American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the WSSF 2011 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Pet Projects

Making Rat Lab Block Wire Feeders

By Karen Robbins, photos by Karen Robbins

There are several types of homemade wire feeders to use in various cages that I have come up with over the years and had my dad make. The first were the drop in feeder/water bottle baskets plus custom-made wood lid with hold-down clips for the aquariums we all used many, many years ago. I wanted something like the lab cage tops that had the food and water bottle holder as part of the lid which made for easy and quick care of the cages (you don’t have to remove the lid to add food and water). The food would be more sanitary and it provided a large area for the lab blocks so you would know the rats had an abundant amount of food—especially the moms and litters. It also made it possible if you needed to be gone for a day or two to not have to worry about the animals having enough food while you were away. I had these made so the feeder/water bottle basket could be accessed without having to take off the lid. These baskets held either one 16-oz or two 8-oz water bottles.

Lid & Feeder
The first design of wire feeders also had a water bottle holder section—there was a middle divider so the food stayed in its half of the feeder. I had these baskets made with no lids so I could use the tall 16 oz Oasis Cavy water bottles. Also, since the rats had no access to the top of the feeder, there was no need for a lid on the basket. By having the feeder basket able to be accessed without opening the lid, you could quickly check the food and water and fill as needed.
The feeder has a folded over rung of wire that allows the feeder to sit on the tank edge.
This was most commonly used for 10 or 15 gallon tanks. You could also make these for use in a 20-long tank as it has the same height as a 15. Diagram by Dean Norton.
Double Feeder
A double feeder being used in a 15-gallon aquarium. This is the kind that can be accessed from the outside without having to take off the cage lid. Note the folded over rung of wire that allows the feeder to sit on the edge of the tank.

Single Feeder

The next design idea came from my mom who wanted just feeder baskets made (she didn’t have lids put on hers but we added that feature later) to hang inside the aquariums and use with her existing full-size custom wood lids and 8-oz water bottles that had their own metal holders. These single feeders became very popular with rat fanciers all over and years later when many rat owners started using the wire cages, found these could also be used inside their cages—just placing them either underneath the first shelf on the bottom so the rats sat on the bedding to eat (preferred) or right up against the top of the cage if one of the shelves was where a rat could sit and eat from the feeder (we didn’t want the rats to be able to get on top of the feeders as they would pee and poop all over the top of the food. Also, in the early years we were using ½ x 1 inch wire for the lids and if a rat was able to get on top of the feeder, it could get a foot caught so we quickly changed the lids to the safe ½ x ½ inch wire).

Single Feeder
A single feeder basket. Some people used these as a combo unit for both food and water.
Water Bottle Holder
This single feeder is set up as a water bottle holder with a bottle protector to keep the rats from chewing the part of the bottle touching the wire.

Double Feeders

We also came up with a double version of the single hanging feeders based on my first double ones that dropped in from the top and hung from the outside top edges of the tank, to making them with straps and lids so they could be hung inside with an existing cage lid. We were also hearing of people using the single feeder baskets as water bottle holders and some people were putting both the food and water bottle in one basket. The double feeders were great as you had a place for the food, and one for the water. This way you didn’t need to buy a separate holder for the bottle and the bottle stayed more protected, though we found some rats would chew the little piece of bottle at the bottom that sat against the wire. We came up with a solution for that as well—bottle protectors—and these became standard as part of the feeders that we sold. Very simple but effective. Just a small piece of folded sheet metal with a hole cut into it for the sipper tube of the bottle to stick through, and no more chewed bottles.

Double Feeder
Double Feeder with one bottle
This double feeder is being used with one of the Lixit wide mouth 16-oz water bottles along with a bottle protector.
Double Feeder with 2 bottles
This double feeder is being used with two 8-oz water bottles and bottle protector.
Large Double Feeder
This is one of the inside hanging double feeders (large size) that is used with an existing full lid. This one is being used inside a 60-gallon tank and is able to hold two of the Lixit wide mouth 16-oz water bottles and lots of food. Note how the hanging straps are bent around the frame edge so the lid fits properly.
Water Bottle Protectors
Various water bottle protectors for one large bottle or two small ones.

Home-Made Lab Cage Feeders

When I got my new rat lab cages in 2004, the large 2000P Tecniplast cages had feeders I could have purchased separately but I chose not to get them as they took up too much room inside the cage hanging down inside almost to the bottom (see the WSSF 2006 newsletter “Critter Critiques: Tecniplast Lab Cages Review”) Instead, I chose to make feeder baskets—this time I didn’t have my dad to make them for me so I was on my own. Fortunately, since he had been making lids, feeders, show boxes, wheels, etc., for many years for myself and the club, he had all the materials and plans, plus I had watched him make them so I knew what needed to be done. They really aren’t that hard, but I chose to use stainless steel for these baskets so they would be easy to clean, and stainless is harder to cut then regular galvanized. But once I got the hang of it, it was just a matter of time before I had several made up.

Stainless Steel Basket
Stainless Steel Basket
A stainless steel home-made wire basket for a lab cage. You could also use galvanized wire. The stainless steel is harder to cut and bend but a breeze to clean, where the galvanized wire needs to be scrubbed with a wire brush to get clean.

Supplies Needed For Making Wire Feeders
  • ½ x 1 inch 18 gauge welded wire (stainless is great as it is easier to clean [a smaller gauge like 20 would be easier to work with], but the regular is fine—it just needs to be wire brushed when cleaning)
  • For the hanging baskets: 2 metal straps cut out of galvanized sheet metal (grind edges smooth) to hold the feeder to the cage or you could take a strip of the wire ½ x 1 section and make the straps
  • Wire Cutters
  • Sheet metal bending brake to bend the wire
  • Grinder to grind the cut edges smooth so you nor the rats get cut on the edges
  • J clips and J clip pliers to attach a lid (2 clips per single feeder, 3 per double feeder)

Diagram for Wire Feeder Basket
A diagram of the inside hanging double feeders with straps (straps would be bent around the plastic frame edge so a custom-made full-size wood lid will fit snug; a metal-framed tank would not need this special bending). Note the “curve” on the divider—must be done this way to fit in properly. Also, place the feeder right under the lid so the rats can’t get on top of the feeder and spoil the food.
For the lid of the feeder, use ½ by ½ wire and attach with J clips using J clip pliers. You could also use prongs of the basket to make your “hooks” to attach the lid (when cutting the wire you would need to leave a few prongs to use this way), but don’t crimp it around the lid too tightly or you won’t be able to open it very well.
Diagram for Wire Feeder Basket
This is the cut out wire for one of the Lab Cage drop-in baskets that used the top rung for the “hanging part,” but this template is used no matter what kind of feeder you make. The top of the “T” makes up one side, the front, and the other side of the feeder, where the bottom of the “T” makes up the bottom and back of the feeder. The cut prongs are folded around to join each edge together (when hanging, always put the joined edges of the feeder to the back so there are no places for a rat’s toenail to get caught). If you are making drop-in baskets that use part of the top edges to hang the basket from the aquarium or lid, then you will take the top rung of wire to fold over to make the tabs. Just remember if you are using the feeder as a drop-in feeder, to allow for the extra rung when you are cutting out the wire or your baskets will be too short. I find that 4–5 inches from the floor on the smaller aquariums works well for adults and babies; the maximum is 8 inches from the floor for the huge aquariums that are just used for adults. If you use the huge aquariums for babies, you will need to have something under the feeder so they can get to the food. If you make the feeder baskets longer so babies can get to the food, it makes it too deep to be able to easily get into the basket to change the water bottles and clean them. Always place the hanging inside feeders at the very top of the cage so the rats can’t get on top of the baskets.

Specifications (can be made to your specifications; following are what I used)
  • Single Feeder 4″W x 3″D x 7″H
  • Double Feeder 9″W x 3″D x 7″H
  • Lab Cage Feeder 6½″W x 4″D x 4″H

  1. Cut out the wire
  2. Grind cut edges smooth
  3. Bend the wire to make the feeder basket
  4. Fold the wire prongs around to hold the back and bottom in place
  5. For hanging feeders, attach the straps
  6. For the double feeders, make and attach the divider (divider will need to be bent to a curve to fit in properly—bend two outside sections to make the “curve” and bend the two bottom corner tips so the feeder will fit to the bottom properly)
  7. For lidded feeders, make and attach the lid
  8. Hang the feeder from the cage edge or place inside-hanging feeders up against the top of the cage just under the lid. *

Inside Double Feeder
This is a 10-gallon plastic-framed tank with full lid and inside hanging double feeder with water bottle protector. This lid sits on top of the frame and is easier to remove.
Inside Double Feeder
An inside hanging feeder in a 15-gallon metal frame tank with full lid (pulled back).

Outside Double Feeder
A 15-gallon metal-framed tank with lid, clips, and outside feeder with bottle protector. The feeder sits on the edge of the tank. The stiffener on the bottom of the lid is on the edge of the lid next to the feeder to fill any gaps.

Note: the lab blocks in the photos are the Harlan Teklad brand 8604 formula.

Go to Making Rat Lab Block Metal Feeders, Making Mouse Lab Block Feeders

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Updated July 16, 2022