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Keeping Your Barn Cats Healthy

They’re tough. They’re loners. They rebuff your attempts at affection. It’s easy to leave your barn or feral cats to their own business and let them care for themselves. The truth is, however, those integral residents of your barn do need your care and attention. They are susceptible to disease and illness just as much as your other livestock. If you take the right precautions and care, you can have faithful ratters and mousers for years to come.

Of course, not all of your barn cats are prickly and averse to human attentions. You may have some truly feral cats hanging around who run from you when you try to pet them, but you probably also have some loving and affectionate kitties who shout for attention when you come by to work in the barn. Regardless of their level of affection, to keep your barn cats healthy, you will need to think about vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and even feeding. Killing mice probably does not provide them with all the food they need.

Socialization

Cats are considered to be the only animal that domesticated itself. Humans saw the potential in keeping wolves as companions and domesticated them for safety, hunting, and companionship. Next came livestock, which we domesticated to make getting food easier. Cats, although they also serve a purpose for humans, took the matter into their own hands. Thousands of years ago, these clever creatures realized that if they hung around humans, they could find an easy source of food and shelter.

Now, those of us who homestead or farm continue this tradition by keeping cats on hand to minimize the mice, and sometimes rats, who invade our barns for warmth and shelter and who eat many of the same foods we love and grow. Mice can be very destructive, so having a few cats around is essential on a farm. Traditionally, we think of these cats as being anti-social towards humans. That doesn’t have to be the case, though. In fact, if you have friendly barn cats, taking care of their veterinary needs is much easier. Cats that shy away from you will need to be trapped when it’s time for vaccinations or treatments.

If you are starting with kittens, take time to socialize them with everyone in the family and outsiders as well. Some people may think that friendly barn cats will want to come in the house, but that is not usually the case. Barn-dwellers can be people-friendly and perfectly happy in the barn if all their needs are met. If you end up with a cat that is not friendly, maybe a rescue or a feral cat, you should try to socialize her. She may not come around, but it is worth a try. And don’t give up easily. Some cats take years to warm up to people.

Basic Needs – Food, Water, and Shelter

A common misconception about barn cats is that they don’t need to be fed. True, they will be catching and eating mice, but they need more than that. It is not true that a well-fed cat will no longer hunt. In fact, a healthy, happy, and full cat will be more inclined to hunt, even if it hunts for fun and not to eat the mice. Additionally, feeding your cats regularly guarantees that they are getting all of the nutrients they need to maintain good health.

If you don’t care to purchase and use cat food, another option for feeding your mousers is a natural, raw diet. This type of diet, which has been used successfully for many dogs and cats, approximates what wild cats eat. If you choose to go this route, you can refer to this Off the Grid News article. The principles outlined apply equally to cats as they do to dogs.

If using store-bought cat food, you can keep it in the barn at all times for free feeding. With both cat food and raw food, you can also schedule the cats’ feedings. A great way to get the cats in the barn at night where they are protected from nighttime predators like owls is to feed at night. Eventually the cats will learn to come into the barn at night for their food. You can then shut them in safely for the night. Your barn cats are tough, but they need twenty-four-hour access to shelter. Be sure that they can get in the barn at any time day or night.

Medical Needs

Many feral cats survive in our world with no assistance from humans, but their life spans are woefully short. To keep your barn cats healthy for a long time, you will need to tend to their medical needs. There are all kinds of dangers to cats outside besides predators: disease, illness, parasites, accidents, and poisonous substances are all things from which you can protect your cats.

Leukemia and FIV

There are plenty of illnesses and diseases that all animals are susceptible to, but there are a couple of devastating sicknesses that affect cats only. Feline leukemia is very contagious between cats and is a virus that suppresses the immune system. Some cats that have the virus will survive and be fine, but a significant number will become very ill and die. Another disease that affects the immune system in cats is feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV. FIV is similar to HIV in humans. With good medical care, an FIV cat can live a long time, but it can also spread the disease to other cats. Both of these diseases can be tested for and vaccinated against. Before you bring any new cats into your barn, be sure they are tested for both illnesses. And, of course, be sure to vaccinate your cats against them.

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Vaccinations

Feline leukemia and FIV are specific to cats, but there are plenty of other diseases that cats can contract. Your cats should be vaccinated against rabies, distemper, feline viral rhinotracheitis, calici virus, and palneukopenia. Failing to vaccinate your cats not only harms them, it can also pose a threat to your other animals. It is well worth your time and effort to keep them up-to-date on vaccines. The easiest way to get your cats vaccinated is to find a vet that does house calls. If you are in a rural area, you should be able to find a vet who is familiar with handling barn cats.

Parasites

Besides illnesses, your cats can be plagued by parasites. Your cats should be dewormed by the vet to prevent an infestation of tapeworms. They will also need a heartworm preventative pill and a flea prevention treatment. The parasites can be detrimental to your cats’ health, but they can also infest your barn and affect people and other animals. As with illnesses, prevention is key here.

Poisons

To prevent an accidental poisoning, you should make sure that your barn is clear of toxins that your cats might get into. Keeping your barn clean and well organized is important. Keep possible poisons out of reach of the cats. These include antifreeze, batteries, fertilizer, rat poison, and moldy feed. All of these can be harmful. If you keep farm equipment like tractors, be sure the radiators are not leaking.

Trauma

Accidental traumas are a fact of life for outdoor cats. There is not much you can do to prevent them beyond keeping a clean and organized barn. The best way to deal with trauma is to treat it. Wounds from fights are fairly common and often nothing to be concerned with. If a wound becomes infected, however, your cat will need to see the vet.

Watching for Signs of Illness

Despite your best efforts, your cats may become ill and require vet care. It is important to observe your cats and watch for signs of sickness. The sooner you notice and treat an illness, the better chance you have of recovery. Look for changes in eating habits. This may be tough, but if you notice that the cats’ food is no longer disappearing completely each night, you may have a sick kitty. Weight loss is another sign of illness. Watch your cats to see if any are getting too skinny. Look for behavior changes. For instance, if a friendly cat is now retreating from you, there could be a problem. An active cat that starts to appear lethargic is also a bad sign.

Reproduction

Unless you want to be overrun by kittens each spring, you will need to spay and neuter your barn cats. This not only prevents unwanted litters but can also stop fights. Unaltered male cats tend to fight a lot, which causes injuries and possibly will require medical care. If you need additional cats, it may be better to pick up a kitten or cat at a shelter than to allow your own cats to breed. This will give you an idea of the consequence of not spaying your cats: if left to their own devices, within two years just two cats can multiply to as many as fifty cats. Their gestation periods are short, just three months, and their litters are anywhere from three to eight each time. It’s pretty easy to see how this can happen, isn’t it?

Having cats in the barn is very rewarding. No farm is complete without at least a couple of good mousers or ratters. These cats provide a valuable service that keeps your barn and farm in good working order. Reward them with excellent care.

©2012 Off the Grid News

© 2008-2014 Off The Grid News

18 comments

  1. Another way that you can keep them “healthy”.

    If your cat so much as steps foot on MY land, it WILL BE SHOT ON SIGHT. Make NO mistake about that. I had to shoot hundreds of them a couple years ago, because those cats that people dump on ignorant rural idiots who don’t comprehend the balance of nature, those invasive-species cats don’t stay where they dump them. They roam, sometimes miles. And when they do, I now shoot every last one of them. It was the ONLY way to get all the wildlife on my land back in balance. YOUR LOUSY INVASIVE-SPECIES CATS completely annihilated the whole native food-chain on MY LAND. From smallest of prey to the top predators. The prey turned into tortured cats’ play-toys. The native predators STARVED TO DEATH from YOUR CATS destroying their ONLY food sources.

    So if you want to keep your lousy piece-of-sh** cat healthy, you better start with keeping it alive first — BY KEEPING IT ON YOUR OWN LAND. OR IT WILL BE SHOT ON SIGHT — GUARANTEED.

    • @ woodsman… oh man, if ONLY i could figure out where you live… with your dark heart some one eventually will and karma is definitely what they say she is..

  2. If you advocate for cats as rodent-control on farms and ranches you’ve already doomed them to being destroyed by drowning or shooting when it becomes a financial liability more than any asset. Ranchers and farmers worldwide are fully aware that cats’ Toxoplasma gondii parasite can cause the very same birth defects (hydrocephaly and microcephaly), still-births, and miscarriages in their livestock and important wildlife as it can in pregnant women. Consequently, this is also how this cats’ brain-parasite gets into your meats and onto your dinner-tables, from herbivores ingesting this cat-parasites’ oocysts in the soils, transferred to the plants and grains that they eat. Not even washing your hands in bleach will destroy this parasites’ oocysts if you have contracted it from your garden or yard that a cat has defecated in.

    This is why any cats are ROUTINELY destroyed around gestating livestock and wildlife-management areas in the most efficient, humane, and least-expensive method available. Common rural practice everywhere. The risk of financial loss from dead livestock and important native wildlife from an invasive-species cat is far too great to do otherwise. This cats’ parasite is now even killing off rare marine-mammals along all coastal regions from run-off containing this cat-parasites’ oocysts.

    The next time you bite into that whole-grain veggie-muffin or McBurger, you need to just envision biting down on a shot-dead or drowned kitten or cat. For that’s precisely how that food supply got to your mouth — whether you want to face up to it or not. It’s not going to change reality no matter how much you twist your mind away from the truth of your world.

    If you want to blame someone for the drowning and shooting of cats, you need to prosecute yourself — every time you eat.

  3. After ridding my land of 100′s of cats by shooting them, I went online to find out why some local wildlife died after eating one of the dead cats. I found some amazing things about these highly destructive invasive-species vermin.

    These are just the diseases they’ve been spreading to humans, not counting the ones they spread to all wildlife. THERE ARE NO VACCINES against many of these, and are in-fact listed as bio-terrorism agents. They include: Campylobacter Infection, Cat Scratch Disease, Coxiella burnetti Infection (Q fever), Cryptosporidium Infection, Dipylidium Infection (tapeworm), Hookworm Infection, Leptospira Infection, Giardia, Plague, Rabies, Ringworm, Salmonella Infection, Toxocara Infection, Toxoplasma. [Centers for Disease Control, July 2010] Sarcosporidiosis, Flea-borne Typhus, and Tularemia can now also be added to that list.

    (URL’s to proof of them spreading the plague today, people have already died from cat to human transmitted plague in the USA, and other links to diseases they’ve been spreading listed as bio-terrorism agents removed, apparently no links allowed in posts.)

    The most insidious one of all, cats’ Toxoplasma gondii parasite they spread through their feces into all other animals. This is how it gets into meats and humans get it from meats, cats roaming around stockyards and farms. This is why cats are ROUTINELY destroyed around gestating livestock or important wildlife by shooting or drowning them. So those animals won’t suffer from the same things that can happen to the unborn fetus of any pregnant woman. (Miscarriages, still-births, hydrocephaly, and microcephaly.) It can kill you at any time during your life once you’ve been infected. It becomes a permanent lifetime parasite in your mind, killing you when your immune system becomes compromised. It can last over a year in any soils or waters and not even washing your hands or garden vegetables in bleach will destroy the oocysts. Contrary to popular cat-lovers’ self-deceptive myths, a cat can also become reinfected many times during its life and spread new oocysts each time. It’s now linked to the cause of autism, schizophrenia, and brain cancers. This parasite is now also killing off rare and endangered marine-mammals along all coastal areas from cats’ T. gondii oocysts in run-off from the land, the oocysts even surviving in saltwater.

    Its strange life cycle is meant to infect rodents. Any rodents infected with it lose their fear of cats and are actually attracted to cat urine.

    (Google for: toxoplasma gondii parasite hijacks rodent mind)

    Cats attract rodents to your home with their whole slew of diseases. If you want rodents in your home keep cats outside of it to attract diseased rodents to your area.

    The time has come to destroy them all whenever spotted away from supervised confinement. There’s no other solution. We have nobody but cat-lovers to thank for this disaster.

  4. If you want rodent control then the absolute WORST thing you can do is by introducing a MAN-MADE INVASIVE-SPECIES animal like the domestic cat that destroys all life in any ecosystem where it is found.

    After you have ridded your land of cats; then the owls, hawks, gray-fox, and other NATIVE predators might move back in, if you’re lucky. As they did on my land after I shot every last cat. I now have a parliament of owls in the branches around my home watching over the yard every night. Last summer one even caught a vole between my feet as I disturbed the vole when walking through my yard. When was the last time you had an owl trust you that much? The owls had all disappeared for over 15 years due to cats destroying the owls’ only foods by making them into cats’ play-toys. The owls are finally back again, at long last. And hawks are now frequent visitors again during the day. As are the much wanted Gray Foxes that clear out rodents day or night. A group of them made a den near my home this last fall and I frequently see them prancing around in the dark in the distance. These are MUCH better rodent control than any man-made invasive-species cat that just destroys everything that moves and which also spreads many deadly diseases to both animals and humans today.

    Gray-Fox are perhaps the most beneficial native N. American animal of all. Unlike the European introduced Red-Fox, they didn’t evolve alongside European poultry for a food-source. So unless they are starving to death, Gray-Fox won’t go after farmer’s poultry. They are also the only fox species to climb trees, so will even keep excess squirrel populations in check for you. Red and Gray foxes are sometimes difficult to tell apart at first glance or from a distance. So just remember: White Tail-Tip = Red Fox, invasive species, okay to hunt or trap, it will also go after farm poultry. Black Tail-Tip = Gray Fox, native species. HIGHLY beneficial mouser and ratter.

    Learn to live in balance with nature, or don’t bother at all. Move back to the city where you grew up in your bambi-cartoon-educated ignorance and can keep it there where it belongs.

    • @ Woodsman…you are one sick dude. You should be spayed and neutered asap…you may have an opinion the the venom with with you convey your opinion is truly nauseating. Get a life. Obviously, you are a he man, and I imagine you have a nice big gun rack to make up for other areas in your (existence) where you are highly inadequate. Just lovely to know that creatures like you dwell among us…..the biggest sign of a sociopath, the way they treat animals. Have a great day Freakazoid.

  5. Holy Cats, marksarmorycom, I think you’re right! No offense, Woodsman, I believe you have legitimate concerns and you make several very good points. But the heartless humans who dumped those cats in the wild are the problem. The cats, which I presume are domesticated, are trying to survive in a hostile, unfamiliar environment with no protection and few survival skills. Cats who have never had to kill for food tend to make “play-things” out of the rodents and birds they catch because they’ve never been taught otherwise. Shooting God’s creatures, when not doing so for food, seems cruel when they are simply being what they are; trapping them and and taking them to a cat rescue or animal shelter would be more humane.
    K

  6. No, I’m not any of the labels you describe–just a person who knows we all reap what we sow. I only hope that one day you don’t find yourself classified as a “manmade invasive species.”

  7. ok woodsman…we get the picture…drop it already…jeez!!!!

    A bit obsessive, aren’t you?!?

  8. Just an observation, for perspective. The thing I despise about arguments against something because it isn’t “natural” is the fact that there truly isn’t any unnatural thing – humans are creatures of nature, our abilities have developed over time to manipulate nature (naturally) and our manipulations are therefore natural. We act within the natural order of things to influence the survival of one trait over another, creating hybrids that wouldn’t occur without our influence, but which aren’t, inherently, unnatural… just not typical. Not uninfluenced. Radioactive isotopes or alcohols can be found in nature… concentrating them and refining them is an act of natural beings, and the results are within the scope of natural law.
    Considering the “native” human concept: because I have the ability to manipulate my surroundings to shoehorn myself into any environment, means I can call myself “native”? Because my species developed a wide variety of … breeds, if you will … over time, and through various chaotic selection tendencies instead of formalized breeding programs, which led to darker or lighter skin, more or fewer fat cells per square inch, more or less body hair, taller or shorter, etc., those breeds are more “natural” than a creature who has a shorter maturation span, and whose mating was often regulated from the outside? So some foxes developed near poultry and some developed away from it… this doesn’t make one more native (or more natural) than the other – especially when the poultry in question were introduced after the second developed.
    Humans are the most invasive species there is, full stop. We spread into areas which have never before seen humans, and then instead of learning to live within and alongside the ecosystem, we tend (as a species, not necessarily as individuals) to subsume and then recreate our surroundings to fit our desires. We extinguish entire species because we believe that we need that rainforest land to make genetically superior corn and whatnot. We spew pollutants into the air and destroy one “invasive” species because it doesn’t coincide with our concept of the way our vision of our part of the world should be. If you want to talk ecological disaster spreading across the world, all you need do is look in the mirror.
    Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe people who dump cats (instead of caring for them, neutering them, being responsible for the overabundance of a species which now has no or few “natural” predators because the human species has eliminated those predators and provided food and shelter and places to breed) should be ashamed of themselves. I have no problems with people stepping in to thin the herd of cats in lieu of other predators. I simply want to point out that just because someone doesn’t agree neither makes them moronic, home-schooled, monosyllabic, psychotic, or religious.
    Nature will balance itself out, whether humans survive it or not (and if it doesn’t on earth, and if it doesn’t elsewhere in the cosmos, perhaps pushing for it’s preservation is truly the unnatural thing to do), and I greatly doubt that cats are the coming apocalypse. Maybe killing the cats, instead of letting cattle, people, poultry, etc who can develop resistance and more hearty strains against the previously named illnesses is doing a disservice to the future of all species?
    You’re trying to shape your surroundings for your own ends. Kudos. Just don’t delude yourself into believing that you’re somehow more righteous because you purchased your land from someone who purchased the land from someone who purchased it from someone who stole it/carved it out of nature/claimed it before someone who had no concept of property could do so.
    Sorry, almost off soap-box now…but if you’ll actually read the article, the author says that the cats should be spayed or neutered, taken to the vet for shots, etc, etc, not left to run wild around other people’s livestock. Just because you consider them a pest (like rabbits, kangaroos, wolves, gophers, etc) doesn’t mean they don’t have a place. A weed is only a weed if you don’t want it there.

    • I found out another interesting aspect to this invasive-species-cat-predator and native-wildlife relationship that no others seem to be aware of. When some local wildlife LITERALLY came to my door in the middle of the day, dragging her two starving cubs to my door because she couldn’t even make enough milk to feed her offspring (all her food supplies DESTROYED BY CATS). This is what alerted me to just how bad the situation had become. I then started out on a venture to try to assist all the local native wildlife. In the hopes that if I increased the populations of the few remaining predators that they would one day put “cat” on their natural menu. (FYI: That mother and her two cubs rebounded just fine with my assistance and went on to produce many healthy offspring.)

      During this venture I found some surprising things.

      1. Any time that a cat would enter the wildlife feeding area, all the wildlife would scatter. After 5 years of witnessing this I was truly disappointed. These were, after all, the native-wildlife army I was trying to raise to deal with the invasive-cat problem ecologically.

      2. When I was advised by local law-enforcement to deal with the problem by shooting cats, then I thought maybe I could at least put that cat-meat from these useless and destructive waste-of-flesh cats to use and feed the wildlife their bodies. These cats had denied all the native-wildlife a food source all these years, perhaps in death they might be able to put back what they had taken. But no. Even when offered DEAD CATS the local wildlife would run from the wildlife feeding area.

      Longer story short:

      Due to the bold patterns bred into these INVASIVE-SPECIES cats, the NATIVE wildlife perceives them as having a hidden toxic or olfactory defense mechanism. A universal symbol throughout nature. That if an unknown animal is sporting bold patterns, then that animal must be dangerous or deadly — to avoid it at all costs.

      This is why you will read reports online of how someone’s docile “Mr. Fluffy” scared that “nasty” coyote out of their yard. The cat’s non-existent bravado had NOTHING to do with it. It was the cat’s coloring pattern alone that scared that larger predator.

      Conclusion: Native wildlife will only pick off the bland or no-pattern cats. And even then, only if starving to death as a last resort, taking the risk of overriding millennia of natural instinct to try to survive. So even if coyotes or other larger predator will take a cat or two, they’ll leave all the bold-patterned ones alone. And the land will eventually be inundated with bold-patterned cats only. Back to square one.

      NATURE IS NOT GOING TO SOLVE THIS HUMAN-MADE DISASTER FOR YOU.

      There’s very good reason that the phrase “hunted to extinction” is so well known across all cultures, across all lands. It is THE ONLY METHOD THAT IS FASTER THAN A SPECIES CAN OUT-BREED AND OUT-ADAPT TO. Especially a species as prolific as these man-made cats which can breed 3X’s faster than any naturally-occurring cat species. A painful fact of past human-behavior that we must now rely on to fix this worldwide ecological disaster. I too was surprised to come to this realization, that these human-caused disasters in the past are now providing a valid method upon which we need to rely to solve this 100% man-made problem. This is ONLY going to be solved by a human-eye aiming a gun to pick off the correct species as rapidly as is humanly possible.

    • ANY domesticated animal that is found roaming freely away from SUPERVISED CONFINEMENT is retained until the owner can be found so it can be RETURNED to *SUPERVISED* *CONFINEMENT*. Failing that, the animal IS DESTROYED. If the animal is livestock, then it IS DESTROYED FOR THE DINNER TABLE.

      If cats provided meat for dinner tables or fibers for the textile industry, or any other REQUIRED need of humans, AND were kept in confined pens or in controlled grazing areas and NOT allowed to destroy all native wildlife (cats having the largest prey-base of any predator on earth, destroying not only all the NATIVE prey but all the NATIVE predators that those animals depend on), then perhaps they would be allowed as a RANCHED animal. Where they can EASILY BE DESTROYED IF NEEDED just like any other livestock that is found to harbor some new disease. Or like minks are kept confined in cages so they can be skinned for their furs. Or gutted and dressed for the “feline” section of your local butcher’s shelves. Right alongside the poultry, pork, and beef sections.

      UNTIL THAT TIME, and failing that, THESE HIGHLY DESTRUCTIVE DEADLY-DISEASE-SPREADING MAN-MADE INVASIVE-SPECIES MUST BE DESTROYED ON-SIGHT IF FOUND ROAMING FREELY IN NATURE.

    • Well said, excille. Obsessive isn’t the word here, yt. Thank you both for your intelligent contributions. Never before have I been “flamed” like this for stating an opinion (“flamed” is a form of cyber-bullying which usually takes place online among adolescents). It’s unfortunate to see a useful forum like this turned into a flaming circus, I’m surprised that the editors allow it. Readers and contributors should be able to meet for the intelligent exchange of ideas and information without being verbally assaulted…but, since stupidity can’t be cured or reasoned with, it’s best to ignore it.

  9. Off The Grid Editor

    While we encourage the exchange of ideas on Off the Grid News, there will not be any bullying, nasty remarks, name calling, or anything else on these boards. We do expect a degree of decorum here. While we realize that some subjects incite more passion than others, we do expect the comments to remain civil. I have deleted the more offensive comments. You are right, KC… readers and contributors should be able to exchange ideas and positions without verbal assault.

    • Dear Editor: Thank you for your response, and for your efforts to keep this board civilized; both are much appreciated.

  10. Mary Ellen, thanks for a good article. We have a mix of critters, including several cats, pets and half-wild. Just about every kind of pest and snake infest our area and the cats help control that nasty part of country life. They’re not a cat problem at all. We have too been victimized by folks dumping their pets on us. I shot a few dogs and then the guilt got to me, as I was taught to kill only for defense or to eat and I don’t eat dog, yet anyway. Apparently Woodsman suffered an extreme case of dumping, although the part about his property markers is odd. We have two 10 acre home places, plus 800 acres of primitive land and I know exactly where the boundries are to the inch. Beat a steel marker in the ground, you can find them with a metal detector if needed, along with an above ground marking. Anyway Mary, good writing and we’ll implement some of your ideas. Good sailing to all… Hickabilly

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