People often ask us 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)
Photo credit: Jeff Worth
By the way, if you click through to Amazon – from our site – to order any supplies described below, Shelter Me Inc receives a commission at no cost to you. But please note that shipping can be incredibly expensive unless you join Amazon Prime (a yearly subscription of $99). That is the only way we could afford to buy 40 lb cages, for example, and many of these other supplies through Amazon:
1a.Differences between hay and straw (advice from Susan on Masscats.org)
Lots of people accidentally use the terms “hay” and “straw” interchangably, 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 dog 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! They are pretty pricey.
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. 1.c. One of our favorite stories about keeping outdoor cats came to us from Susan Hoffman, a lovely woman in upstate New York who used the plastic dog houses to create a kitty condominium (so to speak) under her porch for three feral cats. Susan got three plastic dog houses and stuffed them with straw. She also stuffed the straw under the crates and behind to insulate the cages from the concrete.
She wrapped plastic around the porch to keep the wind out. About a week later, the cats burrowed in and made nests. The cats lived under her porch for eight years. When she went on vacation, she had friends who fed them every day. When she made plans to retire and move to Florida, she was terribly anxious about what would happen to them. She contacted Shelter Me Inc and asked if we could find her a barn to relocate her feral friends. Would you believe we found one in the Adirondacks? Click here to read the full story and see pictures posted in the video features section of our site.
2a. Shelter Me Inc bought these Lectro 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 steel-wrapped cord. We placed a heated mat under the cat condo that the brown cat is sitting in. It warmed the rug-covered wood floor inside
We are very fond of these cat condos. We have bought them time after time to place in acclimation cages and the cats fall in love with them and live in them long afterwards. They are very solid; rug covers a thick wood frame.
2.c. We are great believers in free feeding for barn cats. We have bought these free feeders at Amazon.
3. Build an insulated pet house…or buy one already (partially) constructed… Visit FeralVilla.com.
We took photos of the following flip-top shelter at the animal control shelter in Oxford, MA. Someone donated this neatly constructed house anonymously. The shelter staff found it at their front door; it is currently occupied by the resident outdoor cat, a calico who prefers to live outdoors. Another helpful link: http://www.indyferal.org/index.php?page=shelters
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 steel insulated cords, which appears to make them goat-proof.
5. We have bought more acclimation cages than we can count. We loan them out to barn owners. Numerous articles and videos on our website share insights about where to place the cages in the barn (e.g., near fresh air, light, a window for visual stimulation and in the midst of barn traffic to get the cats acquainted to life in their new environment) and for how long (about 5 weeks). The barn cage pictured in the middle below combines two crates- the large kitty playpen (52x36x26) lower left – and a smaller double-door cage lower right– to provide a separate area for the litter box, heated water bowl and food. In this case the cage was to hold two feral kittens for 8 weeks or more in the winter time and we wanted to give the cats more room to play.
We go to great lengths to ensure that the cats have all they need in the cage during the acclimation period…