People often ask how to keep their barn cats (and other outdoor cats) warm in winter…Below, we have gathered together information we received from our barn owners and from knowledgeable animal professionals who graciously share advice on Masscats.org (sources are cited):
1a. Differences between hay and straw (advice from Susan on Masscats.org)
Lots of people accidentally use the terms “hay” and “straw” interchangeably, but they are really two different things with different uses.I use both hay and straw on my farm. The hay is used for food, and the straw for protection from the elements. I bank bales of straw around the barns and various area to cut down on the cold, and I spread it on the ground to keep my flock from freezing their feet. I also use it in the barn to “bed” the goats and ducks. Straw is totally nutrition less, and thus I can not use it for food.
Hay will not provide the insulation feral cats need to help them keep warm. Straw, being hollow, traps the heat from the cat’s body and helps them keep warm. Similar situation when you dress in layers – you create pockets of trapped air that are filled with your body heat. Providing a place for them to get out of the wind/rain/snow, that has some insulation, and preferable where they can snuggle together is ideal.
Some barn owners place these igloos in barns and stuff them with straw. The straw works really effectively as an insulator (per the recommendations above).
A heated disc warmer under the straw will help them build heat on those really cold nights. The discs do stay warm for a good long time.. . IF you can afford one!
Also, you MAY be able to get some bonus straw at places that sell it, such as AGWAY or the Co-Op in Topsfield. Lots of time they get a broken bale, or just loose straw, and if you are willing to bag it, oftentimes they will let you keep it. Just a matter of asking, and explaining what you need it for.
1b. Where to buy the straw (advice from John on Masscats.org)
Any farm supply or horse supply like agway or natures best farm stand. I build the shelters for ferals and a bale should cost about 7 dollars and it will last a long time. use straw not hay.
2a. Shelter Me Inc bought these heated outdoor mats from amazon.com (on the recommendation of a barn cat owner and thought they worked great!) They only warm up when the cat is actually sitting on them. They have a nice, long insulated cord. We placed a seated mat under the cat condo that the brown cat is sitting in. It warmed the rug-covered wood floor inside. But it is much better if you can place it inside a cat condo or other kind of house that is protected from wind and and of course, rain.
3. Build your own insulated pet house (courtesy of Rita, a Missouri resident who shared her research with us)
We also like these automatic cat feeders and water dispensers – you can get them pretty inexpensively on amazon.com. Cats need to drink a lot of water. We don’t buy the fancy electric feeders – plastic is fine.
Not handy? Would rather buy one already (partially) constructed? Visit FeralVilla.com.
Other helpful links
4. Heated water bowls are really great for winter. You can buy them for as little as $20 on amazon.com and they are very low voltage and have well insulated, steel-wired covered cords.