And Then There Were Six

LeAnn posted this blog on Sunday, November 7th, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I feel like I have been as busy as a cat with six kittens.

No. Wait. I AM a cat with six kittens.

Nearly four weeks ago, our barn cat, Little Sister, had kittens. Usually when she has kittens in the fall, she does not take care of them. This year she did. But — I kept a close eye on her to make sure she was still feeding them and taking care of them. We have had some cold nights, down to 20 degrees, and I have been worried about them staying warm.

Sometime on Thursday, Little Sister apparently decided she did not want to feed her kittens anymore.

By Friday morning, they were making some noise in the nest. By Friday evening, two of them were coming out of the nest and were very vocal about being hungry.

Prior to this, I had seen two of them when they must have still been hanging onto their mother to suck when she left the nest and they got dragged out. When I put them back, I could hear another kitten back in the nest. I thought it was entirely possible that Little Sister had three kittens.

After we had put out kitty food Friday night, with two of the kittens outside the nest, yelling at the top of their lungs, and the sound of another kitten back in the nest yelling, Randy and I watched Little Sister to see what she would do.

The mother cat finished eating her supper — and then she left the barn. The kittens were still yelling at the top of their lungs.

We went outside to see where Little Sister had gone, and she had taken off across the cornfield. She did not appear one bit worried about her babies.

Randy and I got a box, intending to take the kittens in the house to feed them. They were hungry. That much was obvious.

I easily got a hold of the three kittens I could see. But I still heard one back in the nest. I kept talking and the next one came out.

“Okay,” I said to Randy, “that’s four.”

I bent over to listen at the opening to nest — and much to my surprise, I heard another kitten back there.

“There’s another one,” I said.

I called and talked and coaxed, and the fifth kitten came out. I put him in with the others. I bent toward the nest again, and I could not believe my ears when I thought I heard another one.

“There’s another one back in there,” I said to Randy.

“Can’t be,” he said. “You’ve already got five.”

I asked Randy to take the box with the yelling kittens in it outside so I could hear better.

Sure enough. There was another kitten in the nest.

Eventually I coaxed that one into coming out. Then Randy moved some bales so we could see into the nest.

There were no more kittens.

Friday night it did not work especially well to try and feed the little guys. I could tell they really wanted their momma.

So I took them back down to the barn. They’d all had a little to eat, so at least that was a good thing.

When I went down to check on the horses before I went to bed, Little Sister came down off the hay. She did not come from the nest. When I felt her belly, I could tell she had not been nursed. The kittens heard noise in the barn, and they all came out of the nest, yelling.

I hung around for a while to see what Little Sister would do. I went up to the house for a drink of water at one point. Even from up at the house, I could hear the piercing screams of hungry babies who wanted their momma. When I came back to the barn, however, I could not hear the kittens and I could not see Little Sister. I was hoping that meant she had gone into the nest with them to feed them.

I was wrong.

Saturday morning when we went down to the barn, the kittens all came out of the nest, and they were all crying piercing screams of distress. It was a sound that hurt my ears. Little Sister came down off the hay for some kitty food, but she appeared to not even hear her babies.

“Okay,” I said to Randy, “we have to do something.”

I went up to the house for kitten formula and a syringe. The babies were so frantic, we could not get any food into them. And all the while, the piercing screams of distress continued.

The sound was so pitiful and heart rending, I could not help but start to cry.

“Let’s take them up to the house,” I said to my husband.

“I’ll get the box,” he said.

Once we had them up in the house, we were able to get some food into the kittens. I plugged in the heating pad we had put in the box underneath a small blanket. Eventually the kittens settled down.

A little while later they were awake again and hungry, so we fed them again. Later in the afternoon, we got more food into them. And once more again in the evening.

With each feeding, the piercing cries slowed down and were not so frantic. By the time I fed them for the fifth time before I went to bed, they were crying at a normal volume and not the piercing distressed screams of before.

Initially I was worried about one of the little black kittens. She is very tiny and much smaller than the rest. Not that any of them are too terribly big. They’re three and a half weeks old. The little one felt somewhat cold when we brought them in the house Saturday morning, too.

By Saturday afternoon, once she had gotten warmed up, she was as vigorous and hungry as the rest.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention — there are two black kittens and four little brown tabbies.

By Sunday morning, they had all figured out how to suck off the syringe, and they already know enough to climb up onto a lap, either me or Randy, to get more food.

I don’t know why Little Sister stopped feeding them. I am keeping an eye on her because I am afraid she will get mastitis. She still has milk. But it seems like her mothering instinct is gone. I am thinking it is related to the short days and that maybe less daylight means she has less hormone in her system that would help regulate feeding babies. The chickens are laying fewer eggs because the days are shorter. I suppose it is not unreasonable to think Little Sister stopped feeding her kittens because of the shorter days. In the spring, the days are getting longer, and Little Sister is an excellent mother then.

At any rate, all six of them are in a box in the living room now, and I don’t have to worry whether they are getting fed. I *know* they are getting something to eat.

This phase will not last a very long time because the kittens should soon start eating a little bit on their own.

All I can say is — thank goodness I have milk and eggs and corn syrup on hand for the formula.
LeAnn R. Ralph

Our barn cat had six kittens in mid-October (2010) and after three and a half weeks decided she did not want to feed them anymoe

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