting better at catching them, much to their chagrin. 

And they’re talents don’t stop with hunting and snuggling — sometimes they also provide our evening entertainment. 

Last week, we caught them chasing each other around the juniper bush. And what a sight to behold! All seven kittens were racing, jumping and tumbling after one another.

The best part was when they’d surprise each other. One kitten would round a corner and leap back in shock at seeing a fellow furry friend. The’d open their little mouths and put their paws up, jazz hand style. 

We stood by the window, dinner plates in-hand, for nearly 30 minutes just watching and laughing.

It was truly dinner and a show. 

When I first moved to the ranch, I couldn’t fathom owning outside-only cats. 

I was worried they’d get eaten or starve. 

But I’ve come to respect these animals during the past year. 

They know how to fend for themselves, and to teach their young to do the same. 

And most of all, I think they enjoy the freedom of outdoor life.

They’re part domestic, part wild. 

But as capable as these barn kitties may be, on those really cold nights I can’t help but open the door and usher them inside. 

Mama Cat will leap onto my chair and curl up in the crook of my shoulder.

In minutes she’ll have purred herself to sleep, and sometimes, me right along with her. 

— Mackenzie Reiss / Pioneer Staff Writer 

CUTLINE: A pile of new barn kittens play on the porch at the Grosfield ranch. The seven young felines were born of two working ranch mouser mothers.

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