There are many different ways to manage a farm, and experience has taught us that many of the old ways are still the best. Yes, there are modern inventions that have supposedly improved life; but honestly, I still prefer a herding dog over the noise of a 4-wheeler for getting the flock from place to place, and I much prefer managing barn mice with a few cats rather than using poison that other animals could get into.
Here at Peeper Hollow Farm, we’ve found that if you can find an animal willing to do the work you need done, things generally go pretty well. We have llamas to guard the sheep, and dogs to move them. We store hay in our old barn, and our sheep lamb in the newer barn, so when it comes to keeping those barns free of mice, we immediately thought of barn cats. Several years ago, we brought home a group of feral cats from the local humane society for just this purpose, and it worked very well. The cats ended up well-fed, and the barns were soon free of the mice that had overrun them just weeks earlier.
The problem is that feral cats don’t have long life spans. (Although they certainly live much longer on our farm than they would have at the humane society, where they would have been euthanized as unadoptable). Sometimes they eat a wandering mouse who ate poison on another farm. One of our cats was injured in a leg trap somewhere off of our property, and he ran away rather than letting me take him to the vet. (By now I assume he has either died or joined the cats in a neighbor’s barn.) Others wander away during the summer, when most feral cats stay outside and hunt for their food, and don’t always return to the farm they left. Our cat Edward is just such a cat. He showed up a few years ago in the fall and decided he liked our food and accommodations better than wherever he came from — and he has returned every fall since!
Due to one cause or another, our five cats from several years ago have dwindled to only two: Edward and Socks (from our last run to the humane society), who both share the Sheep Barn. Unfortunately that leaves the Storage Barn to the mice. We had hoped that as the weather became colder, some other cats would wander in and decide to stay — but unfortunately this has happened only with the mice. We’ve seen lots of them holing up in the barn, but not a single cat.
About a week before Thanksgiving, I called the humane society and let them know that I would love to adopt another two or three feral cats this year. I emphasized that they must be feral because I don’t want them to come near the house where our three border collies run, especially since one of them is a cat killer. I explained that they could coexist very well if the cats stayed up around the barns and in the fields and the dogs stayed on the lawn around our house. I knew that the humane society doesn’t get a lot of feral cats, and when they do, they are almost always immediately put down. Since there were none on hand in mid-November, I’d have to wait until the next feral cats came in.
So, I waited — and waited. I had pretty much decided that they had forgotten about me, and I planned to call again early in the new year. The holidays are a busy time of year, so we could certainly wait until things slowed down. And then last Thursday I got a call. The humane society had just received three cats that were bonded to each other and they preferred to place them together. However, they were “very feral.” If I didn’t want them, they would put them down that afternoon — did I want them?
What a question! Sure, I wanted them! Not only would they help control our mouse population — beginning to look like some wild experiment on exponential population growth — but I would also be saving three lives in the process! It was a perfect fit. I agreed to pay for the spay/neuter and rabies shots, and arranged to pick them up today.
I arrived at the humane society at about four this afternoon, and the three cats had already been boxed for transport — one in each small box. After filling out the paperwork and paying for the medical expenses, the cats were mine; I loaded them into the back of Rick’s car and headed for home.
The three cats are all very different, and we have no idea which are male or female — only that we don’t have to worry about kittens! The humane society made the assumption that all three are male, so I guess I will too. There is Allegro, the smallest cat who is the least fearful of people; he is solid black with longer fur on the sides of his chin that gives him a bearded look. He was the last to leave the safety of his box, preferring instead to watch the others explore until he was more comfortable. Ivery is orange and is fairly large as cats go. He was very vocal all the way home, but once he arrived, he was happy to silently scoot out of his box as soon as I opened the door. Finally, Denali is a brown tabby who follows Ivery; he happily slunk out of his box as soon as he saw Ivery leaving for the bales in the loft.
I released all three cats into the loft of our Storage Barn this afternoon with familiar food, water, and a heated pad available to encourage them to stay. I locked up all the doors and windows to keep them in and will continue to put out a bit of fresh canned food each day until they are settled. If they are like our previous feral newcomers, we may not see them for a while. In the meantime, if the food continues to disappear, I will assume they have found a satisfactory new home — just in time for Christmas!