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Should we get a cat?

 
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So, we’ve had mouse problems in a shed and our garage, cottontail rabbits all over the place (less of a problem since we eat them in the winter), chipmunks, red squirrels, gray squirrels and now an abundance of voles in the garden.

Our texas heeler gets a rabbit and rodent occasionally but not often. The voles have eaten most of our potatoes and killed many plants. Ive trapped 5 in the last 24 hours but judging from the holes and trails in the garden, theres a lot of them to deal with.

I know almost nothing about cats. Ive been around dogs my whole life but cats were always that elusive critter you barely see at a family member’s house, nothing more than that. Now I’m seriously considering a cat to help keep rodents in check. I understand that getting a neutered cat is highly recommended and I’m fine with that. We have an animal shelter here and I’m sure we can find a cat. Neither of us want it inside the house and honestly I dont care to play with it or give it much attention, I just want it to kill and deter rodents. We live in Michigans upper peninsula, zone 3-4 border, and get down to -30F in the winter along with a few feet of snow. What do outdoor cats require in winter? Or really, what do outdoor cats require ever? Can it hang out in the chicken coop, shed or garage? Does it need a little house with some bedding? Does it need daily food and water?

Also, would we be better off adopting a kitten and hoping it adapts to outdoor life and likes to kill or should we get a mature outdoor killing machine and hope it actually stays on our property?

Also, the only time our dog (texas heeler) has encountered a cat she chased it up a tree. I dont know if she would actually kill a cat or if the cat would give her a rude awakening but I’m a little worried about the dynamics of that relationship.

Any advice is appreciated!
 
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Ask your local shelter if they have a barn cat program.   Our shelter has one were animals that are to feral to be pets are rehomed to farms that just want a barn cat for rodent control. I can't guess what extra steps it might take in your winter, but from my experience a cat will establish a territory and stay there.  In that territory they will need safe spaces to sleep, food and reliable water.  It doesn't have to be anything complicated. If you were in my area with our mild winter I would just tell you to be sure you the cat isn't in your engine before driving on cold days.  My sister had a kitten who survived a short car trip under the hood.  They want to curl up on those warm parts on cold days.

 You absolutely want an experienced adult cat.  Most cats will chase any small moving object but hunting requires a few specialized skills that they learn from their mother.
 
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We recently got a cat.

A momma cat brought her kitten to us and then ran off so we felt sorry for the little kitty.

We have not had a cat since we got married many years ago.

I never knew how much fun they are or at least I had forgotten.

She is about 3 months old and we have had her since May 25th. The vet is the one that aged the kitten based on her teeth.

We assumed that her mother was a feral cat since we don't live close to anyone.

You can tell that she has the hunting instinct.

I told dear hubby that since we had a bird feeder she would be a problem though we have found she doesn't bother the small birds and only goes after the scrub jays.  Her nails are not strong enough yet so if she catches one it can still fly away.

I would recommend getting a kitten though owning a kitten comes with responsibilities of taking them to the vet to get shots, especially rabies shots, and getting them spayed/neutered. And the responsibility of feeding them.
 
Rocket Scientist
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Hi Brody;
Well the short answer is no you should not get a cat...
I've owned healers before and they do not care for cats.
Indoors you could train the dog to accept,   outdoors...   fair game.

Most cats are not vicious killing machines.   Some are but they are rare.
Usually a barn cat momma with many babies  will hunt hard but do not expect any old shelter kitty to just be that way.

You could talk to your neighbors  and ask about  how outdoor cats fare in -30 and 10' of snow.
I suspect they do not do well at all.   Maybe with a haybarn (with hay) and they might eat mice and do ok.
More likely is they will leave quickly looking for a better home...  maybe they will find one or maybe not.
Shelter cats are not free,  don't waste your money.

Those same neighbors might have (or know of) barn cats that do just fine outdoors up north...
You'll need to ask a local.   Maybe there will be one here at Permies!
 
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Cats can be awesome (like a great house cat) - or a nuisance. I won't have them outdoors *here*, because all the critters I'd want them to take out - mice, moles, & other small crop-eaters - are typically taken care of by foxes, coyotes, hawks, owls, and our free-ranging chickens, ducks, and turkeys. (Except those damned squirrels, which *we* ought to be eating!) Outdoor cats, however, are indiscriminant, and will also take out critters like the lizards, song birds, and toads that help control the insect population that eats both our crops (as meager as they are), and us. A good barn cat must also still be fed and occasionally visit the vet, to keep it strong and healthy, to hunt, which would mean tapping into our feed/vet budget for the critters who are already doing what I'd want the cat to do, without wiping out my bug-eater/ pollinator population. In fact, since it's essentially impossible to keep an outdoor cat at home, our neighbor's cats are one of our predator problems, and... will be treated as such.

It's a great question, and imho, one that each must answer for themselves.
 
pollinator
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We have at least a dozen outdoor semi-feral cats and honestly we are looking to get more. They are amazing at keeping the rodent population down. The kittens are great because they can go down the ground squirrel holes that the adult cats are too big for. I also recommend a barn cat program if your area has one. Where we live cats just show up and then start having babies. I do trap them to get them fixed. We have a program for fixing feral cats at a reasonable price.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Casie Becker wrote:Ask your local shelter if they have a barn cat program.   Our shelter has one were animals that are to feral to be pets are rehomed to farms that just want a barn cat for rodent control. I can't guess what extra steps it might take in your winter, but from my experience a cat will establish a territory and stay there.  In that territory they will need safe spaces to sleep, food and reliable water.  It doesn't have to be anything complicated. If you were in my area with our mild winter I would just tell you to be sure you the cat isn't in your engine before driving on cold days.  My sister had a kitten who survived a short car trip under the hood.  They want to curl up on those warm parts on cold days.

 You absolutely want an experienced adult cat.  Most cats will chase any small moving object but hunting requires a few specialized skills that they learn from their mother.



I noticed our animal shelter sign says “adopt a cat $25” for the rest of this month, so that’s convenient! I should inquire tomorrow.

Funny you bring up the engine thing.  I remember as a small child hearing about my uncles cat getting ripped up under the hood once. Definitely want to watch out for that.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Anne Miller wrote:We recently got a cat.

A momma cat brought her kitten to us and then ran off so we felt sorry for the little kitty.

We have not had a cat since we got married many years ago.

I never knew how much fun they are or at least I had forgotten.

She is about 3 months old and we have had her since May 25th. The vet is the one that aged the kitten based on her teeth.

We assumed that her mother was a feral cat since we don't live close to anyone.

You can tell that she has the hunting instinct.

I told dear hubby that since we had a bird feeder she would be a problem though we have found she doesn't bother the small birds and only goes after the scrub jays.  Her nails are not strong enough yet so if she catches one it can still fly away.

I would recommend getting a kitten though owning a kitten comes with responsibilities of taking them to the vet to get shots, especially rabies shots, and getting them spayed/neutered. And the responsibility of feeding them.



My wife would totally prefer a kitten. I mean they’re cute for sure but thats not the point in my mind. Im really hoping for something that will happily kill rodents with minimal attention from me. And I like the idea of adopting something that would otherwise be a nuisance, so long as it doesn’t conflict with the chickens or our dog much. And I think getting a kitten would allow it to acclimate to the dog and chickens more readily, so thats something to consider.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Carla Burke wrote:Cats can be awesome (like a great house cat) - or a nuisance. I won't have them outdoors *here*, because all the critters I'd want them to take out - mice, moles, & other small crop-eaters - are typically taken care of by foxes, coyotes, hawks, owls, and our free-ranging chickens, ducks, and turkeys. (Except those damned squirrels, which *we* ought to be eating!) Outdoor cats, however, are indiscriminant, and will also take out critters like the lizards, song birds, and toads that help control the insect population that eats both our crops (as meager as they are), and us. A good barn cat must also still be fed and occasionally visit the vet, to keep it strong and healthy, to hunt, which would mean tapping into our feed/vet budget for the critters who are already doing what I'd want the cat to do, without wiping out my bug-eater/ pollinator population. In fact, since it's essentially impossible to keep an outdoor cat at home, our neighbor's cats are one of our predator problems, and... will be treated as such.

It's a great question, and imho, one that each must answer for themselves.



You bring up a lot of interesting points. I really don’t want predators moving in to take care of the rodents for me though because I dont want our chickens to become dessert! Although, maybe that is a chance worth risking. Seems like theres just as good a chance something would move in because of the rodents and then move on afterwards, i dont know. I do know we used to have snakes and now rarely see them. Ive been mulching more and more and have been seeing more and more voles. This summer seems like a boom for them and they’re destroying a lot in the garden and i worry about our young fruit and nut trees being next on the menu. I can only trap so many. I can try to repel with cayenne or garlic. Fencing them out seems unreasonable, at least right now. Poison would work wonders but I’d rather not. Id love a cat that was fat and happy eating voles!
 
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Outdoor cats have a different set of skills than house cats. Hunting techniques are learned. Dumped cats, like dumped dogs, tend to starve or get eaten.

Look for someone offering barn or farm cats, or if you see signs of local ferals, bribe them to visit more often. Grow a patch of catnip, maybe set up a feral cat house or two in reasonably protected spots, leave a bare spot with some sand or loose dirt. You may not see the ferals for a while, but you might see signs they're visiting.

Cats at least have enough sense to run if you bang on the hood before getting into your vehicle. Unlike groundhogs.
 
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Brody Ekberg wrote:Also, the only time our dog (texas heeler) has encountered a cat she chased it up a tree. I dont know if she would actually kill a cat or if the cat would give her a rude awakening but I’m a little worried about the dynamics of that relationship.


This strikes me as a serious problem. I'd think to avoid the cat ending up injured or dead and/or your dog getting injured and one or both having to go to the vet, you would need to spend a lot of time introducing them in a very controlled fashion. I know the process for doing it with indoor cats can take some days, maybe weeks. I'm not sure how you'd do it with an outdoor cat.

As Carla said, cats that hunt do not discriminate between what you want them to kill and beneficial creatures. How will you protect your chickens from the cat? Even if you don't think the cat could actually kill them, just a wound from a cat can be fatal to a bird because of the nasty bacteria on their claws and teeth.

I think with any animal you choose to take on, it's important to be responsible for and to them. This means ensuring they don't harm other people's animals or property. It can be done with either intense training or expensive fences, but cats are very hard to contain once you let them outdoors. I can't let my chickens out to free range in their fenced extended run full time because of neighborhood cats who are allowed to roam. Even though legally in many places, cats are required to be kept on the property of the owner, same as a dog. Even though the chickens are safe in their super enclosed run, they're constantly alarming and stressed about the cats around. My cat, who now has to stay indoors, even though she does stay in my yard, has been injured and is always stressed by the presence of other cats outdoors. I've also had to deal with other people's cats pooping in my food gardens. Ensuring that you aren't causing these kind of problems for others seems like an important part of good cat ownership.

You mention your wife wanting a kitten and I see some of the reasoning for thinking that might work better for acclimating them. But will she be able to resist keeping them indoors and bonding with them then? Just something to consider. Also, a kitten is going to be a lot more susceptible to getting swooped by a raccoon, coyote, hawk, etc.
 
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Just sharing my own life experience with cats, take from it what you will.

I grew up with indoor/outdoor cats. They were pets. We cherished them, but they ranged and brought us "gifts" sometimes which freaked me out on more than one occasion.  I remember our first cat cleared up a small mouse invasion in a week or so.  A later cat scared away deer and small dogs with his vicious pouncing.

Later, after losing two cats to unknown causes and a neighbor's cat being killed by a loose dog, my mom switched to keeping her cats indoor only.

I liked cats throughout all that. I found them companionable and easy to manage. Especially since my mom did most of the caring (feeding and litterbox maintenance)

Then I moved here to rural Japan. Our neighbor had a semi-feral farm cat population (ranging between 5-10 at any time). They fight. They poop. They mate. They breed. They caterwaul. They are generally a nuisance to the neighborhood. The owner can no longer care for them and the daughter and grandson don't really step up more than providing feed.

When we had a dog they generally shied away from our property except the edges. Now the dog is dead they range our property as well.

I now dislike cats with prejudice.
 
Carla Burke
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Heather's post reminds me of other things, too - like absolutely the poop. They're carnivores, almost exclusively, which introduces some very nasty bacteria into your garden. Barn cats have a very different manure than house cats, based on their diets. And the bacteria that she speaks of harming your chickens is no laughing matter, especially if you've anyone around wanting to snuggle or play with them. I won't say 'they're toxic', but a tiny barn cat's small scratch on my youngest daughter's hand resulted in my learning that Ted Nugent's song, 'Cat Scratch Fever' is a real thing, and my healthy daughter became very sick. With all the stuff they walk in, and the vermin they pounce, catch, and kill, the bacteria that builds under their claws can be lethal to anyone very young, very elderly, or with a compromised immune system, even just being sweet and playful. They may be great cats, with great personalities - but, buyer beware.
 
Stacy Witscher
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It is true that cats are major disease vectors. My kid got cat scratch fever and toxoplasmosis from our house cat, actually the kittens but you really don't handle feral cats. We have some that you can touch, but most won't let you. I would very much keep in mind that these are not pets. They are pest control. And for pest control they are better left feral. I get them fixed, provide food and water and cull any that are too violent. Other than that they are left to their own devices. And of course we lose about half either to predators or they just move away.

I wish that the native predators could keep up with the rodents but they can't. We have plenty of owls, raptors, foxes, snakes etc. and the ground squirrels in particular are out of control.
 
Carla Burke
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I just remembered! Something I learned working in the coffee shop, is that mice, rats, etc., absolutely despise raw coffee beans, because they're toxic to them. I bought a pound of raw coffee beans from the shop(you can get them pretty easily online, too), and sprinkle them somewhat generously around in the corners of our garage - and we haven't seen any mice in there, since. Doing the same thing around the perimeter of your garden - and wherever it seems appropriate - might help repel them. I would make sure your dog doesn't like them first though, because coffee beans can be toxic to them, too.
 
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Given those numbers you need more than 1 cat.  Given the dog you need a very special set of cats that will teach it to behave.
 
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I’d say, yes, get yourself a longhaired Maine Coon or a mix of Maine Coon, barnyard mouser. Those are also feral/can’t be tamed, cats. Keep it in your garage or shed for a few weeks to get it used to your comings and goings, in a crate inside of a large dog kennel. Be sure to provide food, water & a bathroom area (not near the food or water), you also could get another kennel & join both so the cat has another place for its bathroom needs separate from its food, water & sleeping quarters. You can make a cat wintertime sleeping quarters out of a tote with hay or straw (don’t remember which one is better), & cloth covering up the entrance, using the lid, on the long side (not in the middle), but not the short side.
Cut the entrance (leave a lip so bedding doesn’t get pushed out easily) out of the long side. The cat will have to turn left or right to get into the sleeping quarters. I wouldn’t use an actual bed, because the laundry smells put off some cats. Hay/straw smell natural & are biodegradable. Use enough to make it snuggly warm in winter. The cloth helps with keeping the cold air out. After a few weeks (month?), let it loose, but provide a way for your mouser to come & go as it pleases. Keep its winter quarters in the kennel in case you need to take it to the veterinarian in the future.
That’s what I would do.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Heather Sharpe wrote:

Brody Ekberg wrote:Also, the only time our dog (texas heeler) has encountered a cat she chased it up a tree. I dont know if she would actually kill a cat or if the cat would give her a rude awakening but I’m a little worried about the dynamics of that relationship.


This strikes me as a serious problem. I'd think to avoid the cat ending up injured or dead and/or your dog getting injured and one or both having to go to the vet, you would need to spend a lot of time introducing them in a very controlled fashion. I know the process for doing it with indoor cats can take some days, maybe weeks. I'm not sure how you'd do it with an outdoor cat.

As Carla said, cats that hunt do not discriminate between what you want them to kill and beneficial creatures. How will you protect your chickens from the cat? Even if you don't think the cat could actually kill them, just a wound from a cat can be fatal to a bird because of the nasty bacteria on their claws and teeth.

I think with any animal you choose to take on, it's important to be responsible for and to them. This means ensuring they don't harm other people's animals or property. It can be done with either intense training or expensive fences, but cats are very hard to contain once you let them outdoors. I can't let my chickens out to free range in their fenced extended run full time because of neighborhood cats who are allowed to roam. Even though legally in many places, cats are required to be kept on the property of the owner, same as a dog. Even though the chickens are safe in their super enclosed run, they're constantly alarming and stressed about the cats around. My cat, who now has to stay indoors, even though she does stay in my yard, has been injured and is always stressed by the presence of other cats outdoors. I've also had to deal with other people's cats pooping in my food gardens. Ensuring that you aren't causing these kind of problems for others seems like an important part of good cat ownership.

You mention your wife wanting a kitten and I see some of the reasoning for thinking that might work better for acclimating them. But will she be able to resist keeping them indoors and bonding with them then? Just something to consider. Also, a kitten is going to be a lot more susceptible to getting swooped by a raccoon, coyote, hawk, etc.



Nobody seems to have issues with cats attacking their chickens so I’m less worried about that. Although constant stress because the cat is around is still undesirable. I wonder if having a cat around would help keep other predators away from the chickens, like bobcats and weasels.

Our dog is smart and hates discipline so I’m confident we could train her to not mess with the cat. Or the cat would explain it to her pretty quickly and painfully. Shes been pecked in the nose by chickens and put her ears back and tucked her tail, so I think a cat swipe would put her in her place. Hopefully without blinding her.

As far as making sure the cat doesn’t kill beneficial creatures, i dont see how that’s possible. What’s a beneficial creature anyway? Everything has positive and negative aspects and, as a human, my interest arent any more important than anything elses. The voles are eating our garden, so i call that negative. But the chickens cost me money so I could call them negative too. And wild birds can spread disease and shit on vegetables so I could just as well call them all negative too. Its just a matter of perspective. Id like to think there’s enough easy to catch rodents that the cat would be less interested in flighty little birds. I could be wrong though.

I’m not too worried about keeping the cat in the yard. Its a big yard, the neighbors are good people and we’ve already had someone elses (or a stray) cat wandering around before, so they should be used to an occasional cat around.

My wife is less and less interested the more I explain these things to her. She “wants to get something out of this for herself”, whatever that means. I think she wants a cute little kitten, but considering we are having this discussion due to a rodent issue, that doesn’t make any sense. She thinks adopting some old random outside cat is silly. And somehow, I have to deal with this. Im not interested in taking care of anything else unless its a child, so getting a kitten is off the table for me. I think she just likes cute things…I like functional things.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Carla Burke wrote:Heather's post reminds me of other things, too - like absolutely the poop. They're carnivores, almost exclusively, which introduces some very nasty bacteria into your garden. Barn cats have a very different manure than house cats, based on their diets. And the bacteria that she speaks of harming your chickens is no laughing matter, especially if you've anyone around wanting to snuggle or play with them. I won't say 'they're toxic', but a tiny barn cat's small scratch on my youngest daughter's hand resulted in my learning that Ted Nugent's song, 'Cat Scratch Fever' is a real thing, and my healthy daughter became very sick. With all the stuff they walk in, and the vermin they pounce, catch, and kill, the bacteria that builds under their claws can be lethal to anyone very young, very elderly, or with a compromised immune system, even just being sweet and playful. They may be great cats, with great personalities - but, buyer beware.



Neither my wife or I are chicken cuddlers. I dont want our dog or chickens, or us, getting scratched though. More things to consider…

I just want something to eat these friggin voles so that I can harvest potatoes this year. And preferably whatever wants to eat the voles will leave our chickens alone!
 
Brody Ekberg
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Stacy Witscher wrote:It is true that cats are major disease vectors. My kid got cat scratch fever and toxoplasmosis from our house cat, actually the kittens but you really don't handle feral cats. We have some that you can touch, but most won't let you. I would very much keep in mind that these are not pets. They are pest control. And for pest control they are better left feral. I get them fixed, provide food and water and cull any that are too violent. Other than that they are left to their own devices. And of course we lose about half either to predators or they just move away.

I wish that the native predators could keep up with the rodents but they can't. We have plenty of owls, raptors, foxes, snakes etc. and the ground squirrels in particular are out of control.



The thing about hoping nature’s predators take care of the rodents is that nature’s predators also like chickens. And chickens aren’t natural anyway, at least not in North America. Neither are annual vegetable gardens as far as I know. So hoping for a natural solution to an unnatural problem may be far fetched.
 
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Carla Burke wrote:I just remembered! Something I learned working in the coffee shop, is that mice, rats, etc., absolutely despise raw coffee beans, because they're toxic to them. I bought a pound of raw coffee beans from the shop(you can get them pretty easily online, too), and sprinkle them somewhat generously around in the corners of our garage - and we haven't seen any mice in there, since. Doing the same thing around the perimeter of your garden - and wherever it seems appropriate - might help repel them. I would make sure your dog doesn't like them first though, because coffee beans can be toxic to them, too.



Ill look into this, thank you! It specifically has to be raw though? Cant use coffee grounds?
 
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Let me second what MaryAnne said about Main Coon Cats.  They are awesome hunters.

But I disagree about them being feral/untamable.  For about 10 years we had a Main Coon Cat that had the run of our property or inside the house, whichever he wanted.  He was a huge, hulking beast of a cat (20 or so pounds) that could intimidate any creature larger than him that might otherwise be a threat (around here, think numerous coyotes).  He was also a great big softy, a true gentle giant.  My young children could play with him and I had no fear whatsoever of him scratching or biting.  He was a truly affectionate cat.  And he is missed.  But in his day we never ever had a single mouse problem.

So I totally agree that a Main Coon Cat is a great mouser, but I have found them to be the most “dog-like” cats I have ever seen.

Eric
 
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MaryAnne Billups wrote:I’d say, yes, get yourself a longhaired Maine Coon or a mix of Maine Coon, barnyard mouser. Those are also feral/can’t be tamed, cats. Keep it in your garage or shed for a few weeks to get it used to your comings and goings, in a crate inside of a large dog kennel. Be sure to provide food, water & a bathroom area (not near the food or water), you also could get another kennel & join both so the cat has another place for its bathroom needs separate from its food, water & sleeping quarters. You can make a cat wintertime sleeping quarters out of a tote with hay or straw (don’t remember which one is better), & cloth covering up the entrance, using the lid, on the long side (not in the middle), but not the short side.
Cut the entrance (leave a lip so bedding doesn’t get pushed out easily) out of the long side. The cat will have to turn left or right to get into the sleeping quarters. I wouldn’t use an actual bed, because the laundry smells put off some cats. Hay/straw smell natural & are biodegradable. Use enough to make it snuggly warm in winter. The cloth helps with keeping the cold air out. After a few weeks (month?), let it loose, but provide a way for your mouser to come & go as it pleases. Keep its winter quarters in the kennel in case you need to take it to the veterinarian in the future.
That’s what I would do.



Thank you! If I can convince my wife, this will probably be the route we take.
 
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If you are not planning on providing shelter in our climate, no, you should not get a cat.
 
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Brody Ekberg wrote:

Carla Burke wrote:I just remembered! Something I learned working in the coffee shop, is that mice, rats, etc., absolutely despise raw coffee beans, because they're toxic to them. I bought a pound of raw coffee beans from the shop(you can get them pretty easily online, too), and sprinkle them somewhat generously around in the corners of our garage - and we haven't seen any mice in there, since. Doing the same thing around the perimeter of your garden - and wherever it seems appropriate - might help repel them. I would make sure your dog doesn't like them first though, because coffee beans can be toxic to them, too.



Ill look into this, thank you! It specifically has to be raw though? Cant use coffee grounds?



Used ones will mold *very* quickly. Roasted ones can be an attractant.
 
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yes, get cats. is my opinion.
I'm down to six coming for breakfast but I used to have 9. they all are outdoor "barn cats" and keep the rodent population in check.
they love to purr and live good lives having one another to play with
 
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Trace Oswald wrote:If you are not planning on providing shelter in our climate, no, you should not get a cat.



Well, Im still not entirely sure what “provide shelter” means for a cat in an area with real winter. We have an unheated garage and an unheated shed. And an unheated chicken coop. A cat would be welcome to hang out in any or all 3 of them (assuming its fine with the chickens). I could leave a door open, install a doggy door, add a small crate/box for the cat. I could even insulate it. But I don’t want to heat the garage or shed for a cat. If it needs supplemental heat in winter, then I’m not sure its a good option for us.
 
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Wow, you have a lot to think about. I've done the barn cat thing and had great success. I prefer to get mine as kittens at least 2 of them I keep them in a large dog kennel where I prefer they seek shelter (in the barn) and as soon as they are old enough to be fixed I start letting them run around more.
If you are true master to your dog you should have no issues training him which cats are off limits and those that are free game for the chase, I had red healers, black lab and a cane Corso all of which friended or tolerated the cats. As far as keeping them with the chickens I often found my cats sleeping in the pens with the chick's and young chickens and never had issues with them killing the chick's. I still took my cats to the vets every year or two for shots and check ups but I figure if they're doing their job it's best to keep them doing it as long as possible. The vet used to tease me about having the most well taken care of barn cats she'd seen.
 
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So, we’ve had mouse problems in a shed and our garage, cottontail rabbits all over the place (less of a problem since we eat them in the winter), chipmunks, red squirrels, gray squirrels and now an abundance of voles in the garden.

Our texas heeler gets a rabbit and rodent occasionally but not often. The voles have eaten most of our potatoes and killed many plants. Ive trapped 5 in the last 24 hours but judging from the holes and trails in the garden, theres a lot of them to deal with.



Maybe before jumping to one specific solution set and all of its risks and opportunities (and unintended consequences), break it down like a system and analyze each element.  There may be dozens of solutions that don't involve you taking ongoing responsibility for bringing a new creature into your household and ecosystem.

1) Mice are in the shed.
  • Where in the shed are the mice?  
  • How many are coming in?
  • Are they living here, or foraging here?
  • When are they coming in?
  • Why might the mice be coming into the shed? Is there food out? Nesting materials they're going after? Protection from predators?
  • How did they get in? Have they chewed through something? Dug under something? Climbed up along something?
  • Are there physical elements deterring the critters?  Can I reinforce them with more durable materials?
  • Are any natural elements already deterring them?  Can I make their job easier somehow?
  • Are my current control methods effective?  Do I need to purchase or build more?

  • For the mice specifically, I'd look at cleaning out the shed, reinforcing holes with hardware cloth, and trying live traps.  After catching a few critters in live traps, I would place the container outside overnight without its top.  If the next day or two, some or all of the mice are missing, then that implies that there are already natural predators attempting to do the hunting job in this ecosystem.  Personally, I'd much rather prefer to accentuate natural predators in the ecosystem than introduce new competition in the form of a cat.  (It may be that your dog has a "halo effect" in its garden territory, and is deterring the natural predators from coming in and eating the rodents.  Maybe you don't need to gain a cat, but train or lose the dog?)

    2) Mice are in the garage.
    Btw, on the topic of live traps, this guy is the champion...


    3) Rabbits are in [location?]
    etc. etc.  How are current fences doing at keeping rabbits out?
    4) Chipmunks are in [location?]
    etc. etc.
    5) Red/Gray squirrels are in [location?]
    etc. etc.  What are they eating?  How much of a problem is that for the family?
    6) Voles are eating the potatoes.
    etc. etc.  How many potatoes are being eaten?  What is the value of those potatoes?  Is the annual value of the potatoes gained going to offset the annual cost (time and money) of the cat solution (or any other solution)?  Can the potatoes be grown in such a way that voles will not eat them?  

    Cats (like every solution) have unintended consequences.  Toxoplasma is one that was mentioned:  


    Another unintended consequence is that outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds in the US each year.  Some folks think of birds as garden pests, and are okay with that.  I like birds.  Plus, I've never seen a pet Tweety bird dig its fangs into its loving owners and destroy their couch!
     
    Trace Oswald
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    Shelter for a cat here, at least for us and people I know, is an insulated box of some sort inside the pole shed. We used a heavily insulated dog kennel with a heating pad in it when we only had one cat. We have more now, so additional insulated boxes, this time boxes I built, each with a heating pad in it. Heating pads are turned on below 20 F or so.

    As far as food and water, yes they need daily food and water. There are people that don't feed their barn cats much because they think they will hunt "better". My experience has been different. Yes, a starving cat will hunt. It's trying to survive. It will also be a miserable creature, and in our winters, it will starve to death or freeze from lack of calories, calories being units of heat. Our cats are fed daily. They aren't over fed,but not under fed either. Hunting in cats, in my experience, is something they do or they don't do. Some cats just love to hunt. Others don't. Starving the cat won't make it a great hunter, it will just make a miserable, starving car. And feeding a good hunter won't make it stop hunting. We just got a new cat lately, a stray. The cat was nearly feral, and an awesome hunter. Because we couldn't really catch it, it got pregnant and had 5 kittens. She is teaching them to hunt already. Every evening we let them out of the pole shed and she immediately goes hunting. She brings back a mouse or a vole within 5 minutes and gives it to the babies to play with. At 9 weeks, they already understand what to do. It's amazing to watch. That's how hunters are made. It seems to be a combination of good genetics and training from momma to babies, not lack of food.

    As an aside, my lady made friends with the cat enough that it now sits in her lap for cuddles, so it will be spayed, as willl all but the best hunter or two. Two will not be because great hunters are in high demand here.
     
    Brody Ekberg
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    George Yacus wrote:

    So, we’ve had mouse problems in a shed and our garage, cottontail rabbits all over the place (less of a problem since we eat them in the winter), chipmunks, red squirrels, gray squirrels and now an abundance of voles in the garden.

    Our texas heeler gets a rabbit and rodent occasionally but not often. The voles have eaten most of our potatoes and killed many plants. Ive trapped 5 in the last 24 hours but judging from the holes and trails in the garden, theres a lot of them to deal with.



    Maybe before jumping to one specific solution set and all of its risks and opportunities (and unintended consequences), break it down like a system and analyze each element.  There may be dozens of solutions that don't involve you taking ongoing responsibility for bringing a new creature into your household and ecosystem.

    1) Mice are in the shed.
  • Where in the shed are the mice?  
  • How many are coming in?
  • Are they living here, or foraging here?
  • When are they coming in?
  • Why might the mice be coming into the shed? Is there food out? Nesting materials they're going after? Protection from predators?
  • How did they get in? Have they chewed through something? Dug under something? Climbed up along something?
  • Are there physical elements deterring the critters?  Can I reinforce them with more durable materials?
  • Are any natural elements already deterring them?  Can I make their job easier somehow?
  • Are my current control methods effective?  Do I need to purchase or build more?

  • For the mice specifically, I'd look at cleaning out the shed, reinforcing holes with hardware cloth, and trying live traps.  After catching a few critters in live traps, I would place the container outside overnight without its top.  If the next day or two, some or all of the mice are missing, then that implies that there are already natural predators attempting to do the hunting job in this ecosystem.  Personally, I'd much rather prefer to accentuate natural predators in the ecosystem than introduce new competition in the form of a cat.  (It may be that your dog has a "halo effect" in its garden territory, and is deterring the natural predators from coming in and eating the rodents.  Maybe you don't need to gain a cat, but train or lose the dog?)

    2) Mice are in the garage.
    Btw, on the topic of live traps, this guy is the champion...


    3) Rabbits are in [location?]
    etc. etc.  How are current fences doing at keeping rabbits out?
    4) Chipmunks are in [location?]
    etc. etc.
    5) Red/Gray squirrels are in [location?]
    etc. etc.  What are they eating?  How much of a problem is that for the family?
    6) Voles are eating the potatoes.
    etc. etc.  How many potatoes are being eaten?  What is the value of those potatoes?  Is the annual value of the potatoes gained going to offset the annual cost (time and money) of the cat solution (or any other solution)?  Can the potatoes be grown in such a way that voles will not eat them?  

    Cats (like every solution) have unintended consequences.  Toxoplasma is one that was mentioned:  


    Another unintended consequence is that outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds in the US each year.  Some folks think of birds as garden pests, and are okay with that.  I like birds.  Plus, I've never seen a pet Tweety bird dig its fangs into its loving owners and destroy their couch!



    You’re thought process is very thorough and definitely the wisest way to deal with the situation. Unfortunately it is also probably the slowest and I’m a busy guy with plenty of irons in the fire as it is.

    The mice are in the shed because its a shed. Mice like sheds. They are safe nesting there until weasels show up. I could encourage weasels to show up but they’re ruthless chicken killers and I’d rather not have dead chickens. Any natural rodent predator is also likely a chicken predator, besides a cat. And yes I could build a vole proof garden but it would essentially go against permaculture. I would need fencing and raised beds with hard sides and wire mesh and all that aside, what would I do with all the current hugelkulturs that I’ve built in the garden? And the value of the potatoes really isn’t comparable to the annual cost of a cat. Potatoes are cheap and me growing them probably only saved me a couple dollars, and factoring my time in, probably didnt save me anything. Its the principal of it. I planted potatoes to eat potatoes not to feed voles. And what will the voles eat once the potatoes are gone? My hazelnut, chestnut, butternut and hickory trees? I have a hard time looking at them in any other way than a nuisance and cat entertainment.
     
    MaryAnne Billups
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    Eric Hanson wrote:Let me second what MaryAnne said about Main Coon Cats.  They are awesome hunters.

    But I disagree about them being feral/untamable.  For about 10 years we had a Main Coon Cat that had the run of our property or inside the house, whichever he wanted.  He was a huge, hulking beast of a cat (20 or so pounds) that could intimidate any creature larger than him that might otherwise be a threat (around here, think numerous coyotes).  He was also a great big softy, a true gentle giant.  My young children could play with him and I had no fear whatsoever of him scratching or biting.  He was a truly affectionate cat.  And he is missed.  But in his day we never ever had a single mouse problem.

    So I totally agree that a Main Coon Cat is a great mouser, but I have found them to be the most “dog-like” cats I have ever seen.

    Eric



    Barnyard mousers are usually feral - I didn’t mean the breed of cat.
     
    MaryAnne Billups
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    Here’s a photo.
    22F088E8-B8E3-43D5-94A3-5668442B1A5A.png
    Should We Get a Cat?
    Should We Get a Cat?
     
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    An alternative that my sister's friend had to resort to because of a plague of gophers: got a Jack Russell type terrier (one near to a street dog, not a pet), and didn't feed it. The dog fed itself quite handily (and was not interested in people or attention), and the gopher population vanished.

    For one that's more quiet and pet-like but still obsessively hunts, I'd recommend a Patterdale Terrier.  Small, but tough (they'll even take on raccoons, and win).

    Chickens and cats are a different problem... some dogs ignore them, others can't resist. But I've had a big ugly old cat who stood up to and terrorized coyotes, who generally regard barn cats as a handy buffet.

    Different sort of vole problem: couple months back I found one in my freezer. Somehow got in there and couldn't get back out. Good riddance...
     
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    In my experience, cats will turn your vegetable garden into a litterbox. Fresh feces is something you don't want on your vegetables, especially cat feces. Now, I'm not saying poop is gross so don't have animals, what I am saying is that if you have good fluffy soil in your garden the cats will specifically target it as a toilet. It has been a major problem in the past for us with roommates cats, our cats, neighbor cats, feral cats... and even a bobcat. There is nothing at all that has consistently detoured them. We've tried everything from spreading cayenne around/on the garden to spraying them with a water hose. The only thing that works is keeping the domestic ones off the property. and live trapping/relocating the feral ones. On a side note, they typically kill anything they can, which includes song birds, and songbirds can be extremely beneficial for insect control, not to mention that cats are decimating their population. In my OPINION, cats only have two good uses. As indoor only pets, and for killing rats/mice. But there are other ways to get rid of rats and mice so they really aren't worth all of the downsides
     
    Rez Zircon
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    I have five barn cats plus a couple ferals, and NONE of them poops in my garden, despite that they do hunt there, and in winter they den under the adjacent work shack. I don't do anything to prevent them, but I do ditch-irrigate, so all the ground is covered with either plants or mud, and the ditches harden up between waterings. (This system also seems to discourage snails and perhaps other pests. I rarely need to do anything to protect my plants.)

    As to songbirds, cats do kill a few, but rats will completely wipe out birds, because rats climb up to the nests and eat the eggs and fledglings. (I have personally seen this happen after someone's dog killed all the local cats and we got overrun with roof rats. Within a year a large bird population had zeroed out.) And it's not like songbirds are otherwise free of predators, especially in rural areas. Everything from foxes to weasels preys on them, all the time.
     
    Riley Hughes
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    Rez Zircon wrote:I have five barn cats plus a couple ferals, and NONE of them poops in my garden, despite that they do hunt there, and in winter they den under the adjacent work shack. I don't do anything to prevent them, but I do ditch-irrigate, so all the ground is covered with either plants or mud, and the ditches harden up between waterings. (This system also seems to discourage snails and perhaps other pests. I rarely need to do anything to protect my plants.)

    As to songbirds, cats do kill a few, but rats will completely wipe out birds, because rats climb up to the nests and eat the eggs and fledglings. (I have personally seen this happen after someone's dog killed all the local cats and we got overrun with roof rats. Within a year a large bird population had zeroed out.) And it's not like songbirds are otherwise free of predators, especially in rural areas. Everything from foxes to weasels preys on them, all the time.



    I'm glad you have had a good experience with cats. My response to the question in this thread was entirely based on my personal experience with cats and of friends with the same experiences. I still stand by my conclusion though, that there are better ways to knock back mice and rat populations than having barn cats. This is the way we have done it

    1. Contain food sources. Once we started keeping all of our feed and the produce from our garden in locking bins, barrels, and other containers, the problem was drastically reduced because they no longer had an easy food source.
    2. Traps. Whatever your preferred trap is, after containing potential food sources, any straggling rodent populations can be culled using traps. I am confident that knowing how to properly place and set traps can kill just as many rodents as a cat can, plus you are very unlikely to catch a bird in a trap.

    All I am saying, is that in my experience, it has been easier to deal with the rodent population than it was for us to deal with the problems cats created. And although birds have other 'natural and native' predators. Cats DO contribute significantly to an existing songbird depopulation problem and feral cats should be classified as an invasive species. Climate change, and ecological destruction do not need additional help from cats, they are doing a fine job destroying the natural environment on their own.

    Here are some additional problems cats have created for us
    - Scratching through greenhouse and hightunnel plastic
    - destroying several square feet of freshly seeded garden bed because they always want to poop and then scratch through the freshly amended soil.
    - Antagonizing the guard dogs and getting chased through the garden beds (I do consider this a cat problem, the dogs are necessary for protecting livestock from predators and fruit trees from deer which are very costly assets to lose.) I don't know this for sure, but they appear to antagonize them on purpose, dogs stay out of the gardens otherwise.
    - I'd still have rats and mice. The cats do kill some. But before implementing my other solutions the cats didn't seem to make a noticeable difference in the rodent problem

    Again, this is just my opinion based on my experience and I am glad you have found a way to successfully keep them out of the garden. I still think cats make great indoor pets.
     
    Rez Zircon
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    Where I am, eliminating domestic food sources would do nothing; there's too much wild forage and grain fields. Same with traps, doesn't touch the wild population. Cats do help around the property, tho, especially against voles.

    Yeah, cats will sometimes tease dogs, especially if not raised with them. And as you say cats do their own damages (or why I don't have house cats).

    An alternative that reportedly works well -- the old leggy type of Chihuahua that are totally fearless. In Mexico, they're a house ratter. A feral Chi colony in SoCal was found to be living entirely on mice.

     
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    Have you tried those sonic repellant stakes? I'm like you, I don't want a cat. Yeah they cute and all that but I'm good🤣 The gophers were pulling plants down into their holes right in front of me! We got a 8 pack off Amazon and no more problems! We were already flooding their new holes in an attempt to keep them away also.
     
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