Food and shelter are vital for the survival of feral cats. Some people view feral cats as a nuisance, but animal lovers have no option other than to help these animals survive the elements in some fashion. If you live near a feral cat colony, you can help ensure the semi-wild cats' survival by building a homemade feeding station that doubles as a shelter.
Before building your feeding station, first find an ideal location to place it. If you are setting up a feeding station off of your property, choose a location that is out of sight from the general public. One reason for this is that the cats will be more likely to frequent the feeding station if they are not regularly disturbed by passing humans. The other reason is that it will be hidden from certain individuals who may wish to destroy it or otherwise cause harm to the cats.
Design and Build
When designing your station, plan for it to be large enough to accommodate at least one cat and two feeding bowls. Two main approaches for building a feeding station exist: One is to construct a plywood box with at least two entrance holes. Others suggest leaving one side completely open so that a single cat isn't able to take over the entire shelter. If you build a box, be sure it has a pitched roof and the seams are sealed with silicone to keep it dry during rainy weather. Coat the box with deck paint to keep the wood from rotting. A quicker and easier method is to cut access holes into a large heavy-duty plastic storage tub. Remove the lid for easy access inside for feeding and cleaning.
Do not use blankets or towels inside the shelter, as these can quickly become mildewy. Instead use straw bedding. You might consider lining the interior with reflector insulation material from a hardware store. Use a plastic, metal or ceramic feeding bowl. Paper bowls will quickly decompose; they will also easily blow away if a strong enough wind blows through the shelter. The same goes for light weight food storage containers. You should regularly switch out the bowls with clean ones every few days to keep them free of leaves, debris and grime.
Maintain a regular feeding schedule by filling the bowls at the same time each day. The cats will get used to your schedule. Ideally you should wait until feeding is over so you can remove uneaten food to prevent it from attracting other wildlife. If you are unable to get to your feeding station on a regular basis, use a vertical feeder that can stock a few days worth of food at a time. Be sure to check on the station every few days. Don't forget to bring fresh water as often as possible. Feral cats have the same nutritional needs as domesticated cats. Choose the highest-quality cat food you can afford. If you can only afford a bargain brand, supplement the food with raw beef chuck, steamed broccoli and carrots for added nutrition.
It is important to maintain the feeding station once you have place it. This means more than just refilling the food and water. Clean up the inside of the feeding station every few days, making sure that it is clear of empty cans, feces and trash. If you use straw bedding, change it out from time to time. A trashy shelter not only breeds germs but attracts other forms of wildlife and pests. Discourage ants with a moat by placing the feeding bowls in shallow dishes of water that ants can't cross. Elevate your shelter a few inches off the ground by placing it on cinder blocks or wooden boards to prevent flooding.
Currently living in Austin, Texas, Alexander Harris is a business journalist covering the self storage industry for SpareFoot.com and SelfStorage.com. Harris previously wrote daily news for RichmondBizSense.com, a business journal in his hometown of Richmond, Va. His work has appeared in various other publications including "Philadelphia Citypaper," Stateline.org, "RVA Magazine" and the "Virginian-Pilot." Harris holds a mass communications degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.