If you have chickens, you should become familiar with three types of cats. Knowing about types of parasites and kinds of coop bedding is indeed important for a flock owner. Awareness of potential predators—especially ones that might be pets or farmyard helpers—might steer you and your chickens clear of unnecessary heartache. Here’s what you need to know about the three types of cats that your chickens might encounter.
The domestic cat or house cat (Felis domesticus or Felis catus) has been partnered with humanity for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians kept kitties to de-mouse grain stores. They also deified and mummified cats. Cats’ hunting instinct remains a part of them today. Unlike dogs and other domesticated animals, cats are still part wild. Just because they spend hours lounging beside a sunny window does not override the fact that cats are predators to certain species and prey to others. “Don’t let your cat near chicks or anything young,” states Zac Williams, a specialist with the poultry extension at Michigan State University. If you keep your newly hatched peeps inside your house, ensure they are in a room your cat cannot access. Baby chicks bear a remarkable resemblance—in size and appearance—to the moveable feathered toys designed for feline play. Your cat does not understand that the warm tub filled with moving fluffballs is not his newest enrichment activity. Rather than tempt nature, keep your house cat and your hatchlings securely separate.
If you live in the country, barn cats might already be a part of your everyday existence. Barn cats are simply domestic cats who live in a barn, garage or other outbuilding. They might roam their owners’ gardens, yards and fields, providing rodent control for the property. Or, they might find enough field mice, chipmunks and squirrels inside their barn to keep them occupied indoors. Because hunting is their primary purpose, barn cats may well be attracted to the lively antics that a flock of hens provides. Our new neighbors, the Joneses, tackled this concern the first week of their residence. When we introduced ourselves, they eagerly pointed out all the colorful placemarker flags outlining their yard. They’d gone to the expense of installing an electric fence to ensure their barn cats didn’t bother our birds.
Not all owners collar their cats, however (or install electric fences). Your chickens should be secure within their runs, especially if your fencing is sturdy and your runs are covered. If you free-range your flock, however, you might need to consider some adjustments. Bantams, such as Silkies and Old English Game, are at risk of predation because of their size. If you or your neighbors own barn cats, you might want to confine these smaller birds to a run or tractor. Motion-sensor lights, which can startle away cats, might be a good investment toward the protection of your flock. Your chickens, however, might be just fine without any additional precautions, especially if you own larger standards, such as Australorps, Brahmas and Jersey Giants. “I can’t imagine a cat attacking a full-grown chicken,” notes Williams.
Feral and Stray Cats
Feral and stray cats (sometimes collectively called “community cats”) make their home outdoors, and although they mix with one another, they’re somewhat different. Feral cats have never known human contact, and as a result it is difficult if not impossible for human strangers to get near them, much less pick them up. Stray cats were once pets but have been abandoned or are homeless for other reasons. Feral cats live in colonies that are usually outdoors. Some feral cats are fed by rescue groups but many get all their food on their own, whether it’s wild birds, mice, rats or food sources in and around trash areas of restaurants or fishing piers. A feral or stray cat would attack a chicken if given the chance. I learned this the hard way a couple of years ago, when feral cats living in the woods at the front of our property attacked our Black Orpington hen, Mariel, when she foraged in our thicket. Her side was savaged all the way down to the bone, and it took months to nurse her back to health.
Attempting to catch by hand a feral cat harassing or hunting your flock is potentially dangerous. Even veterinarians will tell you that a cat who wants to avoid capture is too much for any human to contain, and any human who tries to do so risks serious injury. Plus, cat scratch fever is not common but is indeed a real thing. That said, numerous rescue groups across the U.S. control feral cat populations through a method called trap-neuter-return. (It’s common for these groups to clip one ear of a cat who’s been spayed or neutered, as in the photo above.) National organizations that oversee or advise on such programs include the Humane Society of the United States and Alley Cat Allies. A call to a rescue organization or shelter in your area will probably get at least a referral to a group that does this type of work and can help you.