Herding 'Barn' Cats

July 25, 2017

"Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful." ~ Joshua J. Marine

Early last spring, we went to the Bastrop County Animal Control and Shelter to drop off an injured female opossum, with a pouch full of tiny babies. Evidently, the opossum had ventured onto our porch the prior night to feast on bugs and our hunting dogs penned her down. Allen was hesistant about making the trip to town until I shared that the shelter had personnel experienced in rescuing opossum babies. They were extremely excited when we made the delivery.

 

While we were at the shelter, Allen asked the staff if they had any 'barn' cats ("The farm cat, also known as a barn cat, is a domestic cat, usually of mixed breed, that lives primarily out-of-doors, in a feral or semi-feral condition on agricultural properties, usually sheltering in outbuildings." Farm Cat - Wikipedia). We had recently been away from home for just a few days, and rodents took shelter in Allen's truck and ate through some of the wiring. We wanted to see if we could get a cat to control the situation on our property.

 

The shelter had one feral cat, "Curious George," that was fixed, vaccinated and ready to go to a new environment. After filling out the necessary paperwork, they instructed us to keep him enclosed inside the barn for two weeks, with fresh water, food and a litter box. That would give him the time needed to figure out that this was his new "hunting ground." When we released C.G. from the kennel into the barn, we never saw him again, however, we knew he was around because of the evidence he left behind (empty food bowl and multiple mounds in the litter box). Those signs soon disappeared, along with Curious George, who lived up to his name. Hopefully in this case, curiosity didn't kill the cat, and he is still in the area.

 

Allen recently purchased a new Case IH Farmall 120A tractor through TERP (Texas Emissions Reduction Plan) that is stored in our barn along with other equipment, including a commercial mower. We believe the mower has already fallen victim to resident rodents, which forced us to once again explore all our options thoroughly.

It is not safe to put out various traps and poisons because our hunting dogs roam the property. We finally came to the conclusion that barn cats are the "purr-fect" solution for protecting our feed and equipment from damage, so we felt a second attempt, using different strategies, was in order. 

 

It's been a little over two weeks since we picked up our three feral cats from Bastrop C.A.T.S., a small non-profit, volunteer-run cat rescue organization that works with the local shelters to trap, spay/neuter and return feral cats to the community. The cats are also vaccinated and dewormed, and sometimes even treated for fleas and ticks, before being rehomed. 

 

We researched how to house and acclimate feral cats to our barn online, and utilized what we had on hand to keep the costs for the cat corralling conglomeration down. We started with a 4' x 8' dog kennel with fabric roofing that we placed on cattle panel on the dirt area that's covered behind the barn. We made sure everything was tightly secured, without any gaps. We set two t-posts to attach a tarp to the kennel to provide extra shade throughout the day. We placed a rubber mat inside, so that the cats would have a comfortable spot to lounge in the "cat chateau." Two large rubber feed tubs, that we use during show season for our pigs, were placed on the rubber mat to hold fresh water and tasty vittles in order to entice our "hunters" to stick around.

 

Unfortunately, two of the feral cats escaped the first night by pushing on the fabric roof and creating a hole large enough for them to squeeze out (only a few inches). For some reason, the lone captive, who we now call "Maybe (maybe she will stay, maybe she will be a mouser...)," did not choose to leave the enclosure. We weren't going to give her the opportunity to change her mind, so we bought chicken wire to make a "roof" using a PVC pipe, to line the interior of the fabric roof. 

After a week with the new setup, we gave Bastrop C.A.T.S. another call to see if they would provide us with three more fixed females to make a "herd" totaling four ferals. We arranged to meet them this past Sunday to pick up the newbies who had all grown up together in the same location...two gingers and a gray-striped feline. Allen suggested we name them "Yes, No, Maybe, and So," since we already had "Maybe." I thought that was pretty clever, but decided to go with "Heidi" (ginger #1 - likes to hide), "Hope" (ginger #2 - positive vibes) and "Gypsy" (gray-striped - traveler). 

They settled in nicely and "Maybe" did not act territorial, so we thought we were in the barn cat business. However, that first night, "Hope" and "Gypsy" made their escape by digging a narrow two inch hole in a spot where they were able to maneuver around the cattle paneling. At that point, we were about ready to throw our hands up in the air and accept failure. However, "failure is not an option" in this household, so we pressed on and secured chicken wire to the bottom of the kennel. So far, "Maybe" and "Heidi" have not outsmarted us!

 

Instead of reaching out to local agencies for two more cats, we are going to borrow four live traps from our neighbors to try to catch the "escapees" who are likely still in the area. We will keep you updated on our progress.

 

So many life lessons and analogies can be made using our experience herding cats:

  • Possess a positive attitude - "Negative feelings are like stray cats. The more you feed them, the more they hang around." ~Unknown

  • Work as a team.

  • Think creatively and use ingenuity - "As every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat." ~ Ellen Perry Berkeley

  • Never give up. 

Can you make any connections? Please share your thoughts and comments on the Bovine Bliss Facebook Page (@bovinebliss08). 

 

 

 

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A BLOG BY STEPHANIE MCKEE 

From city life to country wife.