Frank Moore, a farmer north of Belmont who my parents knew, always had lots of barn cats. He said one year, years before, there had been an explosion of cats – so many that all the farms were overrun. That year he, like the other farmers, got rid of many of them. “The next couple years, it just seemed like there weren’t any cats. Some died, some just disappeared, kittens didn’t live. The mice and rats were everywhere, and you couldn’t find a good mouser in the whole county. I never got rid of another cat after that. They come here, they’re all welcome.”
His barn and house cats were well-treated. They drank milk straight from the cow, all lined up in a semi-circle, waiting, at milking time. He’d shoot milk out toward them, and they’d lap it up then lick off their faces.
Being a barn cat, in a good barn, is a pretty good life. You can chase all the mice you want. You’ve got cozy places to sleep. There’s always something to do. Barn cats have to learn to navigate around animals much larger than themselves. Some don’t, so there are always some losses. Most horses like cats and take care stepping around them. Cats sometimes will sleep right in a stall beside a horse or cow.
It used to be that few barn cats were neutered. With a high attrition rate, due to large hooves and farm machinery, the farmer wanted to be sure he always had enough mousers. But many farmers now get their barn cats fixed. Each farm does not have to be a “cat factory,” producing its own supply of cats. There are generally cats available if you need more. Usually more than enough.
The bane of most farmers are people who dump off their unwanted pets at their gates, assuming they’ll be taken in by the nice farmer. Then the “nice farmer” has to pay for the spaying and neutering of these additions or look for other homes for them.
The City of St. Thomas has started seeking farm homes for some cats at the Animal Control Centre. The idea is to neuter suitable cats and adopt them out as barn cats. It’s an innovative way to decrease the number in the pound without euthanasia and, especially for semi-feral cats, provide a well-matched home.
Some cats prefer a life more or less on their own; they don’t want to be housecats kept indoors. They want to mouse and explore. It’s always saddened me, seeing those ones in shelters. Looking out a window if they can get to one, or sitting sullen in the back of a cage – you know they’re ones who would be happier outside living life according to their own rules. And that’s what barn cats do.
From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Jan. 27/11