We love cats – not only for the cuteness factor (which, I admit, is a biggie), but also for their usefulness. Our two kitties, who live mostly outdoors, keep our yard and home mouse-free. They will also go for lizards, snakes, and even grasshoppers and bugs – practically everything that moves. And they are territorial, so they keep most feral cats away. I think every homestead could benefit from a couple of barn kitties.
But what about chicken-cat interactions? Our chick season usually starts in spring and lasts throughout the summer. How would we keep our cats from going after baby chicks? Cats don’t usually mess with adult hens, let alone roosters, but chicks and pullets can easily fall prey to them. One way, of course, is to keep the chicks confined in a secure pen or coop until they are big enough to no longer be threatened by cats.
However, our cats and chickens – along with baby chicks – live together harmoniously and, so far, we have not had problems. What I find most interesting is that our cats will, unfortunately, go after birds – but won’t even blink when they see a chick passing right next to them.
One of our cats sharing a treat with a broody and her chicks.
The key here is getting a kitten and rearing it with chickens and chicks from a very young age. Feed them together daily. Put out some treats – for example, some chopped egg, cottage cheese, or leftover rice with bits of meat – and let your chickens and cats eat together. The cat will get used to seeing the chickens as yard companions, not potential prey. I often see baby chicks snatching food right from under the cats’ noses, and the kitties bear it patiently.
Clarification: Our chicks don’t roam the yard on their own when they are very little. Those raised by broodies are introduced to the great outdoors from their first days, but they are always under the watchful supervision of Mama Hen. Incubator-hatched chicks remain indoors, under our protection, much longer.
Dogs are a slightly different matter. Some breeds have the hunting instinct too deeply ingrained in them to ever be trusted around chickens. We used to have one German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois cross who would rip chickens apart just for fun whenever she had the chance, and I can’t remember a more stressful period in my life. We then moved on to a little Chihuahua who was smaller than the average rooster and did not pose too much of a threat.
Many people, however, actually count on their dogs to protect their flock of birds. I do not have first-hand experience with this, but it appears the right way is to choose a suitable breed of a Livestock Guardian dog (such as Great Pyrenees) and bring it up with chickens from a puppy, rewarding good behavior and nipping unsuitable behavior in the bud. If we ever try this, I will be sure to let you know.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna onFacebook, find her as SmallFlocksMom on Earthineer, and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here.
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