Barn cats -- do farmers really value them?

livvysmomMay 15, 2007

We visited a farm yesterday with my daughter's preschool class. The big hit in the barn was not the goats, sheep, pigs or cows -- it was the kittens. There was one young kitty mom nursing tiny kittens in a small carrier. There were about 5 older kittens (maybe 5 weeks old) running around and every once in while a different mom would plop down in a carrier to nurse those kittens.

These cats were so sweet (even the mom) -- it is amazing to me that the cat would sit and nurse the kittens with no less then 30 young kids running around her.

Anyhow, I found it kind of amazing that the farmer made a big deal about how to handle the goats and other animals but never mentioned the kittens. Little kids everywhere where grabbing these tiny creatures and fighting over them.

I asked the farmer about them and he said something like the female kittens will go on to be moms in the barn. I asked "do you get the males fixed?" and he just laughed and said no.

I found it kind of unsettling. I understand that farmers like cats in barns to kill mice but can't he go get some un-adoptable shelter cats instead of having kittens all the time? I am sure that, unlike the farm animals, these cats don't get vet care (a few of the kittens had some really yucky stuff coming out of their eyes). They were a huge attraction for the kids.

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Many of the barn cats don't live very long. They get stepped on by cows, run over by tractors, or eaten by coyotes.

Farms like to have a balance with cats. They want enough cats around to keep the rodent population down but too many cats can spread disease to the farm animals. Too many cats can cause a dairy farmer to get reduced grade from the health inspector.

I know some farmers who do get vet care, including spaying for their cats, as feral populations seem to be getting harder and harder to control. Typically a farm may have one or two fairly tame cats, the rest are nearly feral. They need to be, else they are short lived.

I know other farmers who simply use a 0.22 to control the cat population.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 11:00AM
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When you say "value" barn cats, do you mean do they acknowledge and appreciate what they do; or do they treat them like pets?

The farmers I know appreciate their barn cats, and may take special steps for them in extrordinary circumstances, but for the most part view them like casual workers who get paid in shelter and rodents. "Property" -- like livestock or equipment, gets special treatment, because it's an investment. "Pets" get special treatment like vets/spaying/special diet, because they're part of the family.

Barn cats are neither, that's simply the way it is.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 1:41PM
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My parents have a small farm with horses, sheep, llamas and chickens. They have several barn cats, but they are all fixed. I can't even imagine how many cats would be there now if they weren't.

They consider all the animals pets, even the barn cats, and they all get veterinary care.


    Bookmark   May 15, 2007 at 3:17PM
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I was raised on a dairy farm and we always had barn cats. They were expected to earn their keep by killing the rodents. Some of these cats were feral and, if I recall, they were not fixed. Their kittens rarely made it to "adulthood" due to all the dangers lurking on the farm. The cats that could be caught were fixed and were treated by a vet on a fairly regular basis, but only when the vet came out for other animals. We also had a housecat. Her job was also to kill any home-seeking rodents. She was fixed and also got fairly regular vet care. She was indoor/outdoor and lived to a an old age. On the farm, there was a different mindset about animals than what I have now. The animals were all valued for the jobs they did, well cared for, but not necessarily valued for companionship or treated as "kids."

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 5:15PM
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Depends on the farmer. Some treat each and every barn cat like a family member. Others see their barn cats as employees. Others see the cats as spreaders of pestilence and disease. I don't think it is fair to characterize the way people value their pets because of their profession.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2007 at 8:37PM
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Check out Sick Barn Cat on farm forum

    Bookmark   June 9, 2007 at 2:50PM
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The very best mousers are female cats who are nursing a litter. Neutered cats are next to useless for mousing. Yes cats are valued - they have an important role to play - and yes they usually have some kind of health care - if they are not regularly dewormed they will spread parasites to the livestock (and people) and if they do not get rabies shots, well you know. CAts hunt for food and they hunt for sport; if you feed your barn cats they will kill more mice because they have more energy for this "sport." Average life span of a barn cat is short (smart or lucky ones can get very old) - sunning yourself on a black-top roadway or crawling up into a warm engine compartment is not conducive to a long life - so it is important to keep breeding females around or you will lose all the cats to attrition. Males leave on their own and establish new territories - this keeps inbreeding incidence lower. I can't imagine anyone in their right mind paying $50-$150 for a shelter cat (yeah, you gotta pay for the neutering etc) that probably wouldn't last a week on the farm (if it doesn't get killed or injured in an accident 'cause it's not a barn cat and doesn't know what's safe, it will probably run away). Kittens get gooby eyes, that's life. If you crawled through what they crawl through when they are playing you would have gooby eyes too. They eventually learn to avoid the goob-makers like loose straw etc.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2008 at 6:28PM
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I have a female in my barn (she was an older feral kitten that I collected (took quite a while to catch) off the streets at the last place I worked) who is the best little mouser.

I had her spayed (had to trap her first) and got her some shots/dewormer, then secluded her in a closed room in the barn for a couple of months. After that introduction/imprinting period, she adopted the barn as her new home.

Before her move to my barn, I had mice running all over the place, and I haven't seen one in quite a is quite obvious she is the reason.

She is still mostly wild (can't pet her), but is very much appreciated. It is "her" barn and she knows it. She even answers to "Barn Kitty". She is definitely much happier than living on the streets and rarely travels beyond the barn's immediate grounds.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2008 at 11:36AM
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Well, you'd have to call us more ranchers than farmers these days. But we still have more animals than most people, and yes we have a population of barn cats. I refer to them as wild cats and they are distinct from feral cats, which show up now and then at mating season. The wild cats are born on the place, stay close to buildings and are quite content to have humans near as long as you don't try to touch them.

We provide food, shelter, and water. (I'd be happy to provide medical care also if I could find a way to manage it.) Also have created a fenced area away from dogs where they can bring their kittens to play and eat. This happens to be right out our large bedroom window so we enjoy quite a show during the birthing season.

To answer your question: yes. We value our barn cats. Like every other thing on the farm/ranch, they serve a purpose and must earn their keep. They are distinct from "pets". Just as the donkey's job is to keep calving cattle safe from coyote attacks while they are down birthing, and the livestock guardian dog's job is to keep predators and vermin away from the homestead as well as the livestock, the cat's job is to keep the place snake and rodent free. They are very good at it. It's a kind of 'circle of life' thing where each species helps with the care of others. The chickens are kept for flea and tick control, cats for mice and snake control, dogs protect the cats and chickens from wildlife that would eat them etc. Chickens also keep the ground scratched up so we can see rattlesnakes if they come on the place. Ground cover around the home can be deadly here on the short grass prairie.

It works well if you have the right animals and right breed of dogs, particularly. We do everything we are able to do for our wild cats. And many of them live a good long life. I've been here for 29 years and I can still see replicas of our first cats in their many-times great offspring. We do get the inherent problems of inbreeding now and again (dwarfism) but have had no bad disease run rampant in our cats.

But I agree with the person who said you can't determine a mindset by an occupation. It's an inherent thing: you either 'steward' your charges or you exploit them. We see ourselves as stewards... though I fully understand that not everyone would agree with this assessment.

I know that a couple hundred years from now those of us who made our livelihood providing meat for consumption will be looked upon as we now look upon slaveholders of old. We will be considered the worst of barbarians. *sigh*

    Bookmark   April 26, 2008 at 2:30PM
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I have barn cats and they are an important part of our farm and family and have a GREAT VALUE. They have medical care with the rest of the animals 2x per year. They have food and water and shelter. In the winter they have an insulated box to cuddle down in, but mostly they choose the hay in the barn. But they are not pets. I do have a house cat and he sure isn't part of the gang around the barn. He sticks to this end of the yard.

Any of them can be picked up and love a good scratch. BUT they also have a job to do and it's true their turn over rate is high, the dangers of the job, road traffic, wild animals. Sickness or neglect is never the reason. Can't afford a sick animal to pass it around. None are "fixed" we need them to breed. Can't think of anything better for a cat than fresh air and a nice nap in the sun, sure beats the apartment kitty who has never been outside and has bad habits the owner puts up with.

The adoption road is not feasable, they make poor barn cats and they tend to be frail, don't stick around long and not all that good at hunting.

I don't think the farmer mentioned should have let the kids abuse the cats any sooner than any animal be abused, he should have taken the time to teach the kids about another resident of the farm---the cats.

I don't like to see an animal mishandled any more than I like to see a dog tied to a chain it's entire life, there is no purpose for that. Raising animals for food or work is purpose and value.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2008 at 4:20PM
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We have two 'barn cats'. They were of a litter of 5 which we took to have fixed when they were about 5 months old. Immediately three disappeared (after we had spent the money and time to have them fixed.) At the time, I thought we had certainly wasted lots of money and time.

I have to say that the thing I hate the most about farm cats is the spraying and the smell they make. With these two we have not had that at all. So, I would say in the future I will always have kittens 'fixed'. As far as adult cats go, I wouldn't waste my money. Once males are sexually active, they will continue to mark their territory whether or not they are neutered.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2008 at 7:23PM
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Something a lot of people don't understand is: the farmers do NOT appreciate people dumping unwanted kittens on their farms. Why would anyone want to put this on someone..."we can't be responsible for fixing our cat or finding homes for the kittens, so you take care of them"? Do they think that the farmer, if he/she already has a lot of cats in the barn, wants to have to put these newcomers to death? Unfortunately it happens, a lot. Folks who are thinking they are releasing a cat onto farmland so they can "run free in the fields and catch mice" have blood on their hands. You are generally giving them a death sentence.
Spay your animals!!!!!!

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 1:23PM
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When I was younger, I lived on a working dairy farm... we valued our family of barn cats for their hunting abilities, and the fact that they consumed any leftover milk from the pipeline...

While I do not agree with a spay/neuter policy, I do agree with the above poster, who states that it's not acceptable to just dump your unwanted felines on the porch of some poor farmer! If you cannot commit to caring for your pet for the full length of its life, do not obtain that pet in the first place! Many cats and kittens that are dumped off at farms end up being euthanized by the farmer, and not in the same manner as a veterinarian would use! Blood on their hands is right!

At present, we have a lovely little family of barn cats... they police the horse barn and outbuildings for vermin, and are very effective hunters! They also eat what they kill.

Some will come and go, finding their way to neighboring farms where they will breed with each other, adding new blood to the genetic pool. At present, we have a lovely gray male called Harry, a cute little black and white female named Boots, and her spring litter of 4 youngsters. Harry's orange son, Ginger, from a previous female also lives in the barn. That poor female was found on the road a few months ago... nature culls, and the strong survive.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2008 at 10:54PM
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While I don't have a true farm I do own a house on 23 acres that is bordered by a national forest. This is my weekend/vaction home. I mostly live in a city home. I have three dogs that come with me here. From a 7 month old german shephered pup to a 16 year old toy poodle. Anyway my vet clinic I use for the dogs is also a local animal control for my city house. They spay nuter all animals they get and have provided me several kitties for my house. Most are feral, don't want to have anything to do with me, run if I go outside. But I have 4 here that want love and I am happy to give it. I just turned loose 4 young cats/kittens, that were very hissy to put into their crates. The cats that live here were happy to welcome them, went into their crates to invite them out to play. There is a "kitten" here that I guess is now 6 to 8 months old and he was the first to welcome them. I put the crates on the ground with the doors open that I could watch out the kitchen window. Several of the cats that live here went in and out of those crates to welcome them. Only one that I brought today would not come out of the crate on its own. Poor kitty, once I dumped him/her out it took off for the woods. Ha little does it know there is a nice size pan of food here at all times.
They are happy to try to give these cats a chance at a good life, I am happy to give them the place to enjoy playing.
As far as them being spay/nutered, I am ok with that. My grandparents had a true farm, had barn kitties. They were fun to play with but I wonder what happened to them as they never had that many adult kitties. I know that there are wild dogs and I am sure other wild life that will take out cats but I also wonder if my Uncle did something with them.
I am happy to have all cats dropped off, cats are such fun to have around. We use to have a rodent issue here, no more. The cats that stick around and demand love are not afraid of the dogs at all. One even rubs against the german shepherd.
This is major good for me, I am a major animal lover. However have a son that is allergic to cat dander so inside cats are not allowed. He was down here a couple weekends ago and did enjoy playing with the cats. Came in and took his allergy meds and said thank you to me to have given these cats a home. They would of been put down if they didn't come here. So I would much rather give the cats a home than they be put down. Granted I go through about 20 pounds of cat food a week but that is ok. They earn their keep.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2008 at 9:19PM
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I can tell you what happens on farms to keep the cat population down... besides the obvious, which would be getting killed accidentally by machinery, or on the local road, or by larger wild animals, or by disease... there is one natural cull method that not everyone is aware of... most tom cats view the next generation as competition for the females, and so they will, oftentimes, kill and decapitate the very young/newborn offspring.

After finding a new litter up in the hay mow, all freshly killed and missing parts, I wondered about that... so I asked.

Nature is amazing... it can seem very cruel, but it is that which keeps the population under control and keeps the genetic pool clean and strong.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2008 at 2:12PM
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How about, you just take ten minutes a day and set traps. They will kill far more mice. Then, you won't need "barn cats".

    Bookmark   September 16, 2008 at 7:41PM
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No Frank -- it would take a ton of traps and lots more than 10 minutes to catch all the rodents that our cats cull! Barn cats are very necessary to a farm.

Our machinery is very valuable and before we had the cats, rodents would eat through electrical connections and one winter completely destroyed the workings on our truck. I once heard that the average life of a barn cat is one year. I think this is probably true but if the cats can make it to year #2, they will be fine for a long time. It really takes at least two years for them to become smart enough to avoid predators.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2008 at 9:13AM
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Wow, you must have an army of barn cats.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2008 at 8:58PM
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