Each day when I go out to check on my horses, our barn cat, Eureka, comes to greet me. She isn’t a feral cat, my daughter brought her home as a kitten 14 years ago and since then she’s been petted and handled and loved so that she is always hanging around looking for affection.
I am not a “cat person” and have no desire to have a cat in my house – mainly because I’m allergic to them – but for those of you with a horse barn at home a cat is almost a necessity. Eureka’s job is to keep the barn and tack room free of rodents and she does an exemplary job.
Rodents are attracted to the horses' grain, which we keep on the floor. Besides eating and contaminating the feed, rodents can be very destructive in other ways: destroying insulation and chewing on electric wires, not to mention chewing on - and making nests in! - your leather tack. They also carry diseases, parasites and fleas. And without a feline to keep them away, once they're moved in, rodents are extremely hard to get rid of.
Besides rodents – which to me means mice and rats – we also have quite a healthy family of rabbits living in among the round hay bales in the shed. I can always tell when Eureka has managed to catch one of the rabbits as she won’t be interested in her dry food for a number of days.
It isn’t enough, though, to just get a cat, release it out in the barn and expect it to get all of its nutrients through mousing. They should have a source of dry food, to keep them in the area and not start roaming far from home in the beginning and also to supplement their diet if game is scarce. They also need a constant source of fresh water. Eureka has learned to jump up on the automatic waterer for the horses and each day I give her a little bit of dry food. The amount I feed her depends on the weather, with the extreme cold we’ve been having this month I have been feeding her more as small animals aren’t moving around much.
Eureka also gets annual checkups at the vet, is kept current on all her shots and is de-wormed to take care of any internal parasites and fleas. I also had her spayed as soon as she was old enough – please be responsible and spay or neuter your cats and dogs!
We have taught all our dogs – mine and both that belong to my daughters – not to go into the tack shed when the door is open. Although the cat can, and does, climb trees, fence posts and hay bales to get away from the dogs, the tack shed is her haven where she knows the dogs won’t follow her. It is funny to see her sitting just inside the open door, calmly staring out and teasing the dogs, daring them to come in.
Although Eureka is a working cat, with a definite job to do, she is also an affectionate friend who is happy to sit on your lap and purr with contentment. Since she is such a friendly cat, she was always hanging around while my daughters were practicing their horses for shows when they were younger. This had a benefit: our horses grew used to seeing a small, quick animal every day in a different context than in the pasture.