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FERRETS USED IN AID OF THE GUN.
The ferret is used for taking rabbits either with the aid of nets placed at the mouths of their holes, or by shooting them as they come out. The latter is the method which more particularly brings them under our notice in the present book.
The FERRET (the two varieties of which are delineated in the accompanying engravings) originally came from Africa, through Spain, from which latter country the whole of Europe has been supplied. In length it is about fourteen inches, the ears are round, eyes red and fiery, colour pale yellowish white. The dark-coloured variety is crossed with the polecat, and is not a pure bred animal. These crossbred ferrets are supposed by some to be more hardy than the white, but there is no such difference in reality between them, and for some generations they are wild and unmanageable. In choosing ferrets for rabbiting, the largest should be taken in preference, especially for rocky ground, but in some soils where there are no chasms likely to occur in the earth, a small ferret will answer well enough.
REARING AND FEEDING.
The hutches in which ferrets are kept should be placed in a dry room well protected from the weather. The floor of the hutch must be kept very clean, and for this purpose a false wire bottom answers well, having in a drawer below it sawdust or chaff, which will absorb the moisture, and can be removed with it every day. By adopting this plan, ferrets may be kept comparatively sweet, and even without the wire, by changing the sawdust, or chaff daily, a sufficiently wholesome result may be produced. The retiring box, or sleeping place, should be small and without any false bottom, as the ferrets, unless they are mismanaged, will never dirty it: it should be freely supplied with clean hay and wool, as they like to be warm, but the box should be ventilated in proportion. A trustworthy correspondent of The Field (High Elms), thus describes the huteh used by him :-“The box itself should
be three feet six inches long, one foot six inches wide, and one foot six inches deep. The feeding compartment (formed at one end) must be one foot taken out of the whole space, the sleeping place adjoining it one foot three inches, and the other compartment one foot three inches also. To divide each place from the other, strips of wood must be nailed inside the box to the back and front, leaving spaces between the strips to allow of a thin board sliding down pretty tight. About four inches from the foot of these partitions cut out a round hole three inches diameter. Over each of these holes make a small door to work on a screw. To each of these doors have a stiff wire, put on to the door with a screw, but with the end of the wire projecting through a hole in the front of the ferret box. Each of the three compartments must have a separate lid. When I describe the rest of the arrangement, the uses of these sliding doors and separate lids will be apparent.
For the last compartment have two wooden trays made, lined and covered on the sides with zinc plate. Have to these trays wire handles, nailed at two opposite corners, and rising up like a bow. The trays being made to fit easily into this compartment are lifted out by the two handles. The box is now complete. The sliding door to cover the hole in the feeding compartment may be on whichever side is preferred. The other sliding door must
. be in the sleeping side, so as not to interfere with the slipping down of the tray. The sides of these trays must be four inches high. They will thus come just under the hole in the division. I should be inclined, however, to recommend the sides as being about six inches high except at the hole, where a piece can be hollowed out. People acquainted with the habit of ferrets will see why I recommend the sides to be pretty high. Mine were about four inches, but six would be none the worse. Into the tray you must put some dry sand or sawdust, about an inch or two deep, and every day, or at most every two days, empty it out, wash the tray and put it in the air to dry, while you substitute the other. Let the ferrets have a warm bed of hay and wool. When you feed or clean them, pull the wire of the place you are about to open, and thus close the door. This is a very needful precaution, for I should say that the task set to our friend
Sisyphus,' of unhappy memory, was a joke in comparison to that of keeping three or four ferrets from oozing out of the open box when you want to shut the lid again. Keep the box in a dry place, not cold.”
For food, bread and milk should form the staple, with the addition two or three times a week of a little animal food, such as butcher's meat, heads and necks of poultry, or what is best of all, small birds or young rabbits. They should be fed once a day, the bread and milk being given lukewarm, and the birds as soon after they are killed as possible. Some milk is injurious, and the pans in which they are fed must be scalded daily, and should be of earthenware or metal, not wood. The quantity must depend upon the condition, which will vary greatly in different animals, they should be so fed as to be rather low than fat, and especially when they are about to be used.
The bitch ferret must be allowed to breed, or she pines and becomes diseased. She
goes with young forty days, and the young are born blind and remain blind about a month or six weeks, but they feed on their mother's bread and milk before they can see, as well as upon the milk which they obtain by sucking her. In a fortnight after they can see they may be weaned, and then their tuition must at once be commenced. For rabbits very little more is required in this way except to let the young ones become accustomed to the appearance and voice of their master, so as to come to him when called. This is easily effected by constantly feeding them, but for ratting they must be taught to attack the rats. In handling them roughness should always be avoided, and they should be accustomed to be taken up without fear, the neck being the proper place to lay hold of. With a pair of leather gloves, if they do bite at first, the pain can be endured, and they soon leave off the attempt to hurt their feeder when they find no resistance offered. They must also be accustomed to the muzzle, which is applied in various ways, as will presently be described.