Trap-Neuter-Return of feral cats

Firstly, welcome to people reading this via a link on the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon Facebook page. That link is the blog filtered for cat topics; you may also be interested in other posts on the blog, including about chickens, bees, and more. Click here to read the full blog.

In my previous post, I talked about pre-baiting the feral cats, to get them used to going into the traps to eat. That worked quite successfully; it didn’t take them long at all to be comfortable eating in there.

Then a couple of days ago came time to betray that trust! I kinda feel that way, even though I know it was the best thing for them. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is an essential protocol to ensure a few feral cats doesn’t turn into hundreds of feral cats. We are happy to feed and house the five (mother and four kittens) that adopted us, in exchange for their services keeping the rodent population under control. But we wouldn’t be able to care for many more, so they would end up suffering if left to breed unchecked. By being humanely trapped, neutered (and other health treatments), then returned to live out their days here, the population is kept to a manageable level, and everyone is happy.

Anyway. On trapping day, the day before our appointment with FCCO, I fed them a small breakfast around 5 AM as usual, since I didn’t want them stuck in the traps all day, then before lunchtime I activated the traps: closed and secured the back door (that they had been using), rotated them, opened the triggered front door, and placed a paper dish of food at the back:

Then I had the stress of waiting and watching (via my security cameras). Maybe feeding them even a small breakfast was a mistake, but slowly they came to eat in ones and twos, and got caught. One managed to sneak some food from two traps without triggering either, but I angled the bowl so it was a bit further back, and got her later. The first was caught around noon, soon after setting the traps, but the last wasn’t until 17:30.

Finally, all were secured in the workshop bathroom, which was heated to a comfortable temperature. The traps were covered to keep them calm, and resting on boards to raise them off paper to absorb pee, all on a tarp:

Over night the cats pulled the covers off, but they were resting comfortably enough (infrared cam view):

Then in the morning their world was rocked: they were loaded into the back of our truck, and taken to the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon for their spay/neuter. This is a wonderful service, provided free for feral cats, with a suggested donation which we gladly paid.

We received a surprise: apparently our mommacat Poppy was FCCO’s 90,000th cat! Quite the amazing milestone. So she was featured in that Facebook post, a brief KGW TV spot, and will be in their upcoming newsletter. Purrfectly delightful!

Once they were home again, they went back into the shop bathroom to finish recovering from the anesthetic, along with a bit of tasty wet food, and spent the night there.

This morning, I took photos of each. It turns out that only one of them was male; meet Potato, aka Spud:

You may notice the tipped ear; that is a convention to make it easily visible that a feral cat has been neutered.

Here is Poppy, the shy mommacat:

This is Pomegranate (Pommie), one of the girls:

Portabella:

Porcini:

I then took the traps back to where they were caught, next to the feeding station, and released them one by one. Here is Porcini making the jump to lightspeed:

And Portabella, unsure if the coast is clear (I did help her out by clearing some of the newspaper debris):

They all headed straight for the safe space of their heated shelter:

I expect they’ll be extra wary of us for a while, though being feral, they’ve always been somewhat standoffish, not approaching closer than about 6 feet. But they’ll settle back into their routine.

Thanks again to FCCO for helping us care for our outdoor staff!

Pre-baiting feral cats

We’ve left it later than ideal, since the outdoor feral cats are about the age when they could start breeding, but better late than never. We’ve set up an appointment with the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon to get them neutered (and other health checks/treatments), and borrowed 5 traps from them to facilitate that.

So we are now getting them used to eating from the traps for the next few days. This is called “pre-baiting”, where the back door of the traps is removed, and food placed inside, so they become comfortable with going in to eat. Then next week we’ll replace the door and activate the triggered door to actually catch them. With this pre-bating process, and a lot of luck, we’ll hopefully be able to catch all five at once.

I’ve placed the traps next to their usual feeding station (which is disabled for now). They’re under a tarp to keep them dry, weighed down by a folding table:

I’m using paper plates for feeding dishes in each; here they are near the front of the trap, but I’ll move them to the back in subsequent feedings:

This morning when I fed the cats, all five happily ate (partway) in the traps:

Again, I’ll put the food dishes at the back in subsequent feedings, so they go all the way in.

Another test of posting from Micro.blog, this time with a photo, and a link.

An interesting feature of Micro.blog is that short posts are more like tweets — they don’t include a title.

Heated shelter for outdoor cats

It’s a little chilly at present… like dipping down to 25° F / -4° C overnight. Which is fine for us, and as discussed is okay for the chickens, but not entirely pleasant for the feral outdoor cats. Sure, they can snuggle together in a sheltered place, but I still felt bad for them.

So, I decided to get them a heated shelter. I bought an outdoor multi-kitty A-frame shelter from Amazon, that is big enough for several cats, and includes a pad that emits a bit of warmth.

I placed it next to the deck, under which the cats often shelter from the elements. I put a camera pointed at it, so I could see if they used it:

I really wasn’t sure if they’d try it, or avoid it as something strange, being cats. But pretty much moments after I left, they started “investicating” it, and soon afterwards some of them went inside. They looked very comfy in there:

I think it might be a success. But we’ll see how it goes long-term… and whether or not the raccoons cause trouble for the cats.

Outdoor cat feeder adventures

I previously posted about the outdoor kitty condo I got as a feeding station for our outdoor feral cats. I since got a food dispenser, but that attracted the attention of raccoons and other wildlife, so I started putting it away overnight, which got old fast.

Next I tried getting an automatic feeder… but that didn’t fare too well; it was stolen and ripped open by the masked bandits; I found it elsewhere in the garden:

So time for a better solution: I repurposed one of our plastic deck table boxes to contain a different auto-feeder. I cut a hole in the bottom, and made a kind of funnel out of a pipe reducer (leftover from the chicken feeder), so the raccoons couldn’t get to the feeder. Even if they reach up the tube (and they’ve certainly tried!) they can’t get the food, as the feeder closes off the outlet after dispensing food:

The box also contains some sand bags for extra weight, and to help hold the feeder in place:

The box is also strapped to a couple of concrete blocks, to give it extra weight and raise the hole off the ground. The food dish from the feeder is also strapped to the blocks:

So far this has proved raccoon-proof, so I think this’ll work.

The kitty condo now just houses the water, which helps keep it cleaner:

Barriers

It’s been a little while since my last blog post. I haven’t done much around the homestead of late, with the rainy and cold weather, and lots of Dejal work to do.

One tiny thing was to repair a screen covering a hatch under our bedroom closet. The outdoor cats (or some other wild animals) had ripped off the old screen:

So after evicting the kittens, I recently repaired it with three layers: hardware cloth, insect screen, and more hardware cloth. Not the prettiest job, but that should prevent any further intrusion:

We’ve had a lot of wind, so this morning I set up an ad hoc windbreak in front of the beehives, to give them some shelter, using some bits of junk I had lying around:

Speaking of, we’re currently feeding the bees some 2:1 sugar water, though they aren’t taking much, since they’re largely dormant, except on warmer days (they also have their honey stores to sustain them):

Outdoor kitty condo

I got a small prefab wooden shelter for the feral outdoor cats (mamacat and kittens), so I could feed them in a more convenient location, and have the food sheltered from the rain.

Paladin helped me assemble it:

Here it is set up on our front steps:

The kittens investigated it quite quickly:

Which fascinated Paladin:

I fed them next to it last night, to make sure they found the food:

Then this morning inside the top level: