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barn/farm cats? What do folks think about them?

 
pollinator
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I have owned two cats in my life and loved them both, though I consider myself a dog person.

Their effect at rodent control was staggering. They would each go on walkabout whenever suited them, and so the rodents usually showed up in their absence. When they returned, the change was marked.

I still remember my Russian Blue/Grey Tabby cross playing with a mouse, until he decided he was hungry, and then he'd usually eat the head. *Pop, crack, crunch, slurp* and off to find another. Though on occasions where there were multiples at once, he'd often stun them, killing them if they were likely to get away, and playing with the last one as long as he liked; he never let any go.

I think the cat's place in permaculture is a niche that isn't really filled by other animals in toto; there might be some overlap between the work terriers do and what birds of prey manage around a homestead, but nothing else does exactly what a cat can.

That said, they can be as destabilising as any invasive animal. And yes, cats share all the attributes of an invasive plant or animal: they reproduce readily, have the ability to sustain themselves without human intervention and overwinter, and have litter sizes that ensure survival of at least some offspring in all but the harshest conditions. And they will displace native species that prey on what cats exterminate.

I think where cats do damage is that they simplify natural systems. They kill off diversity, killing off layers of interspecies interactions. The system that was self-complicating enough to be resilient and adaptable gets reduced to a point where, should the cats then disappear, or should a further destabilising event occur, the system might well be lost.

And then we anthropomorphise these creatures, and they can't possibly be the cause of our ecosystems' problems, oh, and we can't euthanise them, even though they've eaten all the rodents, are almost done the birds, and have started on the frogs, lizards, and large insects that used to keep things in balance, but at least we have furry, aristocratic murder machines left.

I think, when I have a barn and am storing things that will draw rodents, I will definitely have a barn cat. I am thinking along the lines of a Maine Coon, just so that whatever kills it eventually will have to be large enough to manage a twenty to thirty pound cat. But the cat will be encouraged to stay in and around the barn (yeah, right, I know), and won't be having kittens, or making kittens.

Honestly, if I could get away with not having to deal with the feces of an obligate carnivore, I would. My much better half and I just chose a Flemish Giant rabbit over a Russian Blue cross cat (allergy issues), mainly because the rabbit poop is a boon for the compost, as opposed to cat poop, which I think almost needs it's own toxic waste dump.

We don't even train them; they train us. They tolerate us humans because we provide them with everything they need as a byproduct of our existence. And then there are our fingers, just perfect for opening cans and scratching behind ears.

Insofar as individual animals are concerned, I have had considerable affection for several cats in my life, but my view of cats in permaculture is more complex; in my opinion, they are either a necessary evil or a horribly inaccurate but situationally effective pest control measure, in the way that unlimited bullets from an inaccurate, fast-firing machine gun at medium range might eventually get the job done, but with an unreasonable amount of collateral damage, which might not matter much if the target (rats) is surrounded by other undesireables (mice, squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks), but also has the potential to obliterate other levels of defense by accident (killing snakes, frogs, etc., that would prey on mice, baby rats, etc...).

In some cases, the ship of unique biological diversity has sailed, leaving us to reconstruct, as much as possible, the natural systems that cats and rats and rabbits have destroyed in some places. Where this is the case, should it be possible to actually accomodate feral felis domesticus populations into the new wildlife, there would need to be a controlling factor, like something to prey on feral cats, as well as many stable food sources, and it would be difficult to design a self-complicating system to replace what has been destroyed, but it should prove possible.

In cases where there are fragments of natural systems still trying to hold on, though, cats can push those over their tipping point. In these cases, I think we need to be hypervigilant with regards to feral populations. In some cases, fixing and releasing feral cats could be beneficial to control pest animal situations fostered by human activity, but in delicate situations, I think it important to cull whole populations to prevent further destruction of species at risk.

Cats can be great. They can be the difference between being able to store food items and being forced to eat the rats that ate your food. If I was slowly being starved to death by rodents eating my livelihood, a good ratter could save my life.

But they also have the potential to wreak absolute havoc on natural systems, throwing ecological balance into chaos. They are a tool in the permacultural toolbox, and they should be marked with some label that marks them as potentially life-enabling but also lethal as fuck to any population of animal it considers tasty or interesting.

Seeing as how the inspiration for a lot of permaculture comes from resilient, self-complicating natural systems, I think it really important to keep in mind that cats are the great ecological simplifier.

-CK
 
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If they're spayed or neutered I don't really have a problem with barn cats,  but...

A feral cat may range three or four miles- that's something your pigs, your goats, your chickens aren't doing- they're locked behind fences and gates, in paddocks or coops.  I think many folks would be pretty surprised at how many "barn cats" are wandering ditches and country roads at four in the morning.  Being warm-blooded, cats can mouse year-round, and that's definitely a benefit.  They also kill the snakes and other critters that also eat rodents.  In many instances they don't simply occupy an empty niche- they open that niche by killing the competition.

As with a lot of answers, "it depends."  Whether cats are compatible with your system or not depends on your goals.  For me, I wanted to rehab the family farm whose timber had been high-graded and the pastures exhausted; I wanted to provide habitat for wildlife and a big garden for the extended family and the farmer's market.  Cats kill wildlife, full stop, even well-fed cats.  If they didn't, they'd provide no service to the farm.  Feeding feral cats only gives them a nutritional advantage over the native predators they're competing with, which are dependent entirely on what they can catch.

When our farm went from a dozen to two or three fixed cats, I didn't notice a marked increase in the number of mice or rats.  And I didn't see cats in the pasture, I didn't see cats in the woodlots, I started seeing rabbits in the yard, two coveys of quail in the hay fields, more lizards in the garden, more black rat snakes, more speckled kingsnakes. To me it was a reasonable tradeoff- but if I had a smaller, more intensively managed property, if I was dependent upon my production as a primary income...I may have made a different decision.  As long as the decision is informed, I don't think it's reasonable for folks to take issue with it.
 
pollinator
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bob day wrote:My rodent control is black snakes, and i get pissed as hell when the neighbors cats come over here and kill baby black snakes.  her cats are well fed and don't need the food, so they can afford to leave the snakes lying where they kill them. I'm not sure if that is the reason I saw a copperhead for the first time in 15 years since black snakes also control the more poisonous varieties.



It is a good point to bring up about local snakes as rodent control. Right now my rodent control is mostly the native snakes. Gopher snakes, rattlers, and rubber boas all live on my property. Another I have for my area is birds. We have eagles, hawks, and falcons that nest on a bluff cliff near my place as well as plenty of owls, crows, ravens and other predatory birds.

I do plan to eventually get some cats, but I am still in building infrastructure on my place as I have only had my property for a couple years and haven't even gotten my house built yet. Still temporary living in a trailer. I don't want to get any animals until I have my basic living and infrastructure settled so I can offer a decent living for animals I care for.

I have wandering around my property now the snows are melting and have noticed the sheer amount of rodent tunnels that had been under the snow is just insane. So obviously the predator population is not keeping up with the rodents. I definitely have a rodent issue I will have to address more as I bring in more reasons for them to exploit.
 
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I know the last post in this thread was ten months ago, but I do want to pitch in as well! Although my situation may not apply as it's pretty different than most.

We have anywhere from 5 barn cats and 3 ferals to ten of each at a time. Local people seem to think dumping unwanted cats on a farm is NICE, but no thank you, we do not need your cats that have clearly been used for baiting dog fights.

It infuriates me. But I have read studies that TNR does more to limit feral cat populations than simply euthanizing. So I do my damnedest to keep all our cats neutered/spayed. I love cats, but I do acknowledge that they can hurt native populations. I find that they tend to keep themselves mostly under control population-wise, and I live in front of sugarcane fields, so rodents are a huge problem. They more than keep the cats fed.

We do feed our outside cats, but honestly I'm pretty sure they rather to eat mice. I've only seen two birds be killed by them, ever, and I think possums eat just as much of the cat food as the cats do. Also, a gator was helping eat the food too evidently. That was fun. (NOT)

I'm not in favor of killing anything alive unless it's for food, so for me this is the best way to keep it in check without adding to a problem.

TLDR: I think they fill a gap in my ecosystem, but they shouldn't be deliberately introduced unless neutered/spayed. Like planting mint in a pot so it doesn't take over!

 
pollinator
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I'm also concerned about the snakes they eat, in my area I am convinced I have fewer(no) copperheads, because I don't keep dogs or cats that might kill black snakes, a main enemy of copperheads.

I do have lots of black snakes, but most of the cat and dog people have copperheads

I know that's not science, just a personal belief
 
pollinator
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I ***love*** cats. I have 2 rescues, both indoor only house cats. Their “job” is to keep the house free of mice (and to warm laps).

But I don’t want outdoor cats, barn cats. In addition to trying to raise our food, I am working hard to help native birds that are struggling in an ecosystem that we have collectively destroyed. I plant things just to attract a number of species. I plant things like eastern redcedars, which some use for nesting, others for food. I cannot eat that. I get a rash when I handle those trees without gloves. But I plant such things to help the birds. I create nesting and feeding and watering areas for birds from many species. The birds are struggling for survival. There are plenty of native, natural predators of these birds, hawks, owls, raccoons, etc. The house cat fills no empty niche. The house cat is simply an incredibly efficient invasive species predator. I won’t add to that by bringing in more cats. I don’t want to attract a threatened species for my cats to kill off.

So, I love my cats, ADORE my cats (look at my profile for proof). 😻 But I will not inflict my darlings upon the struggling bird species that I work so hard to attract and help preserve.
 
pollinator
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I do have lots of black snakes, but most of the cat and dog people have copperheads



Bob I'm with you on this one.

Like Marco, I am NOT a cat person. That being said I grew up with "working cats" and think they may have a role.

Most people see them as rodent control. What other animals could do that for you? I appreciate Su and others who have identified that. Why are those animals not present or sufficiently numerous?

For those in the frozen north, options might be weasels or hawks. Down here it is foxes and snakes. The foxes do kill my beloved chickens, and the blacksnakes will flat clean out your egg box, so not all gravy. Hawks  haven't been an issue here, but I can see they might be. Which is more important to me, the occasional chicken or the songbirds? I am not sure that is even a fair question, because I see evidence something is eating plenty of birds, and there are no cats here. Is suspect foxes. Maybe hawks but I have never seen one attack the birds, often the other way around. The niche however will be filled in a mature ecosystem.

What I have not seen anyone discuss is getting cats that are taught to hunt rodents. We had cats that just didn't really care about birds. They had plenty of rodents and we never saw dead birds or little feather piles. We wouldn't think about introducing a working dog that was not trained in a certain way, and I understand cats are not trainable the same way as dogs, but I think they are still social animals and likely learn much of their habits from their mother. If you could find a cat from a litter that was trained to hunt mice, I think it would be an asset.

We used to use, um, selection pressure on cats we saw stalking birds.
 
pollinator
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DH doesn’t like cats and I’m allergic... but he is very tender toward animals and especially animals he considers domestic, so he’s not willing to have outdoor cats and I’m absolutely not able to live with indoor cats. (I know, cats do fine sleeping in the cow shed, but that’s where he’s at. He wants to think I’m the kind of person to think of the cows and chickens as pets, too. LOL He’s very sweet, but I’m just not as sweet as all that. Only one of the cows is my pet. LOL)

Anyway, no cats, and like TJ says, there seems to be no guarantee the cat will be a mouser not a birder anyway. Soooo I’ve done some research and have read that Ohio Buckeye chickens rival the best feline mousers. Chickens (in DH’s ethic) can be outside as long as they sleep in a shelter (I agree), so I’ve ordered some Buckeyes for spring. I hope they’re all they’re touted to be, because we have an awful lot of mice and shooting them with those miniature .22 “shotgun shells” is really slow work.
 
bob day
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"selection pressure"  ROTFL   I'll have to remember that one.


I guess I must be fortunate, not so many mice I can't put traps out.   Looking on utube, some of the easy to make vintage mouse traps catch lots of mice all at one setting.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fT2RODWk6U
 
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We've gotten a number of barn cats from the SPCA over the years.  We've even had a couple transition from the barn into the house when they got injured / old (I like housecats).  I won't keep a domesticated animal on the property that I can't pick up and/or handle, as I want to be able to vaccinate and treat them if necessary, so we don't have feral cats here.  All of our cats are 'fixed'.  

Being SPCA rescues, our barn cats have been pretty variable in their mousing ability, though there always seems to be at least one in every group that does a good job of controlling rodents, up to and including squirrels and gophers.  We do feed the barn cats, as I don't think they could really hunt enough to stay well-fed and healthy during the worst parts of winter.  When it hits -30 to -40, I want them to stay in the barn and eat kibble, rather than being forced to go hunt mice and get frostbite that could lead to infections.  

One thing we noticed is that the barn cats displace other predators that eat mice.  In our area, that means skunks and mink.  This is the cats' main role for us, as skunks and mink also happen to really like killing chickens.  The one winter we didn't have any barn cats, we lost most of our laying flock to other predators, so we went out and got a couple more barn cats as soon as it was warm enough in the spring to allow them to acclimatize.  We still have occasional skunks in the yard, but none have gotten into the coop since we reintroduced cats.  They also do keep rodent numbers down, which is important, as he have a lot of grain laying around, and mice can quickly become problematic, especially if they get into the house.
 
gardener
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I like cats both as friendly pets & for their rodent hunting abilities. We have one stray that wandered up years ago & just moved into the life of free easy food. Doesn't hunt. Doesn't scare any potential predators away. His buddy was the same but he disappeared this year. Was a very old cat. I have another stray that is my constant companion. Except when she's on the hunt. She's very effective. Sometimes too effective. She's a decent chicken guard too. When she wants to. She's a cat ... always on their terms:)

 
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Cats can get out of hand  on any where, cities, farm, and oh islands. I have two indoor only that are adopted from local shelter. Both cats are fixed so we are not going to have issues there.

I do feel terrible bout the neighbors barn cat. They sold their their cows so imagine the barn she called home is no longer warm enough. The neighbors do not seem to care that she spends time around our home. So our two indoor cats take care of mice rats inside the house and the barn cat does a fair  job with what she finds outside.The barn cat has not been socialized properly with humans. She still does not trust me 100%, that is the main reason I have not brought her inside with the us.

We are considering making her a spot in the chicken coop or near it for her to take shelter in the winter. She is  a one tough little kitty. Her ability to survive in this climate amazes me. She is so very thankful to have a bowl a kitty kibble handed to her when she makes her visit. Plus it keeps her from scavenging in our trash bin.


The one bit that can add to if you do need a cat around for rodents, please check your local shelter, every so often they have cat that will not let anyone adopt unless they have suitable outdoor barn/shed and ofc shelters always have the cat fixed so indecisiveness will not be an issue.
 
steward
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"Four-legged furries only." "Four legged furries good - others (birds, snakes and lizards) bad."  

This was my mantra to my formerly feral cat, Gert.

I might have mentioned in my previous post that a friend felt she trained her cat to go after mostly/primarily rodents by showing disapproval to the cats for bringing home birds (and maybe reptiles).

Today, a friend showed me this awesome article:

How to Stop a Bird-Murdering Cat

Which explains a lot about the impact of domestic cats on wildlife and also about how colorful collars have been shown to help reduce both bird and reptile kills, (though not much reduction in rodent kills).

The article refers to the creator of the collars at https://www.birdsbesafe.com/ quite a bit. Here's a picture of what they look like from their site:



 
Devin Lavign
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Awesome to see this topic get picked back up again after a bit of a stop. Somehow I missed it being resurrected.

Some great new additions to the convo, thanks all.

I really like your post Jocelyn about the collars to alert birds. Though I imagine it would be a tough sell (and a lot of scratches) to get a barn cat that is part feral to wear such a collar. But for the more tamed but still outdoor cats this would be a great way to keep the birds from becoming dinner.
 
Jess Dee
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I would prefer that the cats not kill birds, but I would be pretty hesitant to put any sort of collar on them.  The breakaway ones that are safe don't last long, and the ones that don't break run a pretty high risk of strangling the cat if it catches on something.  I can't tell from the photo whether that colorful collar would be safe or not, but it's big enough to catch on stuff, for sure.
 
Myrth Gardener
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Jess Dee wrote:I would prefer that the cats not kill birds, but I would be pretty hesitant to put any sort of collar on them.  The breakaway ones that are safe don't last long, and the ones that don't break run a pretty high risk of strangling the cat if it catches on something.  I can't tell from the photo whether that colorful collar would be safe or not, but it's big enough to catch on stuff, for sure.



Yes, the big colorful collar could catch on things. My concern is that at night, when cats are most likely to kill roosting birds in trees, the collar would not be visible. Cats will hunt in the daytime, of course, but seem to prefer nocturnal hunting.
 
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Great post. I personally have not had cats for that purpose but when I lived in England it was common practice and I remember thinking at the time that it was a great idea and what a life that must be for a cat! I am such a cat lover though that I have stopped short of calling it cruel and have said that my cats will always be inside, besides I work for them ! I have mostly lived in Urban  or sub-urban settings and hearing all of my friends tell me of their cats that were run over or lost and I feel if you domesticate a cat and turn it out into an urban setting were you have predatory instinct, curiosity of a cat, and fear all working together it is not necessarily good for the cat or other Critters. That being said when I get a piece of property, I will have outside dogs and I am not a dog person but I love all animals. This time he's going to work for me! I remember my mother saying that this was cruel and of course mother's always being right, I had to go away and consider this many times and for a long time. My purpose for getting a dog would be 100% selfish, for protection and I would imagine that I will come to love that dog like I have loved all of my animals. In the sense of permaculture a barn cat might a bit more functional at the same time if I can walk my property and be safe and to be notified when things aren't right then I suppose this could fall into the same category. If I live in the type of place where I want to live I am certain that I will consider an outdoor cat probably for no other reason then it would allow me to be around even more cats! Great question!
 
Terry Waller
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Damn cats ! I know they're predators and they are fed well so why aren't they more selective in what and why they kill? Wait a minute, I think I answered my own question, they're predators. Thanks!
 
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Interesting thread. I have had 7 generations of mousing cats on my little farm. They have done a fantastic job in the barn. We've had zero mouse issues. But this year we are strongly considering phasing cats out. #1 issue is population control. We have to have future generations of them due to the coyote and birds of prey population that is fond of cats. But even 2 litters a year is too much! When we do spay or neuter, those are the ones that reliably get eaten or roadkilled. That's $200/cat when we can scrape together enough cash to get it done that is lost almost immediently and forever.

And then there is the issue of them pooping everywhere in the goat barn and the gardens. I detest it and they refuse to go elsewhere to do their business.

Last year we brought home a ratting puppy and she has killed more rodents around our house and in the hay field than the cats ever have. We are strongly considering another 1 or 2 of similar breed and being done with cats. This dog also loves to chase the deer away from the gardens and she keeps a very watchful eye over our livestock. Alerting us to any issues that may be going on. Loyal and a great alarm system. So at this time I give a thumbs down to the iconic barn cat.
 
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Great first post Clara!  Welcome to Permies.  Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.
 
Chris Kott
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Good to hear a fresh opinion, Clara. Can you identify the breeds contributing to your ratter? Is it a recognized breed or breed mix? How big, and what body and head type?

Sorry for the flood of questions. I just love dogs and while I don't mind cats (I am allergic to most), I hate their recreation where it doesn't intersect with my pest control needs, and their poo, and their habit of liking to shit right in my roots and greens beds.

I think that having enthusiastic and trustworthy ratting dogs is a very permaculturally aligned solution; dogs are the country belt knives of domesticated animals, where the cats are stilettos. Both are useful, but the stiletto is made for a very specific purpose, and is really not suitable for any other use. The country belt knife might be of various sizes and shapes, and some can be quite specialised, but they are generally more flexible of use than the stiletto.

Except with the stiletto, it doesn't go around killing and maiming the small working parts of a healthy permacultural system.

-CK
 
Clara Teixeira
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Chris our ratter dog is a mix from another farm. I believe some kind of terrier and mini australian shepherd.
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Got to love cats around the yard, also think can help keep pests away, must confess our stable cats are useless at pest control as to busy rolling on tummy for a rub lol
 
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Barn cats are like playing the lottery. Sometimes you win, most of the time you’re just throwing your money away. I have had 2 good barn cats in 30+ years. My most recent/current is Steve Buscemi (his eyes are messed up) he came neutered, tame and is an absolutely amazing mouser. If you’re a mouse or rat you probably refer to my property as the killing fields, just because of him.

The key is, once you get a good one, you need to get one little one every few years  and have them protege, that way you always have a solid mouser on duty.

My two cents.

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Devin Lavign
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Owen Washburn wrote:The key is, once you get a good one, you need to get one little one every few years  and have them protege, that way you always have a solid mouser on duty.

My two cents.



Awesome 1st post Owen. Glad to have you here.

I like it, once you find a good mouser introduce younger cats to learn from the elder experienced mouser. This is likely how it used to be done when barn cats were function rather than ornament.

BTW, since you are new you might want to know about this section https://permies.com/wiki/34193/permies-works-links-threads it can help you figure out how different things work on the forum so you can post like a pro.
 
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homestead cats a big plus to keep the mice out
itchynscratchy.jpg
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itchey and scratchy
 
That's my roommate. He's kinda weird, but he always pays his half of the rent. And he gave me this tiny ad:
Dave Burton's Boot Adventures at Wheaton Labs and Basecamp
https://permies.com/t/119676/permaculture-projects/Dave-Burton-Boot-Adventures-Wheaton
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