Barn Cats / Hive Cats : Indispensable

Barn Cats – I could not run the farm or the bees without them. They keep the mice out of the barn with its myriad of places for mice to live and thrive. They patrol the bee yard, to help keep mice out of the hives (and keep kitties healthy with nice, fresh protein).

Cat inspecting beehive mouse guard

Anubus checking the mouse guard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mice cute, destructive animals.

Photo by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen of Mouse

Mouse (Photo by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen – wikipedia commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mice love barns and stored bee equipment, especially where they can chew and burrow into the nice insulating wax frames for winter. Mice also love beehives with bees in them.If one doesn’t get the hive mouse guards up in time, the little “darlings” slide in and make themselves at home, especially when the bees are in cluster and don’t battle as fervently.

I’m happy to say it’s been years since I have seen mice at Brookfield Farm, except dead ones.

Cats Help At Brookfield Farm

I have cats; every one of them is neutered. I consider them coworkers, not pets. Some coworkers you hang out with, others you nod to in passing. They have the large livestock guard dogs to protect them – the dogs like some of them and tolerate others.

Livestock Guard Dog - Bee Hive Guard Cat

Livestock Guard Dog and Hive Guard Cat – A Team Effort

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cats also have a kibble feeder in the barn, just in case the mouse population diminishes at any time. Their home base is 24 by 40-foot barn and hayloft, but they can be seen roaming different parts of the farm.

Some of the cats are sweet cats that sit on your lap, OK; they demand to sit on your lap (they are cats). Some are friendly, but not Mr. or Ms. Cuddles. On the other extreme we have the “HUMANS!!!! RUN!!!!” neutered feral cats.

 

FERALS – you got to love them, even if you can’t touch them.

These latter make the barn their home base. When I go into the loft, where I keep boxes, frames, and tools there is often a frantic scrambling behind the woodenware as what I call the “Stealth Family” scrambles to move to the far end of the barn before the dreaded human gets too near.

The Stealths are a group of six feral rapidly growing kittens from the same litter. I picked them up at Creatures’ Comfort, a local no-kill shelter in Bellingham.

I wanted kittens because we found that the older barn cats (three of them at this time) will accept kittens, but will drive away adult cats. Feral or barn kittens have the added benefit that, hopefully, their mom would have imparted survival skills to them as well as a taste for wild forage – mice.

The plan seems to work. I’ve not seen live mice in ages at the farm. I do find dead mice. Happily, I do not find dead birds and our farm is filled with the trills of song birds that you can see perching on the branches of cedars, alders, and maples.

 

Let’s Face It: Cats Kill: They are predators

Yes cats do kill. A study by Scott Loss at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, which assessed the research on predation by domestic cats, found that in the U.S. cats kill up to:

3.7 billion birds a year. (from 30 to 47 birds per cat a year)
20.7 billion mice and other small mammals each year. (from 177 to 299 pests a year)

Mind you, the American Bird Conservancy estimates windows in the U.S. kill up to 1 billion birds each year.

Cars takeout up to 340 million birds, according to researcher Scott Loss of Oklahoma State University, who worked in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.

Cats: A compromise on four legs throughout history

Cats came to live with humans over 9,000 years ago.

"Egypte louvre 058" by Guillaume Blanchard - Guillaume Blanchard. Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Egypte_louvre_058.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Egypte_louvre_058.jpg

Cat Statue – Louvre Image by Guillaume Blanchard – Guillaume Blanchard.Wikimedia Commons –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
It is assumed they showed up to eat mice, which were attracted to the grains that humans were starting to harvest and store.   Humans had grains, then humans had mice, then cats ate the mice, then cats allowed themselves to hang out around people. It’s a long established relationship that kept humans’ food relatively mouse free for centuries.

Sadly, like most things in life, cats represent a compromise. They kill birds, but they kill more rodents, including mice.

Without cats farms would be overrun with mice. A female mouse can produce up to 60 babies a year. Each mouse is destruction on tiny feet. In Nebraska alone, it is estimated that mice cause 20 million dollars in damage every year to feeds and buildings.

An alternative to cats is poisons – that alternative I cannot abide. The main poison is warfarin, which stops the blood from clotting. A slow death that can take 24 to 48 hours. Other animals can also eat the poison with disastrous results.   . At least with cats the mice have a chance and death comes more quickly.

I like cats. I don’t like poisons.

A Few Cat – Family Portraits

(none of these names are passwords or test answers, I write them too often)

The cats, from cuddly to feral live long lives here. This blog is in tribute to two cats who have recently passed away (thus the new “trainee” kittens): Mack The Knife (Mackie) and Aunt Agatha (Aggie)

Mack (the Knife) 15 years at passing

Barn Cat - Mack The Knife

Mack The Knife

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I met him as a cute kitten, he sank his teeth into my hand, thus the name

Aggie: 18 years at passing

Barn Cat Agathat 2011

Aggie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Named for the indomitable Aunt Agatha of the PG Wodehouse series

Angst 19 years at passing

Existential Angst - the cat

Existential Angst

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Full name: Existential Angst – named for a spoken line a film I shot a long time ago. Went from alleys to rural foothills to the farm – a tough lady.

Current crop of “mentor” barn cats – all litter mates:

Growler

Barn Cat : Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls, WA

She does love a nice mouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gris-Gris (which “protects the wearer from evil or brings luck“)

Kitten walks between beehives

GrisGris checks the hives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anubus (the Egyptian God who “ushered souls into the afterlife” – fitting, eh?)

Cat inspecting beehive mouse guard

Anubus checking the mouse guard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There have been many over the last 25 years we’ve been at Brookfield Farm – all good workers, all loved, and all indispensable to being able to farm and keep bees.   Plus I learned how to play Mack The Knife on the Ukulele. He never appreciated it – cats, what can I say.

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple Falls Washington – In the world of bees and honey: the bees pop out periodically in this very odd winter here (47F! in January), look around realize nothing’s in bloom and head back in.  Honey: We’re now at Seattle’s Fremont Market and Ballard Farmers Market every Sunday – if you’re in Seattle, stop on by.

 

 

 

 

 

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About brookfieldfarmhoney

Brookfield Farm, a small off-grid apiary in Maple Falls, WA focuses on the beauty and bounties of Washington’s wilderness. I sell honey from our bees, whose naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives are home to bees who fly Washington’s mountains and farmlands. Herbal salves and lip balms from Brookfield beeswax. Delicately infused honeys and vinegars. Varietal honeys from independent Washington beekeepers. Karen Edmundson Bean: beekeeper, photographer. Her love of the wilderness inspires her to discover new ways of bringing the wonders of nature to others. Brookfield Farm : the tastes, textures, sounds, and images of nature.
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6 Responses to Barn Cats / Hive Cats : Indispensable

  1. Bruce says:

    Your cats are a great addition to the apiary. Charles Darwin felt they were essential for bumble bee survival (http://strathconabeekeepers.blogspot.ca/2012/12/charles-darwin-and-bumblebee-humble-bee.html). Great post.

  2. Emily Scott says:

    Those cats have faces full of personality. Love the photos of them patrolling the hives.

  3. Drew Davis says:

    Hi Karen.
    You know I’m a cat keeper. Some house, some pretty friendly feral. And they are all natural hunters.
    I have not seen any mouse or rat droppings in either of my garages since I started letting them go in and out of them. But every once in a while someone will leave a “Hostess Gift’ on my back porch just to let me know they are all still on the job and there is no need to cut down on their treats or cat food.
    I may (if I am lucky) have some more outdoor friends pretty soon. I have seen a very skittish Scottish Fold (really pregnant) in the garden and I will attempt to trap her. She will have a nice warm and safe place to have her kittens and then she and her kids will all get fixed.
    Now a honey question. Has the price of honey skyrocketed recently? My local supermarket has doubled the price of what we city folk call honey. Even that terrible SueBee honey in the plastic squeeze bottle bear has doubled. Are the Bees on strike?

    • Hi Drew – how wonderful to hear from you – Yes, you of all my friends would appreciate the feral cat family (the “Stelths”) that now live in the barn – One let me get within 4 feet of her the other day! I had to look up Scottish Fold – what beautiful cats. She and her kits, and all the others you neuter and care for, are lucky to have someone like you. On to honey: the bees aren’t on strike – the ones that are alive are working hard – but nectar sources are drying up with the close-to-nationwide drought (85F in LA in Jan, I heard – 50F here in Jan – unheard of!). During droughts, the plants can’t get enough water to make nectar – so the bees have to visit far more plants just to “make a living” much less have honey for human harvests. Our friend John Kraus (fabulous beekeeper north of Spokane) took so little honey that we aren’t selling his honey this year. The bees didn’t have enough to “share” with all of his customers. So stocks are low – and from the look of things will probably remain low, as they’re predicting another hot year. Add this to the bee losses conventional beekeepers seems to be suffering (but not among my friends in the naturally treated, antibiotic-free hive world) honey’s going to get scarce. Thus, in the end, the lack of honey is (in my humble opinion) down to humans : humans heated the place up, humans damaged the honeybees — Ok, done pontificating — It’s great to hear from you (have you tried the Santa Monica farmers market? At least you know it’s honey…..)

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