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Cats in the Garden

November 5th, 2011

I’ve proclaimed my love of cats many times, and no doubt you’ve seen them in many photos. You’ve heard all about Miss Mama, the feral cat that moved her kitten into the garage, and Little Softie, the kitten that beat the odds. Up until Miss Mama, we had never had an outdoor cat. We really needed one, as we live in a rural area and have mice, chipmunks, and moles in abundance. With other natural predators in limited numbers, these little varmints can take over quite quickly. We used a variety of methods to deal with them, until Miss Mama moved in.

Now that Miss Mama is gone, Little Softie has taken over rank as chief hunter. She patrols the gardens keeping them clear of all little furies that love to eat strawberries and crocus bulbs. She’s still half feral, but is starting to come around, she loves a good ear scratch daily.

One of our indoor cats has also become a hybrid, spending his days in the garden and his nights in the house. Having cats in the garden is a wonderful thing. These two follow me around the garden and are never far behind. The force me to take breaks so they can get some love, and they make me laugh all the time with their crazy antics of climbing trees and chasing each other around.

The only problem having outdoor cats is that they don’t always eat their catch. We often find chipmunks under the cars, moles on our welcome mats, mice and birds in the garden beds, and last week a dead rabbit on the front porch. It used to bother me when they caught songbirds, but then I realized that predators play an important role in keeping the various species healthy. They keep the weak and sick from reproducing. I remember learning about this long ago in the movie Never Cry Wolf. Mother Earth News also had a great article about the importance of predators this summer.

Chiot’s Run will never be without an outdoor cat, not only do they help keep the rodent population under control, they are outstanding garden companions. We also appreciate that since we got outdoor our cats we no longer have to worry about mice building nests in our cars like we always had before.

Do you have any garden companions of the four legged type? What methods of rodent control do you find most effective in your garden?

26 Comments to “Cats in the Garden”
  1. Andrea Duke on November 5, 2011 at 5:05 am

    My neighbor has a cat that we have come to love at our house. Like you, when I would be gifted with his catches, I would get upset, but not anymore.
    In fact, Charlie got hurt badly a few months ago and my son found him. My neighbor was in Russia, so we loaded him up and took him to the vet. He had a really bad wound to the neck, but after surgery and a weeks stay, he made a full recovery.
    Our neighbor is out of town a lot and Charlie tends to “live” here more on those occasions, needing attention.
    I never thought of myself as an animal person, getting mad when I would find him sleeping on my Smith & Hawken porch furniture, but I have gotten over it and would definity miss him :)

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  2. pam on November 5, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Beautiful pictures of the kitties. Our’s spend the day outside and the nights inside, and while Smudge considers himself to old to hunt anymore, the other two keep us varmint free.

    Reply to pam's comment

  3. goatpod2 on November 5, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Our cats like going in the garden as well!


    Reply to goatpod2's comment

  4. Deb on November 5, 2011 at 9:02 am

    We don’t have any cats (we do have two dogs) but this summer a cat apparently adopted us and over the course of a month left us 4 moles on the welcome mat! That was the end of our mole problems, for this summer at least!

    Reply to Deb's comment

  5. Sofie Dittmann on November 5, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Chipmunks used to come to our back door basically (figuratively) sticking their tongue out at us, “Catch me if you can.” Until we got a cat…

    Reply to Sofie Dittmann's comment

  6. Angie on November 5, 2011 at 10:22 am

    My husband and I have four cats that have an indoor/outdoor schedule and they keep the small critter population down. I think one of our cats is too good at her job—she’s a largish but quick hunter.

    Reply to Angie's comment

  7. Mich on November 5, 2011 at 10:57 am

    My dog loves ‘helping’ me in the garden, tho it usually involves stealing gloves & playing in the piles of garden rubbish!
    Luckily the farm cats take their duties far more seriously and do a great job of rat/mouse control; just need to get rid of pesky squirrels now.

    Reply to Mich's comment

  8. KimH on November 5, 2011 at 11:36 am

    No furry creatures in the garden for me.. at least not the domesticated type. :) In the past I’ve had indoor & outdoor kitties and outdoor dogs, but dont have any here. Unfortunately, Im allergic to dander so they’d have to live outside & I dont have anywhere warm for them to survive the outdoors I’ve decided not to have any. :(

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  9. Sonja on November 5, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    OH your kitten looks just like the kitty that adopted us a year and a half ago. Up until then we were (we thought) dog people. We love our kitty! And she brings us gifts as well. I understand that means that we have meet with her approval and she is blessing us. I wish she would bless us with something else… I guess that is her “love language.”

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  10. Rick on November 5, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    Our cat is strictly an indoor cat. We adopted her from a local shelter as a kitten. She had been a stray, I think the hard conditions of her first 2 months of life stunted her growth and she has never really grown to be a very big cat. There are a couple of large feral cats in our neighborhood, we’re afraid she’d get beating up to much by these bully’s. She really doesn’t show any interest in going outside. But we use to have a mouse problem in our basement every fall and winter. Not any more!

    We have been dealing with our outdoor rodent problems with an great little trap box my son made. It’s just a simple box filled with traps, the mice can’t seem to resist going inside to check it out. It has really taken care of our problems around our compost bin and chicken coop.

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  11. sarah on November 5, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Not a huge fan of mice but poor little fellow. Your calendar looks beautiful by the way! You are so inspiring!

    Reply to sarah's comment

  12. MAYBELLINE on November 5, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    1. My remaining companions are Pumpkin (cat) & Ajax (dog).
    2. Rodent control = a shovel and Pumpkin. However, I thank the neighborhood owl population for helping.

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

  13. Kaytee on November 5, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    No cats here since I seemed to have developed an allergy to them in the past two years…the only years of my life that I’ve been without one. Our chipmunk control in my husband and some traps.

    Although I think cats are great for rodent control, they are also invasive predators that native wildlife have not evolved with, and thus have little defense against them. So although they may help control certain creatures, they cause overabundant killing of others, namely songbirds. Cats kills over a million songbirds a year in North America, combined with habitat loss, collisions with man-made structures, and contaminants, its no wonder that many songbird populations are declining. We always had cats growing up that would be inside as well as outside cats, which I always thought was the best. What animal should be stuck inside all day (except those in cages)? But now that I know what a problem cats can be to birds, I’m not sure I’ll ever have an outdoor cat again.

    Reply to Kaytee's comment

  14. kellie on November 6, 2011 at 2:36 am

    I love cats and have always had them around growing up. I can’t imagine the place without a cat around. They are showing you a sign of affection by leaving these dead things on your door step, even though this is not technically sweet, the sentiment of it is.

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  15. Michele on November 6, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    She looks like our feral CC. We haven’t seen a mouse in 4 years….the cats took them out.

    Reply to Michele's comment

  16. Sherri on November 7, 2011 at 1:47 am

    We have 2 outdoor cats over-wintering in our detatched garage/shop. They keep all the mice out of the garage which is no small feat here in the country! These 2 cats are outdoors for most of the summer only coming into the garage for long naps after a stretch of long days mousing! We also have an indoor/outdoor cat who is the BEST mouser we have ever had! I have yet to see evidence of mice in the house and he leaves mice on our doorstep and all over the property EVERY day. He is on the prowl constantly and works very hard for us, but as an extra bonus, he is incredibly cuddly when he comes in for the night :)

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  17. Jennifer Fisk on November 7, 2011 at 9:21 am

    My Maine Coon and Maine Coon mix have been doing an excellent job of keeping the mouse, vole, mole, chipmunk and red squirrel population under control. They have also taken a couple of birds this summer which I feel badly about but their prowess at rodent control makes up for it.

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  18. Angela on November 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Aw, your garden cats are adorable! What good hunters! I’m a cat lover too–but they both stay mainly indoors. My older one, Pickles, loves to come on the deck with me where I have a container garden and he keeps me company while I work.

    Reply to Angela's comment

  19. Tommy Vance on November 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I wish we could keep more outdoor animals alive, especially feral cats. However, the coyotes always seem to be victorious in the fight against our outdoor cats. Argggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh……………

    Reply to Tommy Vance's comment

  20. Seren Dippity on November 8, 2011 at 1:23 am

    I keep my cats indoors only because of the statistics saying how short a lifespan outdoor cats have. I think I would adopt an outside cat just to keep them out of the shelters… but unless it was totally feral I’d probably get too attached and bring them inside.

    In Houston, I encouraged our condo association to keep a feral cat population healthy by trapping them getting them fixed and shots then releasing them where they were found. It kept the rat, roach and possum population down. Removing feral cats just invites other feral cats in to fight for the territory.

    Here in Dallas, we have a large population of Hawks and no feral cats. Very little trouble with rodents either! First place I’ve ever lived that didn’t have squirrels raiding the bird feeders. We have bunnies and squirrels galore, they just stay in the safer wooded area behind our property.

    Reply to Seren Dippity's comment

    • Susy on November 8, 2011 at 8:45 am

      It is tough when you know the statistics for the life span of outdoor cats vs indoor cats. But I’m convinced that their quality of life more than makes up for it. We had a cat that showed up a few years ago, we made him a strictly indoor cat, then he started having mental problems. After starting to let him outside again he’s happy as a clam with his indoor/outdoor lifestyle now.

      We too trap the cats and get them fixed, although we don’t do any vaccines for them. We do have quite a problem here, in the last 6 months we’ve had 6-8 new feral cats show up.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Seren Dippity on November 9, 2011 at 1:15 am

        My indoor cats have been totally indoor from birth. They are perfectly happy. I have lots of climbing space and scratching posts for them and plenty of sunny window sills. I do think it would be harder with a cat that has previously been an outside cat. That is one reason I don’t even take mine out on leashes.

        We did vaccines mostly because of people were freaking out about exposure to rabies.

        to Seren Dippity's comment

  21. Seren Dippity on November 8, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Another story…. My mom used to get so angry with her outdoor cat when it killed baby bunnies. But she praised her for killing rats in the barn!!!

    Reply to Seren Dippity's comment

  22. Giri on November 8, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    We have been thinking about adopting a feral cat. We have a a fairly big yard by suburbia standards and have a lot of rats, mice, voles and squirrels (that cause the most damage). We are hoping the cat can keep the squirrels in check but are skeptical about the cats going after the birds

    Reply to Giri's comment

  23. airbo23 on November 9, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I love my cats, but I refuse to tell myself it’s ok when they kill without consuming.
    Did you know:
    Americans keep an estimated 60 million cats as pets. Let’s say each cat kills only one bird a year. That would mean that cats kill over 60 million birds (minimum) each year – more wildlife than any oil spill.

    Scientific studies actually show that each year, cats kill hundreds of millions of migratory songbirds. In 1990, researchers estimated that “outdoor” house cats and feral cats were responsible for killing nearly 78 million small mammals and birds annually in the United Kingdom.

    University of Wisconsin ornithologist, Dr. Santley Temple estimates that 20-150 million songbirds are killed each year by rural cats in Wisconsin alone.

    Feline predation is not “natural.” Cats were domesticated by the ancient Egyptians and taken throughout the world by the Romans. Cats were brought to North America in the 1800’s to control rats. The “tabby” that sits curled up on your couch is not a natural predator and has never been in the natural food chain in the Western Hemisphere.

    Cats are a serious threat to fledglings, birds roosting at night and birds on a nest. Research shows that de-clawing cats and bell collars do not prevent them from killing birds and other small animals. For healthy cats and wild birds, cats should not be allowed to roam free.

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  24. Jeannie on November 14, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Seeing that little dead mouse made me so sad! Oh well. My parents live out on a ranch and there are tons of “varmits” as my step-dad likes to call them.
    They have quite a few outdoor cats that patrol at all hours of the day.

    In all honesty, I’d be afraid for my cats to actually consume the rodents as this is how they get parasites. There’s always something isn’t there?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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