A bowl of milk a day keeps the mice at bay

Mice reigned in our goat barn. They raced along beams while we milked, nested in mangers, and nibbled their way into feed bins. Our aging house cat, Absalom, could not control the mouse population. So we brought home a gray kitten and her calico sister and created a cuddly spot for them in the barn.

Bethena and Star, named after waltzes, had other plans. They deftly learned how to open the screen door and scamper into our house. We found them curled up on our bed with Absalom, who opened one eye and appeared to shake his head. We gave in. While all three still patrolled the barn, they considered themselves privileged house cats.

Over the years the trio kept the mice at bay, but one by one they passed away. With each departure, we heard the rustle of more mice as we milked. We enlisted a new calico cat, but Rosie preferred our wing-backed chair to a home in the barn.

Once again, we located two tabby kittens and lined a basket with a soft flannel shirt, hoping this hint would endear them to the barn. Spencer and Gracie found the basket acceptable, and avoided her highness, Rosie, queen of the house.

All our cats relish a saucer of milk, but they usually wait patiently for their treat. We often appease them with a squirt straight from the goat, and they lick their faces while waiting for the main course.

Not so with Spencer. He rubs back and forth on the goat's rear legs, causing Betsy to dance. I've learned to milk for a moment, then quickly pour some in Spencer's bowl to keep him occupied while I finish. My husband, John, is not as willing to pamper Spencer. He often brushes the cat aside. Yet, John does leave that all-important bowl of milk.

But the other morning, John forgot to pour this offering. He set the milk bucket down - and returned to find Spencer with his head buried in the foam, licking as fast as his pink tongue could manage. Maybe he thought John meant for him to serve himself. Belly tight, Spencer waddled off with a beard of milk and a contented look.

Perhaps Spencer knows that with cooler nights and shorter days, he had better gain a few pounds. After all, the maples in the bog flutter red leaves, and the first junco alighted on our bird feeder today. I do not begrudge Spencer his capricious draft. He maintains a mouse-free barn, and from now on, John will always remember to fill that cat bowl.

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