Some people think that you should treat barn cats like they are the elderly, overweight indoor cats we are supposed to have, and neuter them in kittenhood. If you are an Animal Rights advocate who believes that all domestic animals should go extinct, you are probably angry— if only those darn people would have neutered all their cats long ago, they’d be extinct already.
People who have barn cats don’t think like that. A barn cat colony usually has a lot of unaltered cats. In the case of the female cats, motherhood makes them more interested in hunting. Even after the kittens have grown up, even if the mama cat is later spayed, they still think they are hunting for a family of 4 or more. Girl kitties who get spayed before motherhood are more likely to get fat and do like my cat Mariska does— imitate a furry, fat rug 23 hours a day.
With male cats there is a different situation. Intact males serve a leadership and protective function in many breeds of animals. Some people who keep free-ranging laying hens also have a rooster to warn of danger and to lead the hens back to the henhouse at night.
With cats, the most dominant tomcat rules the roost. Or at least, he bosses the other male cats, neutered and not-neutered. I have had a problem with my current Head Tomcat, Derek, chasing off male kittens once they start getting all masculine. As a result, I’ve neutered some of the male kittens that are affectionate and that I would miss if they get chased off the property. The two kittens, George M. and Sonny, did get big weight-wise, but not actually obese. They retained their sweet nature and Derek gets along with them, since they are not rivals.
The previous Head Tomcat in Charge was called Little Stranger. He got the name since I found him as a newborn in the long grass, and since I couldn’t find the guilty mama I added him to the litter of a cat who’d just had 5 girl kittens. She was too tired to notice the addition.
Little Stranger killed a favorite kitten in the middle of the night one night. This is an instinctual act some tomcats perpetrate to get the lady cats to come back in heat quicker. I ‘punished’ Little Stranger by making the appointment to neuter him the next morning. After he got neutered, I kept him in the house for a while so he wouldn’t smell like a tomcat to Derek and get chased off. Little Stranger stayed lean after his decommissioning as a tomcat. He’s adjusted to his lower status in the cat herd, but he keeps telling me he could have been a contender.
Some people say that an unspayed queen cat will have about a thousand descendants in a year or so. In real life, that is not so. My barn cat colony mostly produces enough kittens to make up for the old cats who have died and the occasional cat that wanders off or gets eaten by coyotes or foxes. I used to allow my barn cat queens to have their babies in the barn, with the result that some kittens grew up without human contact and were feral.
I didn’t like that. I used to give away some kittens regularly, and they need to be tame for that. My barn cats have a cat door so they can come in to the back porch and go to the basement. I encourage them to have their kittens on the porch, and some obviously pregnant mama cats get to come into the house to raise their babies. (It’s a farmhouse, there are plenty of mice for mama cats to hunt without going outdoors.)
My mama cats have varying amounts of kittens. A couple regularly have one-kitten litters. One, Connie, likes to have 2 litters of 5 or 6 kittens every year, but hers tend to be small and not thrive. Some people think I should give all my cats away to the Humane Society (which charges for abandoning a pet) so that they can all be put to sleep, since some of my kittens die, but that is absurd. Some of every kind of animal die young. My goats, when I had them, never had a 100% survival rate of their kids. The same with my sheep. Chicks and ducklings I raise don’t ALL grow up to be big chickens or ducks.
The purpose of having barn cats is to kill the vermin. Barns attract vermin, especially rats and mice. Just being in a rural area attracts mice— I have tons moving in the house every fall. Last year I even had a mouse living in my mailbox. The trick with barn cats is this: never scold one for killing things, or bringing dead stuff to you, or eating a baby bunny rabbit right in front of you. Don’t even kvetch when they kill a baby chick! It’s YOUR job to protect the critters you don’t want eaten from your barn cats.