Some people think of them as pets. Others think of them as a nuisance. But on our farm, our barn cats are simply a necessary part of the ecosystem.
Are you a cat person?
Because I wasn’t. Not until we moved to the farm. But I’ve changed in a lot of ways since we started this journey 4 years ago. And if I know anything now, I know that no barn should be without a cat or two making it their home.
So what’s the deal with barn cats anyway? Are there more pros than cons to keeping them around the homestead? Let me share with you what we’ve learned, and then you can decide.
First, let’s be clear what I mean by barn cats.
We have two cats (Merlin & Ollie) who spend part of their lives inside the house. They go outside to hunt, prowl and burn off energy, but for the most part we consider them house cats.
In contrast, our barn cats spend ALL of their lives outdoors. Even in the cold winter months. We interact with ours every day. We feed them. The kids have even named them (Mustachio & CeCe). But they are certainly not domesticated.
The good, the bad & the ugly
Our barn cats have become such a part of our lives that I couldn’t imagine the farm without them. However, if you’re on the fence about adding barn cats to your homestead, there are a few things you should know.
Pros of keeping barn cats on the homestead
When it comes down to it, I’m an advocate for cats on the farm, so I’ll start with the pros first.
- Cats are hunters. Ours will catch mice, rats, rabbits, moles, birds and anything else that moves. They keep the ecosystem in balance and help keep the pests (especially rodents) in check.
- They make the barn a happy place. They like to play, and they’ll entertain for hours.
- They are friendly. If you work on befriending them when they are young, they will usually grow to be people friendly. Well, at least as friendly as a cat can be.
- Barn cats are low maintenance. They’re used to taking care of themselves. We’ll give ours a small bowl of food to keep them around, but for the most part that’s it.
And now for the cons
There are some negatives to keeping barn cats. I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I tried to make you believe otherwise.
- Cats are hunters. Not only will they go after mice, but they might go after your chickens or ducks as well.
- They like to roam. There’s no guarantee that they will stick around.
- They have a low lifespan. Cats are prey to raccoons, coyotes and other predators at night. We had a hawk try to take one before. We’ve lost cats crossing the country road as well. Life is dangerous for a barn cat.
- They can get sick. Without proper care, barn cats will be more susceptible to disease, parasites and malnutrition.
- Procreation. Cats mate without discretion and if you’re not careful you’ll have more cats than you can handle after awhile.
Tips on caring for your barn cats
If you decide that keeping barn cats on the homestead is the right thing to do, there are a few things that we’ve learned that will help make the experience more positive.
- When first bringing cats to the homestead, it helps to keep them in a place that will keep them contained for a few weeks. Feed them here and visit with them daily. This way they learn where to find food and will be less likely to wander off when they get older.
- Vaccinating your cats can be spendy, but it’s recommended to prevent them from getting preventable diseases like Feline Leukemia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and rabies.
- Rodents and other wild animals that cat might eat are often full of parasites. Giving your cats a monthly de-worming treatment is a good practice to keep your cats healthy.
- Consider spaying and/or neutering your cats. We’ve found that neutered males tend to wander and fight less, and of course spaying your females will help keep the population under control.
- Keep poisons out of the barn and outhouses. Especially antifreeze and rat poison.
In the end, our barn cats are part of the farm as much as any of our other animals are. We care for them and they work hard, playing an important role in our lives.
Do you have barn cats? What are some of your best practices? Share them with us in the comments below.