Establishing and monitoring a feral cat colony is not an easy job, but it is an extremely rewarding one. Feral cat care takes time, patience, resources, and involves more than just feeding and watering the cats. Such care will involve trapping, altering, monitoring, and providing veterinary care, in addition to daily feeding and watering. There are three main things involved in setting up a feral cat colony – constructing a shelter, constructing a feeding station, and carefully monitoring the colony.
Constructing a Shelter: The first step is to create a shelter(s) that the cats can use to stay warm, dry, sleep, and take shelter from the elements. You can create the shelter out of anything ranging from a cardboard box, to a home-made wooden box, to a small doghouse, to a plastic garbage can. The important thing to keep in mind is that the shelter should be large enough to allow 3-5 cats to comfortably huddle together yet small enough that the shelter will trap the cats’ body heat to help the cats stay warm. A good approximate size is 2 ft long by 3 ft wide by about 2 ft high. It will also be important that the shelter is elevated so it can stay high and dry. You can do this by placing the shelter on concrete blocks, bricks or wood pallets. Also bear in mind that if you are building a shelter out of cardboard that you will need to cover the outside of the box with plastic or some other waterproof material. And lastly your shelter will need a door! The doorway should be large enough to let in a large cat yet small enough to keep out dogs and other animals. You might also want to add in a flap or lay a slanted piece of wood in front of the doorway to help keep the cold, wind and elements out while allowing the cats to come and go as they please.
Constructing a Feeding Station: You will want to create a separate feeding station from the sleeping area. This way even if the water gets spilled, if there is a fight over food, or if another animal (like a skunk) gets into the food, the cats will still have a safe shelter to return to. Unlike the shelter the feeding station should be a little more open. To do this you can create a covered station that is fully open on at least 1 or 2 sides. This way the cats can still feel safe and map out escape routes while feeding. Just like the shelter the feeding station should be waterproof and be raised off the ground. You should try to bring fresh food and water to the cats at the same time every day. Cats love schedules so they will get used to your comings and goings especially if you stick to a schedule. If you are in an area where ants will get into the food you can place the food bowl in a larger bowl of water (similar to a double broiler). This way the cats can still get to the food bowl and eat, but the ants won’t!
Monitoring Your Colony: One of the most important parts of caring for your colony is to monitor the cats on a regular basis and provide them with proper veterinary care. When a new cat enters the colony he/she should be trapped and taken to see the vet. While at the vet’s he/she should receive an initial exam, get tested for parasites and feline diseases, receive all vaccinations and be spayed or neutered. You might even consider putting some type of ID on each cat such as a microchip or ear tag to identify the cat as part of the colony with you as a contact person if any of the cats wander off or gets hurt away from the colony. After that you can decide whether or not that cat is suitable for adoption, socialization or should be returned to the colony. Cats who remain as part of the colony should be monitored daily for any problems or illnesses. You might even want to consider keeping a notebook to keep track of the cats in your colony and their medical history or socialization process.
If you do plan to set up a feral cat colony you may want to talk to local vets, shelters or pet stores to see if you can buy food at bulk rates or receive a discount on all medical services for cats in your colony.