It is said that cats were domesticated around the time humans learned to farm and store a surplus of grain. The grain attracted rodents, which attracted cats, and it didn’t take long for humans and cats to figure out that they had a lot to offer each other. Some historians also have said that cats were self-domesticating, in that they basically moved in with humans without requiring much effort.
Regardless, cats are as important to the modern homesteader today as they were thousands of years ago. They provide companionship and keep crop-destroying and disease-carrying rodents, but not all cats are created equal. Let’s take a look at the five best cat breeds for the homestead.
1. Maine coons
A classic American breed, the Maine coon is a powerful long-haired cat which is optimized for the cold winters of Maine. Known as “the gentle giant,” these cats can reach up to 30 pounds or so in weight (although many are smaller) and they are extremely intelligent and friendly. If you raise one from a kitten, they can be leash-trained, taught to ride on your shoulder, and more.
Their great advantage on the homestead, aside from being extremely loving and sociable creatures, is that they are rodent-slaughtering machines. My own Maine coon has destroyed much of the rat and mouse population around my house and has moved on to cleaning up the neighbor’s property, as well, much to their delight. This hearty northern breed is pretty much a must-have cat around the homestead or farm, and is perhaps the closest thing to a dog you can get in cuddly cat form.
2. Domestic shorthair
A fancy name for a cat of mixed ancestry with a short coat, these are among the most common housecats you can find. Because of this, you can probably readily adopt an outdoor acclimated domestic shorthair from a shelter (and shelter pets can be some of the most loving and loyal companions you can find). This will give you a natural mouser that is as much at home inside as out. Pick a healthy, stout cat if you want a mouser, or consider an older more mellow (and often overlooked) cat if you want an indoor companion that also can serve as a rodent deterrent.
3. Siamese cats
You’ll want to make sure your Siamese has a companion cat, or that you are home every day to be with it, because this highly sociable (and lethal to rodents) breed will get depressed when alone. Often overlooked as mousers, this ancient breed is more than capable when given the chance, and adds a distinguished touch to any homestead or farm. Consider them if you live in warmer areas where summertime heat could be too uncomfortable for a Maine coon. Siamese are very loyal cats and will often bond with a single person, making another excellent choice for companion and hunter.
4. Japanese bobtail
The traditional cat of Japan, and noted for its prowess in hunting, it is as sociable as it is lethal. Formerly relied upon to protect the silkworm industry from damage by rodents, it is an increasingly popular breed in the United States. Easily identified by its short hair, stumpy little tail, and often popular calico color, this is a breed rich in history that can easily earn a place on your homestead. This is another one that would be great for warmer weather locations due to the short hair, or if you are simply looking for a different sort of cat.
5. Feral cats
While not a breed, but a type, consider that there are many feral cats which are trapped, spayed or neutered and then released again. These are cats that have already learned how to survive outside and may only ask for a warm, dry place to sleep (like your barn or shed) and a regular supplemental diet of cat food to keep healthy and in good shape. Sometimes these are cats that once had a regular home and were abandoned, and will readily adapt to living with people again. Talk to your local animal shelter or rescue if you think having a couple of relocated feral cats is a good choice.
Picking a Cat
While it is easy to say “breed X or breed Y” is a good mouser, and I am certainly proud of the hunting instincts of my Maine coon, the fact is any cat is a hunter, and the behavior is learned from the mother. While it is a given that any cat that has had to fend for itself is likely to be a skilled hunter, you will want a cat that shows classic stalking and hunting behavior and treats toys like prey animals instead of simply something squeaky and fun.
Once you get a mouser or two for the homestead, you need to remember a few other things. De-worm them every six months and consider getting some basic medication like painkillers and antibiotics from your vet in case of an injury, especially if you live in a rural or off-grid setting, where proper medical care can be hours or more away. Cats are stoic little creatures and rarely show pain when injured, but still deserve the best care we can give them.
If your cat is going to be an outdoor cat, make sure it has a safe, warm and dry place to sleep, and give them food, because there is no guarantee that rodents alone will supply enough daily calories to keep them healthy. If your cat comes and goes inside and out as it pleases, then you’ve got the best of both worlds right there. And, of course, an indoor-only cat makes a marvelous companion and can take care of any odd rodents that might get inside.
Cats are wonderful creatures and have been living and working alongside human beings for thousands of years. There is no reason not to have a couple around your homestead doing what they do best: killing the rodents that want to steal the fruits of your labor. And all they ask for is a place to sleep, some extra food, and a kind scratch around the ears. Seems like a good trade to me.
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