I love my cats. Kitty Coal and Storm are an essential part of the farm. Why? Because they’re our pets and we enjoy their company, personalities, presence, but most of all . . .
I hate rats.
Otherwise, domestic cats are the scourge of wildlife. Unfortunately, they are amazing hunters who don’t distinguish between a Townsend Vole and a Norway Rat (official name of rat). Furthermore, they don’t take the time to see if the bird is a House Sparrow or a Song Sparrow before they ambush the unsuspecting brown bird. They just go for it.
So, in a way, they’re a necessary evil. However, there are a few practices people can adopt to keep the felines from killing every little critter. For instance, we feed them. Sounds crazy, I know, but some landowners I’ve known actually thought not feeding their cats would make them better hunters. Sure, desperation is a motivating force, but it’s cruel to the animal and it drives them further afield after the easy prey is gone. This pushing away has two negative impacts. One, it means more native wildlife are killed on the fringes of the farm as cats roam outside their home range. Two, you’re more likely to lose your cat. Coyotes, bear, raptors, and cars prey on cats, and if you’re starving them to the point of desperation, they are going to risk predation in search of a meal. Keep your animals fed and taken care of so they will stay close to the property where rat removal is needed most. Besides, cats often hunt because of instinct, irregardless of hunger, and a healthy cat could arguably hunt better than a starving one.
Another obvious practice to reduce unwanted feline predation is by spaying and neutering your animals. After all, it’s a pet. If we neglect to control the breeding of any animal the concern we intended to solve becomes a bigger issue (and eventually everyone else’s). Cat numbers should stay in proportion to the farm size and rodent problem and enjoy a family pet not a pest.
With that in mind, give love and make them feel welcome. If you’re goal is like mine, and you don’t want rats getting into your house and barns, then they shouldn’t be feral and afraid of people. Personally, I like my outdoor cats perusing the house foundation or even peeking into the garage or mudroom once in a while. If there’s something hiding, they’ll find it.
Lastly, inside cats are the best for preserving wildlife and keeping the pet alive. As a conservationist, I struggle with the contradiction of having domestic cats around the farm. I can only imagine what diversity we would have if it weren’t for these little predators scaring things away. Just yesterday I watched a California Quail roam the yard until Storm chased it away. This is a loss, but until our 100+ year old house is rat proof or we don’t have chicken grain and seed around, Felis domesticus is my answer.