After horses, my next favorite animal is the cat. Those big eyes. That Soft fur. Their quiet companionship. It’s all catnip to me.
As a feline fan, I find curious the perpetuation of what I consider to be false stereotypes. I have a hard time relating to some of the judgments leveled at cats. For whatever reason, my experience just doesn’t bear them out.
Far from finding cats difficult to understand, deva-like or standoffish, I see cats as clearly wanting to connect with the people in their lives. Are there exceptions? Of course. Just like there are with any kind of domesticated animal. But I have to say that my life would have been decidedly less rich without the companionship of many a cat who sought out my company.
While on the surface it seems that the lives of horses and cats don’t intermix, one glaring exception is the barn cat. Cats have long been found hanging around farms, ranches and barns.
Traditionally, barn cat value has been placed on their abilities as mousers. But I think that the friendly company barn cats provide their people is just as valuable. Side note here- Interestingly enough, I also like rodents of all varieties and the one thing that I don’t like about cats is the fact that they hunt. Go figure.
Twenty-plus years ago, when I first became a horse owner, I found it disturbing that barn cats seemed to be an afterthought at the barns I boarded with or visited. I often felt aghast at the level of neglect that I observed.
Over the years, though, I’ve seen both attitudes and actual care habits change for the better. Of course, as with any animal welfare issue, there is still a ways to go. Sometimes a long way to go. Nonetheless, I find any kind of progress encouraging. Barn cats by and large seem to be held in higher esteem than they once were.
In keeping with this new found consideration for barn cats, you are now more likely to see folks providing daily fresh food and water. Spaying and neutering. Applying anti-flea and deworming medication. Giving vaccines. Taking them to the vet when they are ill or injured. You’ll even find people adopting barn cats from shelters and rescues that have a “working barn cat” program like this one in Texas.
I have personally seen the positive transformation in barn cats when they’ve gone from say fertile females, constantly popping out kittens, to spayed cats who get fresh water and a daily meal of kibble. No longer thin, sickly and shy, these cats were turned sleek and social.
And contrary to the myth that a barn cat will only hunt if he or she is hungry, a physically healthy barn cat is much more likely to be a successful mouser. It’s an important point to mention to folks who are still skeptical about how they themselves could benefit from spending time and money on their barn cats.
Sure, that initial rounding up of all the barn cats through the TNR (trap-neuter/spay-return/release) process takes some planning. But the effort is so worth it when you end up with healthier, happier cats who aren’t overwhelming your barn with kittens season after season.
True, some barn cats are ferals or strays that just show up one day at the barn. They may not be very social upon arrival and remain that way for the rest of their lives. But I suspect that often has more to do with humans not prioritizing the socialization of their barn cats rather than something inherent about the cats themselves. Another side note here- A feral cat is a cat not raised around humans. A stray cat is a cat who was raised around people but has somehow gotten separated from their original home. Ferals and strays display different behaviors that you can learn about HERE.
Based on my experience, I would argue that it is worthwhile to take the time to socialize your barn cats too. Socialized barn cats are much more pleasant to be around than scared, defensive creatures. Just like with wild horses, earning a feral cat’s trust takes time, patience, emotional consistency and a basic willingness to keep showing up with a smile on your face no matter what they offer you in return. It’s a rewarding process but not usually a quick one.
Want to read more about barn cats and see specific care tips tailored to this population? I’ve rounded up a few links for you here:
In addition, this blog also has a Barn Cats Pinterest Board that includes pins linking to barn-cat care ideas (plus some very sweet cat and horse photos!).
I’ll now introduce you to my current barn cat, Saul. This marble tabby, in addition to continuing to prowl my property, now likes to spend some time in the house too. Actually, he’s kind of turning into a part-time rather than a full-time barn employee. 🙂 This fact is noteworthy because Saul used to be completely feral.
For over a year, I only saw distant glimpses of him around my property before I could finally get anywhere near him. He was completely terrified of me, panicking if I accidentally encountered him during barn chores. I was eventually successful in trapping him in my barn and getting him neutered, vaccinated and microchipped in February 2019 through a local low-cost spay-neuter clinic. Since then, Saul has chosen to stick around and has responded beautifully to socialization efforts.
You can see his confident transformation by contrasting the following two photos taken six months apart. He goes from A) just starting to tolerate my presence but still unsure of me (note his body posture- hunched, rounded, tail down) to B) following me happily all over my backyard barn area!
For those of you who like cat videos, here’s a quick clip of Saul on a day he decided to hang with me in the house. Turn up the volume to hear him purrrrrrrr.
Finally, I want to say many thanks to all the cats who have graced my backyard barn with their presence including the cats you see in this post. Featured here are Saul (the marbled tabby), Mamma Grace (the grey with white paws) and OJ (the orange tabby). Not featured but just as appreciated were AJ, BJ, MJ, and TJ. Here’s to the barn cat!