Nicholas Everitt.

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

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blood and eat flesh, and vermin destroyers
often assert they have drawn young stoats
from their lair by placing freshly-killed
game just outside, the scent soon attract-
ing them.


Stoats are very similar to weasels in
many respects. They do not work well
in damp weather ; possibly it is because
scent is faint, and they invariably hunt
by scent and not by sight. There are
few who have spent much of their time
in the country, and take an interest in,
and are only casual observers of, natural
history, who have not once or more during
their experience seen stoats hunting a
hare or rabbit, and they must have been
impressionably struck by the ruthless
mercy exhibited by them when upon the
track of their luckless victim. If the
young ones are in company with their
parents, they seem more bloodthirsty
than one would possibly imagine. The
terrified rabbit or hare, whichever it may
happen to be, at first runs away hard,
but the slow and sure hunters follow like
a pack of hounds with persistent and re-
lentless zeal. When they overtake their
victim, it spurts again and again, until it


seems to become paralysed with fear, and
crouches trembling all over in an ex-
hausted and pitiable condition. The
deadly spring of its destroyer, as it seizes
it by the throat, causes one heartrending
shriek, and all is at an end. Having
sucked the blood, the old stoats and their
promising offspring endeavour to drag
away the lifeless carcase to some hole or
cranny, there to store it in anticipation
of another meal at no very distant date.
It is comparatively easy to distinguish
a rabbit or liare which has thus fallen a
victim, in comparison with one which
meets its death from other vermin.
There will be found a deep wound in the
throat, the eyes will be gouged out, and
the side of the head often eaten away as
well as the inside of the skull.

The food of the stoat comprises, besides
rabbits and hares, rats, mice, voles, moles,
young birds, chickens, frogs, and eggs.
Although it measures 18 inches in length,


it has been known to make a meal
of a mole and then appropriate its hole
for a temporary summer abode.

The male is distinctly larger than the
female, and stoats often fight amongst
themselves. A stoat fight is not easily
forgotten ; it is fierce and revolting, and
the stench they emit while it is in pro-
gress is something too obnoxious for any-

The stoat begins to change colour in
November, and in March it resumes its
summer vesture. It rarely turns white
in England, but a change is noticeable at
the periods mentioned.

The Marten

is also adigitigrade carnivorous quadruped,
belonging to the same family as the ferret.
There are several species, amongst them
being the pine marten {Mustela martes,
or Martes abictum), which concerns us


l)ut little, and the stone marten {Mustela
foina), whicb. is closer allied. The stone
marten is a sharp-snouted, lively little
customer, whose lithe body measures 18
to 20 inches, with a bushy tail not more
than half that length; its fur is dense,
lono-, and of a dullish brown colour. A
frequenter of our homesteads, it is often
a great destroyer of poultry and pigeons ;
but, on the other hand, its natural quarry
seems to be rats and mice, and the good
it does must be taken into consideration
by its would-be exterminator. It is
wonderfully prolific, and is closely allied
in almost all respects with the three
other Mtistelidw, which have been herein
more particularly alluded to. The various
other branches of this great family Muste-
lidce need hardly be mentioned, and, un-
less occasion requires, it is not proposed
to refer to them further than has already
been done.



Before one can start keeping and breed-
ing ferrets with success it is essential that
a fit and proper place be found to keep
them in. More often one finds on visiting
the lockers of owners of these animals
that they are confined anywhere but where
they should be. A dark, dismal corner of
some draughty outhouse or stable seems
a favourite nook for ferret keepers. Any
old box, tub, tea-chest, or rough bits of
board patched together seem to satisfy,
and it is wonderful to note how well the
animals, in some instances, thrive and
multiply in these by no means congenial
residences, especially when one considers


their fastidious nature and habits. If one
can with fair success handle ferrets by
these rough and ready means, what results
cannot one hope for when one's animals
are properly housed, properly fed, and
properly looked after ?

First, then, let us consider the site and
position for our ferret house. Whether
it be small or large, it is advisable to
select for its situation a nice, dry, sheltered
spot, having a south aspect. If it is
intended to keep only a small number
of ferrets, hutches will be found quite
sufficient for all requirements. And let
it be here thoroughly impressed upon the
intending ferret keeper that these hutches
or boxes should be well made, well
ventilated, and well finished off. More
than half the diseases which attack ferrets
are traceable to insanitary conditions and
slovenly manufacture of the hutches.
Should it not be convenient to manu-
facture one's own hutches, there are



several manufacturers who will in a few
days fix up, at a reasonable cost, any
conceivable kind of ferret box, hutch,
court, or yard that may be desired.
If required on an extensive scale, it
would be as well to communicate, ask-

FlG. 1.

ing for plans and estimates, the pros-
pective purchaser of course giving full
particulars of his requirements. Fig. 1
represents a small ferret hutch, suitable
for housing one or a couple of ferrets. Its
measurements are as follows : — Height,
18 inches; depth, 18 inches; and
length, 3 feet. It is made from red



deal, painted with three coats of im-
penetrable paint, and is divided into two
separate compartments of equal magni-
tude. It can be observed, from the
drawing appended, that each compartment

Fig. 2.

has a separate door opening on the whole
front ; also that the sleeping chamber is
well ventilated by a let-in panel of
perforated zinc or fine meshed wire
netting. The reason should be obvious,
and it only remains to add that cleanli-
ness with ferrets is the most important
rule to be observed. Fig. 2 shows


another view of the same hutcli raised
from the ground some 3 or 4 feet. In
no case keep your ferrets in a hutch or
kennel which stands upon the ground.
It seems to be the nature of a ferret hutch
to become saturated with moisture, and
this is one of the evils to be contended
with. By raising the hutch high above
the ground dampness is in a measure
avoided, and better ventilation secured.

The roof of a ferret hutch should be
made watertight, and felt, or other roofing,
dressed and painted at intervals, is largely
used for this purpose.

The last-mentioned hutch may answer
the purpose very well, but it is advisable,
if a large number of animals are kept, to
build a lean-to, somewhat after the style
illustrated in Fig. 3. The drawing is
hardly intended for the purpose for which
it is now used, but it illustrates the mean-
ing which is wished to be conveyed. If
a light lean-to of wood or iron, with felt



or canvas roofing, well waterproofed, or
with a corrugated iron roofing, as here
shown, be erected, it will be found most
convenient for the purpose suggested, and
one's animals will be protected against

-■* "'imiiHrauHiiiiliiiiiiiilljiliijiiii , 'LJ

Fig. 4.

inclement elements. A small shed may
well be made at one end of this lean-to,
in which to keep food, medicines, working-
boxes, spades, spuds, copes, lines, bags,
and other requisites. Fig. 4 represents a
well-constructed double ferret hutch, with
runs. Every arrangement is made for



Fig. 5.

cleanliness, and the floor of the run is
sloped in front, so it can be rinsed down
as often as required, without trouble or
inconvenience ; besides, all moisture runs
away of its own accord. These hutches
are made in two sizes,
the smaller measur-
ing 4 feet long,
3 feet wide, and
2 feet high. The
larger sizes are made to order, and as
required. Fig. 5 shows an improved
galvanised iron feeding -pan, which is
usually made 6 inches by 4 inches,
by 2 inches deep. It is sufficiently
heavy to prevent the ferrets being able
to upset it, and it can easily be washed
out. It will be found far preferable to
the ordinary earthenware pan or saucer
which one finds in general use. Larger
sizes are also used in accordance with
requirements. It will be as well to select
those with rounded bottoms, which prevent



the food accumulating in the corners.
Fig. 6 is a representation of a hutch

capable of holding many ferrets. The
upper hutches have divisions for breeding


Fig. 7.

purposes, and the lower ones are for single
or young stock. Zinc trays nre also fitted



under the floors. The measurement of
the hutch here depicted is 7 feet 6
inches long, by 5 feet 6 inches high.
Fig. 7 is of a more or less new pattern,
and is capable of holding two lots of
ferrets, or it would be found most con-
venient for breeding. It is a double
outdoor hutch on raised leos, measurino-
4 feet 8 inches by 2 feet.

Many people prefer to let their ferrets
run about loose in large huts, houses, or
in loose-boxes in a stable, but this of
course is a matter of taste.

The author has had his attention
called to other forms of hutch, some
of which are well worth noticing. A
double hutch, with the centre division
removable, is shown in Fig. 8. This
hutch has a hinged partition at each
end, which can be hooked up out of the
way when not wanted, and its floor is also
hinged at the back, and drops down for
cleaning out, There is a separate wire



door to each compartment, and the
dimensions are as follows : — For a double
hutch, 6 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 1 foot
10 inches high ; for a single hutch, on the

Fig. 8.

same principle, 3 feet long, 2 feet wide,
and 1 foot 10 inches high. Each has
splined flooring and sliding tray. An-
other outdoor hutch is illustrated by
Fig. 9. The upper tier has separate
compartments for breeding purposes, while
underneath is a commodious run for the
young ones or for single ferrets. All the



doors are hung with strong joints and
fitted with japanned buttons and knobs.
The interior is fitted with the necessary
feeding troughs, and the floors are trenched
and arranged with li inch fall for drain-
age, to keep the hutch dry. Handles are

Fig. 9.

provided at the ends for removing, if such
is desired. The length is 6 feet ; height
in front 4 feet ; back 3 feet 9 inches ; and
it is 2 feet wide. Fig. 1 depicts a hutch
which is made in order that it may be
attached to a wall, and has been designed
for persons having limited space at their
disposal. This hutch can be hung up on



a wall out of the way. The sleeping box
is raised from the floor, and it can be
closed from the outside by a very simple
device, the ferrets being shut in whilst
the hutch is cleaned. The floor is covered
with splines laid very close together.
There is a tray to draw out for cleaning,

Fig. 10.

and it is claimed by the makers that foot-
rot and other diseases so common amongst
ferrets are in some measure prevented by
using hutches thus constructed. There is
a drinking trough for feeding outside,
the length is 3 feet, width 18 inches, and
height 18 inches. In Fig. 11 we have a
span-roofed hutch, designed either for



indoor or outdoor use. It contains two
separate hutches, each having a sleeping-
compartment or nest box, with entrance
to both at a door in the centre. If
desired, however, the partitions forming

Fig. 11

the lower nest box can be withdrawn,
thus making one large hutch with one
raised nest box. The doors at each end
have wire netting fixed across them,
but to obtain warmth in cold weather,
or in exposed situations, they are pro-
vided with an extra hinged door, as
shown, which fits into the square netting,


in order to render the hutch warm and
weatherproof. The hutch is also fitted
with loose drinking troughs, splined floor,
and tray underneath to draw out for

Fig. 12.

cleaning. Its length is 4 feet, height 2
feet 6 inches, and its width 3 feet, whilst
the legs are 2 feet long from the floor of
the hutch.

Fig. 12 represents a hutch, the floor of
which is covered with small splines laid



very close and small, and the under floor
lets down for cleaning out. There is a
separate division for sleeping and breed-


No. 4.

ing, so contrived that the young ferrets
cannot crawl out of their nests.

The feeding troughs shown above are
well worthy of notice. They are made
of improved stoneware, wdiite enamelled
inside and brown glazed outside, in


various shapes, as illustrated, and, being-
furnished with a flange round' the inside,
prevent waste. They can be obtained
from the makers in all sizes and at
reasonable prices.



Having now dwelt at some length upon
ferret hutches, it behoves us to turn
attention to ferret yards — or perhaps it
would be more correct to style them ferret
courts. The remarks made in reference
to Fig. 3 on page 30 apply equally to
ferret yards and courts, and the sugges-
tion is without doubt a useful one if it
can be applied without inconvenience.

Ferrets, as is well known, have a
natural antipathy to water, and they will
rarely work well in wet ground or during
heavy rain. Ergo, if their yards are
exposed, they will not take their exercise
unless the ground is dry and according to


tlieir liking. But should the yard be
built under the shelter of a lean-to, it will
rarely if ever become wet, and the animals
confined there can enjoy outdoor exercise
to their heart's content at all seasons. The
size and extent of these yards vary of course
in accordance with the ideas of their owner
and the number of animals which it is
desired to accommodate. Not being able
to obtain a good illustration of a proper
ferret yard (the demand being somewhat
limited), the writer has used a block
depicting a range of lean-to terrier
kennels in order the better to illustrate
to the reader what is meant by ferret
yards, and with the assistance of this
it is hoped the idea will be fully con-
veyed. Fig. 14 is the drawing referred
to, and answers in all respects to a range of
ferret yards or courts with these trifling
exceptions. The food boxes, which are
depicted as raised some inches from the
ground, should be so fitted that they are



on a level with the floor bricks ; and the
corrugated iron skirting board which

Fig. U.

extends along each side of the runs should
be continued round the front, leaving of
course trap doors for the food boxes.
The sleeping boxes or beds inside should
be raised a foot at least
from the brick or tiled
floor, and a small wooden
plank, with cross pieces for
foothold, fixed from the
floor of the yard to the
inlet to enable the ferrets
to ascend and descend. The outside

Fig. 15.


benches in the yards are not neces-
sary, nor are the interior doors re-
quired to be made to open if the sides
of the beds are raised fairly high and a
lid placed on each, which is the course
usually adopted. A slip tray or false
bottom should be fitted to each interior
compartment to facilitate cleaning, and
thorough ventilation must always be
provided. These yards are not as a
rule used for breeding, nor are they used
for working ferrets when in use, as they
tend to make the animals wild and shy.
But they will be found most convenient
and useful when the hutches are over-
stocked, or when the quantity of 3"oung
ferrets becomes excessive, as without
doubt a large number of ferrets can be
kept in these enclosures in greater comfort,
in a more healthy condition, and wdth
better success, than they can be kept in
hutches or in small boxes. The inlet hole
between the sleeping and the exercise


compartments, whether in yards, courts,
hutches, or boxes, should always be fixed
with a movable slide door, which can
easily be shut or opened at will. The
advantage of this will be found by
any one who has had the slightest
experience, and really requires no explana-
tion. Fig. 16 shows a range of improved
kennels with runs. These were built for
terriers, but by applying the same altera-
tions to them as suggested for Fig. 14
an excellent range of ferret courts and
yards w^ould result. The doors are
arranged to open at the back and
by lifting up the roofs, and the sleep-
ing compartments are fitted throughout
with sliding floors to facilitate cleaning.
The inside view of these kennels is
well depicted in Fig. 17, which clearly
defines how^ the sliding floor is arranged.
The measurement of each kennel is
about 4 feet by 2 feet 9 inches. A very
good drawing of a double kennel, with



covered-in courts, will be found in Fig. 18,
which perhaps would run to more expense

than the majority of ferret keepers would
care to go. But it should be remembered



that it is the easiest thing in the world
to convert a dog kennel into a ferret
court, and the expense of so doing would
be but a few shillings. In this case
only a little fine wire netting would be

Fig. 18.

required to run round outside the courts,
a new shutter to be placed in the inlet
entrance (from the interior to the run),
with a small hole and movable stop, and
a sleeping box provided. Finally there
is the fancy combination cote, Fig. 19.
The author does not recommend it, but




simply gives it as one more example
of tlie various hutches, kennels, yards,
courts, or other ferret homes that are
manufactured and in use. It has match-

Fig. 19.

board sides, backs and divisions, weather-
board roof, painted outside, whitened in-
side, wood frame and wire lattice front,
wrought-iron bars, or netting, and floor
raised one foot above the ground.


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

The secret of success in ferret keeping, as
already mentioned, is cleanliness. There-
fore one cannot be too particular in this
respect, and the hutches and yards should
be thoroughly cleaned out at regular in-
tervals and as occasion requires.

It is advisable to whitewash the interior
of the sleeping compartments and sprinkle
the floor with pine sawdust and insect
powder. Of the latter there are many
kinds, one of the best beins: " Phenic
Powder," a disinfectant supplied by
Messrs. Chamberlin and Smith, of Ex-
change Street, Norwich.


The bed should be composed of clean,
dry straw, wheat, or perhaps oat straw
will be found the better of the two.

The sides of the yards or day compart-
ments may also be whitewashed, and the
floor well covered with pine sawdust or
fine peat-moss litter.

Ferrets habitually deposit their secre-
tions in one particular spot ; as a rule, in
the corner farthest away from their sleep-
ing compartment, and in case another
spot is likely to be selected by them, it is
advisable, when placing ferrets into a new
hutch, to first deposit a small portion of
their dung in the place most convenient
to clean, and in the corner mentioned,
when it will be found they will, as a rule,
continue to use the spot selected for

When in young the jills require blood,
and unless this is given to them, they
will most probably eat their offspring.
To illustrate the ferocity of these little


animals and their thirst for blood when
in this state, an instance may be quoted
in which it is on record that they were
known to have attacked a baby that by
some means or other had been carelessly
left unattended in a place to which they
had access.

Part of a cat's carcase is often given to
them, and is good food as a change from
rats, birds, fowls, ducks' necks, and such
like. When not at work, bread and milk
form their staple diet. It is not advisable
to give them new bread, and the best way
to prepare the food is to first soak the
bread in water, take it out and squeeze
with the hand all the water from the
bread, then crumble it into a feeding
pan, and pour the milk over it, giving it
at once to the ferrets. Feed always at the
same time, and twice daily will be found
sufficient, although many people believe
in three times. Oatmeal porridge is
sometimes substituted for bread, but the


latter answers best, and flesh should not
be given oftener than every three days.
When referring to flesh diet, a word of
warning may not be altogether out of
place. Do not let your ferrets store their
food in their beds, as they are very fond
of doing. See that they have sufficient
and that they eat well, but do not let
them overgorge themselves. The bird
or animal intended for them should be
freshly killed, clean, and given with the
blood in it. Rabbits and fowls' livers
are also suitable food and greatly used,
but avoid giving them eiitrails.

Young ferrets are fed on similar lines
to the older ones, excepting perhaps they
require feeding three times a day instead
of twice, and it is advisable to give them
less flesh diet than the others ; also warm
the milk slightly before pouring it over
the bread. This latter remark applies
equally to a jill which is in young. Some
ferret keepers make it a practice to take


all the food away immediately after each
meal. This may be a good rule to follow,
but a little milk should be always left in
the pans for the ferrets to drink when they
are thirsty during the daytime.

When they are going to be worked
the bread is omitted from their feeding
pans, only milk being given to them,
and this not in such a large proportion as
they are accustomed to have it. Do not
give them their milk immediately before
starting, but two hours or an hour and a
half before they are required. A small
quantity of milk may also be given at
mid-day, otherwise they may, when hot,
tired, and thirsty from working, leave
their quarry to search for w^ater.

Always wash out the feeding pans
before inserting the food, and make use
of a peculiar whistle or cry when giving
it, one of the reasons for which will be
dealt with hereafter.

Although it is usual to feed a small


number of ferrets upon new milk fresli
from the cow, it is by no means necessary
to give this when a large number of
animals have to be satisfied. In this
case skim milk is generally used, to it
being more often than otherwise added
one third as much again of boiling water
before it is mixed with the meal or

Greaves also will be found excellent
food for ferrets. The greaves are put
into the feeding pans, and boiling water
poured over them. The mixture is then
worked up into the consistency of paste
and given warm to the ferrets, which they
soon become very fond of. Good greaves
can be obtained from Messrs. Chamberlin
and Smith, of Exchange Street, Norwich.

Breeding and Management

Among early authors it was a matter
of doubt whether the ferret and the pole-


cat were of different species, and Gilbert
White went so far as to assert that there
were two species of ferrets. The accuracy
of this statement may be doubted ; one
could hardly classify the pure -bred and

Fig. 20.— Pure-bred Ferret.
The 'property of Mr. Charles Wood, of Harleston, Norfolk.

cross-bred ferrets (which in many respects
differ considerably) as two species. It is
generally noticeable that the female is
smaller than the male, which fact also
applies to stoats and weasels. As soon
as one ascertains a jill, or female ferret, is



on heat, she must be at once removed to
a separate hutch or kennel. This gener-
ally happens in the months of April, May,

Fig. 21.— White Ferret.
The iiroperty of Mr. Charles Wood, of HarUston, Norfolk.

or July, ferrets as a rule breeding twice

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Online LibraryNicholas EverittFerrets : their management in health and disease with remarks on their legal status → online text (page 2 of 8)