Barn Cats (and yes, there are photos)

Not so long ago, I visited an old friend of mine and his wife. They live on a farm, and for as long as I’ve known them, their farm has had a barn where untold generations of cats have lived. In the barn, they are born, live, and die; while working to keep the barn free of mice and other small creatures. They do get dry cat kibbles to tide them over between mice, but other than that, they are barn cats–unnamed, and generally quite wary of people.

Still, they don’t always hide from people, and I was able to see a few on my recent visit. This one wasn’t so afraid, and sat still while I snapped his photo. A little later, another one jumped on the same stool, and was there long enough for me to get another photo.

Sometimes, there are a number of kittens to be seen, but not this trip. Still, there was at least one adventurous little kitten who came out to say hello. He or she couldn’t have been older than four weeks old, and hadn’t yet developed the caution around people most of the barn cats display. So he or she was pretty friendly with me, and I could pick him or her up.

While I was holding the kitten, the black one who sat on the stool in an earlier photo jumped up on a big wooden box. I put the kitten on the box too, and the kitten headed over to say hello. The barn cats get along pretty well together, and these two knew each other. Here, for example, the bigger cat seems to be making sure the kitten doesn’t fall off the box–though nothing really would have happened; the kitten would simply have fallen into a thick layer of soft straw.

Nice to see the barn cats again, and nice to be at the Farm. Three of our own cats came (as tiny kittens) from that farm, and our guys proved that if they are adopted early and grow up with humans, the barn cats can make quite good pets. But except for the friendly little kitten this time, the barn cats kept their usual distance. Well, at least they didn’t hide.

Awww. Cats. :slight_smile:

Great post.

Thanks for the photos!! All those cats have the same white patch on their chest, how cute!

Yikes!! How do barn cats keep warm in winter up there?

Dude! Hello! Fur coats. :smack: Also important (with apologies to ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’): Positive Mental Attitude, and Shared Bodily Warmth.

You’re quite welcome! Our Shiloh, who is one of ours who came from the Farm, has the same white patch. She also has white toes on all of her feet, like you can see in the photo of the kitten at the edge of the box. No doubt a distant relation. Denver, though, is all black; and Annie is all grey, so it doesn’t hold for all the cats.

Also, I did catch up with the father of at least one, and possibly all, of our pets. His name (he’s one of the few barn cats who has one) is Nears, which is short for “no ears.” His ears are stumps, lost most likely through either fighting or frostbite. He’s quite old now–at least 15 or 16–and he’s warmed up to humans, though it’s taken quite a while. Anyway, he was friendly enough, though sadly, he wouldn’t sit still for a photo.

Spectre of Pithecanthropus, the answer to your question is much like Danalan suggested: they have fur coats (and like most cold-climate mammals, they grow an extra-thick coat for winter), and they’re also in the barn, where they are protected from cold winds. There, they have plenty of warm hay and straw to sleep in, and they do curl up together to share the warmth. They manage pretty well, and even on cold days, it’s not unusual to see a few of them outside around the barn. They know they have a warm place to return to.

Ahh, barn cats. My Isabel is a former barn cat. She was about 9-10 weeks old, and used to the barn owner feeding her, but I couldn’t catch her and she was very wary of people. She tamed down quickly after I brought her home (the barn owner caught her for me) and she’s a good pet. In a way I always feel sorry for barn cats - no one loves them, and life for them can be hard, but that is the life they know.

I hope your friends are not letting their cats reproduce unchecked. One female can have as many as 8 kittens 2-3 times a year, and females can go into heat as young as 6 months. That’s a lot of potential cats.

I was ocming here to say the same thing as Contrapuntal. I really hope they do spay/neuter their cats. It would be pretty irresponsible to let the cats breed willy nilly. As they need to renew their supply of barn cats, they could just adopt some of the plentiful feral cats out there and turn them loose in the barn. There are already plenty of cats in this world without starting yet another semi-feral colony of them in their barn.

Isabel is a beautiful girl!! I love all that ginger, like a starburst across her face.

Now, those are all handsome cats. I was expecting the ones in the OP to be quite scraggly-looking, but they do keep themselves nicely groomed.

Actually, that about sums up the current state of affairs: it’s a semi-feral colony of barn cats.

Remember, my friends are farmers (chickens, beef cattle, and a few riding horses) and so they are well aware of animal reproduction rates, including that of the barn cats. So they keep an eye on the colony, but find that for the most part, the population is fairly stable. Naturally, it fluctuates over time–sometimes, there seem to be many cats; at other times, only a few–but generally, growth and shrinkage of the colony occurs fairly slowly.

Mother Nature plays an important role. As can be imagined, there is plenty of inbreeding, which results in the occasional genetic mutation, usually not to the individual cat’s benefit. Some kittens just don’t survive very long; we’re unsure exactly why in all cases, but some mother cats, for example, have been known to reject certain of their kittens. Predators, such as foxes and coyotes, have been known to carry kittens off; and some kittens are just plain too curious and get stepped on by the larger animals. The colony can grow, but there seem to be a number of natural factors that help keep it in check.

Plus, my friends do what they can when they can, and have been known to take those they can find to the vet in town for shots and spaying/neutering. They’ll also ask the large animal vet who comes to see the horses and cows to do what he can when he’s there–so he wanders through the barn with a syringe of rabies vaccine, for example, as well as looking for any that are clearly unhealthy and who should be put to sleep. He will do this humanely, and there is a small corner of a field that is fenced off and protected from the livestock and which is the cat graveyard. One of our own pet cats, who originally came from the farm, was returned to the farm cat graveyard when he passed away some years ago.

So as you can see, the cats aren’t totally left to their own devices, and they are looked after as well as possible under the circumstances. I agree that cat overpopulation in general is a concern, but things seem to be working out fairly well here.

How do we know that when the population declines it isn’t because a part of the colony has broken off and established itself elsewhere? It only takes one male and one female to start putting out 12-24 new cats each year, after which the number grows exponentially.

I can’t imagine that a species as reproductively abundant as cats would reach a stable population number all by itself.