Have You Considered Adopting a Farm Cat or Two?

Farm cat
The bright spot in coronavirus-and-smoke summer was the surprise appearance of a feline family in our backyard. The first things I noticed about Nefertiti were her wide, crazy-looking eyes and her boldness; she came right up to the door and craned her neck to look in, even putting a paw in the sliding doorways of the living room and my brother’s bedroom on a couple of occasions. She seemed wilder than the two orange cats who had visited the prior two summertimes since I had moved to Pinole, a small city with a semirural feel in the eastern part of the San Francisco Bay Area. I soon recognized the wide-eyed visits right up to the back screen door as a wild mother cat facing of her fear of humans to feed her kittens.
 
I came to love Nefertiti’s boldness, to see her beauty, and to admire her ability to survive, protect her kittens, and teach them the skills they will need to live outdoors. She took amazing care of them, gave them closely supervised, progressively challenging training on pouncing and wrestling, and issued a low-pitched warning growl if I looked at them for too long, not to mention got too close. Nefertiti is what veterinarians call “feral.” It is unlikely she will ever live indoors or warm up to people to the point of allowing someone to pet her. Domestic life would be very stressful for her, and she is best off in her outdoor home in our and neighboring backyards.
 
She is a pretty gray cat, very fastidious, dainty in appearance, and most queenlike in personality. She calmed a lot in the months where she spent her days in the backyard with the kittens. I talked to her nicely when she came to eat, and she slowly closed her eyes, indicating her growing trust. She tolerated me playing with cat toys with her kittens. Now, the kittens Jake, Coco, Motley, and Mica all let me pet them and still live in our backyard. While the kittens are comfortable playing and hanging out with me, they are, to date, fearful of people they don’t know, so are still considered “semiferal,” and likely will thrive best living primarily outdoors with continued access to food, water, shelter, and veterinary care.
 
Feral and semiferal cats and kittens are at high risk of euthanasia when they are brought to shelters. Shelter environments are particularly stressful for these felines, and it is much more challenging to find adoptive homes for them compared to their peers who are have been socialized with humans. Current best practice is the Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) program, which returns feral cat to their outdoor homes and limits population size through sterilization. Sometimes feral cats cannot return to their outdoor home environments for reasons such as construction or an unwelcoming property owner. These cats can end up in shelters or with animal rescue groups. Fortunately, there are innovative programs, such as Feral Change, that place these cats in outdoor environments like farms, gardens, and backyards, and guide their adopters through the process of acclimating cats to a new home.
 
Feral and semiferal cats and kittens can provide organic farmers with natural rodent control. These cats and kittens still need to be given food and water regularly so they stay healthy and strong for hunting. Depending on the individual cat or kitten, they will warm up to their caretakers to differing degrees.  Some, with time, will brush against your leg. Some will let you pet them. It depends on how much interaction they have had with people, how old they are, and individual catanality/kittenality. It is best to adopt feral and semiferal cats and kittens together, at least in pairs, if not in groups of three to four, as they are social with one another. Being in pairs or a group, combined with access to shelter, such as a barn or cat house, provides increased protection from predators and cold weather. Depending on the individuals, kittens usually need to be six to twelve months old before they are strong enough to live outdoors on a farm, as they need time to grow to their full size and develop their skills.
 
If you live in any of the places listed below, you can contact the organizations with special farm cat programs. If you live in a county outside these areas, check with your local municipal shelter, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), or rescue group, as they likely have feral or semiferal cats or kittens who would love a farm home!
 
Special Farm Cat Programs:
 
You can also use Petfinder to find animal welfare organizations near you. 
 
You can feel great about having pesticide-free rodent control and providing a home for a cat or kitten who is particularly unsuited to a shelter or indoor environment. And who knows? With patience, you might get the lucky added surprise of your new outdoor companion, over time, becoming a furry friend or family member.
 
Links for Further Reading:
Timber Creek Farmer's "The Care and Feeding of Barn Cats
The Humane Society's "Outdoor cats FAQ
 
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This article was written by Amanda Hopkins. 
 
Amanda Hopkins is a writer, artist, and nonprofit professional living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She loves nature, reading, running, and long walks. Her goal is to build community at the neighborhood level, including between human beings and the creatures we share our yards, streets, and