Barn cats are a win-win proposition. You win because your barn is kept rodent-free in a safe, natural way and the cats win because they have a secure home. It takes a month or so to transition a cat to living in a barn, but after the transition period, keeping and caring for a barn cat is relatively easy. However, you still need to provide basic care, such as food, water and shelter because cat cannot live on mice alone.
Barn Cats, Not Cat
The Kitsap Humane Society recommends having two barn cats, particularly if you're transitioning them to a new space. The cats will provide familiarity and comfort for each other in their new home, making the adjustment to the barn easier. If you're getting your barn cats through a rescue organization, choose two cats who have formed a bond or get along with each other.
Choosing Barn Cats
Barn cats aren't your ordinary, well-socialized house cat. Generally they're feral or shy/fearful cats, cats with problematic litter box habits making them unsuitable to live indoors or cats who previously lived outdoors as strays and can't adapt to indoor life. Well-socialized cats who enjoy human companionship and live well indoors should not be barn cats. Outdoor only cats face a host of hazards, including predators and injury from their time outdoors. They are working cats and indoor cats can have a difficult time adapting to such a life. Check with your local humane organization to learn if they have a barn cat program for potential barn cats.
Transitioning Barn Cats
When you introduce new cats to a barn, it's not a matter of opening the doors and ushering them in. They require four to six weeks of transition time to get used to their new environment and understand that it's home. If you get barn cats through a humane organization, they may be able to lend you the basic pieces to get started which include:
- a large secure pen or dog crate
- a litter box
- a small carrier or shelter for the inside of the pen, lined with straw or thick towels in cold months
- food and water dishes
During the transition period, the cats should be fed and watered daily, with a bit of canned food added to their diet during the transition. The litter box should be cleaned daily. Take the opportunity to interact with your barn cats so they associate you with their care. Keep the doors and windows to the barn or structure closed during the transition time. After two or three weeks, you'll be able to open the barn doors during the day while the cats are still in their enclosure. You can begin to let them out of the enclosure, with the barn secured, during the night so they can explore their new home. Continue to feed them in their enclosure, gradually moving their food and water to their designated feeding spot within the barn.
Don't open the barn doors and allow the cats to roam free on a rainy day. Cats rely on their scent to find their way home and rain will wash away their scent markers.
Barn Cat Commitments
Once your cats have adapted to their new home, you're still obligated to ensure they're safe and healthy. It's a myth that barn cats won't hunt prey if they're fed -- hunting is instinctive to cats -- so provide your cats fresh food and water every day. It will give you a chance to check up on them, make sure they're in good health and interact with them a bit.
Your barn cats should be spayed/neutered and have all their shots before they're transitioned to their new home. You will need to trap your barn cats approximately every three years so they can get a fresh round of shots. If you have a mobile veterinarian in your area who can visit your barn, you'll save yourself and your cats a bit of trauma from the ride to the vet. If you're able to handle your barn cats, monthly parasite prevention will keep them healthier.
Barn Cat Safety
Take care to keep the things in your barn in good working order and out of your cats' reach. That means no leaky equipment that may drip antifreeze -- alluring, but deadly to cats -- and other toxic chemicals. Pesticides, fertilizers, rodent poisons, old batteries and moldy feed can be dangerous for cats. Never keep a declawed cat as a barn cat because she won't have her claws to catch prey, ward off predators or climb into high spaces when she needs shelter.