Seriously, cats and chickens, seemingly mortal foes, can be good buddies!
A bit over a year ago, my ten year chicken dream was finally realized. Four, seven-week-old pullets came home to our Tennessee hillside. My husband had built a fine coop and it was predator proofed to the max. Said girls were named ---names that had been planned for ten years!---and installed in their new home. Within five seconds, literally, there were FIVE cats all lined up at the hardware cloth.
Spike and Sylvester hanging out with the hens![/caption] Now normally, you might guess that those five male cats were figuring their chances for a snack. But, I KNOW my cats. They weren't hungry, they were just curious and excited to see their "Mama" with a little bird on her shoulder. These weren't tree birds for stalking, these were new friends! Even so, we didn't take chances. Our litle gals were still quite small and free-ranging was out of the question for the moment (did I mention our two big dogs????). So, five cats promptly climbed on top of the protected run and stood guard. Hour to hour, they swapped positions for weeks on end. I don't believe those chicks were ever unattended! Of course, we were still wary and took no risks. Then one fine day about 6 weeks later, as I was cleaning, Spike slipped in the coop with me. Frankly, Spike is a ruthless predator. He's beautiful and sweet but he has this wild side that comes with living on five country acres.
However, he promptly went up to one of the girls, sniffed her, sighed a happy cat sigh, and laid down in front of her. No nibbles, no growling, hissing, pecking, squawking, or chattering.....Spike positioned himself at Gertie's feet and declared himself protector and friend. The others---Charlie, Jack, Spot, and Sylvester---have followed suit and funny thing, they all exhaled the same happy cat sigh!
Fast forward to now. We now have five chickens with supervised free-range time. Luckily, it's not me alone that supervises; while the girls are running about doing their "chickenly" business, there are usually at least two cats flanking their position, hanging out, watching, and protecting! So with new chicks coming in a few weeks, we will have a new introduction time. Of course, you must be wary, smart, and KNOW your cats well.
How to integrate your cats and chickens
- Don't hide the birds. Make sure the cats and chickens can see each other from day one. Be especially cautious when the chicks are little and only allow for viewing each other....no physical contact!
- When the chicks are ready to move to the "big" coop, make sure there is a way for your cats to spend time safely watching them, without "Mama and Daddy" around. This allows the cats to grow accustomed on their own and not be surprised by squawking, dustbathing, and general chicken behaviors. We accomplish this by allowing the cats to sit on top of the run at their own leisure. Make sure you use hardware cloth or something your cat can't stick her paw through to pull out baby birds---or parts of them---when you're not looking!
- Make sure you show affection to the birds in front of the cats and vice versa. Then they see that each other is "okay" and loved.
- When the birds are at least as tall as the cats, allow for a supervised contact with your most trusted cat.
- When you start free-range time, always supervise until you see the comfort develop on the hen's side. My hens are not the least bit concerned by the cats and I'd like to think they appreciate the guard duty.