Updated: Mar 22, 2019
Rewind to the year we first bought our small farm. We were walking around the property, newlyweds hand-in-hand, exploring the barn, giddily deciding where we'll store the sheep's winter hay and the chicken's feed, when we see it: a mouse scurrying along the barn wall!
If you have mice (and, let's be honest, if you have a barn or even a shed, you have or will have mice), you have to store feed in metal containers so that it's protected and out of reach. This prevents you from buying your feed in bulk, because the containers can only hold so much at a time. But when you're pinching every penny to start a homestead and make your dreams a reality, buying in in bulk for both the bulk discounts and to save on gas to the feed store is a must. A penny saved here and there really adds up!
So when we saw mice in our barn, Pater, strongly in the dog camp of the cat-dog debate, decided then and there that we needed barn cats. We ended up getting two feral three-month-old kittens from the Humane Society (some counties will call this their "Barn Cat Program"). The more feral they are, the better mousers they will be. We brought them back to the homestead and set them up in a giant dog crate in our barn filled with pine shavings and bowls for food and water. We kept them there for three weeks so that they'd start to feel at home, reducing the chance of them running away once we let them out. When we did release them, not only did they stay close and become best friends with the dog, but they instantly solved the rodent problem. The only mice (and moles) we see now are dead ones. No mouse traps or chemicals needed.
Another reason why it helps to get barn cats before you have other animals that will require food storage is it helps you get acclimated to the homestead life. The most common mistake for beginner homesteaders is to dive in and get all of the animals on their wish list all at once. This is not only expensive, but it also can burn you out quickly. Cats are low-maintenance, but they start getting you in the habit of thinking like a homesteader: having to go out to the barn every day to feed, in all types of weather; having to make a plan when you travel; having to break the ice in their water when it freezes; etc. All of this can be a big adjustment when coming from city life. Cats make it easy since none of this takes much time, and they can fend for themselves readily should you forget something.
What do you think? Tell us what you think the first homestead animal should be!