About the second week of May, I found a secret stash of eggs in an old nesting box that was in a dark corner of the barn. I gave it a few whaps on the side to scare off any mice that may be lurking in the shadows, but instead of squeaks, I heard a few teeny, tiny mews. Out popped our stray cat, Tabby, from behind an overturned galvanized wash tub that was propped against the nesting box. I pulled back the tub to reveal that in her hiding spot were five days-old kittens.
I pulled each one out to give a quick inspection, noting that their eyes were still closed, and put the kittens right back where new mama Tabby had been keeping them. I couldn’t wait for Fletcher and Emery to get off the bus to tell them the good news.
For the past few months, we have enjoyed having kittens around, watching them grow from cuddling fluffballs into total mischief-makers. Turns out, Tabby had three females and two males, all looking different, but definitely carried the mark of a tabby cat: the classic M-shaped pattern on their foreheads.
Now, you might be wondering who the father is … and I can tell you that I am 100 percent certain that it’s the neighbors’ cat, Sherbert. Let’s just say, ah-hem, Sherbert is known ‘round these parts for getting around (wink, wink). He was definitely over here quite a bit over the winter, so much so that I was beginning to worry that the neighbors were missing their cat.
But we don’t mind for a minute having a few cats on the property. We were able to rehome the three females, and have decided to keep the two males. With three cats in the barn, they are a biosecurity force to be reckoned with! And after having a mouse run across my bare hand as I filled a scoop in a feed sack, I can tell you that a good cat it worth his or her weight (or more) in gold when it comes to rodent control!
As many of you know, when you have livestock feed, hay, or straw in your barn, you are going to have rodents. There’s just no way around it. Just take a look at the rodent-control aisle of your farm-supply store! It’s a problem for every homesteader at one time or another.
An Alternative to Traps and Poisons
According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, mice are carriers of about 45 diseases, including salmonellosis, pasteurellosis, leptospirosis, swine dysentery, thrichinosis, toxoplasmosis, and rabies. Rodents can distribute disease-carrying organisms on their feet, contaminate feed with their feces and urine, destruct insulation in your buildings, and, simply, eat feed that is intended for your livestock, costing you more money on feed and repairs than are necessary.
So, rather than (or in addition to) poisons or traps, why not consider getting a cat or two to help you naturally control rodents in your barn? They are fairly self-sufficient, and, by letting them prey on rodents, help lower the possibility of rodent-borne disease. Mice should have a reduced chance to multiply at an uncontrolled pace. On more than one occasion, we’ve seen Tabby hop into the weeds, only to return with a rodent treat gripped in her mouth (like, seriously, I’m thinking about changing her name to mouse-breath).
Now, if you are worried about your barn cat inflicting harm to your livestock, such as poultry or rabbits, I hope to calm your concerns. I have never, ever had a barn cat kill one of my chickens or rabbits. But that doesn’t mean they won’t. The key is to keep your pens secured, especially young chicks and rabbits (of any age). Once your poultry are mature, say old enough to be out of the brooder and incorporated with the rest of your flock, I would not be hesitant to allow Tabby, Crookshanks, and Mittens around my chickens, turkeys, or ducks.
As with any animal, responsible ownership and proper care is key. Just because they are “barn cats” doesn’t mean they don’t need quality feed, veterinary care, or appropriate medications, especially flea and tick drops and wormer. You will need to practice those common-sense animal-care procedures, just as you would for a farm dog, like keeping hazardous liquids secure and provide adequate shelter to keep them safe from inclement weather and predators. And keep in mind that outside cats do have a shorter life expectancy than indoor cats, usually about five years.
We have really enjoyed having cats as a part of our homestead, and having my children experience raising kittens helped teach so many lessons. I hope you will consider keeping one or two in your barn.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.