People like to drop cats off in rural areas to live out their lives as a barn cat. At first glance it makes sense, there are wide open spaces, a presumably plentiful diet of wild prey, and FARMS! Cats and farms, after all, go together like peas and carrots. But the reality isn’t quite the picture we paint in our minds.
During the arctic freeze someone dropped the cat picture here off at one of our daughters’ friend’s and after two days of pestering us about it, we finally agreed to take it in. Since feline drop offs are a reality of rural life, but one we’ve never really addressed here before, we wanted you to know a few things about farms, cats, and what you should consider before taking a kitty for a one-way drive down a backroad. Here we go…
Prey Isn’t That Plentiful, And Domestic Cats Aren’t Built for Predator Life
One of the things about rural life that seems to surprise our city friends the most is how few small prey animals they see around. It’s not like a city park where you may see several squirrels and chipmunks in the course of a short afternoon walk. While we have more variety of wildlife in the country, we also have more land area. Which means the density of the prey population is much lower. Especially with small prey. We go weeks here without seeing a single small prey animal of any kind and a cat may have to travel quite a way before encountering a squirrel, chipmunk, rabbit or mouse. Which means he will probably expend more calories searching for prey than he will be able to get out of eating whatever he catches. Especially if he’s not accustomed to hunting.
On farms rodents such as mice and rats can be more plentiful, but modern farms of all sizes and types have more rodent control options at their disposal. Which means even on a farm, there are usually not enough rodents to sustain even one cat, let alone many. What’s more, even if prey were abundant enough to support many roaming cats, domestic cats are not physically equipped for the life of a predator. They don’t have the stomach capacity to safely store large meals and then survive on them until their next kill. They’ve evolved differently since becoming domesticated, and therefore require different care.
Not All Farms Are Cat Friendly
Some farms choose to use rodent control options that are toxic or dangerous to cats. And even on farms that don’t use poisons and large traps, not all farmers want cats in their barns, shops and houses. Cats, like any animal, can be destructive and even the best behaved felines require some amount of care. You can’t assume a farm is safe for a cat just because it’s a farm. Nor can you assume another person — in this case the farmer and her family — want or are even able to care for the cat.
Even the most laissez faire approach to barn cat care requires resources — food, water, warm shelter in the winter and cool shade in the summer; an occasional deworming and round of vaccines increase costs even further, and spay and neuter clinics can be even pricier for farms who choose to fix their barn cats and get many drop offs throughout the year.
Transition Can Be Difficult & Dangerous
Many times, drop offs were previously indoor cats. They haven’t experienced all the sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors, let alone had to contend with them while also adjusting to a completely different life than the one they’ve known. Even if a cat has spent weeks lazing about in your windowsill in the city, the reality of being outdoors can be overwhelming. Throw in a stressful car ride to get from your home to the country, the completely different surroundings of the country itself, and the sudden loss of companionship from people your cat knows and trusts and adjusting can be scary and difficult. It’s not uncommon for cats to never be seen again.
Barn Cats Are Partners or Employees, Not Pets
A farm isn’t a rescue and that’s an important distinction to make. Even with top-of-the-line barn cat care, farm cat life is often a shorter life than house cat life. This isn’t innately wrong or bad, it just is. Barn cats have more freedom than house cats and with freedom comes danger. All kinds of things can befall a barn cat: they can be hit by a passing vehicle; they can become prey for a larger predator like a coyote, wolf, bear, or eagle; they can venture to neighboring farms and get into things that make them ill; they can over-estimate their abilities, venture too far and become dehydrated; they can get stuck up trees where no one can get to them to get them down.
There are nearly as many ways for a barn cat to die as their are barn cats. Nature can be cruel and since farm cats are workers, not pets, we can’t spend all day coddling them in order to remove all these dangers. Remember: when farms keep cats around outside, it’s usually for a reason: pest control. They’re paid in a reasonable amount of kibble, basic health care, and the occasional scratch behind the ears, but they also have a job to do and the reality of that job can sometimes be dangerous. Just like the jobs we do on the farm.
Many No-Kill Shelters Have Barn Cat Programs
In the end, if you think a barn cat is best for your cat for one reason or another, the best way to transition your cat to a farm is by contacting a shelter or rescue that has a barn cat program. Many help farmers subsidize the cost of spay and neuter and then place the cats in barn homes for no or very little cost. This helps minimize the problems that can go wrong during transition while still getting your cat to a farm home. It also ensures your cat ends up at a farm that actually wants her.