Barn cats on patrol.
So, you’ve got a nice piece of land and maybe a few horses. You enjoy the rural lifestyle, except for one thing: mice. Laying traps everywhere is a pain and as for poisons, well, they don’t just destroy the rodents, they can harm kids, livestock, and pets as well. What can you do? The answer is simple: cats.
If you’re moving in a new cat, keep in mind that he’ll need to be confined for a period lest he wander away. If you’ve got a barn or a tack room that can be closed, that will do just fine. If not, a large kennel will suffice. Keep the cat contained for a minimum of two weeks, and up to five. This will help him get used to his new surroundings and solidify the idea that this is home. Before he gets the run of the place, make sure to remove all traces of poison. Ingesting a mouse that has eaten poison can be lethal.
Your new pest-control manager will need a safe place to spend his time off. If you’ve got a barn or other structure that’s warm inside, a simple bed or hiding spot in a corner will do just fine. If you don’t have a structure, you’ll need something that’s waterproof and insulated. A little dog house with some bedding (straw has great insulative properties) or something similar would do nicely.
Though you brought your newest employee home because of his place on the food chain, he still needs cat food. A well-fed cat will still hunt (instinct compels them as much as hunger), and he’ll be better at it because he won’t be suffering from any nutritional deficiencies. Even if your cat does consume his prey, there may be times when they aren’t as plentiful or the mice may be malnourished themselves. An established feeding time will usually result in the predictable daily appearance of the cat, allowing you to keep an eye on his health if he doesn’t come to visit you for pets and accolades for a job well done. You can also use dinner time to lure him into the barn if you’d rather he be contained at night. Keep the food bowl out of the reach of wild animals in search of handouts. Fresh water each day is imperative as well.
Just like the rest of your animals, your mouser will need regular veterinary care. If he isn’t already neutered, there are several good reasons to get the procedure. Fixed cats tend to fight less, roam less, and attract fewer passerby cats. This will also prevent reproduction, which can quickly get out of hand. They will need vaccinations to protect them against cat-specific illnesses (some of which wildlife, like raccoons, can carry) and against rabies. Rabies vaccinations are required by law. Regular parasite prevention is a must—those little critters that you want him to dispatch of are loaded with all kinds of icky things that can pass to your cat.
If you don’t have any barn kitties (or need a few more), take a moment to consider the best candidate for the job. Avoid those who are declawed as this is a real hindrance to self-protection, climbing, and though declawed cats can catch prey, it’s much more difficult. Also avoid sick cats. A cat that isn’t physically sound is more likely to be prey than predator. Consider the personality that would be the best fit. Would you like a cat that follows you all day while you work (he’ll still hunt at night, don’t worry) or would you rather have a cat that is independent, even weary of humans? A cat with previous outdoor experience will most likely acclimate better than one who has never been outside. If you’re looking for more than one, consider some that are already bonded with each other.
Amanda Herauf is the outreach coordinator at the Stafford Animal Shelter in Livingston. Stop by for more information.