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

 
Devin Lavign
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So I just watched this video on Barn Cats Using Camouflage To Avoid Predators from Marjory Wildcraft.



It got me thinking how you don't hear much about cats in permaculture. Plenty of live stock guarding dogs, pigs, goats, chickens, etc.. But really haven't heard much cat discussions. There was this old one https://permies.com/t/120/12591/critters/Mollison-anti-cat-discussion But I think that was more about invasive cats in Australia. What about for countries where cats are not so invasive. We use plenty of non native plants and animals in permaculture, though there are some who argue native only, so are cats something people think is a useful addition to a permaculture homestead or farm? Should cats be encouraged and used to keep rodent and other small animal populations down on the farm? Or is this contrary to permaculture practices, and other methods preferable? Should we be encouraging native snakes if you have them instead for example?

I know there are likely some serious cat lovers out there. I request you set your emotional connection to the side and try considering just the permiculture aspect. I am not saying one way or the other for cats, I am honestly asking how or if cats fit into permiculture.
 
Kristin Van Gompel
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Hi Devin!

I'm really glad you started this thread. We don't currently have farm cats, but we've definitely considered it. Like you, I'd love to hear what others have to say about this. Anyone have farm/barn cats? Benefits? Negatives?

Thanks!
 
Tyler Ludens
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I adore cats.  We have two indoor cats and one, sometimes two, outdoor cats.  There are plenty of predators here so the cats are not needed for rodent control, though they kill a few rodents.  They also kill birds, baby snakes, lizards and frogs, all of which we are managing for our Wildlife Management property tax status.  So those outdoor cats are actually a liability, aside from their cuteness (not so cute when killing things, though).

 
Todd Parr
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I'm with Tyler.  I love cats.  My property (and house) was pretty much overrun by mice and voles when I moved in.  Two cats later and the house is clear and I rarely see one on the property anymore.  They are very hard on my birds though.  They won't bother adult chickens, but smaller birds are fair game.
 
Caroline Rodgers
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I don't have a farm or homestead YET, but on my grandmother's/great uncle's farm that I spent a ton of time at as a kid: they always had barn cats when the farm was functioning.  They considered them essential for pest control. 
 
Bryan Elliott
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We have some cats around the place.  You can't touch them, they run when you look at them--just the right kind.  We have plenty of birds, we have quail, what we don't have is rats and mice.  I'm sure they get a bird every once in while but they sure haven't hurt the population.
 
Su Ba
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I keep cats on my farm for rodent control. They're just another aspect of my permaculture approach on my homestead farm.
 
Devin Lavign
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Caroline Rodgers wrote:I don't have a farm or homestead YET, but on my grandmother's/great uncle's farm that I spent a ton of time at as a kid: they always had barn cats when the farm was functioning.  They considered them essential for pest control. 


Yes I understand barn/farm cats were standard practice. However the question is more if the cat still has such an important role in permaculture farming. I am not leaning one way or the other, or knocking you bringing up the old standard. Cats on farms seems like such a natural thing and history for the most part (remember places like Australia they are quite invasive) seems to tell us they really help out on the tradition farm. However permaculture is not the typical model of agriculture. Which is what got me wondering if cats fit into permaculture or not.

Bryan Elliott wrote:We have some cats around the place.  You can't touch them, they run when you look at them--just the right kind.  We have plenty of birds, we have quail, what we don't have is rats and mice.  I'm sure they get a bird every once in while but they sure haven't hurt the population.


I sometimes think this semi wild cat partners rather than really domestic cats for farms can be the better kind of farm cat. Others well it is so hard to not want to pet and cuddle with the cuties, cat memes are around for a reason. I actually spent several years in denial of a cat dander allergy because I could not resist giving cats love going to visit friends with cats.

Su Ba wrote:I keep cats on my farm for rodent control. They're just another aspect of my permaculture approach on my homestead farm.


Su, your in a very different location with some very special issues. Hawaii, correct me if I am wrong, has a horrible problem with invasive rodents. So farm cats could really almost be a necessity for your area to combat that. I also don't think cats became the nuance invasive like they did in Australia, is that right?
 
Su Ba
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Devin Lavign wrote:

Su, your in a very different location with some very special issues. Hawaii, correct me if I am wrong, has a horrible problem with invasive rodents. So farm cats could really almost be a necessity for your area to combat that. I also don't think cats became the nuance invasive like they did in Australia, is that right?



Living next to a macadamia nut farm, I have a constant rat problem. Yes, rats are quite common throughout the islands. But so are feral cats. Without the feral cats, rat numbers would be explosive. But feral cats also pose a problem for native birds. So it's a sticky issue.

My own cats are quite effective in killing rats that crossover from the adjacent macnut farms. And they take virtually no interest in birds, killing perhaps one bird a month and to date only targeting introduced species - doves and Japanese white eyes. Not bad considering I have 12 cats here. But hardly a day goes by that I don't find 2 dead rats outside my door.

Hundreds of feral cats are constantly being killed every year by the various government organizations. And the public traps then takes to the humane societies for euthanasia around 5000 to 7000 feral cats annually on my island alone. And various groups neuter and release hundreds of cats annually, helping to keep the population of ferals controlled. So feral cats are indeed a problem that needs constant attention so that they don't over populate. But without feral cats, the rats would be totally out of control and taking over the island.

By the way, we also have a substantial population of mongooses. They are just as bad as feral cats when it comes to our Hawaiian birds. And they too get aggressively trapped & eliminated. The first month I started trapping mongooses on my farm I caught just over 150! I now routinely trap 3-4 a month, mostly young wean offs looking for their own territory. While a good dog can catch and kill a mongoose, they're too much for most cats to handle. My cats wisely won't go near them.
 
Devin Lavign
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So I was looking around seeing if I could find some permaculture view points on cats and found this http://permaculturenews.org/2016/10/27/the-permaculture-cat/

Some I agree with other things not so much and plenty I am just meh about. Honestly a lot sounds more starting with a bias and love for cats and then trying to justify it into permaculture. However one thing did spark something in me. The mention of cats do indeed eat birds if they can. Along with the well known rodent eating.

This got me thinking. The permaculture place of cats, is being a predator. We are looking at nature and mimicking the diversity and function within natural systems but to be most beneficial for our needs. But one of the things we humans tend to do is remove predators. As predators ourselves, we tend to remove any competition. This often includes the surrounding areas of any wild predators.

The linked article had this quote that really brought this idea home to me

There’s no getting away from the fact that cats are obligate carnivores. Their bodies are magnificently designed and their instincts sharply honed to find and hunt prey.


It was upon reading that it dawned on me, let the animal be itself and full fill it's role would likely be the most permaculture way of looking at cats. They fill the nitch that humans tend to carve out of the ecosystem when building a farm. That of predators. As we have heard form some of the reports of people with cats on their little slice of heaven, the cats do keep rodent populations down, they do take some birds, some lizards, some snakes. But over and over I keep remembering how the cats on farms I have known never seem to actually run out of these prey. They don't typically over hunt (unless maybe the cat population is too high) but instead keep these other animals in check. They reduce the populations and serve as an apex predator for many. The populations stay at stable ranges, and the populations learn to be cautious as there is something that might eat them.

As the article mentioned, birds in excess can actually be bad for a farmer. Eating the seed you wanted to grow, eating seed you planned to save, eating berries you wanted to harvest, etc.. Cats on the farm however keep the birds wary and less likely to go all out revenging everything.

Another thing the article mentioned is cats can be acclimated to your livestock. But outside predators not so much. The farm cat will actually protect your chicks or ducklings from outside predators if it can as the cat doesn't like predator intruders in it's territory. So a cat while not a LGD can assist in that role some.

So while I don't fully agree with the article, it has swayed me by crystalising some things and giving me an Epiphany of insight. How permaculture can use a friendly predator like a cat to serve a valued and necessary role in the eco system. Of course cats should be properly managed, like any other part of the permaculture system. Too many cats is a problem, just like too many goats or cows are. Figuring out your property's cat capacity would be important, and then staying within that.

*edit to add, so what do you folks think? Is my thinking sound on this? Would cats in this context fit in with permaculture concepts? Are there additions and things I missed? Any corrections needed?
 
Devin Lavign
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Wow Su, so I was wrong about the cats there not being an invasive problem, though as you said without them the rats would likely completely decimate the island.

It is stories like this that really bring home why it is so important to think before introducing non native species.

I imagine the cats there were purposely introduced like in Australia as a way to try and fix the other invasive problem. Same with the mongoose too.
 
Nicole Alderman
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You might be interested in this thread: https://permies.com/t/12591/critters/Mollison-anti-cat-discussion, as there's a lot reasons for no-cats-ever in a permaculture system. It gives a different view point.

As for myself, I miss my kitty! We had a barn cat who did a marvelous job of keeping down the mice, rat, and bunny populations...until something ate him, that is. We only had one, so i wasn't too worried about him doing too much damage to the bird population on our property. And, cats are natural predators here, so it's not like he was an unnatural addition. In fact, he was probably eaten by a bobcat who ate a lot of our ducks.

Without him, I was barely able to keep a garden because the bunnies were eating everything. And there were mice in our house, and rats scattering around in the daylight. It was horrible, and though we used traps and mint oil, it was the bobcat returning and eating a lot of the little rodents helped reduce their numbers.

The only real downside to having a cat was him pooping and scratching in my garden beds. I really didn't like the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis. Here's a thread on various suggestions on how to keep a cat out of your garden: https://permies.com/t/35612/critters/Cats-Hugel-Litter-Box

 
Devin Lavign
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Nicole, that Mollison anti cat thread was linked in my OP. However the argument is really more to do with Australia, where Mollison is from, where cats are an invasive species wrecking havoc on the ecosystem.

Yes invasive species are always concern. Be it a cat or English ivy.

But non native is different from invasive. Our domestic cats might not be native, but neither is the goats, or pigs, or a lot of the plants we plant. So I am thinking as long as cats aren't invasive, they can be useful in permiculture as filling the role of small predator. In areas where cats are invasive, it might be helpful to consider other small predators that might not be an invasive problem. Small dogs come to mind off the top of my head. Many little dogs are actually originally breeds designed to hunt and kill rodents and burrowing animals. They might fill the small predator nitch well when cats aren't an option, or just for folks who don't like cats.

I think the small predator nitch is a role we in permaculture tend to not think about too much, but is a critical role in natural eco systems. The wolves in Yellowstone example is a classic one. How reintroducing them altered the eco system for the better, and how a lot of different things that were having troubles were effected by their reintroduction for the better.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Devin Lavign wrote:Nicole, that Mollison anti cat thread was linked in my OP. However the argument is really more to do with Australia, where Mollison is from, where cats are an invasive species wrecking havoc on the ecosystem.


Oh, I didn't see that! I'm sorry. I'm usually reading/typing while nursing a--often fussy--baby, so sometimes I skim over things without noticing 
 
Devin Lavign
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No worries Nicole, it is worth mentioning. If I hadn't linked it it would have been important to link. There is still some good info in there.
 
Libbie Hawker
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I love cats, and have two indoor-only kitties (who are pretty old now...I don't think they'd want to go outside at this point.) But I'm not a big fan of outdoor cats. They do a lot of harm to local wildlife populations.

They are excellent at rodent control, though! So what's a person to do? :/ I think I'd rather keep a couple of terriers and put them to work on the rodents, but bring them in at night so they can't go prowling around, murder-fying too much wildlife. That's just me, though. Cats do have important utility on a farm--most of them tend to get over-zealous, though!
 
Devin Lavign
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Libbie Hawker wrote:I love cats, and have two indoor-only kitties (who are pretty old now...I don't think they'd want to go outside at this point.) But I'm not a big fan of outdoor cats. They do a lot of harm to local wildlife populations.

They are excellent at rodent control, though! So what's a person to do? :/ I think I'd rather keep a couple of terriers and put them to work on the rodents, but bring them in at night so they can't go prowling around, murder-fying too much wildlife. That's just me, though. Cats do have important utility on a farm--most of them tend to get over-zealous, though!


Yes, I think terriers or other small dogs that were originally breed for rodent control could fill a lot of the same roles as cats. They might even be more preferable for some since well dogs have more ability to be trained vs cats who really just do what they want for the most part. Though cats do have some benefits over dogs for sure, primarily the stealth and nocturnal hunting abilities. Of course small dogs also make for good alarm systems. While annoying at times, their barking is a great alerting system to know something needs to be looked at. The small dogs might not just be a replacement for cats, but a good dual system with both working the area in their own different ways.

As for cats being over zealous. Something I have observed is that cats who are fed regularly tend to kill more for entertainment and sport and what could very well be called over zealous. While those who have to depend on hunting for food seem to be less over zealous, killing for need and conserving their energy when they don't need to hunt. This would be the difference between a house cat, and a barn cat I think. The ones who have to hunt to survive seem less inclined to just hunt and kill anything and everything they can. While the house cat who knows they have food no matter what, tends to be more likely to chase and kill anything it can find.
 
Lindsey Jane
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We got an amazing barn kitty from, and I'm not shittin' you, Barn Cats R Us - which is a program run through the local humane society. His name was Steve and after we acclimated him to our suburban property he became a staple in our lives.

He came to us fixed, microchipped and all vaccinations in.

Every morning I would run out to feed him and he would stay near the fence and chatter at me. Never came close enough to touch. He was all black and we started calling him The Night Rider. Periodically he would leave me treats in the areas that I walked the most - a dead rat by the chicken coop, a dead mole next to the deck, etc. We LOVED Steve and when we moved to our farm he came with us.

Unfortunately, Steve left us after our move. Either he died or went to live on another piece of property. I miss his chubby face - he was probably the prettiest cat I've had. And build like a little fireplug. Adorable.

I love barn cats as a part of permaculture - We have so many rodents on our farm that poisoning is just too expensive compared to buying kitty food and/or processing chicken offal for the cats to eat. Also, that poison ends up...SOMEwhere. It doesn't just die with the rat. We do a comprehensive rodent control program on our farm, and barn cats are part of the equation. We now have 2 cats that have adopted our land and we see them every now and then patrolling the perimeter. I think barn kitties are one tool in a very big toolbox to control the rats.

There is a whole way to keep barn kitties, so if anyone wants to do it, please get educated about how to feed and handle them.

1) Good rodent control
2) Fun to watch work
3) Free resource in much of the country
4) Non-toxic (unlike poison)
 
Maureen Atsali
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I find that if you keep poultry, then keeping a cat is a must. Chickens just seem to attract rats. People here in Kenya don't generally keep pets, so the cat is a working animal who has to earn her keep.  We raised her as a kitten with the chickens, and she has never tried to eat a chick. (In the past when we did have a cat that ate chicks, we re-homed it asap. Once they start, you'll never break them of that behavior.)  She gets no commercial food (none of our animals do), but occasionally wrangles some kitchen scraps. She is a sleek, happy huntress.  She is slightly tame, likes to sleep on my bed and tolerates a little petting, but not picking up. She comes and goes at will through the roof, and has thus far avoided being eaten by dogs, or eagles.  So many cats ARE eaten by predators that over population is not a problem, even though spaying and neutering is not done (no veterinarians).
My two cents: cats are a useful part of a permiculture farm.
 
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