Nicholas Everitt.

Ferrets : their management in health and disease with remarks on their legal status online

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Nicholas Everitt

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('H.R.E.' 'will O' the WISP ')







The approbation accorded to the short
articles on " Ferrets and all about them,"
which appeared in The Shooting Times,
backed up by urgent requests from
many of my readers, has induced me to
reprint them with additions and altera-
tions in the present form.

The criticisms to which a writer who
publishes a handbook on any subject lays
himself open, may, I think, be subordi-
nated under two heads. Firstly, Is any
work on the subject required, and if that
question is answered in the affirmative,


then, secondly, Does the work under
review meet the requirement ?

The usefuhiess of the little animal to
which this volume is devoted can hardly
be denied by any one, and this, coupled
with the fact that up to the present time
no standard or practical work on the
subject has ever been issued, appears
from my point of view to be a satis-
factory answer to the first of the above
questions. What should be the answer to
the second heading is not for me to say,
but I venture to hope that the following
pages may furnish some useful as well as
interesting information to many persons
who keep ferrets for pleasure or for profit.

Whilst the book is the result of
practical experience, I cannot expect it to
be altogether free from errors in substance,


or that all of my opinions should go un-
challenged. Nevertheless I venture to
hope that these my humble efforts may
be the means of supplying a vacancy
which has too long existed in the sports-
man's library.

Nicholas Everitt.

Norwich, \d March 1897.



Origin of name — The ferret — The polecat — The
common weasel — The stoat — The marten

Pages 1-24

Ferret hutches 25-41


Ferret yards or courts . . . . 42-50


Bedding and food — Ferrets attacking a baby —
Breeding and management — Crossing — The
"points" of a ferret — Gestation — Ferrets in early
infancy ...... 51-65



Ailments and diseases — Distemper — Insects — Diseases
of the foot — Skin diseases : red mange or blotcli
— Worms— Rat-bites . . Paojes 66-81

Muzzling and coping .... 82-98


Handling and working — Misplaced confidence in young
ferrets — Ferret suckling and rearing rats — Working
to rabbits — How to cause a ferret to forego its hold
— Working to rats — Ferret v. rat in a scalding-
tub — Farm-l)oys taking rats alive in their hands —
An eccentric rat-catcher — How to handle laid-up
ferrets — The warrener's telephone — The line ferret



Ferret traps and working boxes . . 119-127


The law relating to ferrets — Property in a ferret —
Rights of the owner, rights of possession and re-


taking escaped ferret — "Finding's keeping" —
Ownership of progeny — Eights of owner under the
criminal law — Theft of ferrets — Can they be
stolen ? — Killing or injuring — Shooting and trap-
ping stray ferrets — Rights of action under civil law
— Recovery of ferret by action — Market overt —
Action for damage for injury to ferret — Liabilities
of owner under the criminal law — Cruelty to
ferret — Liabilities under civil law — Damage com-
mitted by ferret — Killing chickens, sucking eggs,
etc. — Scienter of owner not necessary — Not liable
for wild rabbits killed — Liabilities of borrower
and hirer — Distress for rent : damage-feasant.

Pages 128-159


Vermin traps 163-166


Rats and ratting — The black rat, the brown rat, and
their origin — Rats addicted to cannibalism — Rats
in France — Tame Japanese rats — Ratting from
stacks — Habits of rats in September, October,
November, and December — Their tunnellings in
stacks — Ratting from hedgerows and fences —
Shooting rats in and under water — Ricochetting


shots — Ferreting rats from old rabbit burrows —
Rats standing at bay — The danger of drains and
iinder-drains — Ratting from barns and buildings —
Fate of lost ferrets in buildings — Ratting with
poison — Different poisons and how to use them —
Capitation grant for killing rats . Pages 167-186


A day's rabbiting . . . " . . 187-209


From The Author

"Laid up"


Head of a Polecat-Ferret ....

Title page

From Messrs. Boulton and Paul, Hose Lane Works, Nurwich

{'. Single Hutch


. 27

2. Single Hutch on Legs ....

. 28

3. Lean-to Shed

. 30

4. Ferret Hutcli with run on Legs .

. 31

5. Galvanised Iron Feeding Pan

. 32

6. Four Ferret Hutches in one .

. 33

7. Double Hutch on Legs

. 33

From Messrs. E. C. Walton and Co., North Muskham
Works, Newark

8. Double Hutch on Legs

9. Double Hutch with iiuns beneath

10. Single Hutch ....

11. Double Hutch on Legs

12. Single Hutch on Legs .

13. Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5— Stoneware, White-Ena

melled and Brown-Glazed Feeding Pans




From Messrs. Boidtoii and Paul


14. Ferret Yard and Court, with Three Divisions

15. Ground Plan of Fig. 14 ... .

16. Range of Yards and Courts, with Four Divisions

17. Yard and Court showing Interior . . '

18. Covered Yard and Court ....

19. Fancy Out-Door Ferret Cote



From The Author

20. Pure-bred Ferret

21. Do. (in a different position)

22. First Cross— from a Wild Polecat

23. Second Croa* — from a Polecat-Ferret

24. A Combination Ferret Muzzle

25. A Wire Muzzle ....

26. A Brass or Aluminium Muzzle

27. A Spring Muzzle ....

28. The Old-Fashioned Ferret Cope .

29. and 30. A Cope made from Twine
31. A Ferret Coped (modern method)

" Waiting for a bolt " .



To f a cepa'/c 10 i

From Mr. Alfred Clifford, Haivlcy, Kent

32. A Coml)ined Ferret, Vermin, or Bird Trap ; Open

or Set ........

33. The same Trap Set without Floor

34. The same Trap Closed or Sprung



From Messrs. Boultoii ami Paul

llfi. PAGE

35. A Box Trap for Ferrets, Latest Design . .125

36. A Double Ferret Box 127

From Mr. H. Lane, The Eagle Works, IVednesfield

37. " The Dorset Trap " 164

From Messrs. Boulton and Paul

38. Cage Trap made of Wire Netting . . .164

From Mr. H. Lane

39. Everitt's Patent Vermin Trap— Set . . .165

40. The same Trap— Sprung 165


The artful, cruel, slender ferret, too.
Delights in blood

Origin of name — The ferret — The polecat — The
common weasel — The stoat — The marten.

Comprehensive as the title of this work
may appear, the author nevertheless
trusts that before the reader has finished
his perusal he will consider it was
aptly chosen. The subject matter should
be interesting alike to naturalists and
sportsmen — to the former because ferrets
are not found ferce naturce in the
British Isles, and must be acclimatised
and domesticated ; to the latter because
of the sport they give, alike to shooter,


trapper, rabbit-courser, or vermin de-

To commence at the very beginning,
let us analyse the word itself. Turning
for the purpose to the dictionaries we

Ferret (fe'ret), n. [Probably like the
G. frett, frettchen, O.G. frette, furette,
ferret, borrowed from a romance word,
such as ¥i\fu7^et, It.faretto, L.L.furectus,
furetus, furo, the origin of which seems
to be the L. fu7' — a thief. We find,
however, also Armour fured, Gael, and
Fr. fered, ferret ; W. ffured, that which
is subtle, crafty, or cunning, a ferret ; from
ffiir, Armour fur, cunning, wily, crafty ;
so that the real origin of our word, as
well as the relationship of all these
words, is somewhat dark,] A variety of
the genus Mustela, most closely allied
to the polecat, about 14 inches in length,
of a pale yellow colour, with red eyes. It
is a native of Africa, but has been intro-


duced into Europe. It cannot, however,
bear cold, and cannot exist in France
except in a domestic state. Ferrets are
used in catching rabbits to drive them
out of their holes.

Then follow other meanings of the
word. To the genus Miistela, or family
MusteUdcB, many species belong, includ-
ing the polecat, stoat, weasel, and marten,
which are all closely related to the ferret,
and crosses of breed have been reported
with each named. The otter, badger,
skunk, ichneumon, genet, civet, zubert,
glutton, and racoon are also closely allied
to the genus Putorms} although they could
hardly be classified as Mustelines proper.

As allusion may be made to some of
the above named from time to time, it
may be well, before entering into our
subject, to devote a little space to a

1 This genus comi^rises animals which have the
head rounded, the fur brilliant and soft, the tail long,
and anal glands which secrete a foetid matter.


brief consideration of the former species
named, so that no confusion may here-
after arise.

The Ferret {Mustelo fitro)

The Ferret, a native of Africa, is found
in a domesticated state in almost every
village in England, and although con-
stantly lost (when at work) and left to
roam at large, no instances are recorded
(at least to the writer's knowledge) where
it has thrived and multiplied in the British
Isles when left to its own resources. By
whom and when ferrets were first intro-
duced into this country is not known, but
certain it is that they have been used by
our ancestors for the past five hundred
years at least. The body of the ferret is
long and thin, its head narrow with a
sharp snout, and its eyes pink ; in colour
it is a creamy white. This description
applies to a true bred ferret. The cross


breds are naturally different and partake
of the peculiarities of each of their parents
(as in the crossing of any other animals) ;
but of this hereafter. Some naturalists
have expressed it as their opinion that
the ferret and the polecat are one and the
same animal, and the variety in colour
and size is only a peculiarity. Nowa-
days all doubts on this point seem to be
cleared up and the distinction is marked.
The ferret when trained is as quiet, in-
offensive, and docile an animal as any one
can wish for, but when at work it is fierce,
bloodthirsty, and relentless. When riled
it emits a nauseous odour, a characteristic
of the genus Putoriiis, and although it
feeds upon what many would style ob-
jectionable food, which it stores up near
its nest, it is, at the same time, scrupu-
lously clean in all its habits.

Rabbits and rats seem to be its special
quarry from birth, and if a dead rabbit or
rat be thrown down or held near a young


ferret that lias never seen one before, it
will at once spring at it and worry it.
If the victim be alive it will attach itself
to its neck and not leave its hold until it
has gorged itself upon its heart's blood.

Althouo^h we more often hear ferrets

spoken of as " so many couple of ferrets,"

Strutt tells us that in ancient times a

number of ferrets would be described by

the sportsmen of the middle ages as "a

fesynes of ferrets." The same author,

referring toother animals, quotes: — "A

skulk of foxes, a cete of badgers, a richess

of martens, a husk or a down of hares,

a nest of rabbits, a clowder of cats, a

kendel of young cats, and a labour of

moles " ; all of which terms are now more

or less strange to the ear of the present

school of sportsmen. Keepers generally

designate the male ferret, " buck," *'dog"

or " hob," and the female ferret, " doe,"

''bitch" or "Jill"


The Polecat {Mustela putoriiis)

This animal is also known as fitchew,
fitchet, and foumart. At one time the
polecat was common in all parts of the
United Kingdom, but it is now rapidly
becomins: extinct. It seems from its
characteristics and outward appearance
to be more closely allied to the ferret
than any other of its congeners. In size
it is large, being generally from 15 to 18
inches in length, exclusive of the tail, for
which may be added at least another 4 or
5 inches ; in colour it is dark brown or
chocolate, with white cheeks to its face,
and sometimes white-nosed. Like all
others of the genus Putorius, its body
is elongated, slender, and very flexible,
enablino: it to wind about in and out small
crevices in following its prey.

Another distinction belonging to this
race of animals, particularly apparent in


the polecat, consists in an unctuous matter
exuding from glands placed near the anus,
which emit an extremely offensive smell ;
in the civet cat, marten, and the pine
weasel, etc., this exudation affords an
agreeable perfume.

The polecat is exceedingly fierce and
courageous. It will often repel a dog,
and when unable to conquer, will fight
unflinchingly to the bitter end. Although
of a carnivorous stock there are many
instances on record where polecats have
proved themselves expert fishers, and
have carried their spoil some distance to
store it in their lairs.

Comparing the polecat with the marten,
we find it somewhat smaller, its tail is
shorter, its nose more pointed, and the
bristles of its pelt thicker and darker.
Its cry is also dissimilar, the cry of the
marten is shrill, shar]^, and loud ; whereas
that of the polecat is deeper and more


The polecat - ferret, or a cross - bred
animal between a polecat and a ferret, is
well known and mucli esteemed through-
out the whole kingdom ; which is the
better of the two — the cross-bred or the
pure bred — is always a debatable point
between those who have had anything
whatever to do with ferrets and their
keeping. It is a subject on which the
writer has never yet met with two men
whose views and opinions are identical,
and he is still of an undecided opinion,
although he has had considerable experi-
ence with both breeds. One practical
incident coming under his notice is, per-
haps, worthy of note. A doe ferret was
lost for several weeks, having in the
interval been crossed by a wild polecat,
and the progeny proved a most excellent
litter of bold, energetic, and courageous
animals. The result of such a cross is
immediately noticeable. Polecat -ferrets
are either much larger or much smaller


than clean-bred ferrets. Their colours
partake of the parentage of each, as also
do their eyes. They are much more shy
when young and more difficult to train ;
they are, as a rule, hardier, more savage,
and quicker in their work. But then all
ferrets are not alike, and what applies to
one strain of blood would not, as a matter
of course, apply to another. For ratting
one generally prefers small polecat-ferrets,
and for rabbiting clean-bred white ferrets.

Why the polecat has never been taken
in hand and trained to rabbiting, etc., it
is difficult to understand. Probably there
are many who have exj)erimented in this
direction, and if they would only place
their experiences in print they would be
most interesting ; practical results are
more valuable than any amount of theor-

In trapping polecats it is a curious
coincidence that if one be caught you are
almost certain to catch others in the


immediate ueighbourhood in the same
trap. Apparently it is the smell they
omit in their rage at being caught which
pives rise to this fatal attraction.

The Common Weasel {Mustela vulgaris)

The name weasel is common to the
digitigrade carnivorous animals belonging
to the genus Mustela. True weasels are
distinguished by their lithe and slender
bodies, their short feet, separate toes, and
sharp claws. They are natives of almost
all temperate and cold parts of the
northern hemisphere, and are, perhaps,
the best known of the Mustelidoi family
in tlie British Isles, of which family they
are the smallest variety. In height they
measure from 2 to 3 inches, in length
from 7 to 8, whilst the tail is from 2 to
3 inches long. The body is extremely
slender and arched, the head small and
flattened, the neck long, and the legs



short. The colour is a bright reddish
brown, except the belly and underneath
the neck, which is white. Notwithstand-
ing its diminutive size, no animal is
so destructive in warrens and among
poultry. When a weasel enters a hen-
roost, it rarely, if ever, meddles with
the cocks or the old hens. It makes
choice of the pullets and the young
chickens, and these it kills by a single
stroke on the head, and drags them away
one after another. The common weasel
is also a great destroyer of eggs, which
it sucks with avidity. Shakespeare men-
tions this when he says —

I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel
sucks eggs.

And again —

the weasel Scot
Comes sneaking, and so sucks her princely eggs.

But the weasel in a measure counter-
balances these depredations by taking up
his winter residence in granaries, hay-


lofts, and outhouses, where he carries on
incessant war with the rats and mice with
more success than a cat can even aspire
to, since by following them into their
holes it is next to an impossibility for
them to escape. In Norfolk they are
commonly called '* mouse-hunters." They
also climb up to pigeon -houses, to the
nests of sparrows, etc., and commit great

Like the polecat and the ferret, these
animals work by smell more than by any
other means, and a close observer may
occasionally see a sparrow or other small
bird caught by them whilst sitting on the
top of a straw or corn stack. The weasel
is working in the straw just beneath the
outer layer, and, smelling its quarry,
works quietly up to it, suddenly darting
out its head, and seizing the struggling
victim before it has any chance of escape.

The female weasel often remains in
the granaries or stacks until the spring.


in order to bring forth her progeny, which
are usually about four or five in number,
and are deposited by her in a warm nest
prepared for their reception. Although
born blind, they in an incredibly short
space of time attain a sufiiciency of
growth and streno;th to follow their
mother to the chase. The nest is often
found in peculiar places, dry hedgerows,
marsh walls, deserted rabbit holes, old
trees, heaps of stones; and M. Buffon,
the celebrated French naturalist, narrates
that in his neighbourhood a weasel with
three young ones was found in the body
of a wolf that had been suspended from
a tree by the hind feet, and, although
the wolf was completely putrescent, the
weasel had formed a nest in its thorax.

The same author asserted the impossi-
bility of taming the weasel, but his error
has been corrected by experiment, for in
some instances it has been rendered as
familiar as a dog or a squirrel — at least,


SO Mr. John Bigland says, althougli the
writer has never had ocular demonstration
to such an extent. Should the reader
wish to experiment in this direction it
will be advisable for him to obtain his
intended pets when they are very young
indeed ; he should always attend to them
himself, and handle them as much as
possible. Moderate correction and chas-
tisement if they attempt to bite will also
be found necessary to achieve good results.
In confinement they never appear resigned
to their lot, or even contented, as they
will always be found in a perpetual state
of agitation, except when sleeping after a
meal. When caught asleep, in contradic-
tion to the old proverb, a peculiarity can
be observed. Their muscles are so ex-
tremely flaccid that they may be taken
up by the head and swung to and fro like
a pendulum before they awake.

The weasel is more cunning, quicker,
less fierce, and smaller than the stoat,


and has no black tip to its tail. But it
hunts like the stoat, and is very similar
to it in most of its habits, although it
breeds earlier.

Gamekeepers destroy weasels, as they
do considerable mischief amongst the
young and early birds, but, aj)art from
this, they are comparatively harmless,
and should be preserved rather than de-
stroyed. They are known to kill, inter
alia, hares, rabbits, grown-up birds of
almost every species, adders, water-rats,
voles, moles, mice, and one instance is
recorded where an eagle, which had seized
a weasel, carried it high up into the air ;
the little captive so far disengaged him-
self as to bite its enemy in the throat,
which soon brought him to the ground,
and thus effected its escape.

In Norway and throughout Scandi-
navia the weasel is very common. The
local name is Reise-kat — literally trans-
lated, travelling cat. It derives its name,


as is commonly the case in Scandinavia
with birds, beasts, and fishes, from its
peculiarity, its habit of always being on
the move. The writer has spent many
an idle hour watching these interesting
little quadrupeds popping in and out the
loose stones and boulders on the mountain
side, as well as listening to the hundred-
and-one anecdotes which any observant
native always has ready to relate to those
who care to give him a hearing. It was
but recently, one delightful July evening,
when casting for trout at the mouth of a
small stream, running into the clear
waters of the Hardanger fjord, a reise-cat,
more confiding than his English relatives
would be, endeavoured to appropriate an
artificial minnow which was attached to
a line. The boatman, who obtained his
living by fishing in summer and hunting
in winter, was highly amused ; he was full
of anecdote. He told how he had often
been deceived by them, mistaking them


for otters, by the arm in the water, which
they would naturally make when swim-
ming over a perfectly calm surface. And
again, when he had been fishing one day,
he left his boat to go on shore for a few
minutes. On his return he found a weasel
eating his fish, of which they are parti-
cularly fond. Covering the fish with his
coat, he once more j ourneyed on shore ;
coming back in a few minutes, he rowed
out on the fjord, and, on lifting his coat,
found his uninvited guest had also re-
turned, and was beneath it. The little
creature in great consternation ran round
the gunwale of the boat several times,
finally jumped overboard and swam
ashore. Much more could be said about
the common weasel, but perhaps the
readers patience is already exhausted,
and further space ought not to be allotted
to it.


The Stoat (Miistda erminea)

It is not commonly known that the
stoat and the ermine are identical, but
such is the fact, and there is about as
much difference between them as there is
between an ordinary hare and a white hare.
The stoat is found almost everywhere in
Europe, but is more common in the north.
In winter, in cold countries, the fur
changes from a russet-brown colour to
white, slightly tinged with yellow. The
tip of the tail is always black, while the
edge of the ears and the extremity of its
feet are white. When thus clad in its
winter garb it is known as the ermine.

In this country it is a common occur-
rence to find the stoat, or, as it is some-
times called, minifa (Minerva), or lobster,
nailed to the rails of the gamekeeper's
larder. Stoats have a great partiality
for marshlands and low -lying coverts.


and they appear to like the water ahiiost
as well as they do the land. In early
spring they are a sure find upon the
marshes, and if pursued will seek refuge
in any hole they can find, even burrow-
ing, when pressed, into a mole-hill.

For breeding and residential purposes
the stoat selects a dry hedgerow, ruin,
wall, mossy bank, or old hollow tree, and
it generally betrays its presence by de-
positing its dung opposite the entrance.
Its lair is cosy and well lined with dry
moss, fur, hair, and feathers. It is not
very prolific, producing but one litter of
four to six youngsters per annum. These
are born blind and suckled until they can
hunt their own quarry to the death. Long
before they can see young stoats will suck

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