Nicholas Everitt.

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

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used and obtained.

As shown by the drawing, the muzzle
consists of a band made from brass or
aluminium, punctured at intervals to
allow a small screw rod of the same
material to be screwed tightly therein.
The band is passed over the ferret's nose
and the rod run through one side of it


behind the animars canine teeth, being
screv/ed in on the other side to keep it
in place. The rod is made to fit exactly,
so that it does not protrude at either end ;
therefore, to use these muzzles, they must

Fig. 27.— Muzzle No. 4.

be obtained in different sizes, because one
muzzle may fit one ferret and not another.
An improvement will be found in
Muzzle No. 4, which it is believed is a
patent, although the sample before us
and the ones we have tried in years gone
by are not marked as such. The rough
sketch accompanying is almost self ex-
planatory. AAA represents a strong


spring, similar to part of a mainspring of
a watch. To the ends of this spring are
riveted two small spikes, made of French
nail wire or similar material, and this is
clipped on to the brass ring or large
eyelet, which is all the muzzle consists of,
and is a great improvement upon the one
last described. It will be found to fit
nearly any ferret.

The dotted lines indicate the muzzle
with the spring pressed down, as would
be done when fixing it upon the ferret's

However, all said and done, keepers
and workers of ferrets have a universal
antipathy to muzzles of all descriptions.
They never recommend them, nor would
the author.


Coping is much more satisfactory to
the worker of ferrets than any attempt
at muzzling. Coped ferrets will work and


work well— in fact, coping does not seem
to affect them at all, and a coped ferret
will face a rat and drive him out of his
lair, in spite of the fact that his mouth is
securely fastened, and the ferret must feel
that he is placed at a great disadvantage.

Fig. 28.— Cope No. 1.

In coping, the material used is usually
either thread, string, or whipcord.

The old method, represented in Cope
No. 1, will probably be condemned on the
score of cruelty, yet there is really no
more cruelty in employing it than there
is in piercing ears, and certainly not so
much as in ringing bulls or pigs. This
method consists in sewing up the mouth


of the ferret. When first practised on a
young animal it is certainly not a pleasant
operation for the ferret. The upper lip
is pierced with a large needle, as shown
in the sketch, a strong piece of thread is
run through on each side, and the ends
tied in a knot under the jaw. The ferret
is thus securely coped.

It may at first appear cruel, but after
the first time or two there is no cruelty
whatever, as the pierced holes remain
permanently open as in a lady's ears.
The thread can be passed through them
whenever required, and the ferret may
be coped without further pain or incon-
venience. The old school of ferret workers
are much in favour of this method, and
allege as an advantage that if a ferret so
coped be lost, the saliva from the animal's
mouth will, in two or three days at the
most, rot the thread and free the jaws, thus
preventing the animal dying from starva-
tion, which is always a risk when any



Other form of coping or muzzling is



Fig. 29.— Cope No. 2. ,

Cope No. 2 is shown in three diagrams.
Fig. 29 (without be- c

ing knotted at loop
D) shows the cope
as tied and ready
for use; Fig. 30 an
end-on view of the
same cope, showing
all the loops ; Fig.
31 the cope placed
in position on the
head of the ferret, ready to be perma-
nently fixed by tying the ends at loop A.

Fig. 30.— Cope No. 2.


The material most in favour for this
method of coping is twine, or a strand of
whipcord. The length must be judged
in accordance with the cope intended to
be used and the size of the ferret. Some
prefer strong or twisted thread, but this

Fig. 31.— Cope No. 2.

in our opinion often cuts the ferrets and
is not so comfortable to work with as a
thin strand of whipcord. Loop A is not
a necessity, and is as often as not omitted.
Loop E goes round the under jaw, and is
held in position by being slipped behind
the canine teeth. Loop B goes over the
nose, as shown in Fig. 31, and the two
ends are carried straight up over the


middle of the forehead to C, where they
are knotted and carried round the neck
to D. Here the ends are sometimes tied,
and the cope is complete. But it is often
practical to knot at D and carry the ends
on to A, either fastening them at the
bottom of loop E, or to loop A, which,
when used, is made on purpose for knot-
ting the ends, and so keeping the cope
more permanently fixed to the ferret's

Fig. 30 shows the same cope, only it is
represented by an end-on view. Loop A
is the loop under the lower jaw for the
purpose of fixing the loose end. Loop E
goes round the lower jaw and behind the
canine teeth ; loop B round the nose ; B
to C the double lines carried up the fore-
head ; loop C D round the neck, and the
two loose ends are brought down under-
neath to be fastened to loop A.

Fig. 31 illustrates the ferret's head
with the cope attached. Naturally, the


cope is not, when fixed, so loosely placed
upon the ferret as is here depicted, and
were it illustrated as it is used in practice
the reader would not be able to obtain
much idea from the illustration. When
in use the string is fixed securely and
tio^ht to the ferret's head, but not uncom-
fortably so, and the knots should be
simple and secure. It is often argued
that, by continuing the ends of the cope
from D to A, and by using the A loop, the
cope is more complicated, and the ferret
is more likely to free himself with his
claws by scratching than if the cope be
completed by fastening at D. But the
pros and cons seem equal, and the one
method finds quite as many adherents as
the other.

A still further method is sometimes
used. Two loops are taken over the
ferret's nose, with and without the canine
tooth loop, the double line straight up
the forehead and fastened round the neck.


The author has not given this cope a very
good trial, as he has no faith in it, and on
every occasion when he has experimented
with it the ferrets have almost invariably
freed their jaws in a short space of time.
Besides, it is neither so simple, secure,
nor effective as the other methods he has
endeavoured to explain. Another cope
not very different may be explained by
reference to the sketch of Cope No. 2 —
Fig. 31. A piece of good twine is taken,
doubled, and a small loop made at the
doubled end. This small loop is placed
on the ferret's throat at D, and the twine
is taken round the neck and knotted at C.
The collar is then twisted round, so that
the small loop is placed at C and the long
ends hang from D. These ends are then
taken to A, knotted, and continued round
the jaws to B, where they are again
knotted (thus completely closing the
ferret's mouth and muzzling him), then
taken up over the forehead together to C,


where they are fastened to the small loop
first mentioned; and the cope is complete.
In this method it will be noticed there is
no " bit piece " or loop to go in the ferret's
mouth under the tongue and at the back
of the canine teeth, and the fastening
knots or endings of the loose ends are all
on the top of the head instead of being
under the chin. This cope has its advan-
tages, and is one of those which finds
high favour amongst ferret workers.


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

Handling and Woeking

As soon as young ferrets appear in the
exercise compartments of their hutches,
they should be handled. At first, when
this is attempted, they will resent all
overtures by arching their backs and hiss-
ing at the intruder, but no hesitation
should be shown, and the hand should
be brought forward quickly and firmly.


picking up the ferret by the neck, just
behind the ears. Handle them very
gently, and stroke them, to show that no
harm is meant, and to establish their con-
fidence. When two months or ten weeks
old, they should be taken out, carried
about, set down, allowed to run short
distances, and picked up again ; and the
offer of an occasional bonne houcJie will
not be amiss in establishing a good feeling
between trainer and trained.

One old gentleman living in Norfolk
had a great penchant for training young
ferrets. On a Sunday afternoon he might
often be seen reclining in a shady spot on
his lawn with half-a-dozen or more young
ferrets running all round him, and he
would encourage them to run over his
body as well. When last heard of he was
not quite so enthusiastic on this latter
practice. On close inquiry it was ascer-
tained that one young ferret, more atten-
tive than the others, had taken a sudden


affection for his ear, the lobe of which it
had nearly bitten off, hence the temporary
coldness between our friend and his pets.

In handling ferrets, the operator must
he firm, gentle, and prompt. The hands
should not be poked at the ferret, nor put
out and quickly drawn back again, as is
the case with one who is nervous of beine^
bitten. Ferrets rarely attempt to bite
any one who is known to them, and in
the majority of cases when one is bitten
it is almost always his own fault.

Have ferrets ever suckled rats ? is a
question which has often been put, but
never appears to have been answered in
the affirmative. On the 2nd of September
1895, Mr. H. Lane, writing from Wednes-
field, says : " You say that ferrets when
quite young will attack a live rat. It
may interest you to hear that I know of
a remarkable exception to that rule. One
of my workmen had a white bitch ferret
with eight young ones. When the young



ones were about three weeks old, the
owner put into the hutch one night six
young rats, about the same size as the
ferrets, thinking to find them all dead
next morning. What was his surprise to
find, when he went to clean the hutch on
the following day, both rats and ferrets
running about together ? He then took
five of the rats away, leaving one. The
old ferret suckled it and reared it like its
own. The rat was very wild, and the old
ferret would sometimes pick it up and
carry it to the bed. After the young
ones were weaned, the rat and the old
ferret were still left together, and were
the best of friends, sleeping side by side.
It was a remarkable thing that while they
were living together the ferret was taken
out ratting continually, and would kill a
strange rat immediately one was put in
the hutch. My man kept them together
for six months, but happening to leave
the hutch door open one night, the rat


made its escape. Hundreds of people
came to see the animals living together,
and offers to purchase the pair were made
by showmen and others. I saw them
many times myself, but the rat never
seemed to lose its natural wildness, and
would burrow under the straw as soon as
any one disturbed it. I do not know if
you ever heard of a similar case before,
but I should think such an instance as I
have recorded would be very rare."

Working to Eabbits

In training ferrets it is advisable to
work them at first, free and unhampered
by muzzle or cope, and it will be found
best to use the mother of the litter to
initiate them in the early stages of their
education. Having well handled them
for some time, and accustomed them to
be caught without trouble, they should be
put into a ferret working-box with their


mother, and taken to a park, fiekl, or wood,
where there are some short, dry sandy-
burrows, in which rabbits are likely to be
found. If they refuse at first to follow
their mother down the hole, put a line on
her and only allow her to go in a little
way, drawing her back again quickly, and
she will thus act as a good decoy, and the
young ones will soon learn to follow her

By all means let them kill their first
rabbit if you can so arrange it ; it will
blood them, and make them keener. Do
not work them too much at first, and run
them into play holes where they are not
likely to find anything, as well as the short
burrows where they will ; this will teach
them to be persevering. On the other
hand, encourage them by showing them
their quarry at frequent intervals : not
the dead rabbits you may have secured,
but by putting the ferrets into burrows,
which are a sure draw : and do not con-


ij^ -I




- . - r-


stantly ruifthem into old or disused holes,
where they may roam a long time without
scenting rabbits.

When the young ferret appears on the
surface, pick it up at once, stroke it, and,
if it appears keen on work and not tired,
place it in the entrance of another part
of the same burrow, and let it hunt a
second time.

Should it "lay up" or not come out
for some time, run a line-ferret into the
hole, and dig it out without delay. This
is one of the cogent reasons why young
ferrets should at first be w^orked only in
the short sandy holes, where they are
easy to extract with the spade should they
show an inclination to remain, instead of
returning to the entrance of the burrow
after they have ransacked its windings,
or killed the rabbit which they have found
therein. A quarter-of-an-hour is a good
grace-limit to give them, and they should
on no account be allowed longer.


Should you shoot the rabbit that is
bolted, or your dog catch it, be sure and
peg it near the bolt hole, so that the
young ferret on emerging will find it there.
Allow the ferret to worry it for a short
space of time, and then take the rabbit
away. The reason for pegging it down
(which is easily accomplished by hurdling
the rabbit) is that often a rabbit is laid
carelessly down outside the bolt hole,
whilst the person who laid it there has
gone away to look after something else,
only to find on his return that the ferret
has, in the meanwhile, drawn the rabbit
deep down into the hole, made a meal off
it, and laid up, giving the thoughtless
owner some hours of labour before he has
been able to unearth them both.

With young ferrets nets are more often
used, and this method appears without
doubt to be best, as greater time can be
bestowed upon one's charges, and one's
attention can be given better without


having to stand at a distance from the
bolt holes, or through being distracted by
other things.

A little wrinkle which is not generally
known is a simple plan for compelling a
ferret to forego its hold upon its quarry,
which is often to the uninitiated a most
difficult task to accomplish. It is as
follows : — Take the ferret up by the neck
in the ordinary manner with one hand,
holding the quarry in the other, and bring
the thumb round over the forehead of the
ferret to a point just above the eyes,
causing a gradual pressure to be brought
upon the part indicated. The effect will,
or should be, instantaneous, and the ferret
will quit its hold, when the pressure
must be instantly stopped, and the ferret

When going ferreting for rabbits,
always work your ferrets upwind, make
as little noise as possible, do not run over
the earths, but walk as silently as you can.


and, above all, do not let your dogs
scratch at the entrance to the burrows,
nor shout nor talk amongst yourselves.
Take a little milk with you to give the
ferrets if they are thirsty, as this may
prevent them travelling in search of water
when they ought to be attending to
business, and do not work a ferret until
it is tired out, but work them con-
siderately, evenly, and giving them rest
from time to time. When several ferrets
have been in an earth and no rabbits have
appeared, or they have bolted rabbits,
and some time has elapsed without seeing
others, the ferrets should be taken up as
soon as they appear, otherwise one may
"lay up," and induce the others to keep
it company.

Working to Rats

Youno- ferrets should not be worked to
rats until they have had plenty of ex-


perience with rabbits, or until they are
full grown, and quite capable of taking
care of themselves. Little or no training
will be found necessary, and they will, as
a rule, fight to the death without requir-
ing encouragement.

It is interesting sport to get a large
scalding-tub, with a piece of netting over
the top, placing a full-grown buck rat and
a ferret in at the same time, and watch
the fight. They will spar and feint like
two experienced boxers. As a rule, the
rat will be the first to show the white
feather by an attempt to avoid meeting
its adversary. The moment it does this
the ferret has it by the throat like a
flash of lightning, and the end is reached.

In working ferrets to rats only the
most experienced and strongest should be
used, or the ferrets may suff'er more than
the rats ; and in no case should the ferrets
be muzzled or coped with a view to driv-
ing out the rats so that they may be


taken alive. Often a coped ferret emerges
from a rabbit burrow in which there has
been rats, fearfully mauled by having
been attacked when it could not properly
defend itself, and ferrets are, as a general
rule, much too plucky to turn tail under
any disadvantages.

When after rats, do not be sparing in
the number of the ferrets used. Let the
motto be, " The more the merrier." Un-
less brought to bay in a corner, from
which retreat is difficult, rats will " start"
with astonishing celerity — in many cases
almost as soon as the ferret enters the
hole. If one is shooting them he requires
to be on the qiii vive from the moment
the ferret's tail disappears out of sight.
When there are plenty of rats, and one
has good ferrets, the sport is fast and
furious, and it is difficult to find better
fun with the aid of ferrets than a really
good day's ratbing.

Farm boys who are stimulated to w^age


warfare against these pernicious rodents
by the capitation grant of one penny to
twopence per tail become very clever at
ratting, and, as is often said, " what they
don't know ain't worth knowing." Many
a time when the author has been rabbit-
ing, and a rat has bolted, has he seen these
boys catch it in their hands in the same
manner that they would a ferret, and
they have put it into their pockets alive
to take home to give sport to a ferret or
favourite terrier. In the buildings, and
when thrashing stacks, he has seen them
repeat this performance, and when ques-
tioned they seemed to think little or
nothing of it.

Whilst on the subject of rats another
little reminiscence may interest the
reader. A retired farmer, now dead,
always kept ferrets until the date of his
death. He resided in a small house with
a neatly -kept garden ; in a warm corner
he had erected hutches, where he reared


and nurtured his pets, wliich included dogs
and owls. Never was he seen abroad
in any headgear but a weather-beaten
chimney-pot hat that had seen better
days. He occupied all his leisure time,
when not engaged in his garden, scouring
the country for miles around ratting. It
was his delight to take all his rats home
alive, and his favourite receptacle for
carrying them was the aforesaid hat.
When met he generally apologised, with
a smile, for being unable to remove his
head -covering, explaining that he had
a full cargo. Oftentimes a considerable
commotion would be going on inside that
hat, but he only banged it with a stick
and said, " They'll be quiet enough when
they get home to-night," which was
certainly true, for, unless he had a larger
number than usual, their lives would not
be worth a day's purchase. This old man
would catch rats in his hands without the
slightest hesitation.



Should a ferret " lay up," sport is con-
siderably interfered with. When there
are plenty of ferrets in the box it is
usual to leave a boy behind to watch
the earth, whilst the sport is continued
in fresh places. Should the boy be un-
successful in recovering the ferret, the
task of getting it out presents itself,
and the ways and means employed in so
doing are many. Let us consider them.

The peculiar, and should be familiar,
feed call is at times successful, but can
never be relied on.

A loud and sudden noise, or a shot
fired into the mouth of the burrow where
the delinquent is supposed to be resting
itself, occasionally brings the ferret out,
but if it does it is generally too scared
and upset to do more work for that day
at least.

Another plan is to jump about on the



outside of the earth, and to beat the
ground with the flat of a shovel or spade.
The idea of this, apparently, is that by
imitating a rabbit stamping, the ferret
may think there is another rabbit outside
or elsewhere, and bestir itself to find
it, thus coming to the surface and show-
ing itself, where the watcher is ready to
lure it sufficiently out of the burrow so
that it may be caught.

Sucking one's lips noisily at the
entrance to the burrow, in imitation of
a rabbit shrieking, is also had recourse
to, with a view to drawing the ferret.
This is a very old and favourite allure-
ment, and usually attended with success.
On one occasion in the author's recollec-
tion, the operator met with a success
he little anticipated. He had stretched
himself at full length upon the ground
intently listening for any signs of the
missing one. Alternately he listened and
imitated a squeak. Suddenly the ferret.


having heard him, sprang forward and
fixed its teeth firmly in his cheek. AVhat
he said had better not be recorded, but
that ferret did not get the encouragement
it perhaps deserved.

Some people use stench cartridges for
driving ferrets out when they "lay up."
They prepare these themselves with paper
soaked in a solution of nitre and cayenne
pepper or other inflammable material,
which, when dry, is easily burnt, and the
smoke caused to penetrate the earth by
blocking up the entrance hole in which
the fumigator is placed. These cartridges
may be bought ready for use. Failing
this, an ordinary fusee is often eflicacious.

The best plan to recover the lost ferret
is to run in a line ferret, which directs
you to that part of the earth where it has
temporarily located itself, and often has
the effect of stirring it up and inducing it
to come out. Should it not move, and
you are convinced, by the working of


your line ferret, where it is, excavations
may be commenced with a view to ex-
tracting it. You can tell by the marks
on the line how many yards it is in, and
it is not difficult to guess the probable
depth. By following the line you can
see how near you are to it, and when you
are nearing it, you must remember to dig
with great caution, otherwise you may,
by a careless thrust of the spade, injure
one, or both, of the ferrets. Digging out
"laid-up" ferrets is often disheartening
work, especially when the ferrets are
coped. They may have got a rabbit, or
more than one, in a blind pocket of the
burrow, and not being able to get past
the rabbit, so that they can scratch at its
eyes, face, and neck, they force it on by
scratching the fur off the rump, which
causes the rabbit to burrow onwards in
the hope of baffling its tormentor by the
earth which it kicks into his face, or to
squeeze itself into a very narrow part of


the burrow or tlie end of a pocket, and
there allow itself to be tortured behind,
believing that if it turns it will only-
meet with an untimely end ; and when
the digger gets near the ferret and rabbit
thus situated, the rabbit may move, and
the digger will have had all his labour in

The Warrener's Telephone

An implement often brought into use
is a thin steel rod, somewhat like a
small light crowbar. When a ferret is

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Online LibraryNicholas EverittFerrets : their management in health and disease with remarks on their legal status → online text (page 4 of 8)