ARLINGTON — Just about every farmer has a few barn cats on their farm. Barn cats are even an integral part of the cycle of farm life as they eat mice and other rodents or small animals that live in or around the farm buildings and fields. Cats keep rodents from consuming or contaminating grain crops that are stored for human consumption.
A few cats on a working farm are an asset to any farm.
But when a farm has as many as 20, 40 or even 70 feral, barn cats, you have a serious problem.
That is the position that John and Ruth Peabody of Duell Hollow Farm found themselves in last spring when their cat population exploded. The beef farm has been in John’s family for generations so he is no stranger to barn cats but with at least 35 different cats, and many more uncounted, he knew he had a problem.
In addition to raising beef cattle, he has a hay barn which he uses to store his hay. Unfortunately, the barn became populated with the felines who spoiled the hay with their urine and feces.
One of the Peabody’s well meaning neighbors started feeding the cats and ultimately the cat population grew even more.
Peabody believes that people started dropping the cats off because they thought they were wanted on his farm. While they appreciate what cats can do on the farm, the balance of power was quickly shifting.
“There was an outrageous number of cats,” Ruth Peabody said. “Our farm had become a cat farm. That’s when we knew we had a problem,” she added that they gave away 15 kittens last summer alone.
Second Chance Animal Center was contacted for their TNR or trap, neuter, and release program that traps, spays and neuters feral cats, who are later released. On Tuesday, March 9, Feline Coordinator Santana Snyder and Medical Care Coordinator Molly Smith set 35 catch and release traps around the farm. Each trap had a can of wet can food and a blanket over the cage to protect the cats from the elements. Twenty of the traps cost nearly $700 which the center funded with generous donations from the public.
The following day, they returned early in the morning to find that they had trapped a total of 21 cats, which consisted of 8 males and 13 females, all between the ages of 1-3 and weighing between 5-7 pounds.
The cats were then transported back to the animal center in Arlington to be spayed and neutered. Performing the surgeries on the felines were regular staff vet, Dr. Ray Koch and Dr. Bo Bergman, a volunteer. The cats were also examined and chipped with a universal tag indicating that they were neutered or spayed.
Overall the cats were in good health.
“I am super excited they are so healthy,” Ruth Peabody said.
Seven cats were returned to the barn while the others were adopted by seven different adopters who were looking specifically for barn cats. While most of the cats were adopted out in pairs, one adopter took a single young cat who appeared affectionate. According to Smith, nearly all of the feral cats were unfriendly, which is not uncommon with feral felines.
While the trapping yielded a good result, there are more feral cats and the possibility of the population growing is still an issue.
“This was a big one,” Snyder said and indicated that they might be back again to trap more feral cats.
The center usually does at least a half a dozen Trap Neuter Releases per year and they range from large feral cat colonies to strays in a neighborhood that need to be spayed or neutered to control the cat population.
As for the Peabodys, they have told their neighbor not to feed the cats. While they feed their feral, barn cats — the ones they want there, they don’t want other cats or local wildlife to take residence on their farm.