Jan. 5 2024 09:17 AM

Farm chores are a little more fun when you have a cat — or several — hanging around.

It seems like a staple to have barn cats on a dairy farm. From the regular treat of fresh milk and the hunting grounds of feed areas where birds like to hang out to the plush straw for sleeping and plenty of space to roam — a dairy farm seems like the ultimate dream for a cat.

We have had farm cats ever since I was a little girl toddling around our stanchion barn. While I consider myself more of a dog person, cats still hold a special place in my heart. To me, a farm just wouldn’t be a farm without some cats hanging around. A lot of my memories growing up milking cows and feeding bottle calves include cats in the background. Whether it’s a kitten playing with a loose piece of twine or a grumpy old tom cat watching you from a distance, cats have always had a knack for adding charm and entertainment to my day of doing chores.

As the years have gone on and the farm has expanded with more buildings, our cats have begun splitting up into separate little cat communities that rarely mingle. The core group are our classic barn cats that roam the hay mow and the old barn. Our next biggest crew of felines are the ones that live in our calf building. As us kids all grew up, we stopped spending as much time petting the cats and taming down the newborn kittens each spring, so most of our cats aren’t very friendly anymore.

As my list of nieces and nephews has grown and I’ve now had my own baby, my mom and I made it our mission to tame down a few of the cats over the summer so the kids would have some they could hold, pet, and play with when visiting the farm. Now that we’ve hit winter, we are realizing that we may have done too good of a job befriending the felines who call the calf building home.

The handful of cats we managed to tame (to the extreme, I might add) are now regular conversation topics and points of entertainment for my mom and I as we do our twice-daily calf feedings. I think we are equally as fond of them as they now are of us, which is a lot. Each of these cats has its own chosen perch in the milk room while we’re in there getting calf bottles ready — from sleeping on top of the fridge or on the box of calf coats to playing on the empty pallets or hopping up on the counter. My niece named each cat (after foods that start with a “p” for some reason), so we’re always telling each other things like, “Pretzel was sleeping with the new set of twin calves this morning” or “Pineapple was playing in the empty feed sack.” I know — it’s real riveting stuff, right?

It turned out that our mission to provide some fun cat-focused memories for the little kids when visiting the farm has turned into a bright spot in our own daily routines. So, let this serve as a reminder to give your own friendly barn cats a few extra pets today in honor of this little blog post dedicated to them and their endless antics.

Molly Ihde (Schmitt)

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.