Put Feral Cats To Use

by Michael

Barn Cat at Window - Photo by Bee Skutch

Barn Cat at Window - Photo by Bee Skutch

Is it time that we put feral cats to use rather than simply rounding them up and killing them? Well, that is not quite true as there are some wonderful people who actually want to do the right thing about feral cats but there are a lot of people who dislike what the nice people do! It’s a crazy world. A classic example is the Beverly Hills Municipal Code story.

So what am I talking about when I say lets put feral cats to use? I bumped into a story yesterday with the headline, Feral cats to be pest controllers (bbc.co.uk). I thought this sounded like (a) a good idea and (b) going back to ancient Egypt when the African wildcat was domesticated to keep down rodents. barn cat Or more recently the semi-feral cats of Maine, USA who were barn cats helping farmers. These became the world’s most popular purebred cats, the Maine Coon.

My next thought was, “how bad is the rat problem in the UK”. I was especially thinking of farms and the countryside because it seemed that here was an opportunity to ship feral cats in urban areas to put them to use as barn cats.

And, low and behold, the Think Wildlife website has a page on The Problems with Rats. I’ve just built a page on human food for cats that features a photo of a feral cat eating a rat. Why can’t we better use feral cats to keep down the rat population rather than killing them and rendering them down for cat food (it does happen)? I am constantly told that urban feral cats eat out of rubbish dumps. That is because the canny rat is to difficult to catch, I suspect.

But on farms I have a feeling things are different. And the underlying benefit that goes beyond helping feral cats and farmers is that you don’t have to use nasty poisons and chemicals etc. to kill rats. When a cat kills and eats a rat the whole process is natural and extremely environmentally friendly; a very topical subject at the moment (16th Dec. 2009) with the failing Copenhagen conference on climate change in full swing.

However, I am certain that somewhere there is some hidden (probably commercial) reason why it is not possible or will not work. If that is the case I’d like to hear about it (comment, please!). I can think of one. Farmers don’t like the idea! Maybe it should be obligatory, a regulation that is handed down from above (local government).

The idea is supported by the BBC story, which describes the efforts of Cats Protection in Bournemouth who trapped and neutered about 20 local feral cats and are now trying to rehome them with famers or rural people. I hope people come forward. Perhaps they won’t. Perhaps we have got to used to the idea of using convenient chemical but environmentally unfriendly methods. That is the way of the world.

brown rat feeding on bird seedAs to rats the Think Wildlife website says that the “problem” is getting worse. They refer to the Norwegian Brown rat as the major culprit. Of course on an absolute assessment the rat is much less destructive than the human but that is another story. Rats for example can contaminate animal feed with their urine.

At the time that cats were beginning to be domesticated in the world there was, it seems to me, a better overall balance in the relationship between human and cat. Sure, there are some wonderfully well kept and cared for cats in the world today but far too many are not or are abandoned. I am constantly surprised at the size of the feral cat population particularly in the USA (2 - 14 million - we don’t know how many - are deliberately killed each year so there must be much more alive). In the beginning the cat was utilitarian, which created a balance.

We should seek a better overall balance in our relationship with the domestic cat and one way is to put the feral cat to use rather than to sleep.

Put Feral Cats To Use to Feral Cats

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Put Feral Cats to Use -- photos -- all are published under an Attribution 2.0 Generic creative commons license. All have been cropped as allowed under the license.

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Put Feral Cats To Use

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Dec 17, 2009 Cats and Poisons
by: Jan Plant

Dear Folks,

In my comment earlier,I stated that my friend was taking some of our colony home to his farm. What I didn't mention was he is 100% organic and an ol' hippie like me. He and his wife raise some rather impressive organic vegetables and they are doing their best to feed only 100% natural to their stock. But I will remind them again. And I will be sure to remind anyone else.

Just wanted to ease your minds on that.


Dec 17, 2009 As epected
by: Michael

The excellent response by Everycat is one I expected. It's a matter of commerce really at the expense of the environment and nature (feral cats).

This is a case where legislation in the form of regulations might work. A change in mentality and commercial practice to one that is more sustainable and environmental acceptable is required as opposed to using up the planet with little regard to the long term issues.

The return of the barn cat is fundamentally correct. It is just out of sync with the modern commercial world.

That said Jan has rehomed 4 feral cats as rat catchers with a farmer (this is the USA)!


Dec 17, 2009 ps
by: Ruth

I should have added that farmers have to make money to survive these days , not because they are greedy for it.


Dec 17, 2009 Ferals and ratting
by: Everycat

Fine idea, but the problem starts when you tell the farmers, stable yard owners et al that a well fed cat is going to be a more successful hunter and that they must spend a period confined (prefarably a large run or stable) so they can acclimatise to their new location - food involves spending money (many don't want to do that, they just want everything to be free) and confining the cats so they can acclimatise means effort, attention and maybe some money to build a run. This is why it's so hard to get ferals placed in good environments. Farmers still use a large number of very toxic chemicals around the farm too (despite so many now being illegal, many still have a supply of banned substances lurking in a barn or shed) so that's another issue for the safety of feral cats.

Worming and vet care are further issues which put potential feral homes off. It seems that even many rural people have become disconnected from the cat and it's traditional role in human lives.

Farmers spend a lot of money on killing rats - they use rentokill, the council service, poisons, local oiks with air rifles, traps are still used - all of this costs money which could be used to feed and care for a feral, rat catching colony.


Dec 17, 2009 farm cats
by: Ruth

Maybe farmers don't want cats around because farming, like everything else nowadays,is about making money, rather than enjoying working with animals.
When I first started out as a vet nurse, farmers were allowed to come in and buy antibiotics etc for common troubles for their farm animals, for example mastitis in cows.They knew as much as the vets did about it and how to treat it themselves.
But gradually over the years along came more and more rules and regulations,you can't buy this, you can't treat that, without a vet seeing the animal first.
Cats were tougher those days,farm cats didn't have to have all the vaccinations cats do now.Our vets won't even register an animal if it isn't being vaccinated ! While it's a good thing cats are being protected,I think a lot of the diseases now, not only with cats but all animals, is because animals are 'over protected' and don't have the chance to build up any natural resistance to diseases.
Only my opinion of course, I could be wrong but I'd be interested in what others think.


Dec 17, 2009 To Jan
by: Michae

Hi Jan. Well yes, I couldn't agree more. I don't know what the obstacle is. Maybe farmers just prefer to put down poison as it is more convenient but far more ecologically damaging.

If feral cats are put to use there is on the face of it a WIN WIN situation. Feral cats are cared for and farmers benefit. This is the original model/method that evolved into domestic cats. Lets go back to it!

"Extremely Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Rodent Catchers Available - apply..."

Jan, make sure that your farmer friend has no poisons down.


Dec 16, 2009 Feral cats aid farmers
by: Jan Plant

This was a great write up. colony of 11 will soon be smaller. January 2, a gentleman who has horses and cattle in our area is taking four of our friends to their new home(he's on vacation and didn't want to just dump them off,in case one of them had a problem).

This man is a friend of mine. He has 20 acres and rats galore. So he needs some mousers. And it will make me very happy to know they will be doing what they do naturally and in a loving home.

My friend came by to visit and see if we had room for an old ram that was going to slaughter. He noticed the cats (how could he not) and asked if I'd sell him a few.

I told him he could take as many as he could care for. The only price was he had to promise to care for them and return any he may have a problem with.

This got me to thinking. So we're working on placing an ad in the local feed stores."Mousers need jobs, Will work for rats". What do ya think?

May work. Farms have rats, cats eat rats, sounds like a simple solution to me.


Dec 16, 2009 Feral cats
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Micheal that would be the ideal solution as before all the nasty chemicals were used, all farmers used to have cats on their farms to keep the rodents under control. Sadly farmers don't want cats now, we've tried many times to place feral cats with them when it's been too dangereous to take them back to where they came from, after neutering.But we had no success.
We badly need a feral farm in the North East of England. Kayshill Sanctuary is too near a main road to be safe for them.
I still live in hopes of our lucky dip lotto coming up and being able to afford an out of the way place and set up a feral farm. It would be worth more than fancy houses, cars, and holidays to me.
All ferals want is food and shelter,they don't ask for much.



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