One of the largest problems beginning farmers face is pest control. It could be that insects are a problem for you, but as bad as they are, something even bigger lurks in the shadows, that being mice, rats, and other vermin. Difficult to handle with trapping alone, these rodents can wreak havoc and contaminate animal feed. They are capable of damaging crops or anything else that suits their fancy. With teeth made for chewing, it can be tough to keep these animals from making their way into containers and feed bins that are not tough enough to keep them out. Even then, it is not possible to contain everything you need and use on the farm, so there comes a time when a choice must be made. Oftentimes that choice is to get a barn cat.
Although it is not always high at the top of our lists to acquire another mouth to feed, having barn cats can make a world of difference when it comes to pest control. Keep in mind that for mice and rats, your barn and farm are quite literally an all you can eat buffet. Poison is an option, albeit a risky one because it can harm or even kill animals for which it was not intended. A cat, on the other hand, with its natural prey drive, is a much more logical solution to the pest problem.
Even if your feed is secure, that is not to say that mice and rats cannot pose a problem. For one thing, they are drawn to and like to chew electrical wires. That means lighting and other electricity is at risk of not only failure to work but chewed, frayed wires present a fire hazard. Aside from that, there is the fact that such animals carry and spread the hantavirus as they move about, dropping feces along the way.
Photo: Feral Cat Focus
Though we’ve all heard stories of failed mousers who’d rather lie around and do nothing, most barn cats are attune to their job and very willing to do it. Even so, there are some steps you can take to gently encourage your barn cats to embrace a working lifestyle as opposed to a leisurely one. For starters, get them young--yes, them, as in more than one, since we all enjoy having a buddy for hunting, playing, and keeping warm. Much as you would with any other type of animal, select your kittens from good stock, such as another successful, proven barn cat. If their mother knew and did her job well, she will usually teach her babies, which means that by the time they are a few months old, they will have the know-how to do their job. In the event you do not want kittens, it is often possible to get feral cats in need of relocation through your local animal shelter.
With kittens it is also easy to establish a home area, making them less likely to relocate on their own accord which could be a problem with older, more independent cats. Keep your kittens contained for a few weeks, providing food, water, and litter box access so they will understand that this is their home base. A stall is a good area in which to start them, and as they grow they will likely venture out on their own to explore their world. Once this exploring starts, it is likely that the mousing will, too. Don’t let this be an excuse to stop feeding them or cut them back; a mouse only diet is not enough to sustain, especially during cold weather, and the presence of cat food will reiterate where home is. Just take care to keep cat food in an area away from other vermin; twice daily feedings after which uneaten food is picked up is useful in removing temptation when it comes to other animals.
Don’t forget to provide routine healthcare. This means worming, treating for fleas, and vaccinating. Just as you wouldn’t want unhealthy vermin around your barn, you do not want unhealthy cats. A sick animal is a sick animal, after all, so stay on top of the health care of yours. Also, don’t forget to spay and neuter unless you want more barn cats...and more and more and more. Additionally, part of their health and wellbeing is giving them a place to stay warm. Make sure that place is not your house as it negates the purpose of a barn cat, but set aside a space in the barn where they can get out of the elements and remain warm when the mercury drops.
Though cats are very useful in pest control, it may be necessary to keep them away from baby chicks as those could be mistaken for a snack. Barring incidents such as this, most barn cats truly are worth their weight in gold. Not only do they keep rodent populations under control, they also give you the peace of mind that is knowing your barn and feed is safe from contamination, saving you the time lost and headaches you could have without feline employees on the payroll.