Cats are natural predators. In fact, they often occupy the mesopredator spot in almost every food web, seeing as they have very few known enemies. If you put a cat and a chicken in a room together, even if it’s domesticated, chances are its natural instincts will instantaneously kick in. For this reason, it’s unlikely that a cat will ever become bonded enough with a chicken to protect it from harm. Of course, your cat may be able to help protect chickens from small vermin such as rats.
Then again, that doesn’t imply that it’s impossible to tame your cat to get used to having chickens around so that they can all live harmoniously, even though the cat may not necessarily protect them.
The 3 Different Types of Cats
As a flock owner, you have to acquaint yourself with the different types of cats that might be roaming around your chicken coop. This is important, as it will help you avoid dealing with unnecessary heartache. There are generally three types of cats—domesticated, farm, and stray/feral cats, all of which will have different reactions to chickens.
1. Domesticated Cats
A domesticated cat is what we like to call the house cat. This cat has lived with its human companion for years, probably since it was born, so we often expect it to be well-mannered.
Sadly though, their natural hunting instincts never go away. That’s an upside if you’re hoping to keep rodents at bay, but a disadvantage for those practicing poultry farming, or those looking to add chickens to their pet collection.
A domesticated cat will rarely attack an adult chicken. But the same can’t be said about the baby chicks. Some people believe that this could be because the baby chicks usually bear a striking resemblance to their feathered toys, and thus cannot tell the difference.
2. Farm Cats
You can also call them barn cats if that’s what you’re used to. These cats are also somewhat domesticated, but primarily live outdoors and close to but not in a home with humans. They are usually of mixed breed and brought up in conditions that are either feral or semi-feral.
Their diets purely consist of vermin, meaning their main purpose is to help the farmer take care of any pest or animal that would destroy his/her crops or spread diseases to their livestock.
Seeing as hunting is what they do on a daily basis, there’s no doubt that they’ll be curious to know what goes on inside that chicken coop. Free-ranging your flock is likely not an option if there’s a barn cat around.
3. Feral Cats and Strays
For the record, feral cats and strays are different in several ways. Even though these two terms are often used interchangeably, a feral cat is a feline that has never had any human contact, while a stray has.
You’ll be able to tell the difference judging from their behavior. When a feral cat sees you, it instinctively runs to hide. You’ll never be able to get near them, as they are always alert, trying to spot any danger lurking in the shadows. We believe that’s why they love living in colonies—there’s strength in numbers.
A stray, on the other hand, will first assess the situation. If it feels like you’re not there to cause it any harm, it will get on with its business as if everything’s normal. And by “business” we mean hunting. They usually spend most of their time hunting, because coming by food is not easy in the wild. That’s how we know both feral and stray cats will likely attack your flock if they are able to access the coop.
Warning: Do not try to catch a feral cat by hand, even if it’s attacking your chicken. It won’t hesitate to bite or scratch anyone who tries to get between it and its next meal.
Also, they are known to spread Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), which is a bacterial infection. While the infection is not fatal, you’re probably going to grapple with symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and general discomfort.
How Do You Train Your Cats to Get Along with Your Chickens?
1. Use a Fence
Cats are naturally curious. The best approach is to make them get used to seeing chickens around—make them think that your chickens are part of the family.
But apply precautionary measures during the introductions. Use a wire mesh fence to enable them to look through but not get access to the flock’s personal space. Take a minute to see how they react.
Hissing or trying to scratch the fences are signs that their predatory instincts have kicked in. Don’t push them away, as this will only make them more aggressive. Instead, give them their favorite toy—the toy is meant to act as a distraction.
Do this for a few weeks until you start noticing a change in their behavior whenever they are around the chickens. If you sense they’ve graduated from hostile to hospitable, move on to the next stage of training.
2. Face-To-Face Introductions
You still have to control the situation, seeing as it only takes a second for the cat to pounce on its prey. Hold the cat and see how it behaves whenever the chicken walks by. If there are no signs of aggressiveness or unsavory behavior, hold the chicken and let the cat roam around freely.
You’ll know it’s time to let them hang out together once the cat seems unphased by the chicken’s presence. But you still must supervise their interactions.
Like humans, cats have different personalities. Therefore, training some of them will be more difficult than others. Also, some breeds have a stronger predatory instinct than others, meaning some of our furry and feathered friends might never get along. Even when trained to live peacefully with chickens, it’s unlikely that a cat will ever protect them from other predators, although they can help with smaller vermin like rats, which can cause issues with chicken flocks.
Featured Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock