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Barn Cats

Thugs of the Homestead


Working when they feel like it, sleeping the day away, partying all night, and making sure you know that whatever you say or do means not a whit to them (what IS a whit, anyway?), these creatures who inhabit a homestead do not hop, trot, gallop, waddle or run like the other resident critters - they saunter.

Saunter around the corner just in time for dinner.

Saunter away with a mouse after a lightning quick hunt ends successfully.

Saunter purposefully after doing something embarrassing, exuding “I meant to do that” from every furry pore.

Saunter right in front of your legs while you are carting in 50-pound bags of feed, or better yet, groceries. The sack with the breakables in it.

The fuzzy equivalent to the relation who comes to visit, and then stays long past his welcome, not with appreciation, but with the attitude that he’s doing you a big fat hairy favor by consuming YOUR food and using YOUR utilities, you know, of course, who I’m talking about.

The Barn Cat.

Why on Earth would we keep a creature around that seems to be in permanent teenaged morosity? “To catch the mice,” we claim defiantly.



I currently have three cats in residence.

Gremlin was born here 12 years ago. His mom was a tiny feral fluff of a kitty who had 2 kittens under the house. Shortly after the kitties were weaned, momma cat disappeared with the cute kitten, and Gremlin was left. Mostly wild, he’s prime Farm Cat material, yet if confronted, nay, presented with a mouse, he turns his back and yawns. I’ve witnessed him hastily pulling his paw away from danger of coming in contact with a running mouse.

Petri was a friend’s cat. When Angela moved out of state, Petri came to live with us. Angela had found Petri as a starving stray kitten, and bottle-fed him into a sleek, panther-like specimen. He had been denied transfer due to a fondness of urinating on everything inside the house, so even though he had had his front claws removed, he was dubbed a Barn Cat, and turned loose. I’ve seen him catch one mouse in 8 years. It was slow, and looked a little brain-damaged. Petri is a prime example of "you are, what you eat."

Oswald was born in the lap of luxury - the planned child of two housecats. Fluffy, orange and white, with whiskers all the way out to there, Oswald lived in our house till we started the big, noisy, alarming parts of our home renovation, at which point he showed his displeasure by using our bed as a litter box. After a few such episodes, I picked up the cat, opened the front door, and unceremoniously plopped him onto the porch, closing the door behind me.

Guess he showed ME.

Surprisingly, Oswald is the Master Mouser. He can hear a mouse from across the yard and through an insulated wall. If I come across a mouse in a feed sack, all I have to do is say "here Ozzie" and he’s right there to retrieve it for me. I tip the sack and in he darts, backing out with the offending rodent. If there are TWO mice in the sack, that’s his specialty - it only takes a split second longer, then he backs out with a mouse-tashe, one tail drooping out of each side of his mouth.

For the squeamish mouse lovers out there, Ozzie is also the most business-like cat I’ve ever seen. He’s not interested in the least with playing with his hapless prey. It’s a quick execution, followed by happy ingestion.

Here’s where the informational part of this story begins…

There are many myths surrounding the amount of care and upkeep needed by the average barn cat, and perhaps the most harmful one is:

If you do not feed your barn cats, they will be better hunters.

The truth is, if you do not feed your barn cats, they will get very skinny and leave. Or die. Or both. Cats hunt for one reason only: the personal satisfaction and pleasure they receive from causing something smaller than them to be very afraid, and then killing it. Well-fed barn cats will be stronger, happier, and quicker.

Won’t it cost a lot to feed a lot of cats? Of course it will. Therefore, I recommend not HAVING a lot of cats, which is caused by another myth:

Barn cats are a renewable resource.

There are not many things cuter than a litter of kittens. If you have an unspayed female cat, you will soon know the joy of frolicking kittens. Cats reproduce at an amazing rate of speed. A female cat will be ready to breed any time after about five months of age. At this time they come into season, which is accompanied by caterwauling and a very seductive (to tom-cats) way of locomotion that looks to the casual observer like they’ve been hit by a fast-moving vehicle causing the fracture of several vertebrae. This attractive behavior will continue till they are spayed, or impregnated.

Left to their own devices, a female cat will have two litters of kitties per year. The average litter is four kittens. If half of them are female, you will have eight frolicking kittens the first year. Twenty boisterous kittens the second year. One hundred and twenty truly horrifying kittens the third year. And by the fourth year, you will have to move to a new place, because the SIX HUNDRED KITTENS will make your current place a complete wasteland.

Make some calls. Your local shelter should be able to direct you to low cost spay/neuter clinics or programs that will sterilize your cats and give them a rabies shot for a nominal fee. Sure, it costs money, but nothing like trying to keep SIX HUNDRED KITTENS in food.

Of course, it’s highly unlikely that you will actually be facing SIX HUNDRED KITTENS. Your neighbors may take a few. Your friends and family may take a few. An ad in the Thrifty Nickel may snag homes for a few. If you are really out in the boondocks, hawks (or gators) may even take a few. And you may be sure, if you do not vaccinate your cats, disease will take more than a few, proving wrong the myth that:

Barn cats do not need to be vaccinated.

Of course they do.

In fact, it is required by law that they are up to date on rabies vaccinations, which, depending on your state is either given annually or every three years.