Most people say, “Show me a barn and I’ll show you dozens of mice and rats! A surefire way to control the mice population on our farm or homestead is a barn cat or two…or three! Adding barn cats to your menagerie of animals will be one of the best investments you can make. As you set out to cultivate a successful homestead, these four-legged family members will provide more than hours of entertainment. In many ways, they will directly influence the success of your homestead.
As you’ve likely already discovered, many rural environments are inhabited by rats, field mice, moles, ground squirrels and many other rodents capable of completely ruining gardens, livestock feed and your own food stores. Along with wrecking havoc on the productivity of your garden, many rodents carry disease within their fecal matter, which can prove disastrous for your family’s health or the vitality of your livestock. Therefore, one of the most important steps in having a healthy and fruitful homestead is reducing the proliferation of these pests.
Enter the barn cat! We purchased three furry barn kitties as soon as we moved into our farm. They have certainly upped the cuteness factor around the farm, and quickly became important members of the family. But they are working cats, and their home is in the barn.
[[JACKIE ADD ANY OTHER INFO OR FUN THING ABOUT YOUR CATS HERE]]
There are four important considerations for anyone who is contemplating adding some barn cats to your barnyard menagerie:
- Start with a kitten
- Teach your barn cat the boundaries
- Feed your cats more than mice
- Maintain the health of your cats
1. Start with a kitten
It will be important for you to develop a lasting bond with your barn cats to ensure that they do not wander away. For that reason most homesteaders will recommend that you raise them as kittens. It will be important for you to take the time while they are kittens to socialize them with everyone in the family and even with outsiders. It will be so much easier for you to care for their health and veterinary needs.
Get them as soon as they are weaned from Mama Cat so they will imprint on you quickly and hopefully never leave. Remember that barn cat skills are in their genes—if you make sure you are getting them from a Mama barn cat. She will no doubt have taught them lots of hunting skills already at three months of age. Many homesteaders prefer to have female cats as their barn cats. They seem to be the better mousers, probably because they have learned to teach their kittens to hunt. It also may be best to not get light-colored kittens, which show up like neon signs in the dark. Shorthaired cats will require less grooming because there will not be so many foxtails, burrs, and other stickers that get stuck in the fur.
Most barn cats who have been bred by generations of barn cats are a mixed breed. The exception would be a Maine Coon cat, one of the only native breeds to North America. They are very large, which makes them less appealing to predators, and gives them a better chance in a fight. They are also excellent hunters. They are an excellent choice for a cold winter environment because they have a longer coat, large paws and an extra toe for moving easily in the snow.
Make sure that you are still providing your barn cats with a comfortable place to sleep even when they are in the barn. If you have hay, they will love snuggling up in the hay. Try putting an old dog bed or warm flannel or fleece blanket in the hay so they have a soft place to lay on at night.
2. Teach your barn cat the boundaries
Keep your new kittens in a secured area for a few weeks. They need to learn where home is. We kept ours in the tack room of our barn. But a laundry room or garage can work just as well. Be sure they have a litter box and food, and maybe a few cat toys. Socialize them every day by spending time with them, feeding them, even holding them. After two or three weeks you can expand their sheltered area, and again in a few more weeks you can actually introduce them to the barn atmosphere. I recommend bringing them in to their sheltered area at night (get them used to running to you for a treat) so they don’t become prey to the night prowling critters and flying fowl.
If you live in an area with lots of hawks, owls, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes and other animals that like cats for dinner, you may want to bring them into the barn at night. By the time you have vaccinated and spayed or neutered your cats, and invested time and money into their keeping and care, losing one can be quite costly.
3. Feed your cats more than mice
Don’t assume that your barn cats will stay healthy on a diet of only mouse. Many farmers are used to giving their cats milk once in a while, especially straight from the cow’s udder. They will also need cat food every day and have access to clean water. Feeding your cats a bit of canned food at night will help you get them to come into the barn so they can be sheltered safely from predators.
You may find that the use of a waterer or feeder is a great timesaver for you and will ensure that your cats have food and water whenever they want it. You will find one recommended cat waterer here. You will find a healthy food station for your cats here.
A healthy and full cat will be more inclined to hunt, even if it hunts for fun and not to eat the mice. Don’t be surprised if your barn cats like to bring their successful hunts to show you! A good option for food is a natural, raw diet. This type of diet, which has been used successfully for many dogs and cats, approximates what wild cats eat. If you want to go this route, you will find a helpful article about eating all natural here. While written with a dog in mind, the principles are the same for cats.
4. Maintain the health of your cats
Don’t simply put a couple of cats in your barn and call it a day. Caring for the health of your barn cats is your responsibility, and you need to be aware of what they need in the way of health care. There are all kinds of dangers to cats outside besides predators: disease, illness, parasites, accidents, and poisonous substances are all things from which you can protect your cats.
I will list a few of the major health concerns for your cats and give you at least one link so you can get more information to be ready.
- De-worming cats—the roundworms and hookworms that reside inside the rodents your barn cat catches may relocate to your cat’s intestines. In areas where mosquitos dwell, heartworms are sure to follow. Make sure your cat is getting a monthly heartworm preventative and a broad spectrum de-wormer. You can find additional information here.
- Vaccinations for your cats—your cats should be vaccinated for the core cat diseases: herpes virus, caliche virus, and panleukopenia virus. In addition you should give the rabies virus vaccine at about 16 weeks of age, and one year, and then every three years. (See here) You should also check for vaccination programs in your local area, usually available online through local veterinaries or humane societies.
- FeLV/FIV testing and vaccination—a simple blood test will reveal if your cat is a carrier of feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus. (Here)
- Spay/Neuter Cats—of course your cat must be spayed or neutered. There are many consequences of having a fertile female or roaming tom cat on your property. In addition to the obvious, unwanted litters of kittens, non neutered cats tend to wander, get in fights, and bring disease back to your barn.
- Toxins in the barn spell trouble—Old tractors with leaky radiators, batteries, fertilizer, pesticides, old rat poison and moldy feed all spell trouble for barn cats. Many pesticides and fertilizers can cause severe shaking, trembling, vomiting, and diarrhea. (See more here)
Barn cats are amazingly adaptable and independent, and usually remain healthy if provided high quality food and clean water. Unfortunately, cats that become ill will try to hide it so that they do not appear weak to potential prey. Check in with your barn cats weekly to look for signs of illness. With consistent, loving care your barn cats should keep your homestead rodent and vermin free for many years.
Besides, there is simply nothing cuter to find on a homestead than happy, playful cats who have endless entertaining tricks ready to charm you.