I’ve learned a lot over the last few months about farmers and feral cats.
I’m a recent homeowner, just bought my first house in a farming community that is slowly turning into a town of new subdivisions. Many of the farmers are aging, their children have grown up and gone off to pursue careers other than farming, and they’re getting offered prime dollar for their land. I didn’t know all of this when I bought my home, of course. I just enjoyed the rural atmosphere that came with my brand new home.
My backyard adjoins an old farm, and the family has sworn they are never going to sell. I know nothing’s certain, but I feel a little relieved to think the view from my backyard will retain that rural feel. I’ve gotten to know the family that owns the place, as well as their employees, and I’ve benefitted from their knowledge of the area, gardening tips, and feral cats.
I know that sounds odd, to benefit from someone else’s feral cats. Most people think feral cats are a nuisance at best and dangerous at worst. It is true that they can carry disease and parasites, just like any wild animal, or they could infect my pets or fight with them.
Fortunately, though, I have indoor pets, so that’s not a concern for me. What has been a concern is the vast number of mice, rats, voles and moles in the area. With new subdivisions going up in former farmers’ fields, we humans are invading the natural habitat of these rodents. Mice and rats just love new housing developments: lots of food sources like garbage cans or kitchens, and lots of warm places to sleep, like an attic or inside the walls of a home. Voles, gophers and moles enjoy the grass and gardens we plant, giving them a luscious food source and soft places to burrow. And, let’s face it, rodents bring in a lot more disease and parasites than feral cats do, and they bring them right into our homes.
So when I say I benefit from the farmers’ feral cats, I mean it! Years ago, he actually asked a wildlife trapper to bring him some feral cats, and he paid for them to get spayed or neutered. Then, he let them loose on his property. Feral cats, as wild animals, are used to fending for themselves, chasing down rodents for food. They don’t need constant love and attention, they don’t need to come in and out of your home, they just need a safe place to be a feral cat. I don’t have the rodent problems some of the other new city residents are experiencing, thanks to my farmer’s feral cats.
Now, my farmer friend admitted to me that some of his feral cats have sometimes become prey themselves. The feral cats compete with other predators for the same food source, and are also a natural food source to other animals such as coyotes. But, since they have been pretty successful at keeping the rodent population down, many of the other predators have moved on, looking elsewhere for a more abundant food source.
It’s been a win-win for the farmer and his feral cats, and now it is a win for me, too.