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Introducing Cats to Your Farm

Two cat experts share their tips to help your new cat adjust to farm living.

Krissa Smith, Assistant Editor, Hobby Farms

Follow these cat expert tips to ensure an easy transition for your cat
To make your new cat's transition to the farm less stressful, provide it with a litter box, water and twice-daily meals.
Introducing a new cat to your farm can be tricky, especially if the cat has been previously housed in an animal shelter, apartment or a fenced yard in the suburbs.

Deb Eldredge, a small-animal veterinarian who lives on a small farm in upstate New York with several cats of her own, and Frances Hammond, director and treasurer of Caring Hearts Feline Rescue in Kentucky and life-long barn cat owner, offer tips from choosing the right cat for your farm to caring for your new pet.

Choosing Your Cat’s New Home
“First, you need to decide if this cat will be a house cat who goes outside or a barn cat,” Eldredge advises. She says barn cats are more at risk for rabies, feline leukemia, parasites, predators and getting hit by cars. However, they can be a big help in keeping rodent population low and thus help protect tack and farm equipment from damage.

Frances says she does not recommend placing cats that are used to being indoors all the time or kittens in a barn.

“They [small kittens] don't have the survival skills to stay away from horse hooves, et cetera,” she says. “However, if the kittens were born outside and are somewhat feral, they may do fine.”

If you cannot keep kittens in your home, Frances advises placing small kittens in a safe and enclosed area until they are several months old.

Cat Types and Gender
Eldredge says the ideal cat “comes with the farm”—a stray that has been surviving on its own and is happy to adapt to your family.

While just about any breed of cat can learn to live on a farm, certain breeds may work better on a farm than others.

“A short-haired cat has advantages over a long-haired cat—no worries about matted hair, burdocks caught in the coat, less problem with hairballs, et cetera,” Eldredge says. “Female cats (even spayed) tend to be better hunters than males. Anecdotally, tortoiseshells and calicos are reputed to be the best hunters, while orange males have the reputation of being the sweetest. Often an adult cat from a shelter with a history of being an outdoor cat is a good choice.”

Introducing Your Cat to the Farm
Adult cats may run away from a barn if they are not confined at first.

“It is imperative when introducing a cat to a barn that it be confined in a cage or tack room for two to four weeks,” Frances says. “I usually confine a new cat for a month. The owner will be able to determine when the cat is comfortable. A socialized cat will adapt more quickly. A fearful cat will have to be confined for a longer time.”

Frances says the new cat should be in a place where cats already living in the barn can smell and see the newcomer. 

“Cats are very territorial, even when altered, so the new cat will be the subject of great interest until the cat hierarchy is established,” she explains.

To make the adjustment less stressful on a cat, Eldredge recommends providing a litter box during confinement and feeding the cat there so it thinks of the room or cage as a safe place.

Caring for Your Farm Cat
“There is a myth that barn cats won't catch mice and rats if they are fed,” Frances says. “This is absolutely not true! Barn cats should be fed twice daily and have fresh water at all times. A heated water bowl must be provided in the winter. The cats should also have access to shelter, such as a tack room or hay loft or stall.”

Eldredge adds that feeding your cat nightly with canned food will draw the cat into the barn at night and help protect it from night predators such as coyotes, raccoons and owls.

In addition to predators, barn cats are more susceptible to parasites and diseases. “It is a good idea to deworm twice yearly—both for roundworms and also tapeworms,” Eldredge says. “Make sure vaccines like rabies, feline leukemia and distemper are up to date. A topical flea and tick medication may be needed.”

Eldredge also recommends spaying or neutering your cat to deter wandering from your farm.

Looking for a cat to adopt? Email the Caring Hearts Feline Rescue.

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Introducing Cats to Your Farm

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Reader Comments
I totally agree on the feeding of barn cats twice per day. My barn cat is a great hunter taking care of the millions of goffers we have along with an occasional mouse. When evening dinner rolls around my girl is there waiting and I am able to shut her in the barn every night, I never have to worry about anything coming in or her getting eaten!
glee, palmyra, WI
Posted: 7/2/2014 9:31:05 AM
barn cats are a great idea!
Brandy, Hillsborough, NC
Posted: 6/6/2014 8:27:47 PM
If you are looking to add barn cats to your farm, some rescue groups actually offer barn cat placement. They take in feral or street cats, neuter them and get them UTD on shots, and hold them until they can be placed at a farm looking for outdoor only cats. This is an excellent way to meet the need for barn cats and save feral cats from being euthanized.
Christa, Byron, IL
Posted: 2/16/2013 2:58:40 PM
Most of this is very accurate, we've had cats come and go (mostly come) on our farm for 12 yrs now. I usually tell people that the best thing for a first barn cat is to keep it confined in a small room with food, water and some type of potty litter until it gets used to you. Whether its a kitten that you're worried about getting under hooves or a stray that you're afraid is gonna take off, it's always a good starter to getting them used to where the food and attention is. Also, unfixed males do tend to run off whether they are new or not, we've always had issues with unneutered male cats getting hit by cars because they're off looking for a mate and dont have road sense enough to stay out from the wheels. What's odd is that fixed males are often exactly the opposite, our boys are all fixed and every one of them would prefer spending 24 hrs in someone's lap rather than going out on the town, males are also much quicker to warm up to you and easier by far to tame than females.
The thing about the orange tigers and torts is very true, our best mouser was a fixed black tortie with hip problems, she often left peace offerings on our front porch. Watch out for mouse guts.
Jess, Scottsville, NY
Posted: 6/27/2012 10:33:59 AM
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