Saturday, 25 June 2016

Vermin Patrol Part 2: Ferrets

If you don't like the idea of traps, how about using a ferret instead?

This is the first time I've tried ferreting. The concept is simple: Find a rabbit burrow with multiple holes. Using little purse nets, cover every hole you can find. Pop the ferret under a net into the burrow and let her (females are best) hunt the rabbits. The rabbits run in fear, bolt out of a hole covered with a net, and get caught. Rabbits can be dispatched quickly (and turned into rabbit curry later).

I shadowed Winsor, a keen ferreter. He was hired to clear out some rabbit burrows undermining the formal lawns at the big house. Moles and rabbits create soil mounds and hollows when burrowing. Mounds and hollows are tolerated around the informal parts of the garden, parts that are mowed with a giant tractor or grazed by sheep. But, in the formal gardens, the soil mounds ruin the blades on fine cylinder mowers, upset the flat surface of a croquet lawn, and are generally unsightly.

Ferrets are of the mustelid family. Most mustelids in Britain are the bane of a keeper’s life: mink, weasels, stoats, polecats, even badgers.  Ferrets are unique as most can be tamed by feeding and handling (there’s always some that hold on to their independence and bite when handled.)

Unlike working dogs, ferrets aren’t trained. Ferrets simply follow their instincts to hunt, and rabbits follow theirs to run away. The ferreter's job is to set the nets and redirect the ferret when it emerges from a hole by popping it down the next nearest hole.

I spent most of my time in this position -

Face down under a bush setting nets. Or popping ferrets back into holes. There's not a lot of training required for the humans either. The ferret does all the work; the ferreter just adopts the laying down position. As far as vermin control goes, this is pretty low cardio.

We worked along the walled vegetable garden. There were so many rabbit burrows underneath the wall that I was surprised it hadn't fallen into a giant sinkhole long ago.

The ferreter and I worked the outside of the wall, and underkeeper Ian waited inside the wall. We set nets on both sides to block both ends of a tunnel. It's easy to hear when the ferret is on her prey: the rabbits make a rumbling noise stamping their feet and fleeing. Then, WHAM! out of the corner of your eye you catch sight of a rabbit bouncing about, the drawstring purse net pulled taut around it. The ferreter’s only other job is to despatch and gut the rabbit (and, in my case, make the curry later.)

When it works, it's magic. But the odds are in the rabbits' favour. No matter how many bushes you crawl under, there is always one hole left uncovered. Inevitably that’s the hole a fleeing rabbit will choose for its escape. No net = no rabbit = no rabbit curry for dinner. We caught 3 rabbits this time. We lost 5 more to an overlooked hole. 

Ferreting works best in winter, and by spring/summer we are back to shooting the odd rabbit when we see it. And rabbit salads instead of curry.


Hazel said...

I do like ferrets :)

We've got a problem with rats for the first time in more than ten years of keeping poultry.
It started after we moved house- we now back onto fields and our neighbour has a 'hedge' next to our chicken run that is basically a pile of dead sticks, and they love it in there.
We move the birds food every evening , but chickens and ducks aren't the tidiest eaters, so there's always something on the ground. The cats are catching the odd rat, but not enough, plus I do try to keep them in at night so they don't decimate the local songbird population.
A shotgun is out of the question and I don't want to put out poison because of the risk to our cats and dogs and the birds- ours, and the wild ones.

I don't suppose you have any suggestions??

Laura Orabone said...

Would love a peek at your rabbit curry recipe. ? :)

accidental mick said...

Get a Terrier. Jack Russels are cheap and readily available. A cat can easily "see off" a puppy and it will soon learn not to bother them. Those rats that survive will soon learn that it is better to be elsewhere.

Jennifer Montero said...

Hazel - Check out an old post from 2010 titled More Foxes (can just google it). There is an explanation for how we trap rats using a feed barrel. It means using traps, but keeping them out of reach of cats/dogs/birds etc. It's cheap (my favourite part) and easy to use. hope it will help!

Jennifer Montero said...

Laura - Recipe?? Rabbits + leftover vegetables in the fridge + curry powder + coconut milk. Dutch oven or slow cooker it. Same for pheasants but replace coconut milk with tinned tomatoes. I could do with a proper recipe if any one has a good one to share!

Hazel said...

Thanks for the advice.

Mick, I already have two dogs, and one is a Saluki X who is spooked by little dogs because they run under his legs! They are both also dim and docile lurchers who don't need entertaining when I'm at work. Not sure I can cope with a terrier who might be brighter than I am! I may be able to borrow one though- I do know a Lakeland who may be up for the job...

Jennifer, I'll look for that post, thanks. Cheap is good!
I also have a recipe for Malaysian rabbit curry. It might not be much different to your curry, but I remember it being nice. I'll have a look for it.

The Morrissey said...

Is there a concern about losing the ferret out holes without nets on them? I can picture my (mostly but not always obedient) terrier x coming out a hole and bounding away after a terrified rabbit. Im guessing ferrets can't be recalled then what happens?. .

Jennifer Montero said...

The Morrisey - the ferrets didn't come out of the holes at terrier speed for sure! Usually they ambled out, at least if there wasn't a rabbit in front of them. The bigger problem is a ferret staying IN the hole and eating a caught rabbit. Once sated, the ferret will curl up and go to sleep. Ferreters often use collars with locators on them, so they can at least find where in the burrow the beast has bunked down. Then, the only option is to dig them out with a shovel!

Janice Bendixen said...

Any luck with that Malaysian curry recipe Hazel? If not, I'll wade back into my Thai cookbook and update you all.