Barn Cat 101
So, you’ve got yourself a nice little piece of land and maybe a few horses or cattle. You enjoy the rural lifestyle, except for one thing: Mice! The little varmints are destroying insulation, contaminating your feed, and chewing up your supplies. Laying traps everywhere is a pain and as for poisons, well, they don’t just destroy the rodents- kids, livestock, and pets can be harmed by them as well. What do you do? The answer is simple: Cats!
If you already have cats on your crew, you can skip this step. If you are moving in a new cat, however, keep in mind that he will need an adjustment period in which he needs to be confined, lest he wander away. If you’ve got a barn that can be closed or a tack room, that will do just fine. If not, a large kennel (big enough for a litterbox, dishes, and living space) will suffice. Keep the cat contained for a minimum of two weeks; many barn cat advocates suggest three to five weeks. Your new cat will appreciate a little something to hide in, as well. This will help him to get used to his new surroundings- the sounds, sights, and smells- and solidify the idea that this is now home. Before he get the run of the place, make sure to remove all traces of poison if you had been using it to control the pests. Ingesting a mouse who has eaten the poison can be lethal.
Your new pest control manager will also need a safe place to spend his time off. If you’ve got a barn or
other structure that’s warm and that he always has access to (perhaps the place he lived in when he first joined your menagerie), a simple bed or hiding spot in a corner will do just fine. If you don’t have a structure, you’ll need something that’s waterproof and insulated. A little dog house with some bedding (straw is great because of its insulative properties) or something similar would do nicely. You could even build something with scraps if you’ve got them. A simple internet search will yield some great- and easy to build- designs.
Though you brought your newest employee home because of his place on the food chain, he still needs cat food. A well fed cat will not only still hunt (instinct compels them as much as hunger), he will be better at it because he won’t be suffering from any nutritional deficiencies. Even if your cat does consume his prey, there may be times where they aren’t as plentiful or the mice may be malnourished themselves. An established feeding time will usually result in the predictable daily appearance of the cat, allowing you see him (and keep an eye on his health) if he doesn’t come to visit you for pets and accolades for a job well done. You can also use dinner time to lure him into the barn if you’d rather he be contained at night. Keep the food bowl up high (other critters, like curious goats, may want to share) and out of the reach of wild animals in search of handouts. Fresh water each day is imperative, too. If you have trouble with ice in the winter, try an electric bowl.
Just like the rest of your animals, your mouser will need regular veterinary care. If he (or she) is not already neutered (or spayed), there are several good reasons to get the procedure. Fixed cats tend to fight less, roam less, and attract less “passerby” cats. They will also not reproduce, which can quickly get out of hand. They will need vaccinations to protect them against cat specific illnesses (some of which wildlife, like raccoons, can carry) and against rabies. Rabies vaccinations are required by law and will not only protect your cat, but the rest of the mammals on the farm as well (including you and your family). Regular parasite prevention is a must- those little critters that you want him to dispatch are loaded with all kinds of icky things that can pass to your cat.
If you don’t have any barn kitties (or need a few more), take a moment to consider the best candidate for the job. Avoid those who are declawed as this is a real hindrance to self-protection, climbing, and though declawed cats can catch prey, it’s much more difficult. Also avoid those who are infirm- a cat that isn’t physically sound is more likely to be prey than predator. Think about hair length and your foliage- long hair animals are like magnets for burrs, cheat grass, and other pokey plant material. They can still be great assets, just keep in mind that you may have to help out with grooming. Also consider the personality that would be the best fit. Would you like a cat who follows you all day while you work (he’ll still hunt at night, don’t worry) or would you rather have a cat who is independent, even weary of humans? A cat with previous outdoor experience will most likely acclimate better and probably has hunting experience while a the fifth generation of an indoor-only family may be confused about what to do about mice and not savvy about staying out of trouble. If you’re looking for more than one, consider some that are already bonded with each other.
Cats can be a great addition to any ranch or farm. They provide rodent extermination services without dangerous chemicals or the hassle of traps. Their beauty can add to the ambiance and they can be quite entertaining. Now that you’ve got a reliable new hand to help keep things pest-free, you can get back to the chores that you actually enjoy.