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The Care and Feeding of Barn Cats

barn catsShow me a good old American barn and  I bet I can find barn cats there. Some are placed there by the family to keep mice at bay, and some find their own way to a warm cozy barn. If the complete truth was known, some barn cats arrive at barns because litters of kittens are often dropped off at farms when no one is looking, by irresponsible cat owners.

barn cats

Now that you have the barn, and the barn cats to go with it, how do you care for the outdoor working cat? If you want the barn cats to live a long happy life, care for it much the same as you would an indoor kitty. Barn cats need quality food and a constant supply of fresh water. Even though you may be hoping that the barn cat will be hungry enough to do a job of catching potentially damaging mice, they still need to be fed a diet that will keep them healthy and strong. So what should you plan on when taking care of  a barn cat? I put together a list of care requirements for the hard working barn cat.

The Hardworking Barn Cats – Part of Your Barn Crew

1. First and most important, spay or neuter your pet.  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. Most communities have low cost spay and neuter programs available. Neutering a male barn cats cuts down on the wandering a bit and keeps him closer to home so he can do his job. 

barn cats

2. Vaccinations. Consult a veterinarian for the needed inoculations for your cats. A Rabies shot is a must for all animals and a requirement in many localities. Contact with wildlife puts your cat at higher risk for Rabies and Feline Leukemia in addition to other deadly diseases.

Hard Working Barn Cats Need Nutritious Food

3. Nutrition. Did you know that cats are true carnivores? This means they need to get their nutrition from meat. Cats need protein. Cat food is higher in protein and fat, than dog food. Feed your cat a good quality cat food and your cat will perform better and remain healthier, with less allergies and less skin problems. No matter  what you hear, cats do not thrive on catching mice alone. They still need proper nutrition provided for them.

Try to give the cats a place to eat where the other animals won’t bother them. Our barn cats have to eat on a shelf, overlooking the goats pen, because the goats will eat the cat food if given a chance. Also, raccoon and other wildlife will be attracted to cat food so you may get some unwanted dinner guest. And most important- plenty of fresh clean water! 

4. Breakaway collar or no collar.  Outdoor animals run into the risk of catching their collar on branches or other objects. Breakaway collars are designed to break under pressure, so the animal is not injured. Other, more costly alternatives would be micro chip or tattoo ID marking.

 

barn cats

 

 Be Observant

5   Get to  know your cat and its habits.  Just as you get to know if your house pet  is feeling poorly,  knowing your barn cat’s personality and habits can go a long way to ward off a problem as soon as it starts. If your cat normally greets you in the morning, it may ring alarm bells when the cat doesn’t show up for breakfast. If your cat likes to crawl into hiding places, it may get locked in a shed or worse, driven away by an unsuspecting visitor. One time our cat ended up  in the next state by accidentally hitching a ride with the equine dentist. 

After looking the whole day and calling neighbors,  I remembered that the dentist and the vet had both been to our farm the day Tigger disappeared. After calling and leaving a message with both parties, we heard back that Tigger had been found in the cargo area of the  dentist’s truck by his wife. The story had a happy ending but if I had not called, we may not have gotten Tigger back. You see, I recalled that he liked to get into cars when people left the windows open. Knowing his habits and behavior helped us have a happy ending.

barn cats

A Place to Sleep 

6. Shelter–  Presuming that your barn kitty has a barn to take shelter in, this would be sufficient shelter from weather,  If there is no building for the cat to go in, please consider providing somewhere out of the wind and rain for the cat to snuggle into during extremes in weather.

All of our barn cats have been treated as hard working members of the barn family. They have a job and do it well. They greet us first thing in the morning to let us know that every thing is ok. Don’t you just love it when they bring you the spoils of the hunt? Just kidding. At least we know that they are earning their keep!

 barn cats
 

For more on this topic you may enjoy Pasture Deficit Disorder’s Kitten Fort.

or Bringing a Barn Cat to the Homestead from 104Homestead.
 

Barn Cats 
 
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barn cats




Barn Cats- How to Care for the Working Feline

 Barn cats are iconic symbols of barn life.

Barn Cats

 

 Often shown in children’s books and painting, cats go nicely with barns. Our hardworking barn cats are essential to our rodent control. Not only do they keep them at bay, they also use the rodents they catch as snacks and gifts! What a pleasant surprise to find as you head into the barn on a chilly fall morning. A few of our barn cats have been gifted to us and some have been sought out. When we lose a couple to old age or illness, we do adopt some new cats for the barn. Our barn cats are an integral part of our farming plan. 

Since they work so hard, our barn cats deserve to be treated like other high performing work animals. I have heard people state opinions about how you shouldn’t feed them much because then they won’t be hungry enough to chase their own dinner! Nonsense! If you want an animal to perform work for you, then you should feed it adequate nutrition so it has the energy and stamina to perform.

You have the farm, or homestead, and the barn for your animals. Now you have added the barn cats or they have found their way to your barn on their own. How do you care for these somewhat independent felines so that they live healthy long lives?

Be Responsible when owning  Barn Cats.

Spay or Neuter All Cats

A friend once told me that cats were like paper clips. They are everywhere, and in a lot of ways, she was right. The reason that cats are everywhere and that shelters are overrun with unwanted cats and kittens is because people simply don’t make the effort to spay or neuter their pets. Many animal welfare organizations now offer discount spay and neuter services. Recently in my area, the local Animal Control facility started offering spayed and neutered cats to farm owners if they will care for them as barn cats. This is a big step from a few years ago, when you had to promise that the cat would be a house cat! The unwanted cat population will continue to grow as a problem unless all cat owners choose to spay and neuter.

Barn cats

Feral cats are another problem contributed to by careless or unthinking cat owners. Cats left intact and allowed to roam free and “be a cat” adds to the feral cat population. These felines are often not capable of being house pets and often the only choice is to  euthanize. With some training, feral cats can often be acclimated to stay around a barn and hunt mice. The process involves keeping them in a crate for an extended time while being fed and cared for daily. The thought is that they will begin to associate the barn with food and shelter and when let out of the crate the feral cats won’t stray far. They may never be affectionate like a house cat but they can be very good at hunting rodents.

Provide all the care the Barn Cats need.

Veterinary Care

Just as your livestock and house pets need regular checkups and vaccinations so will your barn cats. At the bare minimum a rabies vaccination is probably required by your local government. This not only protects the cat but also protects you and your other pets from being exposed to the rabies virus. Feline Leukemia, Tetanus, and Distemper are other vaccinations that will  help your outdoor barn cat resist deadly illness.

While we are talking about veterinary care, lets not forget to keep toxic substances put away from curious felines. A lot of machinery liquids are toxic, such as antifreeze. Wormers meant for livestock can also be fatal to cats. Any pesticides should be stored where cats cannot access them. Curiosity really can kill the cat.

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Shelter

Assuming that you actually have a barn on your farm, the barn cats will do just fine curling up in a corner during cold or bad weather. Our cats find lots of creative spots to take refuge or sneak in a cat nap. During extreme cold snaps, we have pampered our cats by building a small hut out of hay bales. They walk in and curl up in the insulation of warm hay and sleep through the storms.

Nutritional Needs

Cats need a diet that contains quality protein. Living outside, chasing rodents, eating rodents, running from the big dogs, all these activities require strong bodies and lots of energy. Cats are carnivores. They only eat meat. Cats do not need vegetables, sweets, or grain fillers. Most dry cat foods contain a protein amount of 22 % or higher. Unless your cat has urinary tract issues, feed a high quality protein rich food. Our cats are rather spoiled for barn kitties. They have their own bowls, and get fed twice a day, just like everyone else in the barnyard. Not only do they get dry cat food in their bowl, they also share a can of cat food. Cats often do not drink enough water. Feeding the canned cat food in addition to the dry, increases their water intake. In the winter, when bringing warm water to your chickens and goats, make sure you save some for the cats, too. I know my barn cats enjoy a warm drink of water on a freezing cold morning.

Try to give the cats a place to eat where they won’t be chased off by livestock entering  the barn, or in our case the dog trying to “share” the dinner. We put shelves up in the barn that the cats can access, and we feed the cats on the shelves. So far I have not seen the goats try to get the cat food up there, but they seem to be forming a plan…….

Take Precautions.

To Collar or Not to Collar

Outdoor animals and collars do not always mix. The barn cat can get the collar caught on something, get caught in a fight with another animal, catch the collar on a tree branch or other mishap with dire results. We chose to not use collars on our barn cats. If you feel a collar is necessary purchase what is called a “breakaway” collar. The Breakaway Collar is designed to snap apart if it encounters resistance. It might save your cat’s life.

If losing your barn cat is a concern for you, micro chipping, performed by a veterinary office might be a good alternative.

barn cats

Get to know your cat’s habits and routine. I know that my cats are normally eager to greet me each morning. If one is missing, and still not seen by dinner, I know it has either gone off chasing something or it might have been locked in a shed on the farm. Once I had a cat hitch a ride to a neighboring state with the equine dentist. He had left his truck open while treating the horses. The cat climbed into the tool area and fell asleep. I am sure he was pretty surprised to wake up far from home. Luckily I knew that Tigger rarely left the farm. I started to think about what had gone on the day before and made some calls to people who had been on the farm. Fortunately, the Equine Dentist’s wife had decided to hold onto Tigger for a couple days to see if anyone would call about a missing cat!

Another time, Gremlin had worked her way to the back of a storage shed and became stuck. While looking for her, I heard a very faint meow. I knew she had to be somewhere! They usually don’t miss a meal.

Any changes in appetite, behavior or disposition should be noted and observed. Just as with house pets, catching any illness in it’s early stages will give the barn cat a much higher rate of recovery.

I have found our Barn Cats to be extremely intelligent, sociable members of our farm family. I wouldn’t have a barn with out them. Oh and yes, they do catch mice too.

 

This post appeared first on Countryside Magazine.