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Friday, June 19, 2009

To fix or not to fix: that is the question

I had been mulling over what I would write about this week. The horseflies are bothering the horses. I have moved the cat food from the back porch to the horse stable, to reduce the fly count around the pool. The potato bugs have proven themselves to be non-discriminating, as they devour my tomato plants. As you can see, not much has happened around here lately.
And then I read the letter to the editor, regarding my barn cats. This is not the first time I have heard from this concerned citizen regarding that particular group of residents of the Fisher Farm. Once again, she is upset to read my stories about my multitude of barn cats, because she believes that all feral cats should be spayed or neutered. She is not alone in her opinion.
The thought is that we should “fix” all stray cats so that they are less likely to spread diseases like feline leukemia.
Quite honestly, I don’t think the life span of a barn cat is long enough to spread feline leukemia. Call me ignorant, because I very well may be, but I don’t think our cats live longer than one or two years. They resist all of our attempts to tame them, they want to live outside, and so their lives are short.
That being said, I have never seen a “sick” cat on our farm. I’ve seen one kitten with an eye infection. I caught it, gave it antibiotic eye drops, and the infection went away. Kitty Mama had an open sore on her neck. I caught her, treated her with antibiotic ointment, the wound healed. When the cats are gathered around the food bowls, I sprinkle flea powder over them. Other than that, they need very little care. They are healthy. Their coats are shiny and their eyes are clear.
But the cats serve a purpose on the farm. We have six tons of grain stored in bins in the loft for the sheep. The cats keep the rodents to a minimum. In my nearly two years of climbing over hay bales and lowering myself down into the corn bin, I have never seen a rodent – not counting the half dozen moles that have been placed in my shoes on the back porch as gentle offerings from the cats that I feed every day.
I love these cats. I talk to them and they talk back. Some of them allow me to pet them. Most of them climb to an unattainable spot where they can safely watch me when I approach. But when their kittens are weaning, they bring them too to the back porch to be fed. I feed the inferior male on the front porch because the alpha male beats him up. There is only room for one male cat on the farm. The symbiotic relationship between the various species is a delicate one.
We don’t spay and neuter our barn cats because a fixed cat is a lazy cat, in my experience. I can just imagine, half a dozen cats lazing about recovering post-op, and later growing so fat that they cannot muster the energy to chase their favourite prey. When a mouse runs up and sniffs the cat’s food bowl, the cat snarls in Garfield fashion and says, “move along. That’s my dinner. The corn bin is over that-a-way.”
I’m not saying my way is right. I’m pretty sure there are members of my own family who would side with the letter writer and suggest that I have all the barn cats spayed and neutered. But would it prolong their lives?
The farming life is a practical one. You don’t spend more than you have to, and you try not to fight nature. That doesn’t mean we don’t scoop up abandoned newborn kittens and try to feed them. That doesn’t mean I don’t get up every four hours throughout the night to bottle feed orphaned lambs. We medicate the animals with viruses and we perform first aid on the injured. We do what we can.
And we are open to suggestion. When I first read the opinion that I should spay and neuter my barn cats, I gave it serious thought, I have to be honest. But it just doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not stubborn – I just see it a different way. She has a valid point, and I understand exactly where she is coming from. With love for the animals that share our lives. But I won’t be trapping and fixing my barn cats this year.
Thank you for reading, and I welcome your comments.

You can reach The Accidental Farmwife at

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