When it comes to homesteading, it rarely fails that you’ll wind up with a genuine menagerie of animals running around. Sometimes they will all get along, but much of the time there will be conflict.
The fur, and sometimes feathers, will fly! There is hardly any arrangement I can think of that would cause more trouble than keeping both cats and chickens.
Think about it: cats love to kill birds, chickens are birds. Especially when cats and chickens are involved. It seems like an obviously bad idea, but is it? Will your cats attack chickens?
Yes, your cats might attack chickens. Cats are highly likely to go for young chicks, and attacks on adult chickens are also possible.
You may have heard the horror stories of cats attacking chickens or even vice versa but with some understanding, planning and proper safety measures in place, you can help ensure that your homestead remains cat-astrophe-free!
Bad puns aside, below I will discuss the potential risks associated with keeping chickens and cats together, as well as what you can do to reduce those risks so that you keep your sanity and your chickens keep their lives.
Everything Wants to Eat Chickens
To fully understand this problem, you need to understand something right up front: damn near all predatory animals consider chickens to be food.
This means that dogs, coyotes, wolves, foxes, badgers, weasels, snakes, hawks, rats, bears, alligators and, yes, cats see your chickens as potential snacks. They are just too delicious to be left alone apparently.
If a meat-eating predator is around, including predators that we have domesticated in the form of dogs and cats, your chickens are never truly safe. They just bring something out in other animals that activates their prey drives.
This means you’ll be responsible for preventing and, if needed, heading off any attacks that might occur. Your chickens are counting on you!
To do that, we’ll need to understand the predator in question. In this case, our very own cats.
Cats are Predators, but Don’t Want a Fair Fight
As far as cats go, pretty much everyone knows that they are superb hunters. Cats are highly adept ambush predators, and well-equipped for taking down prey with minimal fuss or effort.
Note that, unlike some dogs, the predatory instincts of cats remains highly acute: it never goes away or even recedes just because they live with humans or around other animals.
In fact, some folks argue that cats aren’t truly domesticated at all!
Know that even if your cats have been raised around chickens, they will still possess an urge to hunt them down.
They only reason they won’t is because they know that a given chickens has a better chance against them than something small and truly helpless like a mouse.
As much as they love to hunt and seem to relish in the kill, cats are savvy predators that don’t like to take risks and fight fair.
That means no one-on-one duels between cats and large, evenly matched chickens! Instead, cats will either go after easy prey (chicks) or, sometimes, set up an ambush where they can take down a chicken from ambush without much of a struggle.
Cats are Highly Likely to Attack Chicks
Your number one concern if you have both chickens and cats is protecting your chicks. Chicks are highly vulnerable and cats love to go for them and will score a kill almost every, single time. The smaller the prey is, the more likely a cat is to attack.
The good news is you can help protect your chicks by being vigilant and aware of the danger. Keep your chicks completely and totally protected from your cats at all times, and never, ever let them be together.
When chicks join the flock, keep your cats away and if you need to keep the chickens closed up in a secure meshed pen or run when you aren’t around to supervise.
A moment’s inattention or a single mistake will mean dead chicks, and your dear cat might just leave it on your pillow as a gift!
Attacks on Adult Chickens are Not Out of the Question
Now, I mentioned just above that cats are more interested in smaller prey, and less likely to attack prey that is about their size or bigger.
This means that many breeds of chickens should not have much to fear from an average cat when they reach adult size. Right? Right. Except…
Except, sometimes cats will still go after your adult chickens, especially if they’re isolated or otherwise vulnerable.
Maybe the cat is just confident, or maybe it thinks it can bushwhack the chicken and bring it down. Whatever the case, don’t assume that adult chickens are off limits to your feline friend.
Starving or Feral Cats are More Likely to Attack Chickens
It be pointed out that cats, like all predators, are highly food motivated. If your cats are underfed or otherwise desperate for food, they may be more likely to take risks and go after chickens of any size.
This is especially true of feral cats that are long used to surviving by their own wiles without any help whatsoever from humans.
Cats that are well-fed are less likely to waste energy and risk injury by tangling with chickens, so make sure your cats stay well fed.
Also, feral cats tend to be really excellent hunters compared to pampered housecats, and if you have any lurking in the area it is probably only a matter of time until a chicken of yours gets picked off.
One day you’ll come out into the yard or run only to find one missing and some feathers and blood scattered around.
Caution: Roosters Can Severely Injure Cats!
Now, cats don’t enjoy total supremacy over chickens. Chickens, and especially roosters, can and may fight back when attacked by a cat.
Though it might be funny to see a cat getting the “business” from a flapping, crowing rooster this is nothing you want to let happen, especially if you love your cat!
Roosters can do serious damage to cats in a fight with their talons, spurs and beak.
The spurs of a rooster in particular can inflict serious puncture wounds that might maim or even kill a cat. So, if things are about to get ugly between a rooster and your cat, be sure to intervene at once.
Also, double your vigilance if your chickens are a large or “game” breed: they are more likely to fight back and do serious harm, Several such breeds, like the infamous Malay or American Game are notorious for ferocity and staying on an attacker until they flee the area entirely, are killed, or the rooster itself dies.
A cat that picks a fight with one of these hateful chickens might get more than they bargained for…
Never Assume that a Friendly, Tame Housecat Won’t Make a Move
Lastly, no matter how long you have had your cat, no matter how sweet and harmless they act, never, ever let your guard down when it comes to your chickens.
It might seem like your cat is content to cuddle up in the sun but when it comes down to it even the laziest, fattest housecat is still a frighteningly capable predator.
If presented with an opportunity, no matter how well mannered or harmless they have become, they might just make a pass at your chickens.
All in all, cats and chickens can live peacefully side by side with a little bit of effort on your part.
Just make sure that chicks are kept totally safe from cats, adults are under supervision when cats are present, and that you keep an eye out for any hungry or desperate feral cats that might be looking for easy prey.
With a little luck and lots of care, all of your animals will keep their hides and stay happy.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.