Farm and barn kittens can be your best friends -- say good-bye to mouse traps and poison. Hardy baby kittens can thrive outdoors, even when young, without you needing to do a thing. All they need is access to a safe haven from flying hooves, snarling jowls and snow flurries.
If mama is a farm cat, rely on her to show her babies the ropes. She’ll school them to avoid dangers and let them know when it’s safe to venture outdoors. You may notice her leaving them for short periods of time when they're about four weeks old -- maybe bringing them back a not-quite-dead mouse to teach them how to finish it off! She will lead them outdoors when she feels it’s safe, giving them more and more freedom as their sight and hearing develop and as they learn to run back inside for safety.
You'll need to play surrogate mom if mama cat is young, not used to barn life or absent for some reason. Start bringing the kittens outside when they’re four weeks old. If it's a large area, and especially if you have dogs, fence off or somehow enclose an area where they are free to explore without them dropping off a wall or getting snatched up in Rover's jaws. Since this age is also ideal for taming them, interact with them outdoors so they aren't afraid of you. Increase daily outdoor play time -- and the size of their playground -- over the next two weeks.
Mama cat is preparing to "cut the cord" when her babies are six to eight weeks old, so keep that in mind if this has become your role. The kittens are ready to be weaned, so keep a plentiful supply of food and fresh water inside the barn or an outbuilding so they know that is their home base. This way, they are less likely to wander far, and know where to go when the coyotes -- and winter winds -- start howling. If you keep farm kittens for rodent control, they will still hunt if you feed them cat food.
Health and Safety
If you can, close the kittens up at night in the barn or shed, especially once mom has signed off on their full-time care. This protects them from night time prowlers looking to feast on baby kittens, as well as from dangers of any nearby dark country roads. Vaccinate them at about six to eight weeks; farm kittens are susceptible to all kinds of diseases, illnesses and infections, and can't be in top hunting shape if they're sick. Protection against rabies is especially important. Keep your male cats close by neutering them, and get your females spayed, too -- they'll be healthier and it will keep your outdoor cat population manageable.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.