My first experience with multiple outdoor living cats – barn cats -was on my Uncle’s Farm. Every morning at least a dozen cats, perhaps more were piled against the kitchen door awaiting its opening. Once that door was opened they swarmed in and headed for the underside of the big wood fired kitchen cook stove. Leisurely they stretched out in the baking heat; summer and especially in the winter months, bidding their time for the young son to bring in the mornings cow milk to be strained through cheese cloth, set for the cream to rise and be skimmed off.
Then my aunt, in order to clear the cats out of the very large old time kitchen, would go outside with the skim milk, the cats sharp eyed started to follow her. She poured some of the milk in a large pan and they all started lapping up the milk with relish.
Then my aunt would head down the hill to the chicken house and mix the skim milk with chicken mash into slurry and feed the chickens before letting them out for the day. All this occurred about 6 in the morning.
My interest was the cats that lived in the barn, most semi-feral and not inclined to be petted. They would tunnel in the hay and sometimes sleep next to the three dairy cows that were kept in at night due to predators.
Yowling was common in the warm spells as the Toms were fighting for dominance and to serenade the females. Kittens abounded throughout the year but the total population never amounted to a dozen or so adult cats. Mice were few as the cats were diligent and at that time they were not fed anything but the milk.
Years later with seemingly dozens of pet cats through the years I finally wound up on my own farm setting and inherited from the former owner six outside cats all who demanded to be fed cat food.
Now after 30 years and at least $20,000.00 in cat food I can understand why some farmers just shot barn cats – they can be expensive if they overrun your farm. A population standard has to be made.
Ideally one spayed cat is enough.
Not realizing it at the time and with the feminine softness towards cuddly little kittens being brought into the house by the children I totaled at least 50 cats. That is the equivalent of one large Leopard or maybe a small hungry Lion.
I still had mice. With a can of expanding foam I sealed all the holes and cracks. I still had mice. I let the cats in the house.
All I had then was cat boxes to clean. So I delegated the rule if you want a pet cat – you clean the box. Eventually the cats overran the house and that required shift work to clean cat boxes, fill waters and feed pans. More mice appeared which was due to the cat kibble being carried away when the cats were asleep, usually on my heated waterbed.
We did learn to purchase inexpensive cement mixing tubs at Lowes or Home Depot that look like giant cat boxes. These did not require constant cleaning and were big enough to keep the cats aimed in the right direction.
As the children grew up and chose new occupations other than cat care, the cats thinned out. Today I have one cat inside. A big box, a big water bell, and a big feeder. She contently is sprawled on the radiator and as she guards her kibble, we rarely have a mouse.
Sometimes she catches a mouse and gently deposits it on my pillow at night to show her prowess and good intentions.
However I still have outside cats, I maintain the common dozen or so, and with amusement I study their behaviors.
When I raised milch goats, they all got their daily ration of goat milk along with the chickens and of course an overabundance for the children. The cats multiplied with whole milk and of course cat food. I was back to at least 35 outside, maybe more.
I have had females crawl in my lap and deliver kittens. Some kittens were feral at birth, some sweet and “take me inside types”. I found I could take several kitten “nests” and combine the kittens and the mothers would share equally and this was good as some mothers dried up early. It did not take the kittens long to discover goats milk.
To avoid luring the cats out of the house like my Aunt did I more or less trained them to go where the milk was- at the barn. Also my dogs, two cat hating German Shepherds kept them from the house at their peril. My two dogs would bring me a cat carcass on occasion to show their prowess.
Kittens born late in the fall usually do not survive. Kittens born in early cold spring do not survive. The cold, and hungry predators take their toll but the key fact to maintain a cattery that is stable is to feed the cats kibble and when it is cold, mix in a can of cat fish food. This makes for healthier Moms and kittens in the warmer season. I estimate from the average 12 barn cats I have a kitten birth rate of about 15-20 a year and at best two survive to adulthood.
There is lots of kitten predators on the farm. Hawks, Buzzards, dogs, coyotes, wolves (in some locations), fox of course, and kids with .22’s.
There is a dominant Tomcat. He really takes a beating over a 5 year spread with the younger emerging “wanabe breeders” Once he is beaten up where he can not maintain his harem, he sometimes joins the other older beat up Tom Cats in a separate location – just like old men sitting on a bench, watching the girls and reminiscing.
A boss Tom has a set of rules in his hierarchy and if he is accidentally killed, the entire cattery loses their rituals and dominance and may just run amuck till a new Tom takes over. At present we are in a turnover stage where a new Boss Tom will become dominate this next late spring.
No doubt you will have barn cats. Sooner or later you will give into the cuddly kitten and find a box of homeless cats on your doorstep. Now you have to feed them
Feeding outside cats is different than inside cats. They lead a more rugged life and consume more calories than the mice population can provide. And yes, I have seen cats eat mice; also grasshoppers, and small rabbits.
The best middle of the road outdoor (and inside) cat kibble is Purina Cat Chow; the cheaper brands just do not keep up their stamina. When breeding season is on and you want to replenish with surviving kittens you need to mix in one can to 1 gallon of kibble wet canned cat food – fish variety. Once the temperature drops to freezing make it two cans of wet fish canned food. Cats have a short digestive track and are always nibbling. I use two hog pans, one mixed and one dry as if it gets too cold the wet mix freezes. This is my morning chore.
Cheap canned wet cat food is full of grease and it will give them, especially kittens’ big clumps of poop clogging their anus. You can switch to canned dog food occasionally but always check the labels that “Taurine” is in the food. Cats go blind and die without taurine supplement.
In the winter I also find very big boxes and crumple up newsprint and they really like paper crinkles. I also found that they like imitation sheepskin so I locate big dog cushions with sheep hair and place my garden cart upside down over the cushions and they are out of the wind and they are warm. There are what is known as “follow kitties” These are the cutest, heartbreakers who follow you around and if you tame them they will be in the house. Beware!
Yes, it is good to spay your cats if you can catch them. Richo Chec at: http://www.horizonherbs.com/ books offer a cat sleepy aid and you can gather them up this way. For you city dwellers who are animal lovers and want all the cats spayed, you can come out and see if you can catch them.
I do not think a farm is complete without barn cats and a house is not a home without a cat sleeping on the windowsill.
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