Ask the experts: should smallholders enlist feline help with rodents

Q. We have been struggling to keep on top of rats on our smallholding and someone suggested getting a couple of feral cats. Is this a good idea and how will they get on (or not) with my free range chickens?

A. Jack Smellie says: Feral or barn cats are readily available from a variety of cat rescue centres and they can do a great job of keeping your rodent population at bay. They are certainly a far safer alternative to poisons and traps.

Firstly, you need to choose your rescue centre wisely and explain what you want the cats for. These will not be cats that will live in your house, but they will still need feeding. They should be contained in a dog crate or similar for a couple of weeks, at least when you first get them so that they realise where home is. Keep the dog crate in the barn where you want them to live and hunt.

After two to three weeks open the cage, but continue to feed them in the same place. Talk to them and behave calmly around them. While you don’t want to encourage them to get too friendly, they need to get used to you and your voice so they don’t get scared every time you go near them.

As for your poultry, they should be fine. Most ducks and chickens will chase cats away. If you have young chicks, that might be a problem, but if they are accompanied by a broody mum they should be fine too.

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