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Outdoor cats

 
pollinator
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Hi everybody!

I have a mouse problem. Mice in the garage, in the crawlspace, in my truck and when I changed the air filter on my car there was an acorn in it! Last straw buckos...

I'd like to get some barn cats from the shelter and let them take care of it for me. I read on here somewhere that I should start with kittens and raise them outside but that is the extent of my cat knowledge. I did have 2 cats when we moved in that someone begged me to take from an abandoned house in the city. They did not last due to predators or maybe just moving on, I don't know. They never really ate the food I put out for 'em, just a few nibbles here and there.

BLUF: Can y'all help me with what I should do to raise some killer felines, keep them safe and happy, and encourage them to stick around? Cats in the house is not an option.

Thanks,

Dan
 
gardener
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Hi Dan;  
Question)  Do you like cats?
To encourage cats to live there, they need more than just food. They need to feel safe/welcome or they will move on.
They need access to the same places the mice are getting.
They do not need to be indoors but they do need shelter ,food, fresh water,  Casual safety from domestic predators but most of all they need some attention.
Pets , rubs , drag a string , anything to make them feel wanted.

 
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Get cats.
Old and wild gives them the best chances for survival. Breeding age females  insures a new supply of cats even if its a hundred miles to the next Tom!
If you get them from the shelter they will be fixed and not viable for long term rodent control, get them from your local spinster, young cats are dumb and they will be lost to predation, breeding habits and neighbor kids with guns, to keep reasonable control you will have to give cats away, once you have a stable of good mousers then get them fixed. Wild cat lives are short, you will have to restock every decade or so.
Don't be kind to them, don't tame them to where your grandkids can go pick them up and play with them.
Warn your kids / grandkids / elderly neighbors.... "Don't mess with the cat!"
Keep them trapped for the first few days untill they associate you and food. give them old nasty Purina dry food, dont feed them tasty morsels as they no longer have half their drive to hunt.
The other half of the drive is their innate curiousity if your cats are catching mice and playing with them then losing interest and letting them escape, they are overfed.
Feeding at irregular intervals is equally effective as its keeps them from making assumptions and has them hunting all the time.
Make sure they have plenty hidey holes to escape coyotes and neighbor dogs.
Rodents carry intestinal worms, deworm your cat at least twice a year more often if you see larva in the feces.
Make an effort to see the feces!, a viewing of the cats bung can often show parasites too. Frequent diarrhea is a sign of intestinal issues.
Abnormal affection is a cry for help! If your cat is suddenly very affectionate get them to a vet.
 
master pollinator
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I am a cat person. Keep in mind that not all cats hunt mice. Those that do have varying levels of skill. I currently have 6 cats. Only one is a master mouser. Two others will catch mice and play with them. The others might kill a mouse, if the mouse had them cornered.

The master mouser regularly patrols the property and buildings several times a day. She is on a mission. She does not play with them. When she does kill a mouse, she will make a point of showing it to a human.  The human is expected to praise her. My point being, I suspect her commitment would drop off if someone would be foolish enough to yell, "Get that thing out of here!"
 
Dan Fish
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Thanks for the input so far.

I am not a cat person. I don't hate cats but I don't want one for a pet either. Plus my son is allergic so it wouldn't matter too much if i did. Of course, I would have no problem feeding them or caring for them or anything like that. To clarify, I respect cats and enjoy watching them do their thing, I just don't see them as pet material.

As far as wildness and hunting goes, I just realized that I may just have a source of hardy cats! My neighbor was telling me that his ranch cats just had a litter a while back. I'm sure he would love to give me some. I wonder if they would stick around or find their way "home" though? He lives about a mile away through some pretty rough country.
 
thomas rubino
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Certainly worth a try Dan,   Your not out anything if they leave and maybe you'll get a mouser!
 
pollinator
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You have to use wet food. We tried just dry food and all the feral cats we adopted ran off. We have a cat right now we bribe with wet food and it's sticking around!
 
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I used to jokingly say "get an indoor cat for a pet, and you'll have a barn cat in no time because all they'll want is to be outside!" but this has.  Proven very true for me.  I have "barn" cats that all sleep inside at night, go out to be fed in the morning, then disburse to go do cat things all day before returning at dark.  Have almost no rodents that I've found in the immediate area now, but still get three or more dead critters lovingly gifted on the porch a week.... though sometimes only the back half.  Be sure you aren't squeemish about that because you will get half eaten "presents".  Came down the stairs and found one with my bare foot one morning lmao.

A cat being fed will not dampen its drive to hunt; they've done studies on how much outdoor cats will kill and it's a lot.  Turns out cats just really like to murder small things, regardless of how hungry or full they are.  Whether or not a cat is a good mouser seems to depend on what drive and instincts they're born with + what they learned from momma.  Get a cat or three from someone who is giving away barn cats.  All my cats came from other farms, and they all have that killer drive.  Cats like to be up high to survey their territory and escape predators; makes sure you have places for them to climb up to.  They don't like to be wet, they like to be cool when it's hot and warm went it's cold.  Make their homes dry and hospitable.  And there is no harm in having a cat who wants some pets and scritches, this isn't going to interrupt their predating.  Cats are actually social animals and studies of feral colonies have shown that they will bring back and cashe surplus food for injured members or nursing mommas, so you being a part of your cat's "pride" is very much a motivator to do well in providing and being good contributors to the group.  Point in fact I like my cats on the tame side: if I have a vet emergency, or something that forces an evac I don't want to be fighting a scared, under-socialized cat into a carrier.

If you do let them into your house, make sure that they have regular flea and tick treatments as well as getting dewormed yearly.  You don't want them spreading anything to you or your family.  and make sure they have a place to do their business away from your garden or they may decide it looks like you made them a giant litter box.
 
pollinator
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In an urban environment (high population, close to neighbors) cats should never be outdoors unsupervised, any more than a dog in that circumstance, running loose. Too dangerous for the pet, local wildlife, and will piss off neighbors.

Rural or farm is DIFFERENT, human and pet population per acre is significantly decreased, and there is room and safety for free roaming over larger areas.  

I suggest speaking to the local group (every area has one) dealing with feral cat control, offer to provide for a feral colony (food, vax, altering, flea, tick control, vet when needed) and most will happily take you up on it. Follow their recommendations as to housing and initial confining (this varies by location, level of feralness) - they will know what works best in your area.  

Contrary to some opinions, I highly recommend spaying and neutering, one female cat will produce at least 8-12 kittens, at a minimum, each year: those kittens can reproduce as early as 4 mths. Adult males fight, spray and wander (bringing back disease).

I have witnessed the results in unmanaged colonies, it can be heartbreaking.  Inbreeding causes gross deformities. Often kittens have under active immune systems, leading to horrible respiratory and eye infections, that are expensive to treat or fatal. The sick kittens commonly result in high rates of contagious viral and bacterial infections that will wipe out a colony and spread to local wildlife.

Do work on handling and taming any who show promise, feral cats are commonly NASTY, skittish, and do live their lives in a fairly highly stressed and fearful manner - this cannot be optimum for any living creature.
 
John F Dean
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Yes. Corinne is right. Get the cats their shots and get them fixed.
 
master gardener
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Ours could be considered outdoors. She has free access to come and go. She always has clean water and a warm place to sleep. At times i believe she can survive on just pets. Their is nothing like a really nice cat petting, she loves it so much.
We feed our cat raw meat. She either gets sheep or pork or whatever else we have available. I hunt for the sheep which are extremely over-populated on our island. The sheep reak havoc on the under story of our forests.

When ever i notice a mouse/rat outside i usually stop feeding her. I noticed if i feed her everyday she will spend most of her days inside. When i feed her sporadically it seems to work out fine. She usually gets 4 oz of meat when i feed her. I hunt the sheep and freeze the meat.

She will eat organ meat, raw egg yokes, she usually cleans our fatty plates for the dishes, warm milk from the goats. She even eats the pig skin from the bacon. She will eat meat which has become green from hanging outside for to long. I usually leave it up to her.

Ive made it a habit to always feed her the spleen after every animal i butcher up. Nice red liver seems to be her favourite.

All this to say here are some suggestions for keeping a wild cat around. Our cat was found by a neighbour and she was most likely abandon. She seems to do fine when we stop feeding her for a certain amount of time and the pets seem to sustain her long enough. I have even gone 2 weeks without feeding her mostly because i didn't have any meat at my disposal(i have now learned she will eat raw chicken eggs).

When she is talking to us, we usually tell her to go catch a mouse!!

Good luck finding your mouser!

 
John F Dean
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Hi louis,

Yes, good point. I feed my cats as well.  As for dry or wet food, that seems to depend upon the cats.  Mine eat dry ....but they expect one small can of wet food as a treat each evening. They divide it up,  fairly, 6 ways.  

I have recently seen a new trend. The master mouser is actively training two other cats. When I say actively, I mean I have seen her box their ears.  It would appear she has decided they have been deadbeats for too long.  By any means, I have seen the trainees with mice now.
 
pollinator
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Lots of good responses here.  I'll add mine, which is probably just an echo.

I've had 5 female cats and 2 male cats in my life, a drop in the bucket compared to some people.  But my observations from them have been that the males, neutered, still ROAM.  They travel more.  They fight more.  They disappear for days or weeks at a time.  They hunt far and wide and have been way more prone to injury as such.   But my boy cats hunted prolifically, leaving bodies everywhere almost daily, like they are providing for their mix-species family.   And they both had charming personalities.  Both were less vocal than any of the females and not as physically demanding for attention/affection.
My girl cats have been prone to staying at home, roaming maybe 2-4 acre territories, compared to the boys who wanted to claim a good 1/4-1/2 mile of territory.   The girls make awesome barn mousers.  They don't fight amongst eachother, at least they don't put holes in one another, even if they do scrap, whereas my boy cats would happily go for blood in a cat fight.  And lancing abscesses constantly is a pain!   My girls have been a bit more annoyingly demanding of my attention, but they are loyal, vigilant about their well being, and best of all, they are affectionate with one another, so we don't worry too much about our outdoor cats when winter temps become frigid- we know they're in a big kitty snuggle puddle keeping one another warm, somewhere safe and dry.  

I have no real preference between gender, and I'm sure there are exceptions to the "trend".  Genetics, conditioning, and such all play roles in their temperament.

But what I do have preference on is getting siblings if they're going to be outdoor cats.   2-3 littermates, or just tiny kittens that are raised together.  In my opinion, this enriches their lives and helps ensure and support their safety.  If they love one another they will feed each other if one is sick or injured, they'll keep one another warm, they can watch each other's backs, and they have a suitable playmate.
 
Dan Fish
pollinator
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Wow thanks everybody!

I suppose what I am going to do is look around for a couple females as I don't have time to be patching up cats hahaha. Hopefully I can get a pair that are sisters and had a little time with mom, learning to hunt. I think this will work good because I am only trying to control mice and voles on about an acre and if I get some roaming males I know there are some other cats in the area that just might be tougher, having lived out here for their whole lives.

Also, I wish I could watch a cat box anothers ears to correct it's lazyness! That's too funny.

OK well in a few weeks when it warms up a bit I will re-read all this and go cat shopping! Thanks folks!
 
pollinator
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I have both dogs and cats, but if you are more of a dog person, there are many small dog breeds will do at least as good a job on mice as cats do, and they don't kill your birds.  As a kid, we had a little schnauzer mutt that we would take to moss marshes with us for work and he would kill dozens of mice a day.  A breed that is made for varmint killing will do even better.
 
John F Dean
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Hi Dan

My wife and I have a general rule  of not messing with Kitty Business.  We have made very few exceptions to this.  They have their  own rules and organizational chart.  Very much as in other aspects of permaculture, I have learned not to mess with things I don't need to mess with.

There was another post regarding the use of dogs.  I had a neighbor who had a herd of rat terriers.  They nailed every rodent in the area.
 
pollinator
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I’m seriously getting an outdoor cat, because we have a rabbit plague. We used to see cats in the garden regularly from neighbours, but none this year and the rabbit population has exploded.

I’m not sure cats will kill adult rabbits - although I have know one or two that actively hunted them - but they might make the area substantially less appealing to raise young.

Any thoughts on this?

I have a suitable outbuilding they can live in, about 50m from the house. What kit would I need to have them there?
 
steward
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Food water and a little loving. Cats are social creatures. Let them know you are his people. I would put the food out in your building. Also, a protected spot to sleep. Your cat may decide to sleep somewhere else though.

We feed our boy morning and night. It reminds him to come back home. Being fed does not keep this boy from being a predator. We regularly see him chowing down on something he caught.
 
Joylynn Hardesty
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We are in zone 7. We provide an enclosed area, with a heat lamp, and a cardboard box that lets in very little light. But the cat is rarely there. In zone 8, I'd suspect heating is not something you need to do. Our spot is deconstructed for summer.

A different set up is here.
 
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Our more than fifteen year old mouser just died a week ago.  She was wonderful and always an outdoor cat.  Just this summer we had two kittens at two different times dumped here and she reluctantly 'trained' them.  One of them is a hunter and almost too much so.  The other likes to pounce on crickets but otherwise is pretty non aggressive.  Both live outdoors and both like to sit on a lap and get brushed, go to the gardens with us and are quite friendly and have been spayed and had their shots including rabies which I've always thought important for a hunter.  They are not invited in the house ever.

I think there are just different temperaments and skills with cats and you won't know until you test a few.

The hunter kitten brings us offerings of shrews, voles and mice and is praised for those.  I snub her for the birds and lizards and frogs.  Once, soon after she began 'hunting' she brought us several dead frogs in a row...broke my heart
 
gardener
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Michael Cox wrote:I’m not sure cats will kill adult rabbits


I have BIG rabbits, like bigger than the cats, but every stray cat in town still seems to be in my yard. Some want to just check out the rabbits, some seem to be serious about killing. The female rabbit will stamp when one comes near her enclosure (the male doesn't seem to care) so I've gotten an idea of how frequent it is. I've been leaving my dog back there to chase the cats away. Wild rabbits are smaller, I think cats would help get rid of your problem.
 
Michael Cox
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I was just weeding in the vegetable garden and a stoat trotted past, carrying a dead young rabbit!

I’m super excited because a) we have never seen one here before, in 15 years at this property and b) anything that successfully hunts rabbits round here I’m a fan of!

I wonder if stoats hunt squirrels? Our squirrel population - epic last year - is near zero this year.
 
John F Dean
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Cats definitely kill rabbits.  But it gets a little tricky.  Any predator will calculate their hunger vs the odds of being injured.  My experience has been that cats will leave rabbits alone if mice are available.  
 
elle sagenev
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Michael Cox wrote:I was just weeding in the vegetable garden and a stoat trotted past, carrying a dead young rabbit!

I’m super excited because a) we have never seen one here before, in 15 years at this property and b) anything that successfully hunts rabbits round here I’m a fan of!

I wonder if stoats hunt squirrels? Our squirrel population - epic last year - is near zero this year.



They hunt ground squirrels here. Wish they hunted them out like yours did. I still have zillions round here.
 
elle sagenev
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John F Dean wrote:Cats definitely kill rabbits.  But it gets a little tricky.  Any predator will calculate their hunger vs the odds of being injured.  My experience has been that cats will leave rabbits alone if mice are available.  



Our mama cat has brought us many rabbits. When I saw her dragging a quite alive full grown rabbit to the door I was shocked! We have lots of other stuff to eat and she does kill everything, but rabbits seem to be her favorite.
 
master pollinator
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Cats are semi domesticated.  If they do not see you as part of their family you will not see the results you are looking for.  Your home should be their home.

Cats bring you half-dead animals because they're trying to teach you to hunt.  They're basically saying "see, mice aren't so scary, now finish him."  You definitely want to praise them for bringing you this prize.

If you get a cat from a shelter that was going to be put down anyway, you're already giving it a better life.

If you own a cat and don't sterilize, deworm, detick, and protect it, you are being irresponsible.  There are millions of unwanted cats.  Leaving yours sexually capable is perpetuating an out of control problem.

Be prepared to obtain a cat that has no hunting instinct whatsoever.
 
Michael Cox
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“Your home should be their home”

Not happening here.

I have serious cat allergies, and grew up with a cat in the house. I didn’t realise how ill it was making me until I moved out and went to uni. I like cats. But I am not letting them share living space with me under any circumstances.

Beyond that, the area that needs protecting from rabbits is a distance from the house. I want their home base to be where the rabbits are.
 
Lorinne Anderson
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Nearby there will be a group that deals with feral cats. They often engage in TNR, Trap, Neuter, Release - often they are seeking to establish satellite colonies; the vaccinate, alter and release them - you provide food. It is a win win for folks needing farm/barn cats, and their feral tendencies make them experienced hunters.  

This may be a no cost solution for folks seeking cats that would have all their vet needs dealt with before you get them, and many include health screening for contagious diseases. The local vet will likely know who to contact.
 
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Hi everyone!

I've just got two 8 week old kittens (siblings) and I am keeping them in my yurt so they get used to me and the new place.

The big question for me is whether I should keep the door open now so they can start exploring the outdoors. They already were outside in the home where I took them from. Today is their 5th day with me and I am able to hold them in my arms although one of them is still quite careful and scared of being approached directly. I can pet them with no problem when their sleepy and both started to come out and come to me every time I come back home.

As they are too small I can't vax them for rabies yet, they were only dewormed by the owner.  We live away from the city and there seem to be no cats around, no dogs running free and only a fox was there before (but now, since he killed all our chickens, doesn't seem to be around anymore). There are big birds around since we're surrounded by fields but our land is well covered by bushes and there's plenty of shelters and trees to hide.

We have a grown up cat here and she already met the little ones twice. One of the baby cats was grawling on her and "rounding the back" so the old one started to grawl back but we didn't let them free to  explore each other yet since I was a big afraid they might get into a fight. This is another point which I find tricky - how should I introduce the cats to each other?

I am a bit lost to be honest I got these cats to be the outdoor mice hunters but they are so small that it seems I am trapped with them in my home and from what I've read I should keep them indoors until they're vaxed and at east 4 months old! 😂 I didn't think about it to be honest, I only had an indoor cat experience and I have no idea why I didn't think about their age when I took them. I mean, it's cute with them but they're making a mess and are getting more and more interested in what's outside... and I am tempted to open the door and let them.

Their mom is not here, of course. So they're on their own, with me only and 9 other people who live here. So letting them out with their mommy is not an option.

Any ideas/tips? Maybe some of you had a similar experience?

M.
 
John F Dean
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I normally move with caution.  Maybe introduce them to the outside when you are present. There are many predators out there.
 
Lorinne Anderson
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Do you live urban or rural? Are there roads nearby?  

First round of vaccinations are usually begun at 8 wks, then again at 12 weeks and again at 16 wks, when they also get the rabies vaccine. Spaying/neutering is usually done from 4-9 months (sooner for females, later for males).

If you intend for them to be outside cats you will also want solid flea and tick control (tapeworms come from fleas and need a special dewormer); deworming should be done regularly.

Ideally, yes, pets should be restricted from the outdoors, until fully vaccinated; new cats should be kept indoors several weeks so they develop a strong attachment to "home".

When introducing new cats, ideally they should meet through glass or screen or mesh, for several days/weeks before the barrier comes down. IF your adult is female she may "adopt" the kittens...or at least "show them the ropes" and be an educator.

You may want to look into the idea of a Catio; a roofed, wire enclosure, outdoors where they are safely contained, but unable to roam etc.; most often with access to the home via a cat door or window - but perhaps the underside of the yurt could be enclosed in wire instead? This would provide a safe, outdoor area, more room to roam, likely a place to practice their mousing skills and access to fresh air.

There could still be a small Catio or some other means to access the inside of the yurt, BUT this unrestricted access to dirt could lead to the underside of the yurt becoming a giant litter box (smell/flies) if not fully litter trained.

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