Feeding barn cats

I’ve just started feeding a feral cat with the hope that it will start sticking around my place more to manage the rodents. This cat looks young and first showed up in the spring. I have never been able to get within a couple hundred feet of it so I’m pretty sure it’s not somebody’s pet. I have a very small barn and only occasionally see signs of mice but I’d like to keep it that way. I’ve never had a resident cat. I noticed that it was hanging out under my porch so I started feeding it there and I’ve set up a heated cat house under there too - no idea if it’s getting used but I’ve seen the cat go under the porch to eat. I’m wondering if there is a feeding strategy to keep the cat around but also keep it motivated to hunt? How much/ often should I feed it?

After years (and years) of saying I would never have barn cats (get too attached, they end up as house cats, etc), about five years ago I started putting out a game cam where I saw paw prints around my barn.

Daily checking my camera, I found I had 4-5 regular visitors who walked behind my barn, and in the snow, when riding in the winter, I could see tracks that there were regular “routes” from the four barns (widely spaced) that belong to my neighbors (I own the land, their barns are on the edges).

I started putting out a little bowl of food each day, enough for 2 cats —if I put out more, raccoons became an issue.

Fast forward --I am now an official Feral Cat Colony Sponsor. I take my job seriously. I trap, neuter, ear-tip, and release. The Feral Cat Colony “office” takes my live-trapped feral cats to local vets who spay/neuter/vaccinate and ear tip for $30. I keep track of who shows so know if someone new is visiting.

My goal is to NOT HAVE KITTENS! I have had to deal with two litters since I started my personal mission. All have been placed by the local cat rescue and the mom re-released after spay/neuter/vaccination.

I would rather not have barn cats. I love cats --have three in the house. The life of a feral cat is short and miserable (compared to a house cat). When a regular is not on my camera for a long time, I can only hope it met a swift, painless death —that makes me sad.

fYI mine are all very, very feral --night feeders —cats, I’m told, who were once domesticated are day feeders.

Due to the proximity of huge duck barns at my neighbors, I keep poison laid for rats/mice where other animals can’t get it. If I don’t, I have trouble with rats. You can chime in all you want, but the day you open a feed bin and something the size of a small dog leaps out at you, you will change your mind --especially if it has two friends with it!


A healthy well fed cat will still hunt*. It is a sport to them. A not fed cat will only hunt for food, not wanting to waste energy on the sport of it.

I feed my barn cat 2x per day. She has dry food always and I add wet food 2x per day. But then, my current barn cat is a senior citizen TNR cat.

*Disclaimer, I am sure there are cats who are not the hunting type.


Cats don’t hunt because they get hungry. They hunt for fun. A well fed cat will hunt better for you than a starving one.

(There is actual scientific evidence proving this.)

Thanks for feeding him/her! Highly recommend trapping so you can vaccinate and alter, too :grin:


Call your local SPCA, and see if they have a “feral cat day” in your area. They might, or might not. This is a day in which the SPCA will geld or spay feral cats for free, and give it back to you. You have to book in advance, and the cat must be adequately feral.

Then, you need a “live trap”, to catch the feral cat. It is best to have the trap for several weeks before the date you have with the SPCA. Ask around, see if you can borrow one, they are fairly expensive to buy ($80 to $100). The cat goes in to eat nice cat food, and the door slams shut behind them automatically. You can train the cat to go in reliably by securing the door from closing, and putting your nice cat food close to the opening, then moving the food into the opening of the trap, and then right to the back of the trap. Before your date at the SPCA, the feral cat should be reliably going in to the trap to eat daily. Then you undo your tied trap door, and when you need to transport your feral cat, you can reliably catch it. You want your feral cat to be gelded or spayed, otherwise it will either spray urine to mark territory in your barn, or become pregnant and produce many litters of kittens. Spaying or gelding will also reduce straying, which will keep the feral cat safer from predation. A feral male can be released again when he comes home from the surgery. A spayed female is “supposed” to be kept “quiet” for several days, caged, but sometimes this is not possible. At least try to keep her in a big dog transport cage for a day or so, with a litter box in there, and a place to hide. The SPCA will also tattoo the cat, and maybe some vaccinations too. If you can’t find a free day for this at the SPCA, then you really do have to pay for it with a regular vet, if you are looking for success in feral cat ownership.

In time, the goal is to tame the feral cat, maybe not ever to become a house cat, but at least to be friendly and tame with humans, enough to keep tabs on the cat’s health, treat injuries etc.

No, their life span is not expected to be as long as a pampered house cat. But in some ways, it’s a natural life for a cat, and a feral cat can be a happy cat. A formerly feral barn cat who is not a house cat can be a great addition to your barn, be happy to see you, keep your rodent population under control for you, hang out with your horses or other livestock happily. If they are raised feral, they “know” about predators that are a danger to them, and are not “stupid” like house raised domestic cats are. Their mothers teach them about predators, teach them to be careful.

Our barn cat has been here for 8 (?) years. Long haired tortie, therefore female. She was such a feral streak when I first saw her that I wasn’t sure even what colour she was. She was a young adult. My hubby thought she was a marmot, but I was sure it was a cat. She moved so fast that you couldn’t know for sure. Over time, she showed herself a bit more. We called her “Mottyl”, from the book “Not Wanted on the Voyage”. A litter of kittens arrived, produced under the floorboards of our tackroom. She moved them to the woodshed when they were about 8 weeks old, and I caught them. I had her ready for capture in the live trap, caught her in the way described above, and took her in to be spayed. Paid for it, as it was not feral cat day. We hand raised the kittens, all long haired and very beautiful, and found homes for them. Mottyl is still here, still very feral. I put the cat food out every morning. She is a family member. She is free to wander between barns, and sometimes disappears entirely for a week or so. So far, she has always returned. One day, she won’t.

Then we had another feral show up. Orange tom. He went to the SPCA feral cat day to be gelded, about 6 months after he arrived. He was not the sire of the kittens. He was easier to tame. We named him Perry. He is the most remarkable cat, as he gets along with all other cats, male or female, spayed, gelded or not. He is like no other cat I have ever met, a true politician. He was adequately feral, the SPCA reported on gelding day LOL. He did not like being inside buildings, or going through doorways. But over the years, he has got over that. He moved into the house this fall, and is now a house cat. Our house cats (2 others) are allowed outside at will in daytime hours, and he still goes down to the barn to visit with his friend Mottyl, and takes his house cat friend Prickle on safari out into the garden. We have had him 6 years now. He has killed not only mice, but squirrels, and once an adult ermine, so he is a pretty good killing machine. He would lay out his kill for us to admire each morning at the barn. When he first started coming into the house, he would go out early in the morning, and there would be a mouse left at our door by daybreak. He takes care of his family. He has tangled with a coyote in our yard one day, the coyote’s tooth went through his ear, and ripped out, so he carries that battle scar. He got caught that day, but is even more aware if a coyote is nearby now. We can watch him to know if a predator is nearby. He brought his torn ear with the blood running down his cheek into see us that day, into the garage where we were. I took him to the vet for it, and he was perfectly mannered that day, far better than he had been previously for gelding. Impressive. He is also a “gardening kitty”, and always helps with planting, weeding and harvesting, very loyal, often comes with us walking into the bush nearby our house. Comes when called like a dog.

Ask about cats, get a book.


Thanks for the great advice, everyone. I’ve never had a cat, although I have done “cat sitting”. Around here, cats don’t last very long because we have a very healthy coyote population. I’ll see a cat in the area for a couple years at most and then they’re gone. It’s too cold to trap a cat now but if this one makes it to the spring, I will trap it and take it to the spay / neuter clinic then.

It makes sense that a well fed cat will have more energy to hunt. I was feeding once a day but I will increase to twice. Thanks again!

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My best mouser is an indoor/outdoor cat who has pretty much unlimited access to catfood. He hunts becase he thinks it is “fun”, not because he is hungry. He doesn’t eat his catch, but brings them to us as Presents.

My barn cat is also a pretty good mouser too, and he also catches birds and half-grown rabbits. He DOES eat what he catches. He is fed twice a day. I won’t leave his food out when I am not there, as it attracts racoons and possums. I have had him for 8 years. He and his sister were born in my sister’s barn, and I took them into my barn when they were a couple of months old. I had a bad rat problem at the time (in the stalls, not the feed room). I do not think they killed any adut rats, but they killed lots of baby rats, and the adult rats moved out. (His sister was killed at about 5 years old by being kicked by one of the horses.)

I leave food out all day for the feral cats, and empty it at night because of raccoons and opossums. I recently lost one to a car, but some of the feral cats that I have fed have lived to be quite old. They can be heart breakers for sure though.
It is important to get the cat altered. Check with low cost spray and neuter clinics in your area as they usually have traps they can lend you and are used to working with feral cats and have a greatly reduced fee (they’re subsidized by donations). I trap the night before, put the trap in the garage covered by a towel, take the cat for surgery, bring the cat back and leave him/her in the garage for one night to recover, and release the next morning. Your clinic will have its own instructions. The only thing about trapping in the dead of winter is that the anesthesia messes with their temperature regulating ability, so I personally wouldn’t trap in January but that all depends on where you are.

I would set up your heated shelter and feeding station in the barn, where you want the cat to live and work. They don’t necessarily need a heated shelter. You can make a very effective shelter from a cheap styrofoam cooler with the lid duct-taped on, a 6" hole for a door, and lined with straw.

Feeding once a day is totally fine, too. For our barn cats, they know that main event feeding is in the morning-- there’s no free-choice kibble out all day. In the late afternoon, I will give a little snack, just a handful that they eat all in one sitting (otherwise it’ll just attract varmints)

One of our oldest barncats, Goose, disappeared on us last summer at the age of 14. Whether it was coyotes or a car that got her, who knows, but she had a very long happy life here. Well, almost 5 mos later, in the middle of last week’s brutal snowstorm, guess who was standing in the middle of the barn, yowling at me? GOOOOOOSSEEEE! I was so happy I cried. I really think she was just living out in the timber as a huntress (she’s a ferocious hunter, even takes down full-size rabbits). She’s terrified of any other humans but us, so I don’t think she was “cheating on us” with some other farm. :laughing: Who knows. We’re just so happy she’s home and she’s been just a giant purring machine every time I go to the barn.

Just so you see what I mean by fierce, this is Goose. She had jumped on my car hood before I even stopped rolling, and glared at me through the windshield. Apparently she was displeased that her afternoon snack had not already been put out.

Sorry to hijack. Enjoy your barn cat, they’re a great addition to any farm.


What a very SERIOUS about her job looking cat, @HungarianHippo1! So glad she came back!

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That photo is priceless! She looks like a stone cold killer!


I started off feeding the cat tuna because that’s all I had. After the cat came around consistently for a few days, I bought cat kibble. The cat is clearly less impressed with that. So maybe it gets fed elsewhere too. Oh well, I’ll set up a trail cam to make sure that’s what’s eating the food. I don’t really want to be encouraging a skunk to be living under my porch!

So glad Goose came home!

She has fat, droopy eyelids that make her looked pissed off all the time, just like my Dizzy does. He can be purring and happy as a clam, yet his eyes make hime look like he’s miffed.

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