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Cats on a Farm

 
                              
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Hey Guys,

I am setting up a family farm, our goal is to become 100% sustainable.  We want to have aquaponics, worms, chickens, goats, and other greenhouse stuff.  We are debating the idea of cats and the pro's and cons of having them on the farm.  It has any done any research on the how they would fit into a sustainable farm?  Can you compost the poop? Would they be a liability to closed loop aquaponics systems?

I hear they have virus's and bacteria that is harmful to small children and in general.  Should we allow them on the property, if so how do you deal with these issues?
 
Brice Moss
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Location: rainier OR
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I find a couple of outdoor (barn) cats to be almost vital to keeping rodent pressure from becoming a problem in my hay supply and feed bins. if left outside the poop is not an issue because you will never see or touch it and they do a good enough job of picking diefernt spots to allow it to compost in place.

If outdoors cats will kill some wildlife you'd rather they didn't just the nature of the beast, and mine like to leave al their kills on the porch or paths where I an sure to see them, when I find them fresh these go to the chickens here which the chickens find to be a real treat.
 
                              
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I agree, that is the one use that I have been able to think of for cats.  My issue is that my youngest brother does not want to use the cats for any other purpose than to keep them in his room.  I cannot find a good reason to do such a thing on a farm where we are trying to become sustainable. 

My biggest concern is that the cats if let outside will get into the Aquaponics system and contaiminate the water with their poo.  The Toxoplasmis is said to live in soil for up to 18 months.  This would ruin all the water and fish and plants in our system of say 3000 gallons.

Thoughts?
 
Nicola Marchi
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This is part of a table I found in the book Sustainable Agriculture by John Mason

Table 14 - Herb repellents


I unfortunately don't know the efficacy of the plants first hand but if someone here does they may offer an alternative to either rodent control or provide invisible cat "boundaries".
 
Brice Moss
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if you're brother wants a pampered indoor cat and is willing to deal with the litter and all I see no reason to deny him that in fact allowing yourselves a few such not necessarily sustainable luxuries may make the transition easier, and if the cat is always indoors you have full control.
just keep the compost pile the cat litter goes into downhill of your aquaponics system and use a plain clay litter.
I'll say tentatively that I think the dangers of cat poo are somewhat overstated but I would need to do some research to back that up if I were building a system, first question is which part of the system would your cats poo in or would they rather find some dry gravel/sand
 
Bryzantium Langford
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Location: The Great State of Louisana
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A few years ago my closest neighbor bought and let loose about 20 cats. Now we have feral cats running all over,the dogs love them hehe.
Haven't had mice,rat,or nutria problems for years. They never bother anyone and run from eveyone around here. If one became agressive or got rabies just shot it and go one. I for one plan on releasing cats at any property i live on from now on.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I prefer snakes to cats for rodent control, but most people prefer cats to snakes, I think.

I think cats might out-compete some native predators which might be less common.  I think encouraging small native predators might be a thing to try before introducing non-native cats.  Keep in mind native predators will also want to eat your poultry, rabbits, etc.

I have two outdoor cats, one of which is an excellent mouser.  I've never actually seen him catch a bird, though he likes to stalk them and has gotten a handful of feathers a couple times. 

I also have three indoor cats, one of which is good at alerting us to scorpions.  She'll even kill scorpions sometimes.  The other two indoor cats don't do anything useful.

 
Phil Hawkins
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We have a population of feral cats that averages about four at any one time.  Every now and then we'll see a new litter, and usually one kitten survives (foxes get them, apparently).  We feed them a little to keep them around (although the chickens would fight long and hard for that cat food).  They do occasionally kill birds, but their major food source seems to be mice.  Our daughter has befriended one of the kittens, which is nice for her, it really does behave like a house cat.
 
Dale Hodgins
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  When I was a kid we got a big athletic male Siamese who had been raised in a city apartment. He had only eaten canned food during his first year of life. He was afraid of mice and other creatures. My dad told all of us to starve that useless cat. He soon became an excellent rat trap.

      But he wasn't fond of chewing through only rat meat. He quickly learned that they were currency. He would run out to the barn, kill a rat and then parade across the porch with it. My mother would come out and praise him profusely with lots of petting and then she would give him either a fried egg, some chicken or beef. This happened so often that she had to start limiting the reward for each act. Hunting became his obsession and sometimes He brought us rabbits which had only been bitten on the neck. We ate them.

    Our city cat earned his keep quite well on the farm. The little bit of chicken and eggs he consumed was nothing compared to the amount of grain and other animal feeds which he saved from vermin. He got along with our big Labrador and they often hunted together. The dog would dig and scratch through piles of rotting debris and if a rat escaped her, the cat would grab it.

    They also had a self defense pact. Stray cats were chased off by both of them. When a large group of feral dogs arrived our cat would jump on the head of any that threatened our dog and together they would claw and bite the intruder. It was quite a spectacle. Several intruders were killed.
 
Christa Wilde
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Cats definately carry a host of parisites plus toxoplasmosis. On the other hand rats carry plenty of diseases that could possibly kill a person. Also rats have been known to eat chicks and small hens alive at night. Rats and mice will get into your grain and drop feces and urinate all over everything. If you try to dry grain inside you will find hulls scattered all over your floor. Voles will eat the base and roots of your fruits and veggies causing them to suffer failure to thrive or might just kill the plants outright.
You could always get a terrier to take care of these thing for you (they don't carry as many zoonotic diseases) but in my experience (as a certified dog trainer) they tend to be a handful and much more destructive than a cat. You could set out traps and poison for rodents but I heard a story about a farmer who hated cats and trapped/shot them on site. He was overrun with rodents and set out poisons. When his young child got into some of the bait he had to rush him to the hospital, meanwhile his prized hunting dog managed to get into some poison and died. Not sure if this is true or just a story but its not a risk I am willing to take. As far as the traps go I have had almost no success as rodents are rather smart animals.
Personally I choose to get a cat and teach her to respect the hens. A broody hen with chicks is more than enough to scare off a cat who knows better, my broody hen scared off my border collie who was determined to herd her chicks.
As far as the zoonotic diseases go just practice good housekeeping. Make sure the cat is litter trained and clean the box regularly (except for pregant people, then it is the husbands job,  ). Feed plenty of good healthy food and have regular vet check ups to make sure your kitty is healthy and not carrying anything. Don't keep the cat in close contact with anything you intend to eat (no pooping in vegetable bed, no locking her in with your aquaculture set up, you know common sense stuff).
Edit: Remember to spay/neuter your cat, cat overpopulation is a very serious problem. Also my boyfriend tried the "no feed makes better hunters" policy before he met me, that cat now lives with the neighbor that does feed him.
 
Brian Bales
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Cats are a blessing or a curse. My mother has several cats that are all but useless. I had a great farm cat. His name was Chazz. Awesome animal. He got along with the goats, dogs and geese. Never pooped in the garden, was an amazing gopher hunter (he averages 2 or 3 a week and even brought gifts to the neighbor who adored him for it), and was so damned smart that he climed fences end over end like a navy seal instead of trying to jump them and would even climb up people without using his claws. Often was a time I'd be walking around the farm with my helper sitting on my shoulder. He did not startle easily and seemed to just understand his place and job. I loved that cat... Sadly I think an owl got him. A good farm cat is hard to find but if you do its worth having.
 
                        
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Don't forget skunks as a good predator for small rodents. They also eat a lot of large insects like grasshoppers and even scorpions. If you and your dogs let them be you will never get sprayed. Skunks are quite peaceful by nature and never go looking for trouble. They are also normally silent. they can vocalize but seldom do. They can even get quite friendly and seem to like to be around humans.
 
Matt Leigh
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Is there an issue with having an outdoor cat with free range chickens? I want to get both and was wondering if I should get the chickens established first, then get some kittens mostly for rabbit and vole control.
 
                        
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Matt Leigh wrote:Is there an issue with having an outdoor cat with free range chickens? I want to get both and was wondering if I should get the chickens established first, then get some kittens mostly for rabbit and vole control.

You can only have cats around free range chickens if all the chickens are close to full grown. A cat will hesitate to tackle something that big. If you have chicks running loose they are a smorgasbord to cats.
 
Brice Moss
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my chickens seem to have done a good job of training the cat to stay out of their run I think if chicks are with an attentive mommy the cat will be no issue, but I could be wrong, certainly a flock o just feathered out pullets would be cat food
 
                        
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Brice Moss wrote:my chickens seem to have done a good job of training the cat to stay out of their run I think if chicks are with an attentive mommy the cat will be no issue, but I could be wrong, certainly a flock o just feathered out pullets would be cat food


A really aggresive mama hen can drive off a cat but she pays the price. I've seen free range hens with a brood of chicks come in with a bloodied head from driving off a cat or other small predator.
 
Ken Peavey
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I've found barn cats to be the most friendly.
 
Kathleen Sanderson
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hoodat McCoy wrote:Don't forget skunks as a good predator for small rodents. They also eat a lot of large insects like grasshoppers and even scorpions. If you and your dogs let them be you will never get sprayed. Skunks are quite peaceful by nature and never go looking for trouble. They are also normally silent. they can vocalize but seldom do. They can even get quite friendly and seem to like to be around humans.


This is all true, HOWEVER, I have trapped and shot several skunks around here because they were getting more of our chickens eggs than we were. They will also take young chicks if they can get them, though I haven't lost any that were with their mother. They are very good at digging into the chicken tractors that I use for raising young chicks. They were getting pretty darned bold about the eggs, coming in broad daylight, even if I was out there doing chores (the adult chickens are pretty much free-range and lay their eggs in the goat shelter).

Kathleen
 
                        
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We always had cats on the farm where I grew up and all they ever got was milk twice a day, they were on their own for anything else. We would start to get too many and then some sort of disease (distemper maybe?) would get them and we would be back to one or two. Or so I was told.. If we saw a mouse (didn't happen often) we could call one cat and she would come running to catch it. Funny to see a cat racing to the barn across a field when it was called.

However, cats are as prolific as mice, almost, and can become a problem. Shelters are full of them. There are feral cats almost everywhere and they can raise havoc trying to get enough to eat. This link shows what is happening in Australia but it isn't an isolated situation . http://www.marsupialsociety.org/02wi03.html So it would seem to me the responsible thing to do would be to spay/neuter any cats; we learn things as time goes by.

I can't imagine them getting into the aquaponics, most of them don't much like getting their feet wet. They will probably use any sandpile you have though, so if you have small children with a sandpile, be aware the cats are very likely to use it as their toilet of choice. I think that's where a lot of the problems with disease have happened.
 
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