For the past 21 months, since COVID-19 was first recognized, it seems the world has not only become more fearful, and more threatening but also far, far crazier. Probably, out here in farming territory, the wackiest yet are the stories circulating about barn kittens.
Now barn cats and their offspring have been around for centuries. Enjoying a love/hate relationship with most farmers, they have proven themselves to be an efficient, almost free varmint control system on most farms. That was until the pig boards decided that cats in a pig barn were a problem and banned them. I still recall a best friend and her four daughters, all in tears, frantically trying to find homes for their resident Queen and her kittens before the deadline to replace the four legged mouse and rat control in their pig barns with poison bait stations. Somehow that was deemed less dangerous. Both she and I had greater fear of the poisons and the prospect of dead and dying rodents in the barns, especially with young children around.
I also recall when the feed mills were forced to do the same with their cats. They never seemed to have problems with either the varmints or finding homes for the kittens each year. Between the mill workers and the customers, there was always a soft hearted farmer who would put one in his truck and take it back to his barn. When the last cats left and the rodent control company arrived and set up their bait stations, the men looked none too happy.
So far, and thankfully, dairy barns seem to have been excluded from this push to replace barn cats with poison. I am not sure if the massive free stall barns have four legged, resident pest control teams living in them but somehow I doubt it. Cold and damp is not what cats prefer.
Our older barn, warm and cozy with dry hay and straw in the winter, still has its cat population hunting down the rodents as well as getting an occasional pigeon and for that they get plenty of milk as well as food. Our cats seem to have some unique genes running in their blood as we regularly get kittens with very strange markings as well as a few each year which are born white then, over a series of molts, change into Siamese cats!! We regularly produce chocolate, flame and lavender Siamese …. And have done so for many years!
Finding homes for them and the oddly marked ones is just as easy. But it seems that we completely missed the boat with this pandemic!
Apparently, with people locked down and working from home, the demand for kittens quickly outstripped the available stock. Just as specialty bred mongrel dogs (crossbreds) have become worth as much or even more than a purebred, barn kittens have come into their own, even to the point of being worth far more than a drop calf!
A woman in the Ottawa area claimed to have sold her barn kittens for $500 each to people desperate for a pet companion. And we give away our fancy coloured ones! Recently, another seller with young barn cats ready to go is advertising them as genuine heritage Glengarry barn kittens. It never would have crossed my mind.
Is it now time to hire a sales team to properly market what many farms find almost impossible to give away? Sure sounds like it to me. Plus, it would be a write off in the books.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.