The purrfect barn cat

By Stephanie Strothmann

Barn cats are wonderful for farms.

They can eradicate vermin that enter into the areas where feed is kept, places where bedding is stored, etc. They provide company for the farmer when in the barn, always looking for a quick ear scratch or scratches under the chin.

Through the years, I’ve discovered it takes a certain kind of feline to hold the title of barn cat.

When I moved to the farm a little more than five years ago, I had two cats with me: Oliver and Blackie. Oliver was an orange, long-haired tiger kitty that enjoyed being inside, and Blackie was a solid black, short-haired cat that loved to roam the city streets when I lived in Columbus. He would catch baby birds and rabbits and to my disgust and sadness leave them on the back door step as gifts.

Once I moved to the country, he enjoyed several months of hunting new prey until he realized too late one evening that the cars in the country move a whole lot faster than they do in the city.

After Blackie’s demise, I added another kitten to the mix, Olivia, which I thought would be a great mouser. She had been born in the country and had a prey drive. She would go out at night, and Oliver started following her lead.

The gifts of dead vermin appeared again at my back door until one morning, neither cat was waiting at the back door to come back in for its regular food. Days went by, and one day while mowing, I discovered their remains. Again, victim to the fast-moving cars of a country road.

The loss of so many cats within such a short time made me question my need for cats at all. I mean, if they couldn’t compete against the traffic, how was I to have what all farms need so desperately to control mice and other creatures that chew open feed bags, urinate and defecate in the feed and elsewhere?

I tried unsuccessfully with two more sterilized feral cats, but once they were held in the small barn for a couple of weeks with food, water and a litter box to learn where “home” was, they took off for parts unknown to never return.

All of this bad luck turned, though, one chilly fall Saturday morning at an animal swap a few years ago, where I had taken I.P.A. Bites to sell. I was packing up at the end of the event, loading a table, chair and treats into the car, when I was suddenly approached by a young girl holding two very small grey tiger kittens.

“Want some cats? Here you go,” she said all in one breath and handed the tiny furry creatures to me, moving quickly away before I could even say no.

Thinking it would be the same scenario as before with the feral cats, I kept them indoors in the house basement for the first three days. They seemed friendly enough, though, and I started to let them out to roam the confines of the space. It wasn’t long before they were crying to exit the door that led to the upper part of the house, so one morning, that’s what I did.

Fast forward three years and the two kittens have since grown into quite sizeable cats, named Elsa and Anna, that are a hybrid, if you will, of barn and house cat. They love to go outside and capture anything they can get their murder mittens on, and they’re very street-wise to stay away from the road as they patrol the fields around the farm looking for anything small that moves.

They love being outdoors, but they also enjoy a good snuggly blanket indoors when the weather is less than desirable. This sometimes can lead to a 3 a.m. wakeup meow when one or both decide they want to stay outside at bedtime and then later, rethink that decision, jump onto the windowsill outside my bedroom and meow.

The cry starts softly and increases in desperation and frustration until I have to pull myself from the covers and open the outside door only to be greeted by a very friendly “grrrr-ow” and then the desire for said cat to go back outside again.

The felines can make life crazy for sure on the farm, but when I see the gifts on the back door step, I smile. Not because they have killed something, but because I think I finally got the barn cat thing right, even if they do decide to wake me before my alarm goes off.

Until next time…

Stephanie Strothmann owns Purple Shamrock Farm LLC in rural Seymour. Send comments to [email protected].