Cats: organic vermin control.
January 20, 2011

A month ago, we adopted a few kittens.  After they settled into their new home, we threw them outside.  Then we cut back on their food.

These are working cats.  Rat-catching cats.  Gopher-killing cats.

It takes a few days before one of the kittens makes a kill.  Our older cat pins down a rat and the kitten grabs it, pierces the vermin’s spine with its teeth, shakes it violently.  Somehow the rat survives.  It is paralyzed and it is squealing, howling in fear and pain.

With one pounce, the kitten finishes the job.

Five minutes later, all three kittens are on the porch greedily eyeing the kill.  They rip, they tear, they chew, and then they dig in for more.

Charlotte and I watch from the lawn.  We have never seen anything like this.  Our older cat sits facing us, separating us from the kittens.  She growls when we come too close.  I have never heard her make this sound before.  A couple hours later, she leaves a dead bird on the porch.  It is draped across my shoes.  Thanks for letting them eat, the bird says.

After I dispose of the bird, I leave a can of tuna out for her.  Thanks for showing them how.


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  1. By on January 20, 2011

    Hmmm.. Isn’t the scene you described a little too intense for Charlotte to watch?

  2. By Jessika on January 20, 2011

    I say let Sarah mother the way she sees fit. She’s doing a wonderful job. And, I say kudos to you, Sarah, for teaching your daughter the whole circle of life thing at such a young age! Additional kudos for making those felines work—ours prey on kibble.

  3. By monica on January 20, 2011

    Wow, I am find myself constantly chasing my neighbors cat to keep him away from the bunnies in our yard. I love them.

  4. By Momiss on January 20, 2011

    I heartily approve of your reality based parenting, girl.  Not to mention your low cost and effective solution to vermin control.
    Your daughter will never be bawling because she has to kill a chicken to feed herself. 
    Way to get real!

  5. By on January 20, 2011

    I agree with Jessika. So many kids are being coddled and sheltered to an unnecessary extreme. Charlotte seeing the odds and ends of nature like that is really cool. It’s something my dad would’ve allowed me to see, but not my mom XD

  6. By Sarah Christensen on January 20, 2011

    R - I personally feel that natural violence (i.e. a cat killing prey) is fine.  I want Charlotte to understand that nature is wild and unpredictable and I want her to respect that all of us play a role in our ecosystems and are a part of a cycle of life.  Birth, life, and death are all a part of that.  I have no problem with Charlotte witnessing the birth of puppies, the death of moles, anything like that.  I feel that it will only serve to heighten her appreciation of nature and of civilization.  I don’t think there is any point sheltering her from natural reality.

    Momiss - Let’s hope so!  We’re building our coop this weekend, so this summer we’ll be ready for our first slaughter.  Charlotte saw our neighbor’s last slaughter when we helped out, but she was too young to really care lol.

  7. By on January 21, 2011

    Sarah- My question was just that, a genuine question because I really wanted to know why you thought it was okay for Charlotte to watch that. It was not meant to sound like - how could you let her watch that? I hope that was apparent to you :)

  8. By Sarah Christensen on January 21, 2011

    R - Don’t worry, I didn’t think it was a problem!  Besides, when you ask questions you make me think twice about choices I make - and that’s never a good thing.  Your question gave me a chance to think about why I didn’t mind her watching and where I draw the line.  There’s nothing wrong with that!  I hope I didn’t sound short or anything.  Tone is really hard to convey through the Internet, but I always assume that people are genuinely curious about the questions they ask unless they give me a reason not to =)  I’d let you know if I were bothered or offended or felt that the question was inappropriately questioning my parenting, but I’m pretty easygoing and it’s hard to get me riled up.  Promise!

  9. By on January 22, 2011

    Sarah- good to know that. You didn’t sound short but I wanted to be sure because I do care about making myself clear to my target audience - you :).. and for the record, I never question your parenting (aka personal choice), only seek clarification for your choices to learn the logic behind the same :)

  10. By Sarah Christensen on January 22, 2011

    By the way, I meant to say “never a bad thing” up there.  Total typo fail, sorry!

  11. By on January 23, 2011

    Understood that but didn’t want to nit-pick ;) =))

  12. By Shannon on February 23, 2011

    I certainly am not going to critique your parenting, but I do take issue with your pet ownership skills.  The first paragraph of this entry is unbearably cruel to read, and it continues from there.  I understand I live in a different planet than you in terms of lifestyle, but wow.  I’ve volunteered at a shelter where we worked to rehabilitate feral cats, and here you are creating a colony of them.  Poor cats.

  13. By Sarah Christensen on February 23, 2011

    Shannon - I don’t think it’s cruel at all.  We would never let any of the cats starve and we don’t leave them out to be caught by coyotes or anything like that.  They aren’t feral cats at all.  They come in at night, have access to all the food and water they want, and they go out again the next morning.  Sometimes when it’s cold or rainy, they want to stay inside all day and sleep on the couch.  I let them.  Anytime they’re indoors, the cats are all snuggled and loved by us and by Charlotte.

    The fact is that they are healthier cats if they eat meat.  When I talked to the vet, I pointed out that we wanted them to hunt because: a) if the rat population gets out of control, they get infested with rat mites and I’m horribly allergic to them, and b) we can’t afford to feed them raw meat all the time, even though we know it’s best for them.  The vet agreed that hunting was healthiest for them, nto just because of the meat but also because the physical activity and mental stimulation improves their health.  He said that in his experience, kittens as old as ours who did not have their mother to teach them to hunt would only learn if they were motivated by hunger.  He suggested feeding them twice a day while they settled in, once mid-morning and once in the evening.  We did.  Then when they started staying outside all day (they slowly worked up to it - the first time they went outside it only lasted about ten minutes lol), I consolidated their feedings in the evening.  They had access to the same amount of food in the evening, but because they were accustomed to eating in the morning, they were hungry.  That motivated them to kill.  The older cat we have showed them how for a few days and then she started letting them finish up the kill after she’d caught it and then they started hunting on their own.

    We have three cats.  The older cat and two kittens, each about seven or eight months old.  We had a fourth that someone abandoned on our property shortly after we adopted the kittens, but she was aggressive (biting aggressive) which doesn’t work very well with a toddler so we relinquished her.  Three cats on an acre - two of which are already fixed and vaccinated (the other’s turn is coming up) - is hardly a colony.  Either way, hunting is what cats are made for - it’s how they’re meant to eat.  We give them an unlimited amount of food in the evenings now, but once they’ve had the taste of a fresh kill, they’re much less interested in the alternative.  That’s fine with me.  I’d rather they ate a healthy bird than processed cat food.

    I don’t think making a decision that improves their lives and ours is cruel at all, especially when we went into it with forethought and veterinary advice.

  14. By on March 23, 2011

    I imagine you’ve probably researched this issue, but my concern with cats being outdoors is the impact they have on bird populations.  See this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/21/science/21birds.html .  While it isn’t really a problem for bird species that have healthy populations, or non-native species, in can have a very negative impact on bird species that are struggling to maintain healthy numbers.  What do you think about this issue?


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