Creative ideas for improving colony care
Throughout our Colony Care pages, you'll find info on managing feral cats, from feeding to sheltering to keeping them out of your neighbor's garden. Here we highlight some of the creative tips and tricks we've come across. If a small change might make your work as a colony caretaker easier, it's worth a try!
Finding free food
With so many mouths to feed, caretakers are a thrifty bunch who clip coupons, pounce on sales and buy the biggest bags of kibble they can carry. Here's one free source of cat food you may not have thought about - every pet supply and grocery store has merchandise they can't sell, including dented cans, slightly torn bags and recently expired food. Usually, these end up in the trash when they could be going to feed your ferals instead! Try approaching a retailer in your area, tell them about the work you're doing with the cats and see if they'll donate their damaged goods. Space is at a premium in most stores so if you're willing to take the food off their hands in a timely way, they may be happy to help. If the donation goes to a 501c3 charity, the store can take a charitable tax deduction for their gift, making it a win-win for all involved.
Feeding when it rains
The best way to protect against rain and other poor weather is by using a covered feeding station. But if you can't place one on your site, you can still protect food on days when you expect wet weather. Take a round Tupperware container or plastic take-out dish and fill with dry food, leaving at least an inch or so of space below the brim. Then take the lid of the container or dish, turn it upside-down and place on top. Even while upside-down, the lid will keep the rain out. When the cats come by after the rain stops, they'll smell the food in the container and push the lid off to get at it.
Keep feeding station bins clean
Storage containers like Rubbermaid bins make great feeding stations, but let's face it - keeping them tidy can be a chore. Spilled food, dry food crumbs and dirt have a way to getting into all those ridges and corners on the bottom and it's time consuming to scrub them clean. Fortunately, there's an easier way. Line the bottom of your bin with an industrial runner mat. When the floor gets messy, just lift the mat out and wash it off. Smooth rubber or vinyl runners work well and can be cut to any length. You'll find runner mats in most floor stores or at online retailers like Total Mats.
Natural flea control: beneficial nematodes
Every spring brings not only flowers and kittens, but fleas. Lots of 'em. One solution for fleas in outdoor settings is Beneficial Nematodes. The microscopic worms live in the soil and eat the larvae of fleas. They reproduce rapidly and have voracious appetites and can drastically reduce a flea population within days. They should be applied with a lawn sprayer to moist, shady areas during early morning or dusk - not during the heat of the day or in direct sunlight, or they'll perish. Most die off in cold weather so may need to be reapplied each spring. Beneficial Nematodes are not parasitic, will not harm the cats and are environmentally friendly. Purchase at Arbico Organics or check your local home garden center.
More natural flea control: diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is an all-natural powder made from the fossilized remains of tiny, hard-shelled algae called diatoms. To the touch, it feels like talcum powder, but on a microscopic level it is razor sharp and kills fleas on contact. The "food grade" variety is commonly fed to cows and other livestock to kill internal worms. For fleas, it can be sprinkled on areas where the cats hang out and on other problem areas like cracks between walls and floors, under sinks and beneath trailers. If a cat can be handled, she can be dusted with the product to help kill any fleas on her body. For purposes of flea control, be sure to only buy "food grade." It does come in other grades which are not safe for the purposes described here. The product is inexpensive and can be bought in bulk (up to 50 lb. bags) online at Diatomaceous Earth or at many agricultural feed stores.
Hiding in plain sight: faux boulders
With feral cats, out of sight, out of mind is a good rule of thumb. The lower their visibility, the fewer complaints. A key place to hide whenever possible is their feeding site or station. One way to do this is with a fake landscape rock, also known as a faux boulder. Made of synthetic material, they're realistic looking, lightweight and have hollow interiors. By cutting a small doorway in one side, a fake rock can be used to conceal a feeding station or spot, or even a small winter shelter. A jigsaw will usually do the trick, but check with the manufacturer for the proper tools. Also inquire about the size of the interior space before purchasing. Pictured here is the Long Landscape Rock from Improvements, which has a large variety of different shapes, sizes and colors available.
Sometimes you have to feed through a fence because that's where the cats hang out at feeding time and you don't have access to the other side. In these circumstances, it's always best to keep the cats' food and water out of arm's reach of passersby. You can do this by using an "arm extender," a simple device made for picking up litter or reaching items high up on a store's shelves. Once you've filled the food and water bowls, push them back from the fence with the extender, just far enough that you can grab them later to refill or clean. Try to push the bowls behind a small pile of rocks or other objects to at least partially hide them from view. Pictured here is the Grip 'n Grab by Ettore, available on Amazon.
Tired of lugging heavy bags of food back and forth from your colony? If your site is reasonably secure, store dry food on-site in a weather-proof storage container like Vittles Vault from Gamma2, available at Chewy.com. For added weather protection, keep the vault inside a Rubbermaid bin. Then you'll also have a space for canned food, bowls and utensils.
If you need to de-ice a walkway or other area in the vicinity of your colony, try this formula: mix 1 teaspoon of Dawn dish detergent, 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol and half a gallon of warm water. Spray or pour on. Snow and ice melt in seconds and, unlike some chemical formulas or products, it's completely safe and non-irritating for cats to walk on.
Cats eat more in winter!
A recent study by the University of Liverpool's School of Veterinary Science found cats in cold climates eat approximately 15% more food during wintertime than in summer. This can be explained by the need in colder temperatures for their bodies to burn more calories to stay warm. Plus the cats are less active on hot summer days. So to keep your colonymates at a healthy body weight when cold weather arrives, increase their portions by about 15%.