How Effective Are Barn Cats?

Barn cats are domestic cats that live primarily outdoors on farms and homesteads for the purpose of rodent control. Evidence suggests barn cats were the first domesticated cats, dating back to around 7,500 BC when humans began storing grain and needed help controlling rodents[1]. Today, barn cats remain popular for their legendary mousing abilities. With their strong hunting skills and ability to thrive outdoors, barn cats make ideal partners for farmers, ranchers, and anyone needing natural pest control.

Barn cats are well-suited to living outdoors because of their rugged personalities and ability to tolerate temperature extremes. While they look similar to house cats, barn cats are more independent and aloof. They are territorial hunters that patrol for rodents constantly. By keeping rodent populations in check, barn cats provide an invaluable service in terms of pest control, biosecurity, and cost savings.


Rodent Control

Barn cats can be very effective at controlling rodent populations on farms. According to Farnam, barn cats that are good hunters can catch an average of 6 mice per day.1 This level of hunting can significantly reduce rodents that damage crops and spread disease. Controlling rodents is extremely important on farms to protect feed, crops, and equipment. Cats provide natural pest control by preying on mice, rats, and other small rodents that can overrun agricultural settings.

With their excellent hunting skills, barn cats can eliminate many rodents on a daily basis. Some sources estimate a good barn cat can catch over 2,000 rodents per year.2 This makes cats one of the most effective and sustainable forms of rodent control available to farmers and ranchers.

Other Pest Control

Barn cats can also help control other pests besides rodents, such as snakes. According to Sioux Nation Agriculture, cats are natural predators that will kill and eat snakes that try to enter barns or other farm buildings. Their stalking and pouncing abilities make them well-suited to catching fast-moving snakes.

Using barn cats for snake control can be more effective and less hazardous than chemical repellents. However, the hunting skills of each individual cat can vary. Maintaining multiple cats improves the chances that at least one is an avid snake hunter.

In addition to snakes, barn cats may help control other pests like insects, though their main value is in rodent and snake control. With a bit of training, cats can be quite effective in reducing a variety of rural pests without the need for chemicals.

Cost Savings

Barn cats can provide significant cost savings compared to using chemical pest control methods or traps. According to one Reddit user, they spend about $10-15 per month to feed 3 cats high quality food, which comes out to $120-180 per year (Source). The ASPCA estimates the adoption fee is $30 for one cat or $50 for a pair (Source). In contrast, the average cost of professional pest control service is $50-80 per service visit according to HomeAdvisor, with most requiring monthly or quarterly visits for ongoing rodent issues. This means a year of professional pest control could cost $600 or more, 5 times the amount of caring for barn cats.

Over the long term, the savings from using barn cats are even greater. Once adopted, cats can live and work on the farm effectively for many years with proper care and veterinary services. The one-time adoption fee and ongoing food and medical costs will continue providing pest control for the lifespan of the cats. Additionally, eliminating the use of chemical pesticides provides other indirect savings and benefits such as reduced environmental impact and less risk of poison resistance in rodents.

Farm Biosecurity

Having cats roaming around a farm introduces biosecurity risks related to disease transmission to livestock. Feral cats and barn cats that are not properly vaccinated and treated for parasites can spread diseases to cattle, horses, pigs, poultry, and other farm animals. According to the Wildlife, Rodent, and Other Animal Control Biosecurity Tip Sheet published by Iowa State University, diseases can be spread through various forms of contact between species, including bites, nasal secretions, urine, and feces [1].

Toxoplasmosis is one disease of particular concern, as research by the Australian government shows that feral cats are passing on Toxoplasma parasites to livestock and poultry, sometimes with devastating effects [2]. Proper veterinary care, vaccinations, deworming, and limiting contact between cats and livestock are important to mitigate risks. Farmers should work closely with vets to develop comprehensive wellness and biosecurity protocols for barn cats in order to protect the rest of the farm.

Welfare Concerns

While barn cats provide rodent control, there are some welfare concerns to consider for the cats themselves. Barn cats face a number of risks and challenges to their health and safety that house cats do not.

One major risk is from predators. Barn cats living outdoors will encounter predators like coyotes, foxes, birds of prey, and even feral dogs. These can be very dangerous threats to a cat’s safety. Providing safe housing for the cats, like a well-built cat house, is important. But predators are still a risk.

Barn cats also face risks from accidents like machinery, vehicles, or falls. Farm equipment and vehicles in barns and fields can accidentally injure or kill a cat. Falls from heights like balconies and rafters in barns are another hazard. And curious kittens exploring may get trapped in places or ingest harmful substances.

Health issues are another concern. Outdoor cats are more prone to wounds, parasites like fleas and ticks, exposure to diseases, and ingesting toxins or poisons. Providing vet care like vaccinations and deworming is advised. But risks still remain higher than indoor cats. Issues like fights with wildlife, frostbite, snake bites, etc. impact welfare.

Overall, barn cats adopt a rough outdoor lifestyle facing ongoing risks. Humane management practices to mitigate risks are needed. But realistically, the average lifespan of a working barn cat is shorter than a house cat in safer conditions. Cats suited for an outdoor lifestyle are ideal. But risks to welfare exist.



While barn cats can be an effective form of rodent control, there are some alternative methods that can be used as well or in conjunction with cats:

Traps – Both lethal and non-lethal traps can be set up around barns and other farm buildings. Some common options are snap traps, live traps, and electronic traps. Traps allow for targeted removal of rodents.[1]

Rodenticides – Chemical poisons can be used to kill rodents, either in bait stations or mixed into bait. However, proper precautions should be taken to avoid poisoning non-target animals. Additionally, some rodents have developed resistance to certain ingredients.[2]

Barriers – Sealing any openings or gaps in buildings that could allow rodent entry is an important prevention method. Materials like concrete, sheet metal, and wire mesh can be used to block holes both inside and outside structures.[3]

Improved Sanitation – Eliminating accessible food sources and nesting sites helps deter rodents. Keeping feed in sealed containers, cleaning up spills, and removing clutter and vegetation around buildings limits resources for pests.

Ideal Management

To ensure barn cats thrive in their role, proper management and care are essential. This involves providing adequate food, water, shelter, and veterinary care.

For feeding, barn cats require high-quality cat food to stay healthy and energized for rodent control. Feeding at consistent times twice daily is ideal. Provide ample clean water as well. Strategically place multiple feeding stations around the barn for accessibility.

Barn cats need proper shelter from the elements. Provide an insulated, dry structure with soft bedding they can retreat to. The shelter should be elevated off the ground and have multiple entry/exit points. Barns often have areas cats naturally seek for shelter, but designated houses just for the cats are recommended.

Annual veterinary care including vaccinations, deworming, and flea/tick prevention is essential. Spaying/neutering controls the population. And properly identifying cats with collars helps monitor their health and safety. A heated shelter may be necessary in cold climates.

With adequate food, water, shelter, and veterinary care, barn cats can thrive while effectively managing rodents and other barn pests.

Case Studies

There are several examples of successful barn cat programs across the United States. The Williamson County Working Cat Program in Texas works with local shelters and rescues to place feral, free-roaming and barn cats in safe locations like farms, ranches, stables and breweries. Since 2012, they have placed over 500 cats. Barn owners report the cats are effective at controlling rodents and other pests on their property. The cats also receive ongoing veterinary care and shelter.

Similarly, PAWS Atlanta started a barn cat program in 2016 to save the lives of unadoptable cats. The cats are spayed/neutered and then placed on rural properties for rodent and pest control. Over 250 cats have been placed through the program. Barn owners provide food, water and shelter while the cats get a safe home. The program has grown through word of mouth as more property owners learn about its benefits.

These examples demonstrate that carefully managed barn cat programs can be a humane win-win solution for cats and property owners alike. When cats are matched to suitable locations, and provided with ongoing care, barn homes can drastically reduce euthanasia rates and support positive human-cat relationships.


In summary, barn cats can be an effective form of rodent control on farms when properly managed. By keeping cats on the premises, farmers can reduce rodent populations and resulting damage without the use of poisons. Barn cats also provide pest control for other small animals like snakes and birds at no additional cost.

However, there are some welfare concerns with using free-roaming cats, including injury, disease transmission, and short lifespans. With proper feeding, shelter, veterinary care, and oversight, these risks can be mitigated. Alternatives like mechanical traps may be more humane but require more effort and expense on the farmer’s part.

The ideal barn cat management includes spaying/neutering, vaccinations, daily feeding, warm shelters, and monitoring cat health and safety. When cared for, barn cats can be an effective natural form of rodent control that benefits both the farm and the cats themselves. If managed correctly, barn cats provide an economical and chemical-free pest control option for farmers.

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