Some of the most important members of staff on my yard are the cats. Every stable yard is the same; we store hay, straw, feed and lovely warm horses and all of these provide a haven of comfort for a rat when the weather turns wet (and at any other time come to that). And there is nothing like a team of cats to deter those rats from joining your yard.
Cats are very singular creatures. They form their own likes and dislikes, friendships and habits. Some are domesticated and enjoy lives as wonderful family pets and undemanding companions; others are born wild and are therefore more tricky.
A kitten which is born to feral parents needs to be captured almost at birth, if he is to be tamed enough to become a pet or companion cat. If reared in captivity from a few weeks old and handled carefully (despite the protestations of his mother!), he may grow up to be tame and biddable. But at seven or eight weeks, his ancestry imprints itself indelibly on his mind and he will, like as not, be a wild boy for ever.
Given that there are thousands and thousands of feral cats at large in the UK, what is supposed to happen to them all? They are not popular when they populate gardens and the misguided often resort to cruel means of getting rid of these needy creatures, which are fighting and hunting as nature intended them to do. Sometimes they are trapped and taken to rescue centres, where their health needs are met and they are neutered. As long as they are not being a nuisance, many are re-released where they were originally trapped, so they can continue their lives without the consequences of constant reproduction. But large numbers of feral cats remain in rescue centres for ages and ages, because rehoming them is problematic.
This is where you and your stable yard come in! These cats can be an invaluable and low-maintenance asset to your menage, if you are prepared to give them a chance. There is a particular knack for settling them in to a new situation. They need to be confined to a large cage, with beds, feed, water and a litter tray for a fortnight. Most cat rescues will lend you the equipment to get started. Don’t expect affection from these moggies- they will swear and spit at you and rush to the furthest corner when they see you. But gradually, as they associate you with feeding time and a routine, they will become a bit calmer. Your cages will be situated in a closed stable or building, and after a fortnight, the cats can be released into that space as well – again, don’t expect tameness, but watch for signs that they are getting used to coming for their food.
After another fortnight, you can open the door to the big wide world. By now, the cats will know where their home is and they will begin to explore. You will be amazed at how their confidence will grow at this stage. A feral cat hates to be confined, so once he is free again, his true character will emerge. Some will remain completely wild; others will become tamer, though probably never quite up for a cuddle! The aim is that you can get close enough (at feeding time) to administer flea and worming treatment – and of course, to grab them if they need to go to the vet (wear gloves by the way).
All in all, this is great way to get a team of cats for your yard – and to help a very particular type of needy animal. Our three lovely cats, Winston, William and Tilly came to us two months ago as eight month old sibling kittens. Already they are bringing ‘trophies’ to the feed room and are proving to be delightful company during mucking out and feeding round. They are quite happy to be touched at feeding time and love to patrol the buildings and the woods around the farm. They were neutered, microchipped and vaccinated whilst in care, so they are healthy and strong.
The foster carer has three more similar cats waiting for someone to understand their needs. They are called Tom, Dick and Harry. Meet them here: http://www.rspca.org.uk/local/ceredigion-branch/petsearch
If you can help them, phone 01239 810595.
The next time you need a cat for your stable yard, please consider rehoming a feral one.