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Nicholas Everitt.

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

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guns, are used for this purpose, although the
professional ratter, who reckons on a double



RATTING FROM HEDGEROWS 177

profit by taking his quarry alive, employs
traps, nets, and other engines. Dogs and
sticks are preferable to dogs and guns, for the
same reason as has been alluded to in our
remarks on stack ratting. Eat burrows, as
a rule, do not go far into the ground, but
more often run along just beneath the bank,
and ferrets are frequently shot and wounded
when guns are employed.

In any event good ratting dogs should be
taken, whilst, as a rule, guns will only be
found useful when ratting round water.
Doubling the hedgerow, the dogs try every
hole, and rarely if ever fail to inform whether
the intended victim is at home or not. Having
found, a halt is made, all are posted to the
best advantage, and the ferrets turned in.

One of the chief attractions of ratting is
that long waits are the exception and not the
rule. Almost as soon as the tip of a ferret's
tail disappears, the rat or rats make an exit
and the fun commences. Should there be a
nest of them, it is just the same. They
tumble out in all directions as quickly as
possible, and the scrimmage which ensues is
often as amusing to the onlooker as it is excit-
12



178 FERRETS

ing to the participators. Dogs, sticks, rats,
and men are mixed up in one confused melee.
Sometimes a dog is hit, a man bitten, and a
ferret mauled, whilst the rat makes good his
escape in the confusion.

When a ditch is near the bolt holes the
rats invariably take to the water, and, plung-
ing in, dive along the bottom, seeking a hole
well under the bank by which they can escape
without coming again to the surface.

In the excitement of the moment, one's
friend on the opposite bank, on seeing the rat
thus swimming along under water, is more
likely to fire and smother one with mud and
water than he is to injure the rat. This is
easily explained. In shooting at an object
under water, the aim must be directed a few
inches underneath it, as the refraction is mis-
leading to the eye, and it must be remembered,
that the greater the obliquity of the vision,
the more allowance must be made. When-
ever ferreting near water, be most careful of
ricochetting shots. Many an eye has been
lost, and many a serious injury inflicted, by
thoughtless and careless shooting on, in, and
beneath the surface of water.



RATS STANDING AT BAY i79

In ferreting fences it is a good plan to
teach the dogs to stand at the places assigned
to them, and not to permit them to ramble at
will from hole to hole, or as fancy or eager-
ness may dictate.

Ferreting rats from old rabbit burrows is
often an easier task than ferreting them from
short holes of their own. In the former they
have plenty of room and easy means of escape,
whereas in the latter, if they are pent up for
room, or cannot easily get away without offer-
ing a weak spot to the ferret, they will at
times retire to a narrow pocket, or cul de sac,
and stand at bay. Should a rat stand at bay,
and the ferret be unable to get round him, he
is very difficult to dislodge. The ratter soon
knows when this has happened, as the ferret
will after a time back out of the hole with
the hair on its tail standing straight out, like
a chimney-sweeper's broom, its back up, with
every appearance of anger, and an eager
desire to fight. The instinct of the ferret tells
it that the rat has the advantage, and this
habit of backing out may be a ruse to induce
the rat to quit his stronghold. Under these
circumstances there are few ferrets, however



i8o FERRETS

good they may be, that dare face a rat. If
they do, they are apt to get worsted, and we
have frequently seen ferrets one after another
back out of a hole, badly bitten and certainly
defeated. Under such circumstances it is
best to at once either dig the rat out or
give it up.

In ferreting round hedgerows and fences,
one so often encounters old drains and under-
drains, which are such a continual source of
danger to the ferrets, that we would draw
special attention to them. In the early autumn,
before the rains have set in, they are most
treacherous, as they are dry, and the ferrets
have no hesitation in entering, whereas later
on, when there is plenty of moisture about the
fields, the drains can the easier be located,
and they are by no means so attractive to the
ferret, whose natural instinct is adverse to
dampness and water. As a rule, a rat which
is accustomed to use the drain makes his hole
about a foot away from its entrance, and often
has an exit in the centre of the field in which
the drain is laid, perhaps sixty yards away.
Should a ferret enter an under-drain, the odds
are it will never return. It seems that the



THE DANGER OF UNDER-DRAINS i8i

ferret goes some distance up the drain, and, on
abandoning hope of getting to the rat, becomes
jammed in its endeavours to turn round and
get back again, and it dies a lingering death
from cold and starvation.



Eatting from Barns and Buildings

Having already referred to this sub-heading
when dealing with the handling and working
of ferrets in a preceding chapter, we have no
wish to repeat ourselves, and, as we do not
propose to deal with the subject at length, we
trust the reader will forgive us should we
slightly err in the respect named.

In buildings, rats lay in the goods stored
therein, in the floors, and in the roof. A first
preliminary is to carefully examine all the
holes, bolt holes, and escape holes that can be
found, taking special note of all drains. It is
as well to block any of these latter should
there be a possibility of the ferrets being able
to get into them. If guns are used, it is
as well to post their holders outside, with
instructions only to shoot at rats on the roof



1 82 FERRETS

(that is, if the owner of the roof does not
object), and where there is no possibility of
anything else except the rat being hurt. At
all times ratting round buildings with guns is
highly dangerous. We have, however, done
considerable execution with small '^lO bores,
which are sufficiently large for this purpose,
and do little if any damage. Dogs and sticks
are best, and the sport obtained is most
fascinating.

Having guarded or stopped all outlets and
escape holes, the goods inside the building
are carefully removed, and any outlying rats
killed. The floor being then exposed, the
holes are w^ell ferreted and the fun is at an
end. Never risk losing a ferret in or near
farm premises, or where poultry and small
stock are kept, as ferrets are the most de-
structive little creatures out, especially amongst
the poultry.

In ferreting granaries it is most difficult to
recover the ferrets, and the flooring has often
to be pulled up and the match boarding on
the walls removed before a rescue can be
effected. We know of many instances in
which, when pulling down or restoring old



HOW TO POISON RATS 183

warehouses, mummy ferrets have been found
wedged in the woodwork, their positions
telling all too plainly how they met with
their death.



Eatting with Poison

Perhaps this sub-heading may be regarded
as out of place, but as so much has been said
about rats, it would be a pity to omit mention
of so powerful an agent for their destruction.
Poison should only be used on a farm (or
elsewhere) once a year. The last week in
January and the first week in February are
the best times to select for this purpose, as
the ferreting should then be over. The whole
area of ground proposed to be dealt with
should be taken in hand at once, and preliminary
feeding should be uninterruptedly continued
for a fortnight at least. In our opinion, meal
is the best food to use, and this is mixed with
sugar, grit, and aniseed. The grit is inserted
to take away the rat's suspicions, arsenic or
strychnine being afterwards substituted. The
meal is carried in a bag, and the feeder goes



1 84 FERRETS

on his rounds with a spoon fixed at the end
of a long stick, by means of which he dispenses
his treacherous generosity to the perhaps
grateful but unsuspecting rodents. He knows,
to within a few, how many rats there are
upon the ground visited by the amount of
meal they consume. Having gone his daily
rounds regularly for the period named, the
fatal date arrives, and with the meal he mixes
the requisite quantity of poison, which any
chemist from whom the stuff is purchased will
direct. This he places well inside the holes
in identically the same manner that he has
before deposited the feed, and we hardly
exaggerate when we say that every rat on the
ground for the preceding ten days at least falls
a victim to the strategy.

During the process of feeding it is wonderful
how tame the rats will become, and instances
are known where they have come out of their
holes and actually eaten the meal from the
spoon of the feeder. There is this difference
between using strychnine and arsenic: when
rats have taken the former, they immediately
make for water, where they die, and the bodies
thus become more scattered, whereas when



POISONS USED FOR RATS 185

taking the latter death is not so sudden, and
they generally have time to get back inside
their holes before they expire. Poisoning is
most successful in exterminating rats, especially
from root-hales. On one occasion we remember
no less than sixty dead rats were found inside
one small hale of mangold -wurzels. The
day after the poisoned meal has been laid, the
operator goes on his round as usual. On this
occasion he collects most carefully all the
meal which is not consumed, and takes it
away with him ; he effectually obliterates any
traces that may be left; he closes all the
doctored holes, and deeply buries every dead
body he can find. This is a most necessary
precaution, and should on no account be
neglected.

Many people use phosphorus paste on
bread for poisoning rats, but we deprecate the
practice because it does not act so quickly
as the substances before mentioned, and the
rats will carry it about from place to place,
which renders it dangerous to other creatures.

We have heard keepers express an opinion
that there is nothing so killing as mussels
(which have been poisoned) at a certain



1 86 FERRETS

season of the year, but on the whole we
recommend meal used in the manner described.

Many landlords and tenant farmers are in
the habit of offering the boys on the farms
a premium for every rat they kill, varying
according to districts. The usual capitation
grant is three-halfpence to twopence per rat,
the boys finding their own traps. If the
traps are found, a penny per rat is usual. The
rats are taken to the farm bailiff or foreman,
who cuts off their tails and enters the number
in his book. The first-named grant is the
best, for the boys are careful not to lose their
own traps, which care they do not always
exercise with other people's.

During the months of January, February,
and March the duties of gamekeepers are
comparatively light, and they will do well to
combine with landlords, bailiffs, and tenant-
farmers for the purpose of exterminating
vermin, especially rats, which are their common
enemy.



PAET III



A DAY S EABBITING



It is a day late in November that sees us
driving in the dog-cart towards the scene of
action. The leaves are fast falling from the
trees, the turnips and swedes are being carted
from the fields, and the roads are wet from
recent rain. A slight haze is blowing, and
the sun is shining brightly upon us, except
when it is temporarily obscured by passing
clouds.

We are in the best of spirits, and our
horse, going a good twelve miles an hour, seems
to instinctively feel our sentiments and our
anxiety to arrive at our destination.

Our drive is by no means tlie least inter-
esting item of the day's proceedings. Many
a hedgerow we pass where we remember to
have stood when partridge driving, and our



1 88 FERRETS

recollection is carried back to many a long
shot, clean miss, or right and left, as the case
may be. Many a gap we recognise, and we
see again in our mind's eye the black-tipped
ears of an over- confiding hare as she pops
through, only to bite the dust and sorely
tempt our canine companion to risk all and
run in. Many a covert we pass where we
have in seasons gone by fired our gun until
the barrels were unpleasantly heated, or have
stood shivering in a biting east wind for an
hour or more without firing a shot. Many a
reminiscence do we exchange with one another,
and thus the journey seems over almost before
it has fairly begun, and we are hailed with a
cheery " Good morning, sirs ! " as we pull up
in the grass-grown stable yard of the country
house, whose chimneys are smokeless, whose
windows are closed, and whose rooms are
tenantless, owing to the deplorable fall in
prices of agricultural produce.

The heartiness of the welcome from the old
retainer is saddened by our surroundings. We
remember when the long range of stables was
at all times a scene of bustling activity ; when
every stall was full, and our horse had to



A DAY'S RABBITING 189

accommodate itself in a temporary shelter, or
share a stall with another, and when our
harness had to be placed in our dog-cart be-
cause there was no room to place it elsewhere
with convenience ; when the yule log crackled
in the spacious entrance-hall, and the squire's
rubicund countenance welcomed us, aglow with
the after-fumes of the '47 of the previous
evening, and when all betided well for man
and beast.

But what a difference now 1 All around
us betokens ruin and decay, and when we
hear the plaintive wail of our old friend's dog,
who is temporarily confined in the ghostly,
gloomy stable, Lord Byron's verse in " Childe
Harold's Pilgrimage " is most forcibly brought
home to us —

Deserted is my own good hall,

Its hearth is desolate ;
Wild weeds are gathering on the wall ;

My dog howls at the gate.

But la fortune passe partout. Let us hope the
tide of misfortune has ebbed completely out,
that the tide of good fortune is now flowing
in, that this dismal scene will become a thing



I90 FERRETS

of the past, and that the old hall will once
more assume its pristine beauty and mag-
nificence.

Our dog-cart is housed in the roomy coach-
house alone in its glory, our horse made as
comfortable as circumstances will permit, and
the keeper's dog is liberated and gambols
joyously around us.

With a feeling somewhat akin to relief we
open the rusted iron gate into the paddock,
and turn our back upon the many -gabled
house, and our face towards the equally vacant
kennels. But here even we do not find much
solace. The yards are grown up with rank
vegetation, and, towering above all, we notice
the broad, spear-headed leaves of a gigantic
maize plant, which has secured a hold between
the broken bricks of the flooring, and now
flourishes triumphant. We cannot resist, for
the sake of old times, stepping inside the first
yard we come to, where, in days gone by, we
received a boisterous welcome from many
tongues.

As we stand in the middle of this confined
space, Jock, the keeper's dog, comes to a stand
opposite a heap of sticks and brambles in one



A DAY'S RABBITING 191

corner. The next second he has pounced
forward and the first rabbit of the day dashes
out between our legs with Jock close upon its
heels. For the moment we are nonplussed.
We have our guns with us, but they are not
loaded, and, in a vain attempt to kick over
the startled bunny, we deliver the force of our
attempted blow into Jock's ribs, causing that
quadruped the greatest consternation, not to
say inconvenience, whilst we find ourself re-
clining upon our back on the top of the broken
maize plant. Needless to add, that bunny
escaped. Jock is apologised to and pacified
by many caresses, and our friends have a
hearty laugh at our expense. We leave the
kennel yard sadder than we entered, and
without more ado hasten to the ferret house,
which is situated at the back of the kennels.
Here we find everything in readiness for us.

Our old friend — whom the labourers on
the estate, with greater familiarity than re-
spect, have nicknamed " Tusky Bob," but
whom we address by the more dignified title
of Eobert, and during moments of excitement,
or when we wished to bury the monotony, by
the shorter appellation of " Bob " — has selected



192 FERRETS

a dozen good working ferrets from the twenty
to thirty he has in the ferret house, and he has
placed them already coped in a capacious
ferret box. The line-ferret he carries in a bag
for convenience, but it is more often in his
pocket than in the receptacle provided for its
accommodation.

We look over the ferrets both in the
working box and in the house. We pass a
few comments upon their appearance, turn off
one of our best wheezes for the edification of
Eobert and the two boys who accompany him,
but the point of which joke they one and all
miss, and never even smile at, and we then
make a start for the day's sport.

At the suggestion of Eobert we decide to
run through the kitchen garden, shrubberies,
and orchard, before commencing to use the
ferrets. The first place named is a desolate
waste, from which, like the palace of Aladdin,
when it was supposed to have been transported
into the wilds of Africa, stands out in all its
prominence a large three-house vinery. It is
walled in on all sides except facing the south,
which is bordered by a pond or small lake.
But the doors in the walls are rotten, and



A DAY'S RABBITING 193

uearly all are falling to pieces, with panels
out, and easy of entrance for bunny or any
one else who chooses to trespass.

The iron gate leading from this garden to
the shrubbery, which at one time had its
boundary railing fenced all round with wire
netting by way of extra precaution, stands
ajar, and one of us takes his stand upon its
threshold. The other guards the bank on the
opposite side of the pond, whilst Eobert and
the two boys block up other exits with boards,
bricks, and anything handy for that purpose
which they can find. The beating then com-
mences.

Hardly five minutes have elapsed ere two
shots from behind the boathouse awaken the
echoes of the lonesome garden. The report
startles a water-hen, which flutters out from
the sedges under the bank and skims over
the water-lilies towards the ivy-grown willow
stump, where it knows of a harbour of refuge ;
but ere it can reach it a charge of No. 6
scatters its feathers on the surface of the pond,
and one of a pair of wood pigeons, disturbed
in the middle of an early breakfast upon beech
mast, is dropped with a mighty splash within

13



194 FERRETS

a couple of yards of its feathered fellow
victim.

Before we can re-load, several more pigeons
pass overhead, and our companion kills another,
but it takes him two shots to do it. AVe, in
our turn, are visited by a rabbit who, seeing its
passage barred, retires into the creeping ground-
ivy round the edge of the pond, to await
events, and perhaps congratulate itself upon
the vain thought that it did so unobserved.
But, now we are loaded, another rabbit races
round the pathway, followed by Jock, and so
intent is it upon escape that it does not notice
us at all. Jock is too close for us to shoot,
and the rabbit bolts through the gateway into
the laurels beyond, never giving us a j^hance.
Jock is stopped as he passes us, and returns
hopefully to the wilderness of overgrown fruit
bushes for further research.

Presently a rabbit hops once more into
the pathway immediately in front of us and
we take a snap-shot at it sitting. To our
astonishment it is off, and as the white blob
of its tail disappears into a row of raspberry
canes, we shoot with the second barrel, not at
the rabbit, nor at the white blob of the tail.



A DAY'S RABBITING 195

but where we think the rabbit ought to be,
and we do not know the result until after
the beat is completed, because it would be
injudicious to leave our post. Several more
shots are fired by both of us ; the garden is
hunted a second time ; the creeping ivy round
the bank of the pond beaten with satisfactory
results; and we at length block the gateway
into the shrubbery, which is the next place to
receive our attention.

If the kitchen garden was a wilderness,
what shall we designate the shrubbery ? A
miniature virgin forest would perhaps be
appropriate. There is hardly a path passable.
The once well-kept lawn is knee deep with
rank grass ; the fountain opposite the con-
servatory door, wherein gold-fish were wont to
disport themselves, is scarcely discernible from
beneath its encasement of wild-briar; the arbour
of honeysuckle, once such an elysium upon a
soft spring evening when the nightingales are
in song, is now a tangled mass, a thicket,
which no one would ever believe to have been
anything else ; the statues in the shady nooks
are green with moss and black from rain-water
and the dripping from the overhanging trees ;



196 FERRETS

The pond is entirely overgrown with w^eeds,
upon which the early signs of winter begin
to be apparent. All is desolation, and our
thoughts are once more beginning to wander,
when three rabbits shoot across the opening
like will-o'-the-wisps, and we are barely in
time to secure the third before the straggling
laurel leaves close over its hindquarters.

We take the shrubbery as best we can, in
sections, and add materially to the bag. In a
small potting -house, situated in an obscure
corner, we find one rabbit and four rats ; in
the fernery we add no less than five rabbits to
the bag; also another pigeon from a small
contingent who were returning to the beech
tree, and we leave the gardens behind us. We
cannot but be pleased with the sport, and
grieve to think that there, of all places, we
should be able to obtain it.

On emerging upon the paddock we count
up the slain and find that we have no less
than seventeen rabbits, three pigeons and one
water-hen. Had we been permitted we could
have killed several pheasants, for we flushed
one cock from the kitchen garden, and seven
from the shrubbery round the house, but these



A DAY'S RABBITING 197

we had been requested to spare, and we
naturally did not abuse the confidence that our
friend had placed in us.

In the orchard we were disappointed. We
had begun so well that naturally our hopes ran
high, but there was this great difference
between the orchard and the last places w^e
had visited : the former was honeycombed
with holes and the rabbits had every chance
of escape, whereas the latter places were com-
paratively free from holes, and if we did not get
a chance at the rabbits the first time they were
started, we could hunt them round again and
again. The orchard was as overgrown as the
shrubbery, and this and other drawbacks we
have mentioned so hampered us that we only
bagged three rabbits when we had expected
to obtain at least four times that number.
Passing from the orchard we find ourselves in
the rookery, and here we tried our first earth
with the ferrets.

The earth was a large one and the ramifica-
tions of the burrowing extended from the
roots of a giant fir-tree in all directions, with
bolt holes where one least expected them. We
soon found that two guns were sadly insufficient



198 FERRETS

to properly shoot the earth, but this did not
in any way deter us from doing the best
we could. The solemn Eobert placed
our companion on the left, whilst we were
told off to guard the right. He then
administered a cuff on the head to that
nondescript canine quadruped Jock, to counter-
act the exuberant spirits that were visibly
rampant in him after his wild chasing in the
tangled enclosures we had recently come from,
and, selecting six ferrets from the box, he placed
them in the burrows which were the freshest-
looking and had the most sandy entrances. He
retired, as he had approached, on tiptoe, and
we breathlessly awaited results. Five minutes
passed, they seemed to us hours ; then no less
than five full-grown rabbits sprang out of the
various bolt holes before the eyes of the excit-
able Jock, and darted over the greensward as
hard as they could go. One made for the
orchard, three went straight away for the
rookery fence, distance some 200 yards at
least, and the other popped in again as quickly
as it had come out.

It is a sad record to make, but Veritas
'prevalebit — only one was killed, although four



A DAY'S RAB BITING 199

shots were fired. Jock was disc^^usted. He

o -

showed his contempt by refusing to retrieve
the only one killed, and exhibited a strong


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