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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I am worried about my ferals getting dehydrated in cold weather. I don't feed canned food (can't afford it), just kibble. Do you think if they got thirsty enough, they would figure out to eat snow?

I do fill up a large water bowl with hot water (about 100F) once a day around noon. Though I'm not sure anybody is getting to it, as the next day when I go out the bowl is just as full (and of course frozen solid).
I fill with hot water because I figure that will keep it from freezing as fast. Then again, I've also heard that the warmer water is, the faster it freezes... though that makes no sense to me.

During this next year, I'm going to save up and get them GOOD feeding stuff for next winter, like insulated bowls and better covers (I have plastic storage bins on their side with the bowls tucked in, but they still get snow in them if it blows at the right angle)

Would be nice if I had an electrical outlet nearby, then I could buy a heated bowl! (and heated shelters!)
 

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This is a good question.
In winter, cats' priorities are shelter, water and then food.

I have 6 feral cats in my barn, which has no electric. Just like you, I give them water and the next day it is frozen solid and very little appears to be gone.

I tried bringing them cold water so they'd all have a chance at the bowl when they gathered for breakfast. In a separate bowl I'd put hot water from a thermos for later. Some of them always eagerly drink the fresh cold water.

When it was really cold (15 degrees all day) I mixed their wet food with hot water so they would get some extra moisture.

One extra thing that worked for me was to make them a kind of porch in back of the barn. The basic idea was passive solar. It was a wind block (door sized, horizontal to the ground) and had crates to sit on to keep them off the ground. Even when it was 20 degrees, on a sunny day you could feel the warm coming off the wood. I put an extra dish of water on one end and it stayed liquid a long time.

There is a device like a frisbee that you can heat in your microwave that retains heat for up to 8 hours. I considered putting this under the water dish but so far so good.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I plan to get those microwave disk things for my insulated bowls, when I've saved up enough money to make a couple of them.

Dunno if I could really set up crates or anything too fancy. My landlord is barely tolerating what I do now (which is leaving food out to attract "all those d*mn cats"). I always bring fresh, warm water - at least a gallon, because sometimes I need to rinse out the bowl as the raccoons come out when it's warmer to use them to wash junk in!

When I feed, usually Disco and Zinny are always scrambling to get food. They stayed in my house for a month a couple months ago to recover from spaying (and I was kind of hoping to tame them enough to get them adopted out, but couldn't before I had to "kick them out" again). Ever so often their mother and another cat or two will be hiding nearby and eat as soon as they think I'm not too close anymore (several yards, and mostly blocked by sight from bushes).



I still have this set-up, only with clear storage tubs (the bag-covered boxes got all soggy and collapsed). Maybe I should drape a black garbage bag over them, to collect heat? I do want to make a small draping/curtain just over the rim of the tubs anyway, as snow keeps blowing in. I figure I'd have it hang over just low enough the cats could slip in under it to eat.

I guess I really shouldn't worry too much. They survived last winter (well, except Disco and Zinny, their first winter now) without my help. I guess whatever I give is better than not having anything at all, and they can take it or leave it.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Yeah, I figured that it would take longer to get from 100 to 32-, than it would from 70 or 60 to 32-
I may go to the hardware store on Thursday, and hopefully will remember to look at some solar sheets of some sort (I hear the ones that go over swimming pools are good at heating stuff for feral stations).
 

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If the area you have the boxes set up in gets some sunshine during the day, try to find some old windows and set up a simple solar lean-to(windows are often just thrown away during home upgrades) an old piece of plywood with some foam insulation glued to the underside makes a quick floor that will help to stop conductive cooling from the ground...
 

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Discussion Starter #8
I didn't think about a floor of any type.

The place gets sun from the east and south. The building they are against blocks light from the west at sunset, but that's okay I think.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I don't think the cats would mind a bit of crinkle-ness.
One of the feral kittens I tamed and re-homed LOVED the little cloth-covered crinkle sack I got for her. Never went inside it, but she would play on top of it (pouncing around by herself, or wrestling with her brother), and even slept on it. Her sisters, who stayed feral, never really got into it...but they didn't go out of their way to avoid it either.

If I put it in the feeding station, I'd sort of worry about condensation from the steam eventually freezing and ruining the effectiveness of the blanket. The sleeping dens have straw in them for the insulation material.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
My problem is that I don't have access to electricity at my feeding station. Otherwise I'd just have one of those heated bowls to begin with.
Unless anybody knows a way to string 3 or 4 extension cords together, so they run across the yard (3/4 acre) and make it so the moisture (snow/rain/dew) doesn't pose a threat or danger of shorting out and/or shocking anybody (humans and kitties alike).
 
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