Cat + banty chicken = broken heart
August 31, 2010 9:09 PM   Subscribe

I have chickens. Roommate moving in just told me her cat kills birds in mid-air. Now what?

A month ago, we met, and she seemed cool. I told her I was getting chickens, she told me she has two cats. That's fine; many cats go fine with chickens. She paid the landlord 1st and last months rent.

Today I told her to say "hi" to the chickens when she drops her stuff off tomorrow, and she tells me her cat has been known to kill birds in mid-air. She thinks the solution is building them an enclosed area, but they have free range and a coop for the evenings right now.

I feel like this is information that should have been disclosed a month ago, not the day before she moves in. I'd like to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she just didn't think it through. If there's an obvious solution, I'd like to know what it is. Can we just put a bell on the cat? Real experience with real cat-and-chicken interactions preferred. Thank you!
posted by aniola to Home & Garden (45 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When she says her cat kills birds, what's she talking about: chickens? or sparrows? Because I have watched hens repeatedly get all bad-ass and stare down, scare the shit out of, and in some cases attack cats. (My son attended a preschool with several free-ranging hens, along with cats, tortoises, squirrels coming down from neighborhood trees, etc. To say that the chickens ruled the roost would be an understatement. They bossed everyone around.)

However -- I do think your roommate's lack of candor on this subject is utter bullshit, and maybe you just want her to not live with you.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:18 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Keep the cats indoors and the chickens outdoors?
posted by decathecting at 9:19 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Put the cat in an enclosed area? She's the one springing this on you, after all.
posted by brainmouse at 9:20 PM on August 31, 2010

Ditto BlahLaLa. I'd bet on the chickens. Our would trump a cat any day.
posted by anadem at 9:21 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Give her the benefit of the doubt. I just moved in with a new roommate who has two cats and a dog. She told me to never, ever leave any food out in the open because the pets have been known to get into everything when left to their own devices. First night I was here I left a loaf of bread (in its packaging!) on the counter top. It, apparently, was ripped to shreds. I was concerned for the safety of the cats (potentially eating plastic!); she was concerned about my bread.

I don't know what to tell you to do about the potential chicken carnage, but there's a lot to keep track of when you move in with someone new. A lot of things tend to get forgotten/not thought about.
posted by phunniemee at 9:22 PM on August 31, 2010

"She thinks the solution is building them an enclosed area,"

Seems reasonable.

"but they have free range and a coop for the evenings right now."

Oh she means for the chickens.

There is an appreciable difference between a sparrow or other small bird and a chicken so there is a good chance you're chickens will be fine even if the cats are capable of plucking a bird out of mid air.

If not is your new roomie moving in with you or are you getting a place together. If it's the former then it would be reasonable for the new guy to accommodate the household and if not able to to not move in in the first place. Wouldn't seem to be much different then if your new roommate suddenly revealed that she's a non smoker but she want to smoke pot inside.
posted by Mitheral at 9:24 PM on August 31, 2010

We were thinking of getting chickens. Rentachook says:
What about cats?

I’m not a cat person so I’ll bite my tongue here....... No problem with cats (yours or neighborhood free rangers). Your average suburban moggie is far to fat and lazy to take on anything the size of a hen. Chicks are different, keep them safe from cats. In 6 years I’ve only had to replace one hen taken by a cat (and that was a monster feral cat described by the customer as being a “horse with claws”).
posted by web-goddess at 9:31 PM on August 31, 2010

Best answer: If I were you, I'd have this conversation with her BEFORE she moves in, even though she's moving in tomorrow. I wouldn't let her move in until the two of you come to an amicable solution - a solution which might involve her moving out very briefly after moving in if her cats attack your chickens.

She DID know about the chickens before she agreed to rent with you, right?
posted by 2oh1 at 9:33 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, folks. The chicken I'm worried about is a banty. That means it's a tiny chicken, and, I'm guessing, susceptible to things that kill small birds. Does anyone know from experience if bells on cats can keep chickens safe?
posted by aniola at 9:33 PM on August 31, 2010

Bantums are smaller than normal chickens, so I can see how she wasn't concerned until she saw how small they are.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:33 PM on August 31, 2010

Response by poster: She did know about the chickens before she agreed to rent with me. I mentioned them in person and again in email on 7/28.
posted by aniola at 9:33 PM on August 31, 2010

Keep the cat indoors, so your hens and all the local wild birds will be safe.
posted by Quietgal at 9:34 PM on August 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: She hasn't seen the chickens yet.
posted by aniola at 9:34 PM on August 31, 2010

A month ago, we met, and she seemed cool. I told her I was getting chickens, she told me she has two cats.

I think this is the key section of the post. People are damning the person with the cats, and I'm not entirely sure why.

We don't know the tone of the conversation that took place - I'd certainly take "I have two cats" to be a warning, when it comes to conversations regarding birds. Maybe the cat person thought this was saying plenty on the subject?

I don't think "Oh hey, yeah, by the way, the natural predators to birds I told you I had? Yeah, they're predators, you know." is a startling revelation. Were I the person buying birds, knowing that the person I was living with had cats, I'd have asked some questions. Like if they're mousers/bird-eaters, how their temperament is, and so on. I'd probably have asked these questions about the cat regardless of if I had pets the cats might eat, for that matter.

I'd suggest not rushing to condemn the person with the cats - Clearly, there was next to no communication on what sort of living situation was going to be setup here, for both the cats and the chickens. You (both) are going to need to work on communication, both regarding these animals and other things in general.
posted by Rendus at 9:36 PM on August 31, 2010 [9 favorites]

Also, this is troubling: "She thinks the solution is building them an enclosed area"

She isn't even moved in yet and she is trying to change your arrangement? Be careful. This could be nothing... a silly statement made without thought... or it could be a sign of a roommate you're not going to enjoy living with.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:38 PM on August 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

Doesn't matter whether or not the cat person is nice or whatever. The lessor has possession of the property. Don't let her move in and find a new roommate. My gut says she'll try to bully you if the solution is your pet goes in the cage. Fuck that.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:47 PM on August 31, 2010

Best answer: Yeah, this girl might be totally cool and her cats might not be quite so badass as she claims they are, but this whole thing just doesn't feel right to me and I would not go ahead with the arrangement if I were you. Plus the chickens are going to get stressed out either way, which isn't fair on them, and if the cats are used to being outdoors then it won't be fair on them to keep them locked up. So, my gut says she needs to not move in. Awkward and unfortunate, yeah, but I think necessary.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:58 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have only ever seen cats - even large cats - get along with chickens. I asked her if they were friendly cats, she assured me that they were. There's no telling what we assumed. How do I deal with the here-and-now? I already called earlier, no answer.
posted by aniola at 10:00 PM on August 31, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah, I think she is probably totally cool and her cats aren't so badass as she claims. The other housemate (the one who has been here all along) is out for the evening, so I haven't had the chance to discuss this with him. I'll talk to the both of them a.s.a.p. - probably in the morning - and take it from there. Thanks for the advice.

And if anyone knows if bells keep cats and chickens at a safe distance, that would be awesome.
posted by aniola at 10:05 PM on August 31, 2010

Best answer: Re: the bells - cats have become very adept at stopping their collar bells from ringing. It's quite spooky.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:13 PM on August 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think a bell would help. One about the size you would expect Quasimodo to be ringing.

cats have become very adept at stopping their collar bells from ringing

I've read the solution to this is multiple bells around the circumference of their collar. They can't suppress them all at the same time.
posted by antiquark at 10:19 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've seen cats just get sneakier with each new bell- all you're doing with the multiple bells, as far as I can tell, is training them to even more fiendish feats of feline stealth.
posted by Philby at 10:26 PM on August 31, 2010

Philby speaks truth. Four bells on my wee monster, and she can flat-out sprint in dead silence.
posted by coriolisdave at 10:48 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

My cat is completely friendly and fairly fat, and has killed both squirrels and huge crows. Which is why we keep him in these days, but I think it's safe to assume that this is a risk you run when renting to someone who owns an animal that is a natural predator, and a natural predator of a pet you keep.

Honestly, if I were in your roommate's position, I would probably have assumed that the chickens were kept in some kind of enclosure, and that informing you that I had cats was fair warning. Perhaps this would have shown chicken-ignorance on my part, but I wouldn't be so quick to assign sinister motives or even pushiness on her part.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:58 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Solution: Get a goose.* A villainous one. It will terrorize the cats AND the chickens, possibly leading to a wacky inter-species team-up and rebellion, a collaborative film series and riches for everyone involved.


No, I think Rendus is onto something. Best case scenario--the one where your roommate isn't totally flaky, in which case, you shouldn't let her move in--your roommate thought 'hey, I'll tell her about the cats, I've known chickens who kicked feline ass, and if that's not the case, she'll follow up and ask questions or tell me it won't work out.' I can see her then finding out that the chicken was a bantam, and going 'erm, oops.' That being said, I see your point as well. Similar thought process, in reverse. I think you both skipped a step of communication, and from now on, I think you both--as well as your other housemate--need to be very explicit about your expectations when it comes to the animals. Animals are fantastic, but each extra animal adds a small layer of extra chaos. Predator/prey combinations should set off huge klaxons that say 'we hash the details out ASAP.'

And I think you have to make that clear with everyone right now. If she does a trial thing and has to move out, that sucks, and consider your lesson learned.

Belling When they work at all, bells are to warn wild birds that fly, not domestic birds that can't fly and aren't bred for smarts. They're bred--successfully or not--to be less spooky than a sparrow. Two of the three cats in our house are smart enough to avoid a chicken that gave it any kind of evil glance. The other is a tall, super-athletic curious male with no self-preservation instinct whatsoever, and if he found a chicken, it would end in badness and injuries all the way around.

Let me point that out, and make sure that's explicitly noted in your discussion if your roommate isn't aware--even with a bantam, and a hunting cat, a pissed-off bird can do some damage. The practice of not presenting predators with live prey isn't just more humane for the prey species.

Also, you're in Davis--if you have educational access, and you decide to try the roommate situation out, check out their literature or their veterinary library. You might have more luck with the Animal Science department, or their extension/agriculture/community educational resources. From my cursory search, Davis's Ag/Vet Extension program appears to have fewer ties to resources for family/local farming than the ag/veterinary extension programs I'm familiar with.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 11:02 PM on August 31, 2010

I dunno about chickens, but in our apartment complex we have a lot of wild ducks who like to live in our yard during the summer. We also have cats.

Generally the cats leave adult ducks alone. But during hatching season, the baby ducks are irresistable to the cats. The mama ducks know it, too, and are really careful minding their hatchlings. I've seen a cat try to charge a group of hatchlings, and the mama duck seeing it coming and counter-charge. One good battering with mama-duck wings is all the cat needs; it won't try it again.

I've seen different cats get chased away several times. Never seen one get a duckling, though. Never seen one even get close.

Of course, there's attrition as the ducklings grow up. (We have raccoons here, too, and I figure they're the villains.) But not all that much; we get a good crop of yearling ducks every summer. I saw one mama duck manage to get 12 ducklings all the way to adulthood without losing a single one.

Thing is, a cat isn't really equipped to kill something the size of an adult duck. Its only real hope is to get its jaw clamped on the duck's neck, and a cat's jaws just aren't that large. Its claws are useless against feathers. And the duck's wings are pretty impressive weapons in their own right, let alone the duck's beak. An adult duck can't kill a cat, but it can do a damned good job of chasing one away. And all of that is true for chickens, too.

I wouldn't worry too much. Your adult chickens can protect themselves against something the size of a house cat. Baby chicks are more vulnerable, but hens know it and will protect them, too.

Now if your roommate had a dog, then you'd be in trouble. Even a small dog can easily kill birds the size of chickens and ducks.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:05 PM on August 31, 2010

Response by poster: That's my hope/belief, is that there were some mistaken assumptions going on. It seems likely/plausible.

I guess it would be nice if I had pondered and reached some conclusion on indoor (cooped up cats) vs. outdoor (dead birds - wild or not) pet cats before now.

Other suggestions on chicken/cat segregation (and good, balanced arguments on indoor vs. outdoor for cat-keeping when cats are being kept) are welcome. Thanks for the advice. Night, y'all.
posted by aniola at 11:12 PM on August 31, 2010

Your roommate is being super irresponsible towards your pets by bringing her Killer Kitty* into the mix. I don't see how this will work unless you build a big and impenetrable chicken coop.

The coop should be professionally built. Your new roommate should pick up the cost if she decides to move in under this requirement.

*Is a term of endearment for me as I have a Killer Kitty. And I wouldn't ever trust mine around your chickens, or vice versa.
posted by jbenben at 11:36 PM on August 31, 2010

Your roommate is being super irresponsible towards your pets by bringing her Killer Kitty* into the mix.

I don't understand this mentality, and it's been shown throughout the thread.

The cats were known about before the birds were purchased. How is it the cat owner's fault that after an agreement was reached regarding living together, but before the actual move occurred, objects the cats will view as prey were purchased? Presumably at some point "cats are OK" was implied or expressed.
posted by Rendus at 11:45 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

The cats were known about before the birds were purchased. How is it the cat owner's fault that after an agreement was reached regarding living together, but before the actual move occurred, objects the cats will view as prey were purchased? Presumably at some point "cats are OK" was implied or expressed.-- Rendus

She's having second thoughts after hearing how good at hunting the cats are.

I've seen cats that wouldn't know what to do with a chicken and have known of chickens (larger) that would darn near kill any cat that comes near. And I've known cats who would swiftly kill the chickens on the first day of meeting them. I can see why someone would have second thoughts. Sometimes we make mistakes. If she decides the roommate with the hunting cats was a mistake, it is better (and fairer to the potential roommate) to deal with it before the she moves in.
posted by eye of newt at 12:06 AM on September 1, 2010

Have you thought about a rolling chicken coop? I don't know about the area you're in but lots of animals like to eat chickens. You might be able to get your new room mate to put in on parts or help build it. I have some friends who had chickens but lost most of them over time. They're in the country but I'd still worry about dogs/coyotes and raccoons in a city.
posted by stray thoughts at 12:21 AM on September 1, 2010

Mrs MM's mum has chickens. She has put an agricultural electric fence round the coop. Although she has cats, the rooster would see them off as it is pretty fierce even with humans. The fence stops foxes.

In summary: a good sized, moderately aggressive rooster should sort out the cats. Failing that an electric fence would do it.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:22 AM on September 1, 2010

Solution: Get a goose.* A villainous one. It will terrorize the cats AND the chickens, possibly leading to a wacky inter-species team-up

I agree with Uniformitarianism Now!

This is a communications issue. I'd suggest either getting a third roommate who has a pet sack of grain, or start communicating more better.

Since you're locked into this, why not try to keep the cats indoors, and then do a group build of an enclosure and chicken-tractor with the help of your roomate. (Probably don't ask her to pay for materials, but do try to make it a fun group build.) This will be more fun than arguing about it.

By the way, most cats kill birds in mid air. Perhaps your roomate thought you were getting big birds, not bantums.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:47 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I grew up with extremely free-range chickens. I also used to have a cat that killed things up to and including rabbits. It never killed the chickens, because they are vicious and fairly cat-proof. Unfortunately I don't know much about bantams, but in my limited experience of them they merely concentrate the same amount of viciousness into a smaller volume. This may or may not compensate for any reduced cat-proofing due to their smaller size. (Multiple neighbours had cats of similar outdoorsiness; none of them were known to attack chickens either. I've only ever known our and our neighbours' chickens be killed by dogs).

I also grew up shovelling chicken-shit off the lawn any time we wanted to sit/play in the garden, and cleaning chicken shit off the floor when I tracked it in to the house (and it smells nasty on your shoes for days if you don't clean them). Depending on what you want your outside space to be usable for, you may want to rethink letting your chickens have full-time access to all your space.
posted by Lebannen at 2:19 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Talk to her ASAP! I had a roommate with a cat who didn't tell me until much too late that when adopting him, the shelter told her that he needed to be an "only cat." My cat grew up with two other cats but now she's unable to handle seeing other cats because my ex-roommate's cat frightened and attacked her.
posted by autoclavicle at 3:45 AM on September 1, 2010

Even if a cat isn't known to be a birdkiller, it is still a potential threat. My own killer kitty story: when I was a kid, I adopted a darling seven-week-old kitten. I already had a parakeet who was allowed free roam, but we determined he was in zero danger because the places he liked to hang out (including his cage) were high up and completely inaccessible, and because how dangerous could a two-pound kitten be? He wasn't much bigger than the bird, even. About two or three weeks later we woke up to find nothing left of the parakeet but a pile of green feathers in a corner.

Cats stalk and kill smaller animals. It's what they do. This doesn't absolve your roomie, but even the nicest, most sedentary kitty could go after a chicken. What if your roommate had a totally non-threatening lazy meatloaf-cat, and two months later your chicken was dead?

In truth, it sounds like neither of you really thought this through. And - leaving the critters out of it - if the both of you are having an issue of this caliber before you even live together, and you're not able to resolve it to both roommates' satisfaction, this is not going to be a good roommate relationship.

Also, cats are generally better kept indoors-only, provided they have enough room - there are diseases and other asshole cats and mean neighbors and cars out there. On the other hand, cats who are used to roaming around outside are often very unhappy being kept indoors and will yowl or try to make a break for it. You can't put that (literal) cat back in the (metaphorical) bag, so it might not be an option for your roommate.

Good luck working this out, and in the future, no cats of any kind.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:50 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know about bantams, we never had them. But if I were you, I'd get two or three nicely aggressive roosters. One encounter with those, and the cat will off birds for good.
posted by magstheaxe at 6:15 AM on September 1, 2010

Roosters may not be a terrible idea here, they are very protective and mean. Not many cities allow them, though.

In general, I think the chickens are going to need an enclosure no matter what. Racoons are not nearly as afraid of chickens as cats are, and they tried to eat my friend's chickens on multiple occasions. One chicken wandered off just last week only to get caught by a new dog in the neighborhood and shaken like mad (fortunately the dog soft mouthed her and she lived and is fine now).

Chickens are a tasty snack or fun toy to any number of species beside a cat. Build a pen.
posted by slow graffiti at 6:49 AM on September 1, 2010

Speaking as someone who has owned chickens for most of her life, why are your chickens not in an enclosure? Do you really think cats are the only predators around? If the cats can get to them, so can raccoons, weasels, rats, coyotes, and all sorts of other critters who will happily snack on them. We had four of our chickens mauled by a marten, who got inside the chicken coop.

Your responsibility is to keep your chickens safe. From the cats, yes, (though I have never, ever, seen a cat even attempt to kill a chicken) but also from all other predators that will decimate your flock. Supervised roaming outside of their enclosure is awesome, they'll be incredibly happy to be pecking and digging and generally make adorable nuisances of themselves, but they need to spend the rest of the time securely behind chicken wire.

Consider investing in something like a chicken tractor.
posted by lydhre at 7:20 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

OK, speaking as someone who owns 2 new-to-living-on-their-own young adults, I can't help but say, a little bit loudly ... Common Sense Early Helps Avoid Stressful Situations Later. Bird and cats generally don't mix well, particularly in places with landlords, roommates, security deposits, etc. Un-mix and neither of you will have to devote any time to monitoring this (or be listening for the bells! the bells!). That's it from Mom Central.
posted by thinkpiece at 8:22 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Cats are by far not the only threat to chickens. They're probably not even the biggest threat. If you want to keep your chickens safe, they need to be kept in an enclosure. Free range is also the freedom to be killed by marauding hawks, cars, dogs, cats, kids, snakes, owls, weasels, raccoons, rats.... I could go on, but suffice it to say, it's a dangerous world out there for chickens.

I live in a rural/wooded area with all the above threats and more. I keep my four hens in a chicken tractor. It means they always have fresh ground. Most chicken owners keep them in a permanent enclosure. If you have very large chickens, a simple fenced yard will be enough to protect them from your roommate's cats (although not from ever-present Danger From The Sky).

Incidentally, I would be pissed as hell if I were in your situation. And tempted to say something uncharitable like, "What if I just told you off-handedly at the last moment that my dog kills cats?"
posted by ErikaB at 9:10 AM on September 1, 2010

Best answer: I grew up with bantam chickens and cats. Many cats and chickens that all roamed together. Plus any other cats that might have wandered into our yard. We never had a problem, even though our cats (including the barn cats) caught birds and other critters.

One chicken versus one or two cats might be a little different, so I would let the cats outside only under supervision at first, and be prepared to shout if they show any signs of stalking your chicken. If they persist, a squirt with the hose (once the cats have settled in, so they don't run completely away) is not out of the question.

What were you doing about neighbor's cats? Presumably they can get into your yard as well.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:41 AM on September 1, 2010

Oh, and what we did have a problem with were skunks and raccoons getting into the pens at night or digging under the fence, and rats getting in to eat the chicken feed. Be sure your chickens are very secure at night.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:44 AM on September 1, 2010

May we please see a photo of your wee chicken?
posted by lhall at 11:37 AM on September 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: My future roommate called this morning. Turns out she was doing the hyperbole thing, because "He has been known to tackle birds in the air just for sport. " turned out to mean "not within the past three years." Phwew. That's reassuring, and she's going to keep him inside most of the time. I'm glad this got sorted out before she moved in, and I get the impression that we'll get along well.

They have a strong, sturdy coop and I shut them in at nighttime. I understand that giving them free range to half the back yard can be messy (it is fenced in), but they seem happier when I do it that way, and a chicken tractor wouldn't work so well in this yard - they wouldn't get to go to nearly as many nooks and crannies.

Thank you for the advice letting me know that there are lots of ways my free-range chickens could die; that's good to know and good to have in mind. I had thought that as long as I didn't have dogs and kept 'em in at night, they'd be fine.

Now I know a whole lot more than I did about backyard chickens and cats! My bantum holds her own with the two large chickens, and they like to flock together, so hopefully she'll be able to hold her own as well as the large ones. The feed is kept in a metal can with a lid, hopefully that will keep rats out. The landlord is entirely hands-off and not interested. We do all the maintenance ourselves, et cetera. Roosters are illegal in my city.

I'll take a picture of 'em and post it in the next few days. Thanks again for all your advice!
posted by aniola at 12:41 PM on September 1, 2010

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