A. R. (Arthur Robert) Harding.

Ferret facts and fancies; a book of practical instructions on breeding, raising, handling and selling; also, their uses and fur value online

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Online LibraryA. R. (Arthur Robert) HardingFerret facts and fancies; a book of practical instructions on breeding, raising, handling and selling; also, their uses and fur value → online text (page 1 of 10)
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A Book of Practical Instructions on

Breeding, Raising, Handling and

Selling; Also Their Uses

and Fur Value








Copyright 1915



ftUG 23 iai5


Chapter. page.

I. History and Description 15

II. Ferretville 25

III. Hutches and Nests 33

IV. Barns and Sheds 42

V. Feeding and Management 52

VI. Breeding 61

VII. Handling and Training 76

VIII. Rats 82

IX. Ferrets and Rats 95

X. Ferrets and Rabbits 103

XI. Ferrets and Ground Squirrels, Gophers,

Prairie Dogs 112

XII. Ferrets and Mink, Skunk, Raccoon, Etc 119

XIII. Ferret Contrivances 128

XIV. Letters from Raisers 135

XV. The Ferret in Belgium, Europe 149

XVI. Ferret Raising in a Small Way 154

XVII. Ferret Raising as a Business 161

XVIII. How to Sell Ferrets 170

XIX. Ferrets as Fur Bearers 177

XX. Ferrets — A to Z 186

XXI. Diseases of Ferrets 199



The Two Varieties of Ferrets Frontispiece

White and Brown or Dark Ferrets 16

Ferrets are Easily Tamed and Handled 23

Bird's Eye View of Held & Anderson's Ferret Farm. . . 30

Mother, Young and Nest Box 34

Summer Hutches of a Northern Raiser 38

Ferret Shed and Hutches — An Iowa Raiser 40

End View of Ferret Barn or Shed 44

Bird's Eye View of Chamberlain Bros'. Ferret Farm... 46

Cook House and Three Ferret Barns 48

One of Ralph Woods/ First or Summer Pens 50

Interior View of an Up-to-Date Cook House 53

Interior View of one of Chamberlain Bros'. Ferret Barns 56

Feeding Pans 58

Breeding Box or Nest for Mother and Young 63

Side View of One of Held & Anderson's Barns 68

Correct Way to Hold a Ferret 78

Illinois Raiser Handling Ferrets 80

Some Good Ratters 88

Females and Their Young 92

Ferret Harnessed and Muzzled Chasing Rat 101

Catching Rat and Ferret in Double Cage 102

Hunting Rabbits with Dog, Ferret and Gun 105

Where Rabbits are a Nuisance 108

The Wild or Black Footed Ferret 113

Squirrels — Pests of the Western F: rmer 117

Large Old Ferret 120




Some Large, Strong Ferrets — The Kind for Fur

Animals , 124

A Good Rabbit Net 130

The Old-fashioned Muzzle 181

Adjustable Muzzle for Ferrets 132

Harness for Ferrets 133

Winter Ferret House 139

Pen for Female and Young 146

An Eastern White Ferret 151

Summer or Outdoor Pens 157

Shipping Crates 165

vShipping Ferrets — On Way to Express Office 173

The European Fitch — Brown 178

The European Fitch — White 179

The Common Brown Weasel 180

Some Nice Furry American Ferrets 181

A Bunch of Contented Ferrets 187

Two Old Ferrets at Breakfast 191

Large Outside Pen or Run for Ferrets 196


no business of the importance of the ferret
industry has received so little attention
and notice especially from the press.
Fur Raising, Ginseng and Golden Seal
Culture, Game Growing, Fish Culture have all
been given a good deal of attention from news-
papers, magazines and books upon the several
industries as well as publications devoted en-
tirely to these special lines. Although the ferret
industry, in America, is really yet in its infancy
the business is of much more importance than
generally realized. Perhaps there is no better
way to illustrate the extent to which even now
ferrets are raised, sold and used than to call
especial attention to Chapter II — Ferretville.

Ferrets are a domesticated wild animal. I
have seen more than one raiser pick up, with
bare hand, old ferrets, handling or wooling them
around. The ferrets apparently enjoying it. At
the approach of the owner or raiser they usually
come to him, or as close as the wdre screen will
allow, jumping up or clinging to the wire and
otherwise showing their friendliness.



At the present time ferrets are mostly used
to exterminate rats and for rabbit hunting. For
rat»s they are much used in barns, granaries,
grain elevators, mills, stores, levees, walls, ships
or any place where rats are. If rightly used and
handled there is no better or quicker way to rid
a place of the pests. Where rabbits are doing an
injury to fruit trees, etc., ferrets can be used to
advantage. Ferrets are also used to some ex-
tent on the large Western ground squirrels,
gophers and prairie dogs. Some success has also
been had in using on mink, skunk, coon and
other fur-bearing animals.

The ferret is very similar to the fitch, an
European animal, that furnishes tens of thou-
sands of skins to the fur trade annually. In
Europe the ferret is sometimes called fitch-ferret
where-by many claimed to be half fitch. Some
dealers in American furs class ferret skins as
"halves" — half ferret, half fitch — and buy on
that basis. At the present time the fur value of
the ferret pelt is but little, yet the time is not far
in the future when it, no doubt, will be much
more valuable.

Kaising ferrets, like most other lines of busi-
ness, is profitable for those who are familiar with
the nature and habits of the animal, but is apt to
prove otherwise for those who know nothing


about it. Information, in this book, was gatli-
ered from visiting some of the largest ferret
colonies as well as correspondence with many
others who raise thousands down to those who
raise a very few.




CHE ferret is a native of Africa. The animal
was first domesticated in the northern
part of that continent, by the Egyptians,
hundreds of years ago. Long after its
first domestication it was taken across the) Medi-
terranean Sea and introduced into Europe, from
which continent it has spread to many part of
the civilized world. The first ferrets' in America
came from Spain, one of the divisions of
Southern Europe. Just the exact date that it
was brought across the Atlantic Ocean is not
known but it was not until late in the nineteenth
century, probably about the year 1875. The
animal has proven useful and beneficial when
rightly used.

There are two varieties — white and dark or
brown. The white variety is called Albino or
English. It has a somewhat yellowish-white coat
of fur and hair and pink eyes. The other variety,




dark or brown, is known as the Fitch-ferret. It
has dark eyes and is said to be the result of a
cross between the Fitch, a European animal, and
the white or common ferret.

Ferrets belong to the Mustelidae family.
Marten, weasel, European polecat ( don't confuse
with American skunk or civet cat, for they are




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of an entirely different family) are close mem-
bers of the same family, while allied ( if not more
distant relatives) are otter, badger and skunk.
All animals of this species are pretty much the
same in form, habits and nature. Ferrets have
short legs, elongated, muscular and lithe bodies ;
they are blood-thirsty, determined of purpose
and relentless; hardy and prolific breeders,
rather short lived, habits clean. Like all of the


weasel (mustelidae) family they are possessed
of a foul odor which they can secrete or produce
at will. They, however, are not foul smelling
unless roughly handled.

The ferret, according to Chambers' Encyclo-
pedia, is an animal of the weasel family so nearly
allied to the Fitch, known as Polecat in the Old
World, that many regard it as a mere domesti-
cated variety. It is of rather small size, the
head and body being about fourteen inches long,
the tail five inches and a half, the muzzle rather
longer and more pointed, the head rather nar-
rower and the color is very different, being yel-
lowish, with more or less of white in some parts,
there being two kinds of hair, the longer partly
white, the shorter yellow. The eyes are pink. It
is, however, much more susceptible to cold than
the polecat and requires careful protection from
it in climates where the polecat is a hardy native.
It was imported into Europe from Africa and was
well known to the Komans, being anciently em-
ployed, as it still is, in catching rabbits, for
which purpose it is often sent into their burrows
muzzled, or ^^coped" by means of a piece of
string, to drive them out into nets, or, with a
string attached to it, it is allowed to seize the
rabbit in the burrows and then it is drawn out,
holding it fast.


The usual plan, however, is to let the ferret
have free range of rabbit holes unmuzzled, the
rabbits being shot as they bolt. Attention to
warmth and cleanliness is essential to the health
of ferrets. They are capable only of partial
domestication, acquiring a kind of familiarity
with man and submitting with perfect quietness
to his handling, but apparently never forming
any very decided attachment, and they never
cease to be dangerous if not carefully watched,
especially where infants are within their reach.
If allowed any measure of freedom, they are
ready to attack poultry and kill far more than
they can devour, merely sucking the blood. They
generally breed twice a year, each brood consist-
ing of six to nine. The female sometimes de-
vours the young ones, in which case another
brood is speedily produced.

It has been domesticated and raised in con-
finement a great many years. It is a favorite
animal among the English farmers, where a few
are kept and raised on nearly every farm for the
purpose of keeping the rats away. This custom
has been practiced in England for a good many
years and many farmers of today do not consider
their farm properly equipped without a stock of
ferrets. Since being brought to this country,
their standard has been raised a great deal


higher by giving due attention to the selection
of the breeding stock and by careful mating of
the same. The ferret of today, as bred and raised
in America, is a slim, very muscular animal and
can kill animals much larger than itself. It
resembles the mink or weasel in shape and size,
having a long, slim body, small head and pointed
nose. Having a very flexible bod}^, it can enter
very small holes and follow rats in the most
difficult places. As already stated, ihej are of
two colors, white and brown. Tliere is no differ-
ence in the two varieties as to their breeding and
working qualities. It is only a matter of fancy
as to color. They are hardy, strong animals and
breed well in any climate. The average life for
the ferret is from six to nine years. The breed-
ing season is from March to September. One
female will sometimes raise from ten to twelve
young in one year, sometimes having two litters
or even more, but usually less. The ferret will
not breed until the following spring. She must
be one year old.

In Europe, like America, they are mainly used
for rat and rabbit hunting. This animal, accord-
ing to naturalists, is merely a variety of the pole-
cat, modified by effect of long continued cap-
tivity. Readers must not associate the polecat
here alluded to, which is found only in Europe,


with the American skunk or civet cat, as it in no
way resembles these animals. Fitchet or Fitch
Cat, is the name given to the animal throughout
much of Europe. The pelt or fur is known to the
fur trade as fitch and can be described as consist-
ing of a woolly, yellow under fur, showing
through longer, glossy dark hairs. In the Kus-
sian skins the under fur is almost white. The
body of this animal is about seventeen inches
long and the tail six. The fur is of value and
thousands are used each season.

Ferrets, as bred and raised in this country,
will average around fifteen inches in length of
body and tail five. They weigh up to three
pounds but the average will be nearer a pound
and one-half. In parts of the West there is a
species known as the black footed ferret. They
often live in prairie dog holes and in some locali-
ties have about exterminated the prairie dog.
This species is very similar to the brown or dark,
other than its feet are black. While found in
several Western states, it is not plentiful enough,
except in a few localities, to be a menace to
prairie dogs and other pests.

The Eastern states, such as Pennsylvania,
New York and the New England states are all
buyers of ferrets for rabbit hunting. In fact,
most all rough or rocky states are users of the


ferret. Many farmers, ranchers, gardeners, etc.,
especially west of the Mississippi, write ferret
owners asking if they have animals that will kill
ground squirrels and other pests. Reliable ferret
raisers generally recommend best results only
for rats or rabbits. Some claim their ferrets will
drive out skunk, mink, ground squirrels and
other small animals. While the ferret is natu-
rall}^ a fighter, yet their size and strength is lim-
ited. Certain animals have a natural dread of
the ferret and seek to escape. If several ferrets
were put in dens they might rout the animal, yet
rats and rabbits are the two on which they are
the most used, as both are afraid of the ferret.

Ferrets have a large field to work in ; they are
used on vessels and around wharfs, in mills, ele-
vators, cellars, by farmers, sportsmen and poul-
try breeders. The cities and country are over-run
with rats and the only way to get rid of them is
to ferret them out. They are also used by sports-
men for hunting rabbits, mink, muskrat and
other game. Buy a pair of ferrets and clear your
place of rats. For rabbit hunting you will find
them the best paying investment you ever made.
They are also used on ground squirrels, gophers
and prairie dogs.

The saying "ferret it out" is surely applicable
to the four-footed ferret for they can "ferret out"


not only animals much larger and powerful than
themselves but are able to enter any den or hole
that a rat can, especially the small sized ferret
can enter an}^ rat den.

Although ferrets (as the animals are called
and best known in this country) are native of a
warm country — Africa — they can be raised in
nearly all parts of America, the exceptions being
parts of Alaska, Northern Canada and the colder
and high mountain sections of the United States.
Some raisers are inclined to think that the brown
variety, wherever raised, have the stronger eyes
as more of the white kind apparently go blind or
suffer from weak eyes than of the brown variety.
Ferrets that are handled a great deal gen-
erally become quite " tame. The animal is pos-
sessed of more intelligence than usually known.
Those kept and handled for months are apt to
become so tame that they will not leave even
when given freedom but are on hand at feeding
time. In several instances ferrets and cats have
been known to eat from same dish. Others be-
come so attached to their owner, that they are at
his heels much of the time, when he is around the
premises. A boy, near Chicago, had a 2-year-old
ferret that followed him one evening for miles.
Just after dark he started to walk to a place,
nearly three miles, on an errand. The errand





done, which required about ten minutes, he
started for home when he met the ferret follow-
ing on his trail or track, nearly three miles dis-
tance. It showed its appreciation quickly when
picked up. All know how a dog becomes attached
to his master. It seems ferrets have same fond-
ness, at least to some extent. As ferrets hunt by
scent and are a keen scented little animal it is
not hard to understand liow one might become
attached to and trail its owner.



FERRETVILLE, or possibly
best known by the name of New
London, is located 47 miles
southwest of Cleveland, Ohio,
on thei Clevelland, Cincinnati,
Chicago & St. Louis and North-
ern Ohio railroads. The town
had a population of 1,557 according to the 1910
census, with approximately the same now, being
only an average Ohio town for general business
and thrift. Among the industries may be men-
tioned banks, brick yards, tile works, flour mills,
butter and cheese factory, regalia manufactur-
ing, newspaper, stores, garages and other indus-
tries of more or less importance. The country
surrounding "Ferretville' is largely devoted to
grain, growing, dairy interests and stock raising,
not overlooking the ferret breeder and raiser.

The ferret business in America was first
launched by Henry Farnsworth, at Rochester, a
little village of some 200 inhabitants, a few miles
northeast of New London. Realizing a few years
later that it could be developed into quite an



iiulnstry, with his three sons, Levi, Samuel and
Ezra, they moved the business to near New Lon-
(h)n, where the breeding and raising was carried
on, on a more extensive scale, raising and selling
several hundred if not thousands yearly for
some time. Later one of the sons married, an-
otlier moved (who followed raising for a time)
but for some years past none of these Farns-
worths have been regularly in the business.

Among those who engaged in the business
during the early days were : N. A. Knapp, O. E.
Hemenway, K. J. and Will Wood, George Zarker,
Kiefer Bros., Olin Washburn, and Clayton Dim-
ick. Some of these perhaps looked upon the in-
dustry as a get-rich-quick method, for after a few
years with more or less success, most of these
raisers dropped out. Others, however, went into
the raising, not only in and around New London,
but in other towns such as Rochester, Green-
wich, Wellington, Ashland, in fact many towns
and villages in Huron, Lorain, Ashland,, Rich-
land and other nearby counties, but New London
became and still is the center of the industry.
Within a radius of ten miles of New London,
half of the ferrets in America are probably

New London (Ferretville) is pretty well ad-
vertised throughout America as the village where


ferrets are raised by thousands. While the in-
dustry is one where the demand will probably
remain under 200,000 yearly for rat and rabbit
purposes, yet as the tens of thousands sold an-
nually go to all parts of America, it puts Ferret-
ville upon the map, so to speak, far and wide.

Gradually, the importance and volume of
business being done in ferrets in Northern Ohio
was noted by enterprising people elsewhere, who
began raising them. The industry spread to
other parts of Ohio, also to other states, and
even west of the Mississippi Kiver. So many,
however, took to raising them at New London,
only a few miles from where the Farnsworths
were so successful, that that locality produces
about one-half of the total number raised in
North America. It bids fair to continue doing

During the spring of 1915 there was prob-
ably a dozen breeders in and near New London,
who had from fifty to five hundred females. At
that time Held & Anderson had the greatest
number, five hundred. The total number of
females kept for breeding in the New London
territory was around 2,500. This included not
only those that make ferret raising a business,
but those who keep a few. Add to these probably
1,500 more within a radius of fifty miles and the


total is 4,000 young producing females. Say
they raise five each the first litter and the total
young is 20,000. Perhaps half or 2,000 are bred
again. The second litters do not average so
many. It is probable the average will be only 2^
or 5,000. This brings the number raised to
25,000, and assuming that the same number will
be kept another year for breeders, would leave
25,000 for sale.

At the highest tide of the industry it is esti-
mated that 35,000 were shipped during a single
season. The average is considerable less, being
around 20,000 annually. The largest single
shipment was one made the season of 1914 of
several hundred and valued at |1,500.00.

Ferret raising, like other enterprises, has its
dark side, for all who engage do not succeed —
neither do they in other lines. Yet tlie wonder-
ful success made by a few caused others without
any ferret knowledge to engage in the business.
Many such, after a year or two, quit. Those
who today are making a success, study the ani-
mals and look after them closely.

In the first years of the business Mr. Farns-
wortli arranged with farmers to raise for him,
paying 50 cents for the young in the early fall.
At that season there was ready sale at |2.00
each or better, so that it was easy money for the


buyer. It* was not long, however, until the
farmers learned that there was a ready market
at much more than the price Mr. Farnsworth
was paying them, so looked elsewhere for sale.

Ohio is noted as well for the diversity as
well as for the extensiveness of her industries,
and every little while one hears that a new in-
dustrial activity has been established or an old
one pushed to a remarkable degree. An Ohio
man has developed the most extensive ferret-
breeding establishment in the United States.
He is Fred Held and his place of business is at
New London, a little village in the southeastern
corner of Huron County.

The records of Held's business (he now has
a partner) show that the number of ferrets now
annually produced there and sold reaches the
high point of 5,000. And they go to all parts of
the United States and to foreign countries. The
demand not only continues but is increasing,
they say, and the business at the Held plant
grows with it.

The peculiar industry was started in that
vicinity by three brothers living near Rochester,
Ohio, a little village over the line in Lorain
County — Samuel, Levi and Ezra Farnsworth —
whose given names brand them as of New Eng-
land extraction, Their Yankee instinct led


them into the business and they made quite a
success of it, but they did not grasp the possibil-
ities of it as Held did, who, while he got the idea
from them, has developed it far beyond anything
ever dreamed of by the Farns worth men.

Originally ferrets were used almost exclu-
sively for killing rabbits, but since many of the
states have passed laws forbidding such use of
them, in order to protect rabbits, their principal
use in states like Ohio is in ridding places of rats.
A ferret can go any place a rat can and rats are
mortally afraid of them. They fly when a ferret
enters their burrows.

As is well known, ships soon become in-
fested with rats, which board them as they are
tied up at the wharfs. Wharfs are always in-
fested with rats of large species that live on the
refuse from the cargoes thrown out there. It is
a frequent sight in the water shipping districts
of ports to see rats going aboard by way of the
mooring ropes.

Every vessel carries its equipment of ferrets,
whose duty it is to keep the holds free from the
rodents that, during a voyage, may do extensive
and expensive damage to goods in the cargoes.
Vessel-owning companies are large buyers from
the Held establishment — their orders generally
calling for from 50 to 100 animals.


It is not generally known that the ferret's
choice of food is horse flesh. That mnst be an
acquired taste, for, of course, in his wild state
and unaided by man, the ferret could never
secure such food. Many an ancient horse, use-
less in other Avays, finds a sale at a low price at
the Held ferret farms. The matter of providing
food for the young ferrets is quite another and
more expensive thing. A small, dairy herd is
necessary for this purpose, for it is found that
the little fellows do best, and escape the many
diseases that assail young ferrets, when fed
liberally on ground whole w^heat, liberally soaked
in fresh cow's milk.

At the breeding period the mother ferrets are
also fed with the same preparation.

Since the ferret raising industry was begun
in Northern Ohio several hundred people in the
New London vicinity have been interested in the
business. At one time there were probably a
hundred who had the "ferret fever" in a single

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Online LibraryA. R. (Arthur Robert) HardingFerret facts and fancies; a book of practical instructions on breeding, raising, handling and selling; also, their uses and fur value → online text (page 1 of 10)