Feeding the volunteer barn cat

We moved to the “farm” with the horses this spring. I’ve had barn cats before. Love a good cat. My partner is allergic so we have Boston Terriers and no cats. We live in coyote county, so I had not planned on getting a barn or outside cat to feed to them.

But a feral cat showed up, has been hanging around, and is evidently surviving the coyote population.

I would like to catch this cat and get it fixed and vaccinated. It’s quite shy and skinny. So I thought feeding it might be a good start. I don’t want to collect a bunch of raccoons and possums. Any clever ideas on how to feed the one and exclude the others?

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Put a plate of dry food down when you see him. Once he has eaten, take it away. Eventually you will be able to habituate him to certain times to eat. I never leave the plates down so I don’t feed the wildlife.
I also use those foil pie pans - when they get dirty or too mashed up, they can be tossed. I’ll bet you could catch him now if he’s very hungry. Some stinky cat food in a trap and bingo.

My last house I didn’t have to worry so much about the wildlife. It was the neighborhood tommy I worried about because he would come over, help him himself to the food (I didn’t mind that part) and then go seek out my cats and beat the crap out of them. I never could catch him and sadly he met an ugly, ugly end. This place I’m at now my landlord leaves food out 24/7 and we have a healthy population of possums (they don’t hang around long as they are wanderers), skunks and some nasty raccoons. I cannot feed my outside group after dark because that’s when the visitors show up.

Good luck with this kitty and thank you for caring about him. Or her.


It’s also best, if possible, to feed in the morning or during the day. Take the food up at night. Most other animals will try to eat cat food at night rather than during the day.


I had a feral cat show up almost 2 years ago. Norman now shows up for breakfast, dinner and a 9pm snack. Her bowl may be outside, but it is usually empty. If I go out of town, I have to line up a cat sitter for the feral cat, which my mother finds hysterical.


I am a card carrying sponsor of a Feral Cat Colony (really). I keep a Game Cam on my feeding station to know who is coming and if there are any new cats that need capture, spay, neuter, and release. I use a live trap and my organization does the vet work for $40. I have found that most cats are on a schedule --so if a new one shows up at 6 AM for a couple of days, I set my trap at 5:30 and (honestly) catch that cat within a day or two. Sometimes I recatch ones I’ve “treated” —I just say hi and release them.

Mine are true ferals —not a friendly one in the bunch (I have 11 regular visitors). They find their own lodging under the barn, or shed or in the windfalls around the property. Some seem to come from the neighbors’ duck barns (I see tracks in the snow).

As to feeding --remember raccoons and possums can’t jump. I took an old 50 gallon water tank (galvanized metal) that leaked, turned it upside down and set it on 4 cement blocks. It is about 3’ off the ground. On top, I put a covered litter box (empty) with a big dish of food. Cats jump up, eat, jump down. One or two naps in there. The cats (all spayed or neutered) seem to get along ok.

My feeding station is 95% successful --occasional a big raccoon will get up there --but not generally. I hesitate to make it higher because I am not sure how high some of my bigger cats can jump.

I was told that cats only eat in the day time, and if I take my food up, I will avoid raccoons. Not true for me. Most of my ferals feed at night. I can’t say I’ve seen an increase in raccoons --or possums. Box on water tank works for me.

Do suggest a game cam --fun to see who visited each night.


That’s pretty clever! I’m more worried about possums with the EPM risk than raccoons. I have a porch with gates around it that the cat jumps over to visit, so maybe that would deter any possums, which I’m not actually sure we have here.

We keep the barn cat in the tack room at night. He gets wet food at bedtime, and we put down dry food. In the morning, he gets let out, and the dry food gets put up.

Food is always behind closed doors, so it doesn’t attract vermin. Wet food is exciting, so kitty shows up every evening. Cat is safe in the tack room overnight, so is less likely to be eaten.

Works great.

I now have to put the cat food out in the morning and take it up at night, after raccoons found it after several years. The cats are on board with it now. They usually see me coming in the morning and follow me into the barn, and also sometimes get a few more bites in while I’m doing the evening barnwork before I put it away in its raccoon-proof container (a small old upright freezer with an external latch).

For your inevitable next question: “how do I trap the raccoon but not the cats” the answer is a nice jelly sandwich. Works for me every time.

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We have trapped 3 ferals. I use what I call a 'defrost" process. Keep them in a small room without a ton of hiding places. Using a grabber claw with a towel wrapped around it to pet them. They will be aggressive. They should hunch down and freeze and pet them with the grabber towel until they don’t attack. Continue doing this until you can get close with your hands. CAREFUL!!! Shift between the grabber and your hand and scritch behind the ears CAREFUL!!!

At first they’re just going to shut down and accept being handled and submit. Don’t mistake freezing with enjoying it.

But as you get good with your scritches they’ll eventually purr. Once they purr you’ve started the defrost process! You’ll eventually want to try petting with them out in the open, like while they eat, and move to them coming to you for petting. I have had this take as long as a month. I keep them locked in a small space until I can pet them in the open and then I let them loose.

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