An Out of Season 'One Off'

by Max Abell

It's now the summer and boiling hot: nice for the sunbathers but not for the ferrets.

Our ferret court was deliberately put up facing east so the sun doesn't bake the front of it all day, and the ferrets are shaded during the hottest part. In hot weather we also put a big, three-inch metal tray in the aviary full of cold water so the ferrets can have a dip. It's quite amusing to watch them jumping in and out of the water, Poppy actually puts her head and whole body under the water and pushes herself along the bottom of the tray, maybe she thinks she's an otter! Ferrets cope fine with cold weather as long as they have good bedding; it's the hot weather that can be lethal for them. Always make sure you keep them as cool as possible and the cage/court has somewher shady for them to shelter out of the sun. We don't use bedding in the summer, only very deep shavings, although bedding is added if the summer turns cold.

We got a phone call from a lady, a Mrs K, saying rabbits were destroying her lawns and borders. Now we don't normally use ferrets at this time of year but she sounded desperate, so we arranged to go and see her. The garden in question was massive; more like a park than a garden. On arrival the rabbit damage to the lawns was obvious. She showed us where the rabbits were coming from, she had a big twenty foot by ten foot shed/workshop at the bottom of the garden which backed onto woods and fields; the rabbits had burrowed behind and underneath the shed. We agreed with Mrs K that we could help her out and would return soon. We parted company and drove home. We kept an eye on the long range weather forecast and agreed a day with Mrs K that we would return, Fortunately the day was a lot cooler as we would not work the ferrets in the hot weather, nor would we work a jill in season.

On the day in question we boxed up three of our spayed jills, all experienced workers. When we arrived at Mrs K's we were greeted with offers of cups of tea. We told Mrs K we would net up first then have a cuppa while we let the warren settle back down. We surrounded the big shed with trammel nets as they are good for both large and small rabbits, though getting the poles into the solid ground proved fun! We covered what holes we could with purse nets; I'd made a dozen one-and-a-half inch mesh purse nets a few years ago for the smaller rabbits as they can get through the standard two or two-and-one-eighth inch meshes normally used for purse nets.

We also used a couple of our bolt traps which, for anyone who isn't familiar with these, are a tube shaped cage with a 'flap' type one-way door, all of which are normally made with one inch weld mesh. The flap door is pushed into the hole entrance, a stick is used to hold the trap in place and when a rabbit exits the hole it runs through the flap into the cage, it can't turn back down the hole due to the flap only opening one way. The occupant is then humanely dispatched and the bolt trap reset back in the hole entrance. These traps can catch up to three rabbits at a time and ideal if working near a road, in bramble or heavy undergrowth, where purse nets would snag on the debris. They are also ideal for catching smaller rabbits of which you tend to get a lot when working out of, or at the beginning of, the ferreting season.

After netting-up we left the warren to settle and took up Mrs K's offer of a cuppa. Once refreshed we entered one of the jills, nothing happened for a few minutes then whoosh, a purse net closed tight catching the first rabbit. As always the occupant was quickly and humanely dispatched. The jill popped her head out of the hole then went straight back down into the dark. Very soon two more were bolted into the purse nets. There were more rabbits in there because we could hear them running around under the shed so we entered the other two jills to try and pressurize the rabbits to bolt away from the safety of the shed.

Over the next forty to forty-five minutes we caught another two half-grown rabbits and two smaller ones, making seven in total, When the warren was at last empty, the ferrets were given a drink and boxed back up. The dead rabbits were taken down to the woods at the bottom of the garden, pee'd and gutted.

The nets were all picked up just in time for Mrs K's gardener to arrive. We explained to him that he would need to cover the bottom of the shed in chicken wire, digging it into the ground and to also put postcrete down any visible holes letting it settle for a couple of days, then leveling it over with mud which should hopefully stop the warren from being re-populated again. He replied that he was going to chicken wire all of Mrs K's boundary fences to help keep them out. We left Mrs K and her gardener very happy people; she even offered us payment, which we declined. May I suggest that in future with any of these one-off jobs that members suggest to the landowner that they make a donation to the NFWS?

We had a good day out considering we were ferreting 'out of season' and we didn't get any hang-ups. Four of the rabbits went straight into the freezer, one went to the ferrets for their dinner that evening whilst the two smaller ones ended up in the frying pan with some olive oil, bacon bits, leeks and sprinkling of dried chilli flakes, put on a plate with a bit of grated cheese on the top; hmmmmm it was lovely.

As always a big thank you to everyone that supports the NFWS and rescue centres around the country.

(First published in NFWS News - 91 September 2011)