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

 
pollinator
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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.
 
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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!
 
pollinator
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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).

 
pollinator
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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.
 
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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. 
 
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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.
 
pollinator
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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.
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
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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)
 
pollinator
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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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Devin, what a great question!

We've been at wheaton labs 4 years now, and I've talked about the succession in flora and fauna here at base camp - including some feral cats.

The first year here at base camp, which has rocky, poor soil, seemed rather barren and the potted herbs and flowers I put around the house attracted mostly yellow jackets who went after the water that accumulated in the saucers underneath.

Soon, with more flowers and herbs in pots, and where I could nurture them a tiny bit amidst the dust, (we were under earthworks/construction a LOT the first couple years, so I didn't try to start more in-ground gardens), we noticed hover flies (great pollinators), butterflies, bumble bees, more insect diversity in general. It was a lovely noticeable shift in the succession.

Then, after the 10-12-foot tall hugelkultur berms were in place around the "Fisher Price House,"  and over several attempts in late 2014 and 2015, we would plant out soil building pea, clover, and other early succession seeds, plus vegetable seeds and some perennial plants as well. And the deer, turkeys, the chipmunks, the mice and wood rats, and the rabbits, and/or slugs and other insects and critters in the soil, gathered up the bountiful seed and gobbled up most of the shoots. Sigh.

Then, when we were finally able to fence out the deer and turkeys (mostly - some times the turkeys still get in, and only part of the hugel berms are within our first deer-fenced paddock), it seemed more was growing, though at that time the chipmunk and rabbit populations seemed to EXPLODE (probably thanks to the new bounty of food). Sigh (again).

About this time of exploding rodent populations, some catnip was growing quite tall out from under our deck, and some feral cats moved in under the house near the catnip. Wow, did the chipmunks and rabbits become noticeably less! There was far less rodent damage! So, I joke a lot about how catnip is needed to encourage feral cats to take care of excess rodents and help balance the ecosystem or succession.

The feral cats took to mating under the house (it was nigh impossible to sleep in that end of the house above that racket!) which was really the only down side to having them around.

Then, the mama cat had kittens (see my fuzzy photo below - I couldn't get very close) and we tried desperately to make friends (via salmon & other bribes) with the little ones and supplement the skinny critters' diet. They were far too skittish and I think they didn't recognize anything on a plate as food.

Unfortunately, both kittens were found dead around the property at the end of last summer, we're not sure why; and the parents disappeared. We assume they didn't survive the winter.

So this year, the chipmunks and squirrels are back at it again, eating and digging in my pots and the gardens / hugel berms. For some reason, they have decided succulents are the most tasty and keep stripping the leaves off any hens-and-chicks. Sigh.

The catnip grew the tallest it has ever been this summer, not being chewed on by any cats, and we've let it go to seed. Maybe, just maybe, it will be bountiful enough to attract a new cat next spring. If not, I might be out looking for one to bring home.

I imagine if we wait long enough, more hawks, owls, coyotes, snakes or other predators could move in to gobble up the plethora of little fuzzy garden pests, though it sure seemed the cats were quite well suited to it. I'm really in favor of accelerating the succession of our little ecosystem a bit faster than waiting on nature to catch up, and I think cats are one way to do that.


kittens-20160806.jpg
[Thumbnail for kittens-20160806.jpg]
adorable feral kittens at base camp
 
pollinator
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I like feral cats, and am looking forward to having them.

In my experience, not all domesticated animals are good hunters. I've had some cats and dogs that hunt/kill, and many others that didn't. Currently, I have one cat that likes to hunt birds, and one dog that likes to kill opossum.

My son has toxoplasmosis, and in all my years of dealing with infectious disease doctors, I have learned that there are many ways to get it, the most common way children get it is from handling young kittens. Baby animals tend to be dirty. And children don't wash their hands enough, and they touch their mouths too often.
That being said, a feral kitten is a difficult thing to catch, as Jocelyn pointed out.
 
pollinator
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I would expect that with so many cats that get euthanized in the US, it could be a win-win to adopt a couple that have been fixed, fix up a warm space for them away from the house (and use some lattice around the porch to block them from camping there) and in colder climates supplement some food in the winter. Anyone near southern Utah should check out Best Friends animal sanctuary near Kanab, free tours of their canyon with over 1000 animals- cats, dogs, horses, pigs, birds etc. Awesome lunch buffet too looking out on the Grand Staircase.

My first house was in the city but the neighborhood was wooded and had plenty of unused space, so feral cats were the norm. I took some old blankets and wrapped them around a folding chair to make a sleeping space in a sheltered corner, and kept some food out. Ended up with 4-5 regulars, and caught them all for the Cat Snip program, where they pay the fee to spay/neuter ferals and then you return them to their neighborhood (otherwise other ferals will move in). It was fun seeing them all piled into the space at winter, keeping each other warm. I never noticed any pests eating my plants but they were mostly ornamentals so probably wasn't tasty rodent food.
 
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Living in a country where almost everything is poisonous, and having lost three dogs to snakebite over the decades, I think that cats play a very important safety/security role.

All local snakes are venomous.  The preferred food of the local snakes are rats/voles/mice.  Mice abound in areas where grain is grown and/or used.  Chickens eat grain.  Mice multiply near chicken coops.  Snakes get attracted to the mice.  Dogs detect the snakes.  Dogs attack the snakes.  Snakes kill the dogs.

If you rely on your dogs for property/personal/livestock security then that's a real problem.  Especially if you only have one dog.  Lose that dog and your entire security system is compromised for months — if not years — as you locate and train a replacement.  What else could you lose during the period that your K9 protector is out of action?

With cats in the picture, the mice are controlled and the snakes' food supply dries up.  This means fewer snakes, fewer dead dogs and security is maintained.

Then there's the issue of small children and highly venomous snakes...  enough said.

If I lived in a colder climate where snakes weren't venomous I would almost certainly have a different opinion.  But I don't.  I live in an area with four of world's Top 10 most dangerous snakes.  The only effective way to control them is to control their food supply.  Cats do that, and they do it well — really, really well.

Our cats keep our dog alive and in-so-doing keep our chickens and other livestock safe, us safe, and the tools in the shed from being stolen.  They also keep make the neighbourhood safer for all of the kids — even those belonging to adults that hate cats.  I love the cuddly little killers.
 
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I think the question of whether or not to include cats as part of your permaculture design, is to first ask, 'are or were small cats apart of the natural environment where I am?' In North America there are bobcats and lynx. Due to hunting and trapping many of theses small predators have been wiped out locally. A barn can can be a substitute. BUT wild cats are highly territorial solitary hunters. If you are hoping to mimic this, you want to ensure that your tiny predator is spayed or neutered to ensure population control. Because unlike their wild counterparts domestic cats will live in colonies. This can be devastating on local fauna. As with many things in permaculture there's a sweat spot that we aim for, without careful design and  implementation the balance is upset and damage results.
 
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I think they're great! While I don't have a barn yet, my three outdoor cats do a great job in the rodent control department. While I've never seen a rat out here (I live 30 minutes outside of Nashville) I do have one neighbor next door who doesn't mow his approximately 1.5 acre lawn, which little field mice love that sort of habitat. When we first moved in we didn't have our outdoor cats, and I was in the garage (attached to house) on a brisk fall day cleaning up and sweeping with both garage doors open and I watched a tiny mouse run across my driveway, into the garage, and under my workbench and behind a bunch of crap. He was in and out of sight before I knew what was happening. That night laying in bed I hear him scurrying inside the walls. He lived with us for a couple months while I deployed conventional mouse trapping methods before finally getting him. I also have my other next door neighbor who tosses his household garbage out on his deck and the bags accumulate for about 3 months before he finally loads up his truck and hauls them to the dump (I live in redneckville). It's a good food source for local small wildlife and, you guessed it, little field mice.

Since adopting three cats from one of my aforementioned neighbors who rescued them from the side of the road (he has a good heart) but was unable to feed and care for them like a responsible adult (uuggghh) my wife and I started feeding the poor little sacks of bones and they blossomed into healthy yard kitties who do a wonderful job patrolling my place and the neighbors "lawn". (we asked said neighbor if we could have his cats and he happily said "sure!") They really keep those mice populations in check and they provide quality entertainment when I'm working outside :) It's been a little over a year now since we adopted those cats and I can't imagine not having them. They're great.
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Thelma & Louise
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Niblet
 
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We have two cats, we had three but one vanished, all were found as abandoned kittens in our attic, we must have a really bad mother cat living round here somewhere! Both cats are most definatly house cats, but they only get cheapo dried food, so most of their actuall food comes in the form of mice and voles. Neither really take rats, of course the one that vanished did. I think the alternative to cats is poison which really isn't nice. We do use it, it took two calls to pest controll to get the last infestation under controll (rat) And I noticed just today that my dogs were sniffing some suspicious holes in the barn so I have put some new poison out.
Only one of the cats is a good hunter, the girl she kills 3-4 small furries a day and cannot eat them all so he tends to just eat hers when she's done playing. in two years I have found 3 dead birds so I don't think either cat is much of a birder. We live surrounded by scrub and wet unused grassland on three sides and a maize field on the other so rodent pressure is pretty high. I have watched my chickens looking at a mouse eating out of their feed bowl, so they are no use at all as vermin controll! Both cats are tattooed and spayed/nutered as two is enough thanks. They do do official culls on the feral cats round here every 10 or so years as they can get out of hand.
 
pollinator
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Let me start with this admission:  I hate cats.  Always have.

But I have adopted a feral cat that comes around.  I'll leave chicken bones and food scraps out for it.  I call him Domino -- he's black with white spots.  He does a fantastic job keeping the rat population in check,   He hangs out by the woodpile where, I assume, the rats like to live.  Like others have said above, I'm not crazy about putting poison around.  Domino doesn't bother the chickens and doesn't seem to bother anything else.

I grew up going to my Aunt and Uncle's farm in South Dakota in the summers.  They milked 40-50 head of cattle for years and years.  They always had barn cats.  After milking, my aunt would dip two big pitchers into the milk tank and take it outside to pour into a couple of big trays.  She'd yell "Kitty, kitty, kitty" and they'd come running from all over.  It was amazing to watch.  There had to be 30 or more of them.  They'd come charging for that warm fresh milk.  With all the grain they used for the dairy cows and other feed around the place, it would have been mouse/rat heaven.  But those cats took care of the problem.  They still had plenty of game birds (pheasant and quill) around, so i don't think the cats were hunting them.  Never the less, when we were out walking the fields during hunting season, if we saw a cat out there far away from a far, we'd shoot it.  Barn cats = good.  Field cats = not good. 

I suppose that my feral neighborhood cat (Domino) eats some of my lizards, but I'll trade that for his rat patrol.  The hawks also land on the fence in the morning and pick off the slow moving lizards.  I love the hawks -- beautiful birds.  Its a small price to pay.  I've just built additional lizard habitat.
 
pollinator
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I like cats, but they definitely have pros and cons.  For me, the biggest con is that I hate to go digging around in my garden with bare hands and find a fresh cat poop.  Second is that I have four dogs -- they are fine with cats in the house, but outside, the cats are fair game and get chased.  They have made it difficult to keep cats around here (we have packrats, and they become an issue if something isn't keeping them under control).  We will be moving to Kentucky in a few months, and taking our one indoor-outdoor cat (a neutered male) with us; he isn't much of a hunter, and I think we'll need to add a couple of barn cats and try to make places for them that the dogs can't get into.  The points made above about the cats keeping rodents under control, which then reduces the food supply for poisonous snakes, is probably the biggest factor in that decision -- doing permaculture on a small property (less than three acres) means we won't be able to keep much of the yard mowed, and I really don't want anyone to have any close encounters with a copperhead or a rattlesnake!
 
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so many posts about cats, I won't bore you with opinions, just one study I heard of where the bird populations were studied in two city parks where feral cats ran free. In one park they fed the cats, in the other they did not--the most damage to birds was done in

drum roll please

the park where they fed the cats

sorry, I don't have that article on hand to link to--draw your own conclusions--other than it was a relatively uncontrolled study that would need to be replicated and controlled better
 
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I read a study where placing a bright, thick collar on a cat (like a hair scrunchy) was enough to tip off birds before the cat could get them, but didn't make a difference to the cat's success hunting rodents. If you have an indoor/outdoor pet cat, please give it a bright collar.
 
Stacy Witscher
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Unfortunately, collars can be dangerous to cats, they can hang themselves easily. Because of this, cat collars typically have a break point, but it also means they break collars constantly. I would never be able to keep a collar on my cats unless I put a new one on everyday.
 
Su Ba
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I don't collar my 14 cats ( yup, I'm up 2 more since that last time I posted to this thread). it's too dangerous around here for that....too much dense undergrowth. But to indicate that they are owned so that the neighboring macnut farmer doesn't kill them if they happen to get caught in one of his traps, they are all ear tipped. (Ear tipping indicates that they are neutered, but most folks in my neighborhood assume that they're also owned by one of the neighbors if they are ear tipped.) Happily my cats show very little interest in birds, being well fed and having a constant source of dry food available. But they are fixated on rodents. I encourage this by tossing them every rat I trap myself and letting them play with the carcass.

Permaculture necessitates rodent control. As people have pointed out, agriculture attracts rodents and provides them shelter and food, thus increasing their population. I don't see using poisoned baits as being sustainable permaculture. So I use cats and dogs, plus an assortment of traps. Most of my rats are roof rats, making dogs ineffective. But the cats are experts at patrolling the roof.

By the way, I'm a strong believer in neutering all cats around my place. No need for more kittens. Plus it's the kittens that pose the danger for toxo. Stop the production of kittens and one dramatically lowers the danger from toxo. 
 
pollinator
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When I was a child, I spent my summer holidays at my grandma's village in Turkey doing mostly gardening and tending the animals. The cats were somewhat stray and everywhere. They were free to come in the house and sleep on the doona. There is nothing compared like the happiness to waking up and finding a cat sleeping on you as a child. In return they do what they are good at and we fed them with excess milk from our cow.

 
bob day
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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.
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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James, you have taken far better cat pictures than I have - nicely done!

Su - 14 cats?!! Wow. The ear tipping is news to me. I wonder if that's a thing on the mainland. I'll have to look into it now that a new feral cat, Gert, moved in. (There are two other even more feral, reclusive cats, though they were quite bold during a certain week when Gert was, ahem, more sociable, and now we imagine those other two are male cats.)

Cats can be remarkably social and our friend Jacqueline Freeman (author of The Song of Increase is fond of describing how she praises and rewards her cats for rodent kills, but has discouraged and shown displeasure for any bird kills. She claims it makes a big difference in reducing the unwanted kills.

I think that's possible. I wouldn't want a cat reducing the birds or the non-poisonous snakes in our eco-system either. Here's hoping we can encourage the kills we want and discourage those we don't now that Gert has pretty much moved in. She must have been held as a kitten because it didn't take her long to want to be in my lap. When I was gardening the other day, she kept climbing under my hands where I was working with the plants, wanting me to pet her, and not tend the plants! Ha. I think she's rather amenable to direction and positive attention.

I'm waiting to see if Gert's pregnant and figure out when we can fix her after she has the kittens....

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Gert on my lap in the late winter / early spring sunshine
 
James Freyr
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Thanks Jocelyn!

I must say Gert is a beautiful cat. Sounds like you've found a keeper.
 
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