BY AMADA HERAUF
So, you’ve got yourself a nice little piece of land and maybe a few horses or cattle. You enjoy the rural lifestyle, except for one thing: mice. The little varmints are causing mayhem. Laying traps everywhere is a pain and, as for poisons, well, they don’t just destroy the rodents—kids, livestock, and pets can be harmed by them as well. What can you do? The answer is simple: Cats.
If you already have cats on your crew, you can skip this step. If you are taking in a new cat, however, keep in mind that he will need an adjustment period, during which he needs to be confined, lest he wander away. If you’ve got a barn or a tack room that can be closed, that will do just fine. If not, a large kennel (big enough for a litterbox, dishes, and living space) will suffice. Keep the cat contained for a minimum of two weeks; many barn cat advocates suggest three to five weeks. This will help him get used to his new surroundings and solidify the idea that this is now home. Before he gets the run of the place, make sure to remove all traces of poison if you had been using it to control pests. Ingesting a mouse that has eaten poison can be lethal.
Your new pest control manager will need a safe place to spend his time off. If you’ve got a barn or other structure that’s warm and that he always has access to, a simple bed or hiding spot in a corner will do just fine. If you don’t have a structure, you’ll need something that’s waterproof and insulated. A little dog house with some bedding (straw is great because of its insulative properties) or something similar would do nicely.
Though you brought your newest employee home because of his place on the food chain, he still needs cat food. A well fed cat will not only still hunt (instinct compels them as much as hunger), he will be better at it because he won’t be suffering from nutritional deficiencies. Even if your cat does consume his prey, there may be times where they aren’t as plentiful or the mice may be malnourished themselves. An estab-lished feeding time will usually result in the predictable daily appearance of the cat, allowing you to see him (and keep an eye on his health) if he doesn’t come to visit you for pets and accolades for a job well done. You can also use dinner time to lure him into the barn if you’d rather he be contained at night. Keep the food bowl out of the reach of wild animals in search of handouts. Fresh water each day is imperative, too.
Just like the rest of your animals, your mouser will need regular veteri-nary care. If he (or she) is not already neutered (or spayed), there are several good reasons to get the procedure. Fixed cats tend to fight less, roam less, and attract less “passerby” cats. This will also prevent reproduction, which can quickly get out of hand. They will need vaccinations to protect them against cat specific illnesses (some of which wildlife, like raccoons, can carry) and against rabies. Rabies vaccinations are required by law. Regular parasite prevention is a must—those little critters that you want him to dispatch are loaded with all kinds of icky things that can pass to your cat.
If you don’t have any barn kitties (or need a few more), take a moment to consider the best candidate for the job. Avoid those that are declawed, as this is a real hindrance to self-protection, climbing, and though declawed cats can catch prey, it’s much more difficult. Also avoid those who are infirm—a cat that isn’t physically sound is more likely to be prey than predator. Also consider the personality that would be the best fit. Would you like a cat who follows you all day while you work (he’ll still hunt at night, don’t worry) or would you rather have a cat who is independent, even wary of humans? A cat with previous outdoor experience will most likely acclimate better than one who has never been outside. If you’re looking for more than one, consider some that are already bonded with each other.
Cats can be a great addition to any ranch or farm. They provide rodent extermination services without dangerous chemicals or the hassle of traps. Now that you’ve got a reliable new hand to help keep things pest-free, you can get back to the chores that you actually enjoy.
For more information, stop by 3 Business Park Road, Livingston, Tuesday through Saturday, 12 to 5 p.m,, email [email protected] shelter. org, or call (406) 222-2111. Archived advice columns and available pets can be found at staffordanimalshelter.org.