Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cats and Chickens ...

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by Rebecca Nickols

Can cats and chickens coexist?

I have five cats of my own and until recently, this hasn't been an issue of concern. Years ago my border collies and cats developed some sort of agreement on the boundaries on our property. The dogs rule the front yard and the cats reside in the back. If the cats pass this imaginary line, the dogs quickly herd them back into their agreed upon location (the back yard).

Then entered my free-ranging chickens and everything changed. At first I was sure that if I let my chickens loose, the border collies would relentlessly herd the girls back into the coop ... and perhaps harm them in the process. Surprisingly though, the dogs are for some reason intimidated by the chickens. Their fear is probably due to my one Buff Orpington who will charge and peck anyone (cat, dog or chicken) who gets in her way! As the dogs accepted my new flock, they also seemed to ease up on the cats. The set boundary lines are blurring and the cats are showing up in the front yard more often, with nothing more than a stern look from the dogs.

The problem is that the chicken coop is in the middle of our property and one cat in particular (aka "Little Kitty") is getting braver about approaching the chickens. At first I found him spending much of his day staring at the chickens, then sleeping under the coop and today (when the chickens were out foraging) I found him taking a catnap ... in a nesting box!

I know this cat has killed mice, small birds and such, but is a cat even capable of killing a large chicken? I looked through the forums on BackYardChickens.com and sure enough there are a load of chicken keepers who can attest to the fact that a cat (feral or domestic) can hunt down a large chicken and kill or at the least seriously harm the bird. In the same forums, however, there were a lot of comments indicating that the family cat and flock tolerated each other without any problems.

So just what is Little Kitty contemplating? Does he want to eat a chicken or just hatch an egg? Perhaps he's just jealous of their accommodations ... Whatever the reason, we've concluded that the chickens need a fenced-in area to free-range during the day. At first when I let them out of the run, they would stay within an eye's view of the coop. Then they started venturing further away. Today, I found them about 5 acres from our house!

Soon Little Kitty won't have access to the coop and he'll just have to be content dreaming of chickens. Does he want to live with the chickens or dine on them? I hope I'll never have the opportunity to solve the mystery!


To view what else is happening at our southwest Missouri property, visit the garden-roof coop.

25 comments:

  1. My outside cat, Barbara, will curl up in a nice warm nest on a cool day and take a long nap. When Barbara was first tossed out here as a kitten she was educated by Mama. Mama is a Buff Orpington hen that had young chicks at that time. Mama never actually touched Barbara, but the chase was enough. Barbara has been here 2 years now and never once touched a chicken and I have Dutch running around that weigh about a pound each. I assume they are very temping for a cat.

    On the other side the idiot neighbor's across the road tossed their cats out to fend for themselves. Once they started to starve I lost several birds, some were extremely precious to me, and was forced to deal with the cats myself. The largest was a Standard Orp hen.

    ~~Matt~~

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  2. Great post Becks, and a very good question.

    My chooks are off site, well away from my kitty. But if she did have to opportunity to play leopard with the chickens I reckon the cockerels would put her off straight away. I'm sure she'd be content with just watching and imagining...

    I let my chooks free range in the orchard and I (and the hens) feel much safer knowing there's a rooster watching over them.

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  3. Your animals and birds are lucky to have you!

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  4. I wonder what Little Kitty has in mind ... perhaps (and I hope)the nest box is just a cozy place to rest. I love the photo of him there. Stay safe chickens!

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  5. Great post Rebecca. I too was really worried about my cats when we first got chickens. My kitty's (2 of them) live outdoors, have all their claws, and are formidable hunters. I was really surprised at how the "chickens" took control of the cats. I don't have to worry about my hens. Even the neighbors cat can't get a leg up on the chickens. Come and see a post on backyard chickens about how my chickens "own" my cats. It's pretty funny. http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=547760

    My kitty's have been know to explore the chicken coop and lay in the nest boxes as well.

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  6. Thanks for the comments!

    Foothills Poultry--I think my chickens have put a little fear into the cats, but I have seen Little Kitty get into a pouncing pose when he's near the chickens. He never has pounced though--he gets distracted and starts grooming himself or bats at a bug! With my chickens wondering so far from the house, I'm more worried about the neighbors cats and dogs attacking the flock. After hearing your story, I'm more convinced than ever that I need a fenced in area for the chicks to free-range.

    Chris--I would love to have a rooster, but my vegetarian daughter wouldn't dream of eating a fertilized egg... I need a rooster that will protect the girls, but isn't interested in anything else!

    Mrs. Bok, Julie--Little Kitty seemed pretty comfortable when I found him sleeping in the nesting box and I don't think it was his first nap in the coop... Last week the chickens were laying eggs in the middle of the coop floor (not in a nesting box). I wonder if the box was occupied by a certain cat!

    Kelly--What a great story and photos!! I love the photo of your cat, Caspian, taking a dust bath with the chickens! Thanks for including the link to your post!

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  7. We have a neighborhood cat who lives very nicely among our chickens. She will wander right through the flock, and not even our roo is bothered by her! She is a smaller cat, I don't see her being able to do much harm, even if she wanted to!

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  8. I would like to propose another idea; perhaps "Little Kitty" has appointed himself guardian of the flock. When I was little, we had a three-legged cat named Kitty who did just that. While the flock was free to forage throughout the day, at the first sign of trouble, Kitty would defend the flock. Our culprits were opossums, cats, and dogs. In fact, she was so good that we never lost a chicken until after she passed away. Just wanted to put that out there since there were many a time we found her asleep in a nest box!

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  9. My Maine Coon cat often sits and watches the chickens and turkeys. He has never gone into predator mode but instead is entertained by the poultry. I know he can be a predator by the number of dead mice, chipmunks, squirrels, moles and a couple of birds he leaves on my deck.

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  10. We don't have our chickens yet but the barn cat, Tyger, has taken down a Canada Goose, several rabibts and squirles, tons of field rats/mice and a couple of large ground hogs. I don't think we'll be leaving him alone with the chickens. Though he has fended off the fox that lives in the orchard several times so he would deffinately be good to have near the coop. Also not sure what he'll do if the mountain lion comes around, knowing him he'll try to fight.

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  11. My youngest cat, dropped off here a year ago, amazed me in the spring when I had brooder chicks. 'Little Kitty' is a dedicated hunter of mice, voles, chipmunks, baby rabbits, and, sadly, birds. So when I looked outside and saw him sitting in the outside pen with three week old chicks I thought they were goners and I about broke my neck getting out there as fast as I could. To my great amazement, all five chicks were fine, cat just lying down with them, and he then jumped out of the pen. He then sat outside the pen and just watched them. I did cover the pen after that, but he would often sit and watch them. He is a very dog-like cat; I really think he knows that these are 'family' and has never looked at them in an aggressive way. I also have four (people drop cats off 'in the country'; they are all neutered when I keep them) other adult cats who also do their fair share of hunting. None of them have ever been interested in the chickens.....or chicks. Soooooooo I would be apt to think your cat may just be 'chicken friendly'. Good luck. The menagerie is always fun.......I'm sure you agree.

    You might try a banty roo.....I had one who protected the girls very well, and there was never any, ahem, 'hanky panky'.

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  12. Our cats are indoor only, but there are several "barn cats" that reside at the horse farm across the road. Only recently have we started to let the girls free range, and so far so good. But this was my husband's idea (let them be chickens!) and I am still worried about these cats, especially when it gets to be winter and they get hungrier.

    This is our first year with chickens, and I am not sure how we will survive our first upstate NY winter with them, but it is useful information that you have offered about chickens coexisting with cats.

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  13. Is your cat capable of killing a chicken?
    A grown one-probably-if he really wants to.
    A young one-definately.
    A chick-in a heartbeat.
    But will he kill? Maybe not, but getting in close, especially in a nest box that is regularly use, is showing he's thinking about it.
    Some cats pretend to sleep (with one eye open!)then kill when no one is looking-they aren't stupid-they know you feed those chickens!

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  14. My barn Cat Nikka, can catch and kill full size rabbits, but she will give over her food dish to the chickens. She will sleep on the porch with them all sunbathing around her and has never made a move towards them. I had a young tom who tried to chase a couple, got pecked once and then I found him on a cool evening when I went to lock up the chicks. He was asleep at one end of the house, and the chickens were all at the other end looking somewhat concerned. I pulled him out, but after that, all he did was curl up with them in the sun. They got used to him and would let him joint them. I had a neighbors cat take a young chook once, but my cats seem to genuinely co-exist peacefully with them. awake and asleep.

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  15. Our indoor/outdoor cat, Yogi, was terrified of the baby chicks in their brooder when they lived in our kitchen. Now that they are pullets and outdoors, he takes notice but moves on, preferring his prowling and hunting for mice and moles. Occasionally, he'll be sunning himself out on the patio, and find himself surrounded by curious chickens. Once they get to within a couple of feet of him, he gets up and asks to come inside. So far, so good.

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  16. Hi, my problem is not our cat MeYou, it is with our Dachshunds, Kaidee and Bentley. Before the male Bentley came to live at our house, everyone co-existed, Kaidee would sometimes chase the chickens as they free ranged our yard but never killed. Actually Bentley didn't bother the chickens until we gave our ducks away (he was afraid of the male duck who chased him) now he harasses the chickens and kills when no one is listening or watching him. Consequently the chickens are stuck in their pen. He has killed 5 chickens and has no shame or takes on no guilt...lays next to them as if to say "look what I did for you"! He also climbed 10 feet into a large pine tree after chickens twice! Any advice, someone has suggested a shock collar...is that the only solution?

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  17. My barn cats always coexisted with my chickens, but my friend has lost a lot of adult chickens to feral cats. So they are capable of killing them - perhaps it depends on how hungry they are.

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  18. I think cats are quite smart about the coexistence of other animals in a bunch that are owned by their people. Feral cats will kill for hunger and because they have no alligence to you. Cats, dogs, all animals that live in close quarters within a family will become accustomed to one another and get along just fine.
    This spring my 6 Buff Orps and two baby (wild) rabbits ate within a foot of each other, and hung out together all day in the yard. Those bunnies knew they were safer in a flock. They also let me come within a couple of feet of them, and hung out near me when I was out there. They understood that my presence protected all of them from a common enemy; hawks.

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  19. We live in town, with a fenced in yard. 6 cats, 6 chickens. Oh, and two neighbor cats. And a pug.
    I got the chickens as days-olds, so of course they were in a secure enclosure then. The cats would hover, and would have played with them to death if they'd been able, at that point. Once they were big enough to be allowed in the yard, they were all pretty good. One cat (who was born after we'd had the chickens for a year) will take a run at them occasionally, but only in play. Otherwise, nothing. The neighbor cats started to run at them when they moved in, but quickly realized that it was a no-go - some chickens run, some will counter. They don't take the chance anymore.
    Most telling, perhaps, is how they will, all 12 of them, attempt to jump on the table when there are snacks. It can get crowded.

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  20. I had a friend who raised chickens and had several other animals. ONE of the cats would sit in one of the chicken nesting boxes as if it were HER nest and technically it was. That is where she stayed and she "perched" on her nest just like the chickens did and basically she appeared to behave as if she thought she was a chicken. She never hurt any of the chickens, just sat in the nesting box as if she were forever waiting on her imaginary eggs to hatch. It was incredibly funny and it truly looked like she thought she was a chicken. I guess she just found a nice, warm coop and decided she wanted to roost there.

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  21. I used to have an Ameracauna hen that loved to keep the baby kittens warm when mama cat was out hunting...that cat always preferred the chickens nest box to her own bed. Cat & hens got along very well.

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  22. I've enjoyed all the comments! After reading the stories of the family cat and the flock, it seems that cats and chickens can coexist! Post photos of your cat with the chicks on our factbook page!-I'd love to see them!

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  23. I know first hand that cats will kill chickens. I had three very nice cats and loved them very much. We would occasionally find a dead chicken in our chicken coop or out in the pasture and we didn't know why. Two months ago we had been gone for a couple of hours and when came home, we had five dead chickens in the chicken coop, three outside of the coop and our rooster blind and unable to see. Judging from the claw marks on his face it was no doubt it was our cats.

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  24. A few years ago we had a hen build a nest in one end of a big wooden toolbox and a pregnant cat build HER nest on the other end. Soon we had 5 chicks and 3 kittens plus their respective mothers all living in the toolbox. Momma cat never bothered the chicks but the kittens in all their blindness would crawl over & lay under the hen with the chicks while their mother was out & about. It was really quite comical as the kittens got older & started climbing all over the hen, she was very tolerant of the inconvenience.

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