Shelters & Feeding Stations
Important: NEVER place food in your shelter or the immediate area. Conflicts with fox and raccoons can result and they could attack your cat(s). Always keep the food station in a separate area from your shelter. Cats may also not use shelters near food sources because they feel insecure being close to a potential conflict zone.
There are many different kinds of feeding stations and shelters that you can make yourself or buy ready-made. Many times though, the ideal shelter depends on your colony location and situation. We can help you identify the best option.
There are some ideal aspects to aim for though when choosing a shelter:
Two holes so cats can escape if cornered by an aggressive animal.
Exit/Entry holes around 5-6 inches in diameter so that a cat can fit but an adult raccoon cannot.
Ensure the two exit holes aren't directly across from each other to prevent a wind-tunnel effect, which would let too much heat escape.
Raising the shelters off the ground. Even if it's just on top of a pallet or adding some short legs, that will help retain heat.
Choosing shelters that blend in with the surrounding environment to be as camouflaged as possible.
Here is a gallery of a variety of shelter options. If we had to pick our favorite, it's a build-it-yourself option here, considering the high snowfalls we've had in New Jersey.
The ONLY insulation that should be used in feral cat shelters is STRAW. Straw is excellent because it's a good insulator that does not retain moisture, like blankets or pillows can. It's important to ensure that you get all straw with no hay mixed in. Here's a great article explaining the difference between straw and hay. Essentially though, straw is yellow, thick, coarse and not grassy looking. Hay is more greenish and looks similar to thin, dry grass. Hay is also significantly more expensive than straw. Don't assume that people selling straw and hay know the difference - many times they do not. Feed stores are experts though and usually are the least expensive place to buy bales from.
Straw should ideally be replaced 2-4 times a year, but other than that, shelters don't really need much upkeep.