A Scuffleboot Farm Story
by Mike Cavanaugh
There aren’t many problems on Scuffleboot Farm. What with all the work that needs doin’, there really isn’t much time for problems.
Things that maybe some folks would consider problems are really just part of everyday life.
If the tractor gets a flat tire, it gets repaired.
If the cows start giving bad milk, they get moved to new pasture.
If the roof on the barn starts to leak, it gets patched up.
If it doesn’t rain enough, the crops get irrigated.
If the snow gets too deep, it gets plowed.
If the kids mouth off, they get their hides tanned.
If they run out of bacon for the morning eggs, they have ham.
Everything is pretty simple and mostly problem-free, so it was kind of remarkable when Farmer Scuffleboot came in from outside one fine summer
morning and said, “Ma, we got us a problem in the henhouse.”
The Scuffleboot children stopped eating their oatmeal, the farmer’s wife nearly dropped the dish she was drying, and the dog almost stopped
“A problem?” the farmer’s wife asked.
“I believe so,” Farmer Scuffleboot replied.
Now there had been a kind of situation in the henhouse for years, a sort of symbiotic relationship between the chickens and some of the local
field mice. The chickens tended to scatter their feed into places they couldn’t reach, and this gave the mice a nice steady supply of grain and
cracked corn that they had been feasting on for years, generation after generation, as far back as the Scuffleboots could remember.
Farmer Scuffleboot often thought of getting rid of them but was reminded by his always-pragmatic wife that he would then have to clean up the
scattered feed himself.
The farmer’s wife smelled a rat. “Is it the mice again?”
“Yep,” the never-talkative Farmer Scuffleboot said. “They done ate their way into the feed canister. They’ve got to go. I had enough of them freeloading
critters. I told you years ago they was nothing but trouble, but you wouldn’t listen. Now look what they gone and done.”
He held up the feed canister and stuck his gnarled and calloused old pointer finger through the hole and wiggled it. The Scuffleboot children giggled and
went back to their oatmeal. Farmer Scuffleboot glared at his wife and waited for her to answer.
“Chicken cheese,” she whispered.
The children stopped eating again and looked across the table at each other with dread. It had always been the worst chore of the youngest child to milk
the chickens each morning. The Scuffleboots had a dozen and a half hens and it would take anywhere from and hour to 90 minutes to catch all the chickens
and milk them. The milker would usually pick up a few scratches and more than a little poop on his jeans, and this for maybe on a good morning, a half a
cup of chicken milk. This was why it always fell to the youngest to milk the chickens, because after a year or so of doing it even the slowest-witted of
the Scuffleboot children realized it was a colossal waste of time. They would bring the hard-won milk to the farmer’s wife, and she would store it until
she had enough to make a batch of cheese.
All the children agreed that the milking was easy compared to the eating, for chicken cheese is truly hideous stuff. It falls into the category of the kind
of thing you give to a child to make him better when he’s sick, or something you slip into a bully’s sandwich during recess so as to teach him a lesson.
No child ever in the history of the world has asked, “Please can I have some more chicken cheese?”
The Scuffleboots’ youngest was past 10 years old now and hadn’t milked the chickens for some time. He started to look a little green. The older children
swallowed hard and waited for their mother to speak.
“You could train the mice,” she said, her eyes getting a faraway look in them.
“To do what exactly?” Farmer Scuffleboot asked.
“To milk the chickens,” she said firmly.
This time the dog actually stopped licking himself.
“Sorry, Ma, but I’m too busy teaching the hog to fly,” Farmer Scuffleboot sneered. Farmer Scuffleboot almost never sneered.
“Well, if they had the cheese to eat, then they wouldn’t need to be chewing through the feed canister.”
The children all sighed with relief, and the farmer’s wife knew then that it was going to be up to her if she wanted the plan to work.
“Fine then, I’ll just train ‘em myself,” she harrumphed.
Over the next few weeks the farmer’s wife spent her free time showing the mice how to milk the chickens. She fashioned them a milking ladder so they could
reach the chickens udders; she found a small pail and mounted wheels on it, so the mice could easily move it from hen to hen; and she cleaned up her
The mice took to the milking right away, and their little whiskers twitched with anticipation, waiting for their first batch of chicken cheese. It took a
few weeks of milking, but the farmer’s wife finally had enough milk to make a batch. She simmered the milk, and all the children fled the house as the
steam rose and the acrid smell pinched their noses. She cut the curds and wrapped them gently in the cheesecloth and then put them in the press and waited.
By morning she had cheese.
The mice were thrilled. To the Scuffleboot children’s surprise, the mice loved the cheese.
“Better them than us,” the youngest confided to his siblings at the breakfast table. The Scuffleboot children all nodded in agreement.
The mice started to put on weight and get bigger. Their appetites grew with them. Soon the cheese and the hen leavings weren’t enough to stuff their
growing bellies. One night in the early fall they chewed through the feed canister again. In the morning Farmer Scuffleboot was back in the kitchen,
sneering and wiggling his finger through the new hole.
“No more playing around,” he growled. “Call Mr. Shinyshoes and have him bring Princess over for a few days.”
The farmer’s wife knew she had no choice but to call Mr. Shinyshoes. She knew in the back of her mind that the mice couldn’t be trusted and that help
would have to be called in.
The next day the big shiny black car made its way up the drive, going slow so as to not kick dust and get dirty. Mr. Shinyshoes stepped out and pulled
a cage from the trunk. All the Scuffleboot children gathered around to see Princess, the biggest, prettiest, and by far the most fussed-over cat in the
whole the county.
“Keep her as long as you need,” Mr. Shinyshoes said as he opened the cage and let Princess out. The children parted as she strolled right over to the
henhouse and stretched out in an early sunbeam.
“I like it when things are really quiet,” she purred to no one in particular and began to clean her claws, one by one.