If you’re thinking about getting a barn cat for your farm or homestead, there are lots of variables that need to be considered.
The idea of a barn cat goes hand in hand with the classic concept of a farm. You’ll find iconic images everywhere of cats slinking around silos, napping in piles of hay, and weaving among the legs of horses.
Cats are easy to find and easy to raise – for the most part, they’re self-sufficient. However, that doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind.
Barn Cats on the Homestead: Advantages
The most common – and obvious reason why people keep barn cats is that they are wonderful exterminators.
Whether you have cats in your home or the barn, they can do a fantastic job of getting rid of rodents. On the farm, rodents are particularly detrimental. They can carry dozens of different diseases (including trichinosis, salmonellosis, rabies, and more) that can make you and the rest of your livestock sick.
Plus, rodents can contaminate feed and destroy insulation, costing you lots of money in the process.
Barn cats love spending their time going after rodents and will be happy to lower the populations for you! Even if they don’t spend all day hunting, just the smell of a cat nearby is often enough to ward off rodents.
For the most part, barn cats are pretty low-maintenance. There are a few things you’ll need to do to keep them healthy, but compared to other types of animals you might have on your farm, they’ll pay for themselves.
Not only that, but cats are entertaining and can be quite friendly, especially if they’re used to being around people.
Still not sure? Be sure to check out our comprehensive list of benefits in this post!
What to Keep in Mind
Although the benefits of keeping barn cats are obvious, there are some potential drawbacks that you’ll have to keep in mind. Don’t dive into raising barn cats until you consider the following issues. For some people, they might be deal-breakers.
1. Might Go After Poultry
If you have chickens, ducks, or any other kind of poultry, you’ll have to be sure that they are housed in an area where they will be protected from your barn cats.
Chicken wire usually is all you need, but you may have to go one step further and electrify the area around your chicken pen. Cats are smart, and once they realize they can get to your chickens, they’ll stop at nothing in search of a snack!
On the flip side, you may also have to take steps to keep your cats safe from predators, too. Both coyotes and bobcats are two common cat predators, especially if you live in a rural area. Shutting your cats in for the night is one option to protect them.
2. Roam Around
Most people let their cats just roam around wherever they’d like. That’s done for obvious reasons, of course – if they’re going to get rid of mice for you, then they need to be able to move.
However, with that freedom of movement also come some potential problems. One of the biggest is that they’ll wander onto your neighbor’s property. Here, they can get into conflicts with other cats or breed with them (more on this below).
This can be incredibly frustrating to deal with, particularly if you choose not to have your animal spayed or neutered. Keep this in mind!
3. Breed Prolifically
As I mentioned, barn cats are like other animals in that they breed prolifically. If you choose not to spay or neuter, you’re going to have up to two litters of kittens each year. Decide if that’s something you’re able to accommodate on your farm – you shouldn’t be dropping these animals off at the shelter. Plan ahead!
4. Can Get Sick and Spread Disease
Like all other animals, cats can get sick. You’ll need to deal with the burden of bringing them to the vet. Many diseases cats can suffer from can also be spread to humans.
One disease that is particularly troubling to us humans is toxoplasmosis. Cats can carry this parasite, picking it up through rodents, which can be extremely dangerous to pregnant women. It can also spread to sheep, goats, pigs, and other animals, leading to abortions and other problems.
This disease most often spreads via soil contact, since cats enjoy doing their business in the garden or loose straw.
5. Shorter Lifespan
For the most part, barn cats have a much shorter lifespan than the cats we are used to keeping in our homes. They’re more likely to suffer from predation or succumb to other factors. You may find yourself having to add more barn cats quite often.
Tips for Bringing Barn Cats Home
Here are a few tips if you decide that raising barn cats is right for you.
1. Buy the Right Cats
There are several different schools of thought on this, but for the most part, people agree on a few things you should look for.
For one, you should get kittens. A lot of people get older cats (often for free), and while this is a good way to save money, it can be problematic. An older cat is much more likely to run off to try to return to its former home. A kitten won’t have that background memory.
If you can, get kittens that were raised on other farms. This isn’t always possible, but the beauty of getting barn cats that are familiar with this setting is that their mothers have already taught them how to hunt and eat rodents.
When that isn’t an option, go to a shelter instead. This can be challenging, since many shelters won’t adopt a cat to someone who is planning on keeping it outside. Many shelters have feral cat programs in place for just this reason, though.
2. Help Them Get Acclimated
Your barn cat might be confused when you first bring it home. If you can keep them indoors, like in a barn, outbuilding, or stall, it is much less likely that they will try to run away.
By keeping them in this area for a month or so, it will show them where they are fed and where their new home is. Plus, it will allow you to keep an eye on them for any potential health issues before you allow them to roam free.
3. Please – Spay and Neuter!
An awful mistake that many new cat owners make is failing to get their animals spayed and neutered. Since the animal isn’t necessarily meant to be a pet, you might assume that this is not necessary.
However, the reality is that when an animal is intact, he or she will attract new animals to your farm. This can lead to fights, with some cats ending up severely injured or dead.
Of course, there’s the issue of pregnancies and kittens. If a cat has kittens twice a year – which is well within the range of possibility – it will take a serious toll on her health. Plus, what are you going to do with all those kittens?
If the cost of spaying and neutering is a concern, bring only male cats home. Neutering tends to be less expensive than spaying.
4. Vaccinate All Animals
Again, just because it’s an outdoor animal, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need veterinary care. Get your cats vaccinated, especially for rabies. You don’t want them spreading these diseases around on your farm – plus, it’s just the humane thing to do.
5. Feed the Right Food
Some people assume that they don’t need to feed their barn cats at all. Isn’t the whole point of keeping barn cats to get rid of rodents?
Your cats will indeed rely almost entirely on rodents as their source of food. However, that’s not to say that it will meet all of their needs. Make sure you give your cats cat food so they don’t wander around to other farms or houses looking for food – and getting into fights with other cats on the way.
6. Keep Them in Pairs
Just like us, cats can get lonely! Keep them in pairs (they don’t have to be breeding pairs) for some companionship.
Is Keeping a Barn Cat Right For You?
As you can see, keeping a barn cat isn’t right for everyone – but it does offer lots of benefits. Just like if you were bringing any other type of animal onto your farm, you must weigh the pros and cons and consider whether you are set up to support the new addition before you bring it home.
Who knows – you might just end up with a new pet if your barn cat ends up being not the best suited to outdoor mousing!