If you’ve been thinking about getting chickens but have been wondering if this is a good idea because you have a cat or cats, fear not – it’s perfectly possible to raise chickens alongside cats, without harm coming to either pet as long as you know how to handle them. We’ll show you exactly how to do this and don’t worry, it’s both easy and cheap to do.
Cats and chickens can live together and get along, an adult chicken tends to be quite large and able to defend themselves with a sharp beak and claws. Caution should be taken when you have small chicks and cats living in close proximity as they are small enough for a cat to try and eat.
Do Cats Kill Chickens?
We suppose that, in theory, cats can kill chickens, after all, they’re a predatory animal but most cats will eat smaller birds or animals. They’re not really built to snack on poultry and most breeds of chickens can be nearly as big as a cat and some are actually larger.
It’s also worth remembering that chickens are not entirely defenceless and roosters, in particular, can be bred for fighting. Chickens have beaks and claws to counter a cat’s claws and teeth and while a chick might have a hard time tussling with a cat – a half-dozen unhappy hens are probably going to run any cat, that thinks it can cause trouble, off the roost without much difficulty at all.
So, do cats kill chickens? We’d say that it’s a possibility, but we’ve talked the issue over with chicken owners and they’ve never heard of a cat killing an adult chicken and they’ve all seen a pushy pussy cat get his comeuppance at the hands of their birds.
However, just because a cat probably won’t kill a chicken – it doesn’t mean that your chickens or your cat can’t get hurt when they fight and it’s better to teach them how to live together in harmony before such a fight.
Chicks, on the other hand, are a different matter. Chicks are the same size as the kind of prey a cat will normally demolish and it’s important to train a cat to be around chicks or you’re going to find the chicks may be swallowed whole. Sometimes, hens will be savvy enough to ensure this doesn’t happen by themselves but why take chances?
The Different Types Of Cats That Might Encounter Your Chickens
Not all cats are created equal and there are three types of cat that your chickens are likely to encounter during the course of their lives and these are domestic cats, barn cats (semi-domesticated cats, if you prefer) and feral cats (stray cats).
Each of them presents a different level of threat to your chickens and you can manage that threat by taking sensible precautions. No chicken owner, no matter how careful, can guarantee that their birds won’t be interfered with by a predator, but you can seriously reduce the chances of this happening.
Your average domestic cat has one major difference between them and the other types of cat – they get fed by their owners. This means that the domestic cat has no need to hunt for food and while they may (or may not) do a little hunting for sport – they’re not so invested in the outcome.
This means that hens are very likely to be able to keep a domesticated cat at bay because the pain of a fight is not worth the reward of it.
Domestic cats are also, normally, quite easy to train to get used to hens and chicks because they’ve already been trained (to some extent) to live in a home and get along with people. Just make sure you keep an eye on things until you’re absolutely certain that they’re safe to play with chicks.
Barn cats are a semi-domesticated group of cats that are often part of everyday living in the countryside. They won’t live in someone’s home, but they’ll be shacked up in the barn, a garage or some other outbuilding (even a shed will do).
They have a job to do which is to patrol the grounds and feast on any vermin that might turn up – that means rats, mice, squirrels, chipmunks, small birds, etc.
It’s not a good idea for barn cats and chickens to mix. The purpose of a barn cat is to hunt – and if you have smaller breeds of chicken or chicks around, their instincts may take over. However, for most breeds of adult chicken, there’s no need to worry – a barn cat isn’t going to attack a large chicken, as we said earlier – it’s not worth the pain.
A feral cat is a cat that has never been a pet or been owned by a person. A stray cat is slightly different, they’re a cat that was once owned and was then abandoned or made homeless.
You cannot normally interact with a feral cat and if you try and catch it with your hands be prepared to be scratched and bitten. If you do find a feral cat harassing your chickens, you don’t want to spend any time trying to talk it round or train it – you want to get in touch with a group like the Humane Society of the United States and ask them to capture it and release it elsewhere.
Stray cats might be amenable to being tamed over time and can eventually be domesticated if you want to put the effort in but again, if they’re attacking your chickens, the easiest solution may be to seek help with the Humane Society.
How To Prevent And Stop Cats From Chasing Chickens
If you want to train your cats and chickens to get along, the good news is that there’s a fairly simple 5-point plan that you can use to get them enjoying each other’s company, rather than pacing around each other looking for an advantage.
For the vast majority of cats a few week’s training is more than enough to ensure harmony in the yard and, in fact, there’s even a quick “cheat sheet” method which you can use if you don’t already have a cat but want to get one.
The 5 Point Plan For Protecting Chickens
Get Them In Plain View Of Each Other
Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt (except, possibly between human beings) most of the time it breeds a certain amount of comfort with the “other”.
This is particularly true for cats and chickens. Before you get them to hang out together, they need to be a little more familiar with each other.
You start training a cat by showing them chickens (on the other side of a mesh fence, ideally) this way they can get used to the smell, movement and sight of the birds without giving into their first instinct of “It moves! Let’s chew it!”
You should be able to tell when the cat’s curiosity has been sated and you can move on to the next step.
Think About Chicks Carefully
We’d keep cats away from chicks. There’s just too much temptation for them to sink their teeth into them. Sure, we do know of occasions where the two live in harmony, but we think it’s always a risk.
However, the next step is to bring a chicken to your cat. Hold the chicken and bring it up close to the cat and allow them to smell and get used to each other. If you think the cat is likely to attack your chicken, put the chicken away again.
You’re going to want to repeat this process a few times over a few days before giving them more space.
Show Affection To Both Animals Groups In Front Of Each Other
Both cats and chickens appear to develop genuine bonds with their owners and both of them appear to be capable of jealousy too.
To prevent them from falling out over you, you should give both animals public displays of affection in front of each other. This way they can understand that they’re not being “usurped” in the affections of the person who feeds them.
This is likely to keep conflict at a minimum.
Supervised Contact At First
Then it’s time for some supervised contact. Create a small space and let both the chicken you’ve chosen and the cat loose in it.
A small space makes it easier to rescue the chicken if things look like they might be going south and if you have to use water to break up a fight, it also means you’re not soaking everything in your yard.
You want to let the two creatures roam around each other until the point where your cat appears to be bored. Then it’s time to separate them again.
You want to do this a few times before finally allowing the two to roam freely in each other’s company.
Check-In On A Regular Basis To Make Sure Thing Stay Well
Once they’re roaming free, you still need to keep an eye on things. Just to make sure that tempers don’t flare, and the flock and your cat are really coming to accept each other.
After a week or so without any trouble, you can probably relax knowing they’ve integrated.
A Short Cut: Raise Your Kitten With Your Chicks
There is also an incredibly easy short cut to helping cats and chickens get along. Buy a kitten and raise it alongside some older chicks (not the youngest of chicks which can still get hurt in even slightly rough play). They will soon learn to get along and a cat raised like this may even be trusted around the youngest chicks eventually.
Considering Your Cat’s Motives Around Chickens
One thing you might want to keep in mind (and don’t worry – you don’t need a degree in animal psychology to master this) is your cat’s motivation when they’re around chickens. By and large, cats are not particularly malicious, and they don’t wake up every morning with a burning desire to fight chickens.
They are, however, fairly lazy creatures and their ability to become bored is the stuff of legends. Have you ever used a laser pointer to entertain a cat and watched it chase the light? It does that because it’s bored and it’s designed to chase things.
In most cases, they’re not interested in fighting something the size of an adult chicken because it’s too much like hard work. They’d be happy to go after a mouse or even a small rabbit but a chicken? No thanks.
It’s chicks that are your primary concern when your cats are around because a chick is exactly the sort of thing that motivates a cats boredom circuit – it’s small and fluffy and looks like the kind of toys that you probably bought your cat to keep it entertained.
If you come home to find a chick being swallowed by a cat – that’s on you. Chicks can’t defend themselves and cats don’t know they’re doing anything wrong by chomping on them. Your cat is a predator and chicks play to a cat’s primary predatory motivations.
Instant Interventions: When You’re Too Late To Stop The Fight
Now, if you’ve followed our tips for keeping a cat around chickens, we hope that your cat and chickens never get into a tussle but what do you do if you suddenly find your cat going hell for leather with your flock (or vice-versa)?
Well, we advise you not to wade into the fray. While neither your cat nor your chickens bear you any malice – when they’re fighting, they’re at their most primal. You risk getting bitten, pecked and/or scratched if you get in between them when they’re hackles are up.
It’s best not to injure yourself and instead, go for a time honored and traditional method of breaking up animal fights without hurting the cat or the birds. What you want is either a big water pistol full of water or a large bucket full of water.
And your objective is simple – soak them enough so that they stop fighting and retreat into a different place and then you can go and remove the cat from the area. Don’t forget that chickens don’t love water and it can be bad for their health, so try to use as little water as possible – catch their attention but don’t drown them (unless it’s to save the life of a bird or the cat – then go right ahead and soak them).
A Brief Checklist For Cats And Chickens
Just to recap here’s a brief checklist for integrating the cats and chickens:
- Introduce the two by sight as soon as possible
- Introduce them in person after that
- Supervise them until you’re sure they’re fine
- Mix the two in the backyard but keep an eye on things
- After a week or so, you can relax – integration is done
Warning: Not All Cats Are Going To Chill With Chickens
It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into training your cat and your chickens to get along – sometimes a cat’s predatory instinct cannot be overcome. This is particularly likely if your cat has been allowed to hunt birds for a long period of time prior to the arrival of your chickens.
In these cases, the only option you have is to permanently segregate the two sets of creatures – they cannot be allowed to spend time in the same space.
When you’re training a cat, you can tell if the cat is going into “predator” mode because it will start to crouch down and prepare to pounce (this is the classic form of attack with cats and you will have seen them use this in play with you as well as when they’re out and about) before they complete the move – you should distract them with a little petting until whatever chicken they’re salivating over has moved on.
At first, all cats will drop into pounce mode when introduced to chickens, but the vast majority will quickly learn not to do so.
So, will cats and chickens get along? In most situations, you can ensure that domesticated and semi-domesticated cats and chickens get along without fighting as long as you take sensible precautions. Sadly, if the cat is feral – you may need to call in some outside help to protect your flock, it’s OK to do this.
Just remember that chicks are much more delicate than chickens and look exactly like the sort of thing that a cat wants to put in its mouth. It’s best to keep chicks away from cats until they’re big enough to defend themselves.
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