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I have recently bought a farm, and with it comes seven (yes, seven) cats that are already living on the farm. The original owner had been feeding them all, but never bothered to play or interact with them (ever since they were born, I presume), so the current situation is that they're very scared of humans and would run away when they see me, never letting anyone get close to them, yet I still provide food for them just like the previous owner did.

Now spring has come, the female cats among the seven, following their nature, are giving birth to kittens. Now here's the problem: having cats on the farm is necessary, but seven is already way too much for a farm my size, let alone more kittens in the future. There is no way we should let the number of cats on our farm increase to 10, 12, or even more, so we have to do something.

Normally when people talk about mother cat having kittens, the precondition is that they get along well with the mother. But with my case, where the mother is so afraid of humans that she'd abandon her little ones just to run away from me, most of the things I find online just don't apply. What should I do?

Here are a few things I've thought:

  • Sell some of the older cats. Impossible because they're so afraid of humans, and catching them would be a trouble. Once I did manage to trap one in a closed room, and it started panicking and crying until I let it go. They're already unsuitable to live with humans.

  • Neuter the older cats on my farm. Impossible because of the same reason. I can't catch them without hurting them or myself.

  • Sell the young. This is the problem because most of the Internet says to wait three months before taking the kittens, but the precondition is that the mother gets along with you and lets you interact with the kitten early on. In my case, if I forcefully interact with the kittens, the mother gets very scared and transfers the little ones from time to time, and finding the new location where the kittens are hidden would be a huge burden both for me and the mother cat; if I don't interact then, without human interaction, the kittens will likely end up just like the mother after three months, scared of humans and unsuitable to live with humans. I can't sell cats like that.

  • Do nothing. Well, then the number of cats on our farm will increase year after year, which is definitely not going to work out, personally, financially, and in many other ways.

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  • I am sorry for multiple revisions, I did miss a few things to improve at first, I have been recently displaying some signs of cognitive deficits :/
    – lila
    Jun 28 at 2:27
  • Growing up on a small farm in Iowa, we had likely 20-30 cats, so hearing that 7 is a lot is humorous to me. Our cats tended to wander between farms, so they were more communal cats than just ours. And yes, they would wander off for days with several miles between farms, then show up for the daily feeding as if they'd never been away. Lol. Jun 30 at 22:06
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Kittens can be taken from their mother without physical risk to their health as soon as they are weaned, which should be at about six weeks of age. The advice to wait longer is based on the idea that staying with mom and their siblings longer helps them to be better socialized pets. It may reduce behavior problems like play aggression because they learn from their family not to do that. But if it's a choice between learning to trust humans, so they could actually happily live as an indoor pet, or become fully socialized with their family, I think most people giving advice would agree that acclimating them to humans is better for them. The younger you can attempt to acclimate them, the more likely you'll succeed. Three months is already well past that key period where you'll be most likely to convince them to accept humans. Therefore, the best option, that will give them longest, healthiest life, is to attempt to catch them as soon as they are weaned, socialize them, and then home them as pets.

If they are definitely too old to accept humans, then the most humane option is TNR or "trap-neuter-return." This is when you catch the cats in order to neuter or spay to prevent future kittens, then return them to where you caught them, so they can live out their lives in peace.

There might be local groups willing to help you attempt to trap-neuter-return, so if you decide on this route, it's a good idea to see if such a thing exists in your area. If there are no such groups, then the safest way to catch them is to use live traps designed for catching but not harming cats. Once you catch them in the trap, take them directly to the vet in the trap, where they can sedate the animal while still in the trap, and no one will ever get close enough to them to be injured. But on that note, you should consult with a vet before you make the attempt, to make sure they will be available to actually do the procedure when you catch a cat.

Since you live on a farm, there's a decent likelihood that if you removed all of your feral cats, new ones will discover your farm is now free of cats and move in, so having some neutered animals remain might also help in that way, besides also continuing their pest control services.

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  • This video might offer some help if the OP wishes to socialize the kittens: youtu.be/ST8dlkNGT9I
    – Allison C
    Jun 28 at 14:01
  • IME, trying to get barn cats to become used to human presence is dubious. Even feeding our cats daily, we learned to wear long pants and to pour the dry food from a few feet above their heads, as that's the only human interaction they allowed, and they didn't always like that, either. Us kids tried to pet each of the cats, of course, but some simply wouldn't let us within about 10-20 ft, let alone pet them. And don't even think of sneaking up on them, unless you want to bleed. ;-) Jun 30 at 22:13
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What area of the world are you in? Get in contact with a local trap-neuter-release (TNR) program. If nothing like that exists in your area, see if you can at least find a local vet who knows something about feral cats.

They will have the right equipment to trap feral cats safely. The cats will still definitely make really awful noises to complain about being caught, but they will be safe. Then they can be spayed/neutered, as well as tested for disease and vaccinated.

The vet or group will also be able to provide you with hands on advice about how to handle the cats. The females, especially, will require time indoors to recover from surgery--but this can be useful, since you can spend time socializing the kittens while they are still nursing. Even adult cats can become accustomed to humans sometimes, so you might be surprised by some of the adults turning into house cats as well. Any who don't socialize after some time can be re-released as barn cats, but without the multiplication problem. You really need hands on advice for accomplishing this, though, everything from how to catch the cats in the first place, to how to set up and secure the recovery area, to the best way to interact with them during recovery, to the best way to reintroduce post-recovery cats back into the colony. (You don't want your cats that you've spent this much effort on to disappear and be replaced by other feral cats showing up!)

(My family had a cat who was a young TNR feral--about 1 year old--who was supposed to become a barn cat after her kittens were weened...well, she got released at the barn, but decided that the house was a lot nicer after all! She became indoor/outdoor with a cat flap--outdoors in nice weather, indoors any time the weather was damp, or too cold, or too hot, or it was dinner time...)

By the way, don't forget to ask about cost before you start on this. TNR groups generally try to reduce cost as much as possible (sometimes through donations) in order to help people actually get cats neutered, but they might not be able to reduce it to zero.

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So very specifically to farm cats, please consider these as wild animals in close proximity rather than pets. From this point of view, it seems unlikely that you will be overrun with cats. Based on discussions with my relatives there are a pretty small percentage of their cats that will make it to 5 years old. There are issues with predators, with disease from contact with other wildlife, from misadventures with traffic and farm equipment, and getting caught out in the cold (here in Canada). My sister lost all of her kittens to foxes one year.

One point that hasn't been brought up is asking your neighbors if they need some yard cats. Farm cats rehome with little effort between farms. It's just a matter of trapping them and releasing them in a different place with food and shelter. In rural areas around me, this sort of gifting between neighbors is commonplace.

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I've "reformed" over a dozen feral cats. If you like cats as pets, you could do this for the existing cats and/or the kittens after they're weaned. As Kai said, this can be around 6 weeks of age. Ideally you'd bring in the pregnant female before she gave birth but it seems like it is too late for that :)

When a feral cat would show up, we'd trap it and bring it into the house. Once in the house, it would find a defensible location and stay there. Under a couch, behind a dresser, etc. One time a cat got loud, but most were silent and wary. Of course, they'd spit and attack if you got too close. We always did this in a common room (living room, for example). Don't lock it in quiet room; watching the humans is important :)

Put plates of food and water (actually, we used half water half milk) at the edge of the hiding place. A litter box nearby; close enough that it won't feel too exposed getting to it. Then leave the cat alone! It'll eventually creep to the edge for the food.

Every few hours go make eye contact (crouch down to its level, but stay far enough away that it doesn't get its back up.) Say something friendly :) Then go back to your life and don't get close again for a few hours.

When it's time to give more food, put the plates a little farther away to coax it out more. Still don't approach it.

Eventually it'll become less skittish around you and will let you coax it out and (finally) to touch it. The rest is history! Amazingly, I've never had this take more than four days.


If you are reforming the adults, I would recommend only working with one at a time. But, with a litter of bonded kittens, bring them all in at once! They'll be playing with you an a day or two. If, somehow, you can get the mom and the nursing kittens in your house, it will be much easier! The kittens will quickly become comfortable with you, and the mom will come around sooner once she sees you interacting with the kittens...


We used a wire box live trap to get the cats. When trapping them, be careful and get good gloves. I was amazed at how vicious a feral kitten could be when I decided to simply grab it and bring it into the house. If I hadn't been wearing gloves, I'd still be wearing scars (20+ years later!). And I don't mean little scars :)

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It is not uncommon for farm cats to expect their local humans to do their fair share of kitten-minding duties even if the mother cat is skittish about you being too close.

If you live in an area where it gets cold the easy way to trap them is with heat lamps in the winter, although for me I've always made it a point to keep the catfood I put out for them in a hutch that only has one opening in it, on the occasions where I've needed to trap them it has helped out quite a bit. Ideally a wire cage works best to transfer them into and for bonus points you can make sure the hutch has an area to set the wire cage outside of. I have one that I built with a wooden door that slides over and it has done wonders to reduce the stress and bleeding of the process. Just keep in mind that the transfer process works best if you do not provide any openings that said kitty might be able to squeeze through. They are faster than you and will take that chance if it is offered to them.

On the off chance you need to raise abandoned kittens there are guides on how to do this, but really keep an eye on their body heat above all, use your own if need be to keep them warm enough till a better situation can be arranged.

Also and this is VERY important, make sure your transfer cage has handles on it that are in no shape way or form close to any openings that said kitty can get a paw through!!!!! You do not want to be picking the cage up directly no matter how fine the mesh is, although on the topic ideally you want something fine enough that you can not squeeze a finger through. Spend the extra few dollars on this, it is a long term investment in your not bleeding all over the place.

and on the topic of handles in my case my handles are made with many many strands of speaker wire with a leather wrap around them so that they do not flop all over the place and that there is zero danger that I or someone else would need to touch the cage

( yeah, mommy kitty asks me to kitten sit every day

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