Every successful garden or farm we've ever visited has one thing in common: Cats.
Tempo and Biscuit, our two barn cats, are from the same litter and came with us from San Diego.
They are an excellent and non-chemical way to keep the rodent and lizard populations under control in the garden. And while we know having outdoor cats gets a bad rap... when cats were born in a barn they are very happy to live in a barn.
Like any working animal they thrive having a job to do. Our cats love to hunt. To them, it's mostly play. They'll sit and watch and wait, wagging their tails or slowly stalking. And then BOOM... one less mouse. When Tempo was about 6 months old she very proudly brought us a wood rat that was nearly the same size as her. (We ask that they eat their prey away from us though. If you've ever seen a cat eat a bird it is both interesting and horrifying that this same animal will snuggle up and sleep in your lap!)
They are also a great source of companionship. When I spend time in the hoop house, Tempo always wants to join me. At first she'll cause trouble, climbing across plants trying to get to me or trying to find the highest spot, even if that means pushing aside something to watch it fall to the ground. But eventually, she settles down and just enjoys the warmth. When I'm out watering or potting up or troubleshooting, it's good to know I've got a buddy.
Some special caveats. First and foremost, we lock our barn kitties in the workshop at night. While I'm sure they'd much rather be out hunting, where we live they'd also become the hunted. Rather than wait for a coyote, bear, or mountain lion to eat them, we lock them up where they are safe for the night. We also let them come inside sometimes. If it's especially cold or wet or when something is going on with them, we'll let them visit with us in the house (supervised, as they are pretty wild!) or for longer periods we will set them up in our laundry room where they can be warm and safe without us having to worry about them destroying things in the house.
But their primary duty remains controlling the pest population. Gophers are such a challenge in our area that we need something actively hunting them to maintain an advantage. And they are really good at that. In fact, as we add more hoop houses and start more in ground planting this year, we're thinking we'll add a couple more.