A little nighttime tree climbing

Keeping farm cats alive can be a lot of trouble.

The gray kitten, Moose, likes to hide in trees and bushes rather than get put away at night. Here, he is pictured with siblings Midnight, Fluffy and Sherbet. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

I went out for a little tree climbing around 11 p.m. the other night.

It’s not, of course, that I like climbing trees so much that I feel the urge to scamper up one in the dark of night. Like so many stories I tell as of late, a cat was at the root of the problem.

I’ve written on occasion of our attempts to start a barn cat herd. Once, there were plentiful barn cats around here cleaning up mice and other pests, but over years they had dwindled until we were a cat-less farm. After a few false starts, we acquired Patty a couple years ago, and she and the five kittens she had a week later have provided quite the family of cats.

Actually, the cats have become so prolific that I had formed a plan to rehome some kittens this season to spread the wealth, if you will. But our 2020 kitten crops have been lighter than expected, which led in part to me up a tree at 11 p.m.

Of several batches of kittens, only six remain. Six kittens still sounds like an abundance, but we know from past experience how fast the numbers can go down if some coyotes, particularly ornery raccoons or a kitty disease show up. So, we’ve been working overly hard to keep those six kittens safe and healthy.


When we locked the cats into their safe space of an old chicken coop for the night, one kitten was missing. Moose, a gray kitten out of Patty’s latest batch, tends to be the most mischievous of the six survivors. He (or she, I really don’t know) is of just the right color to blend in to old trees and to the shadowy places beneath lilac bushes. Moose also seems to have a sixth sense for knowing when to back up just far enough to evade capture, a skill that likely will keep him safe from predators but which also is frustrating for the humans trying to put him in at night.

I have confidence that Moose would have survived a night alone in the open; he and his siblings have done it before, and his aforementioned ability to keep himself out of sight would serve him well in such situations. But my daughters were so worried that I knew they’d never let themselves fall asleep knowing their little Moose was out with the creatures of the night.

I made a quick sweep of the yard and was about to give up the hunt when I heard the scared little “meow” coming from above. My flashlight reflected off the wide-open little eyes of the gray kitten perched in some branches of a tree overhanging the old chicken coop.

I waited for the kitten to climb down to where I could at least have a chance of grabbing him, then I climbed up, grabbing branches above while my feet rested on some old chicken crates.

Moose, of course, hopped backwards as I reached for him, sending my shoulder slamming into the tree trunk. So I climbed a little higher and grabbed the furry little escapee with one hand while the other clung to the branches.

The kitten, true to nature, viewed me as less a rescuer and more of a captor, flailing his little legs to try to scratch himself loose. I deposited him with his kin and walked back to the house rubbing the shoulder that would remain tender the next day.

I wish I could say it was a one-time adventure, but it is likely to play out again and again as the summer continues. I hope Moose knows he owes me the capture of a couple mice.


Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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