Feeding cats outdoors: how do you manage to keep food dry and the flies away?

gilmargl

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I have only been helping to feed a feral colony for 6 weeks and am astounded how much (good quality) food we are throwing away. In these 6 weeks we have had freezing temperatures and, for obvious reasons, had to remove solid, frozen food twice a day. Suddenly, the weather became so warm that flies were trying to get at the food even while I was still filling the dishes. Then we had strong winds and heavy rain: although the dishes are under cover, they are exposed so that, unless the rain comes down vertically the dishes soon become full of water.

In a previous thread I read that @FeebysOwner had found this automatic feeding dish Safe Feeder. I immediately bought 2 secondhand. They are battery-operated and work well. They are air-tight and, when closed, should keep out both rain and flies. However, there are at least 2 problems as far as I can make out:
  1. According to the instructions, they are not intended for use outdoors
  2. It will hardly be possible to apply the learning-programme to help feral cats get accustomed to feeding from the dishes and accept the opening and closing mechanism.
As a start, I am considering putting some food out in these dishes (with the lids open) first thing in the morning and removing them in the evening. When the cats start feeding from them, I can switch on the power. At least some of the flies will be frightened away by the closing lid. I am at present teaching my own indoor cats to accept one of the SureFeed dishes. Maybe, if the ferals don't use them, I'll be able to stop wetfood from drying out too quickly indoors when summer comes.

When I had one visiting feral in my back yard, I only fed her in the evenings and put food in the open garage when it got too wet or cold. She would visit at approximately the same time every night so I knew what was going on. But, these ferals live too far away and (fortunately) I normally only have to feed them mornings and evenings twice a week. How do the rest of you manage feeding outdoor cats in all weathers? Has anyone had any experience with SureFeed. It is not operated with a microchip - there are only sensors, so that other animals (and humans) can operate it, too.
 

fionasmom

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The biggest problem here in the summer is ants crawling into the food. That is quite easy to resolve with a larger water filled dish into which the actual smaller food plate is placed. There are flies, but not in any great number. If it rains, I move the food into my garage or, for the ferals who don't come close, have large airline crates set up covered in huge plastic bags. I place the food in the back of the crate (door removed) and the cat do learn to enter all the way to eat. I do realize that you are feeding away from home, so probably none of this works. Is this an open field type area, or are there any structures you can utilize? Can you put a fly trap anyplace?
 

IndyJones

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I have a problem with ants in Indy's room. Tried the water moat thing and it worked for a week and today more ants. Indy is also very sloppy when she eats which I think is what attracted them in the first place. I just keep sweeping and dumping the ants outside.
 
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gilmargl

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The biggest problem here in the summer is ants crawling into the food. That is quite easy to resolve with a larger water filled dish into which the actual smaller food plate is placed. There are flies, but not in any great number. If it rains, I move the food into my garage or, for the ferals who don't come close, have large airline crates set up covered in huge plastic bags. I place the food in the back of the crate (door removed) and the cat do learn to enter all the way to eat. I do realize that you are feeding away from home, so probably none of this works. Is this an open field type area, or are there any structures you can utilize? Can you put a fly trap anyplace?
Thank you for answering. The area is very overgrown and has been left derelict for many years. It is not our land and the owner is not happy about the cats. We do our best to keep the area near the cat houses clear of litter - but the surrounding land is full of rubbish.

I haven't noticed ants yet, but the dishes are supposed to be designed to deter ants. I haven't understood exactly how that is supposed to work. The flies are already in abundance - large bluebottles, which are not frightened of me in the slightest. Not sure if a fly trap would have much affect in this setup.

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We have 4 wooden cat houses raised off the ground. Inside, there is another step up to the sleeping area - lined with cushions and blankets and a heating pad in winter. I don't believe the cats use the houses too often (the blankets are so clean!) - sometimes a cat will come out of a house when I arrive in the morning. But the bedding isn't warm and he was probably just waiting in the doorway for his breakfast to arrive.

The roofs of the houses are considerably over-dimensioned and provide the cat dishes with some shelter from the rain and sun. In addition, there are trees overhead. I am, perhaps wrongly, worried about putting food actually in one of the houses. Food obviously attracts other animals and if a fox or a dog traps a cat inside, there is no second exit for the cat to escape.

They are old cats and graze rather than eat everything at one sitting. Local tame cats, at least one fox, hedgehogs, a squirrel and birds have been caught on camera eating the catfood. However much food (wet, dry and milk) we leave out at night, it has gone by the morning.

Although the cats are normally waiting to be fed in the morning, they seem to eat very little during the day. I proposed just leaving dry food out (plus water and cat milk) during the daytime once it gets really hot, but the idea did not go down well with the other helpers. "They have always been fed twice a day - wet and dry food, we can't change that now!" Perhaps I'm just too miserly. I don't even throw the food away, just remove it from the cat dishes and deposit it in the undergrowth, some distance away. It has always gone by the morning - rats and mice?

I am having problems even getting my own cats to eat from the SafeFeeder dishes. They are plastic and, up to now, we have only used stainless steel dishes. 🤣
I have a problem with ants in Indy's room. Tried the water moat thing and it worked for a week and today more ants. Indy is also very sloppy when she eats which I think is what attracted them in the first place. I just keep sweeping and dumping the ants outside.
Ants outside in the catfood are bad enough, but ants indoors! It reminds me of holidays spent in Spain, where we had to be so careful about leaving food about unprotected. Cat food is, of course, particularly attractive. If you know where they are coming from, ants will not cross over a boundary of a powdery substance like flour or talcum powder.
 

fionasmom

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I think that you are probably doing all that you can. I do have to agree with you that feeding the dry once a day would not be a bad idea. The ferals I have here come into my back property to eat except for one which is in an apartment building nearby that I feed twice a day. Seemingly no one minds and she has been there for years. However, as you say, I don't actually know who eats much of the food. I am sure it is wildlife, especially one very domesticated possum and I often think that I overfeed as well and then food goes to waste.
 

Jcatbird

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Feeding inside the kitty houses means the cats will not be likely to use them as a house. Cats know that the food brings predators. In nature cats don’t eat or poop too near where the sleep. The owner should be given some important information. The cats are helping to keep the land free of pests. They get rid of bugs, rodents and even snakes. They are very beneficial to have there.
I keep food cleaner by putting it on a raised platform under a simple tented tarp. I use a rope center to make the tarp like a pup tent. They are easily staked into the ground and tied off to resist wind. I use these for food and for shelters. and the cat seems to really like them. Each end is an exit but with raised and sectioned off areas underneath gives multiple cats places to nestle down. Rain rolls down the sides since it is A frame style.
We have flies a lot here. Portioning is helpful but I know some cats graze. The tarps have slight movement in the wind and that helps but also the A shape seems to be less appealing. The flies feel trapped under the tarps. This is something I discovered quite by happy accident. Hopefully the property owner won’t mind. It really is a win win for the landowner.
 
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gilmargl

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Feeding inside the kitty houses means the cats will not be likely to use them as a house. Cats know that the food brings predators. In nature cats don’t eat or poop too near where the sleep. The owner should be given some important information. The cats are helping to keep the land free of pests. They get rid of bugs, rodents and even snakes. They are very beneficial to have there.
I keep food cleaner by putting it on a raised platform under a simple tented tarp. I use a rope center to make the tarp like a pup tent. They are easily staked into the ground and tied off to resist wind. I use these for food and for shelters. and the cat seems to really like them. Each end is an exit but with raised and sectioned off areas underneath gives multiple cats places to nestle down. Rain rolls down the sides since it is A frame style.
We have flies a lot here. Portioning is helpful but I know some cats graze. The tarps have slight movement in the wind and that helps but also the A shape seems to be less appealing. The flies feel trapped under the tarps. This is something I discovered quite by happy accident. Hopefully the property owner won’t mind. It really is a win win for the landowner.
Interesting! Can you post a picture of your tented tarp - or give some indication of the dimensions? I don't know how much digging we will have to do, through dead leaves, twigs and compost, to reach solid soil to fix the stakes. Perhaps a pop-up tent (open at the back and front) weighted down with heavy stones would serve the purpose.

By the way, snakes are practically unknown here - and completely harmless! The landowner is not one person, but a large company (German supermarket chain) which is in the process of being sold. No-one knows which company will take over this particular supermarket and surrounding land. If the new company decides to build, we'll have a fight on our hands!

In a previous thread you asked about the possibility of moving the cats and perhaps building a catio for them. We do have another feeding area for ferals. I have never been there but the owners of the land are people who have allowed the plot to be cleared and enclosed. Cats which go missing in the area often find their way to this source of food. If things do start becoming difficult, we could consider moving our ferals there. Keeping the groups separated at first will obviously be the biggest problem but that's something we'll have to deal with when the time comes. I believe these senior cats are happier living in their little forest - having a large building nearby - we think they sleep in the heating and ventilation outlets when it gets really cold and wet - and being visited twice a day by friendly people with food, milk and fresh water.

Thank you for your ideas - I am seriously considering this food tent!
 

NY cat man

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We have been feeding 4 outside cats, although today a newcomer showed up. To provide shelter from the weather-whether sun, rain, or snow- I built a feeding station. It is large enough for an adult cat to get completely inside, and has an elevated floor. As you can see in the photos, it is elevated on 1x1in PVC risers. To keep the ants at bay, I wrap carpet tape around the perimeter of the base.
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By the way; that's the newcomer, who just showed up today.
 

fionasmom

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She is adorable but maybe you are not thrilled about this. Can you explain what you do with carpet tape exactly?
 

NY cat man

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She is adorable but maybe you are not thrilled about this. Can you explain what you do with carpet tape exactly?
I place the tape at the bottom edge, so that any ants have to try to cross it to get to the food. By wrapping it in that manner, the cats never have to step on it when eating. The tape has to completely circle the feeder so there are no gaps for the ants at all.
 

lavishsqualor

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The ferals that I feed are on a schedule. They know somehow what time it is and come up to the feeding areas. I have very large restaurant size stainless steel mixing bowls that I carry in my car. I use those to create a mixture of wet and dry food. Then I put the food into trough-like feeders, and the twelve to fifteen cats in the colony come up and eat until there's nothing left. After they've all eaten, I take the troughs and rinse them out with water from my car, and then I move on to the next colony. I do always make a point to leave a fairly large pile of dry food on the ground for any stragglers; however, I'm sure the ants and other insects get in it.

Gilmargl, your post made me realize how lucky I am my ferals have an internal clock!
 

Jcatbird

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I just buy any tarp of any size that seems to fit the need. They come with grommets in place that can be used to secure it. I have just put up a small catio and my original feral shelters were taken down except for one that is draped in half over a fence. A rope in the middle to suspend works. Tie the rope off to two trees and drape the tarp over it. Each side that touches the ground can be staked down. Or tied to anything that will hold it in place. I have staked and tied tarps to anything that would weight them down. You can expand the sides a bit with large branches if needed. If you use the existing cat houses under tarps that are up high enough, I think you may find the cats will climb on top of the houses. Cats love having lots of options under a tarp. I have used old patio furniture, army cots, tree stumps and anything that was handy to give separation and a place off the ground. Get creative and the cats are very likely to investigate and enjoy the spaces provided. I’ll try to get a picture of one of the original shelters but for now, maybe these will help. Tents would definitely be a good option. That’s kind of the idea with the tarps. Having the openings at each end makes the cats feel they won’t be trapped inside by any predator.
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This tarp is over some old plant benches made of PVC pipe and wire shelving to give the tented shape.
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The idea that N NY cat man came up with using tape along the sides of the cat house to stop ants is brilliant. If that can be applied to your existing cat structures and they are under the tarps, that might cover all your bases.
If it comes down to relocating the cats, there are lots of people who can help advise on that. Hopefully they can stay where they are though.
 
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