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Soon I'll be serving up supper, but not for Bob, for our barn cats. Every evening and every morning, I mix a batch of food for our furry freeloaders.

When winter wasn't so cold, Bob only handed out dry cat food. One day, he thought one of the cats looked a bit odd. When he looked closer, he saw one of the cats was really a raccoon.

Our warm December weather changed. We thought those outside fur balls needed more added to their diet. Now I take a good portion of dry food and mix it with a can of cat food. Besides a can of food, I'll mix in leftovers, such as pan drippings. They really clean up their plates fast when I do this. They have to eat quick, or another cat will get more than their fair share. Also, if the temperature is too cold, the food freezes.

These cats are not pampered house cats. They know how to cope and cuddle together.

Recently, I started handing out cat food on used aluminum pie tins. That way I can set the tins in different locations on the porch so everyone has a chance at the food.

In about a half hour, I go back to check on the food. If it isn't finished by then, I bring the tins back into the house. Inside, it will thaw out the remainder, and then later if another cat comes begging, I set out the leftovers.

Bob said we've never had such a large crop of cats like we've had this year. Bob and I watched as hidden kittens appeared last spring. We never saw them when they were tiny, only as older kittens playing in the yard.

This year they all looked nice and healthy and survived to become adults. Only one was run over on the road, a real pretty gray one.

Currently there are 12 or 13 cats living in our barn. They have made nests for themselves in our hay. Because of their great number, Bob and I brought all that we could trap to Cats Anonymous to be neutered last December — thinking about the possible number of cats we would have if they were allowed to multiply is astronomical. We had 11 offspring from two females.

During our trapping venture, we caught a total of 11: eight females and three males. Our adventure reminded me of fishing. As we watched from the kitchen window, a cat would check out the baited live trap and think about going in it. When they did take the bait, snap went the door.

It took three trapping expeditions to get our final count — two mysteriously never came near. Cats Anonymous took them in for neutering and shots, no strings attached, though we did donate to their cause. If we couldn't, they would have still done the job. The catch-neuter-return program is well worth the hassle.

Someone advised us to forget feeding our overabundance of cats, but neither Bob nor I can bear to do that. We're just two softies. Some days it feels like we're being eaten out of house and home, yet we continue.

Today they are getting dry cat food coated with pork roast dripping. Once I even added about a cup of leftover chili. They ate everything, except the beans. They were licked clean, though.

The cats also leave behind vegetables, so they are picky, too. I think they take after Bob. He'd leave behind his vegetables if he could.

Another way of feeding our mob is by cleaning out the freezer. I dug deep into the chest and discovered a bit of meat that had been there for two years. I took it out thinking I would cook it up for the cats. The meat was not freezer burned, so the cats only got the removed fat and gristle.

Shhhh. Don't tell them they missed out on the best part. I don't need a barn cat uprising.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; Sunnybook@aol.com; www.SusanManzke.net

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