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Fibonacci and barn cats

James Beckham for Progressive Cattle Published on 13 September 2019

This month, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to discuss barn cats (barnicus caticus). I say “cats” plural, because it is impossible to have a single barn cat for more than three days. After three days, you will suddenly find your cats have multiplied according to the Fibonacci sequence (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 …), or your one barn cat has turned into no barn cats.

However, before I launch into my scholarly exposition, I must talk about trees, which may lead you to wonder where this is going. In your attempts to anticipate my line of thinking, you may have mentally drawn a stick figure of a cat and a stick figure tree with a connecting line and a large question mark. If you are thinking that the cat is going to be in the tree, you have deduced wrong (otherwise known as barking up the wrong … well, you know).

Since our ranch headquarters compound has the only trees within 50 square miles, we are inflicted daily with almost all the birds in the county. Little birds up to birds the size of a flying cow rest in our trees on their daily migration to the next tree a half-day flight away. So, mentally redraw your stick figure of a cat. Show the cat running for his life as a barn owl dives out of your stick tree attempting to make lunch out of your pest-control feline.

Generally, barn cats have it easy. Wide open spaces, clean air, all they can eat (as long as they catch it first) and no one like the USDA setting deadlines for them. If the last batch of cats you brought from town are cagey, they can avoid the owls, hawks, cattle trucks, coyotes and bobcats for, heck, six or eight months maybe. Then you’re down to one barn cat and pretty soon no barn cats. (See what I mean about there never being a single barn cat?)

If you can’t catch that new litter of kittens to get them neutered, natural predation (or a cattle truck) will keep your cat numbers under control. Then you have to go to town and replenish your stock of cats.

Our longest surviving ranch cats were Cat One and Cat Two. Cat One had more red on her neck, but otherwise, they were identical. Naming them “Cat” was very efficient. At a distance, you couldn’t tell if the feline fleeing the Cooper’s hawk was Cat One or Cat Two. Cat One (or maybe Cat Two) disappeared first after two years. Then, within days (and true to my prediction), we had not a single barn cat on the place.

Among the great wonders of the world is how a cat learns to leap to the edge of a steel drinking tank and not go into the water. That must take practice. And yet, I never remember a soggy kitten that overshot the mark paddling around in the drinker. More wondrous still, is a cat’s ability to balance on the edge while drinking. Even with my prehensile tail, I can’t balance like that. So, I applaud the expertise of the cat kingdom and promise never to show off my balancing skills again to my grandsons … just as soon as I get all the water and moss out of my left boot.

Solon brought another mama cat with kittens from town and told me he was looking for somewhere to get them fixed cheaper than what the local vet charges. I told Solon not to worry.   Our local bird population has teamed up with the coyotes to prove Fibonacci was wrong when it comes to barn cats.  end mark

James Beckham is a writer and commercial Angus producer in Amarillo, Texas.