by Malcolm Winch

Several years ago whilst living in the West Country my wife and I stopped with our young daughter to see the local young farmers who had a display of young animals. My wife and daughter were thrilled to be able to stroke lambs and calves and watch the antics of the chickens, I however had seen a young lad holding a medium sized hob and at my suggestion my wife and daughter stroked him. They were amazed at how soft and silky the pristine white fur was; they were also amazed at how the smell of hob ferret lingers on fingers. To say they were not impressed with me laughing would be an understatement and I suppose the last laugh was on me as it took over 10 years to be forgiven.

It is said that reason and informed discussion can get many things done. I chose to whine on and on and leave books open at pages with cute kits at play and eventually - She who must be obeyed - relented and uttered the immortal words, "You can have one, but I'm having nothing to do with it!" As soon as Bubble and Squeak (But sweetheart one would get lonely) arrived home guess who had to have a cuddle! Within a week they were vaccinated and out to play in a hastily built run full of tubes and things and 10 minutes later they were back in the court while I covered the top with mesh to prevent any more breakouts.

Bubble and Squeak soon settled down to life away from their large family, but unfortunately they never settled down to their food as they constantly pebble dashed, so I tried fresh rabbit and that came out undigested. The vet took samples for analysis and it turned out to be E. Coli and the antibiotics were rejected in all forms, however I persisted with kaolin and live yoghurt and eventually the pebble dashing ceased.

In late September my shooting partner and I went to a nearby field with a few uninhabited burrows just to see what their reactions would be and thankfully all went well except for the tangled nets (a little more practice required).

October didn't come quickly enough for me but I had to be sure the girls were fully-grown, fit and healthy enough to tackle a day down below. So in the meantime we got down to clearing the burrow mouths of nettles, which also helped us to get an idea which burrows were occupied.

It was a cold but not frosty morning when we set off on our first outing and as we entered the field bunnies ran in all directions. A small burrow of 6-8 holes was quickly netted up and in went Bubble, I took a deep breath watching her slowly disappear into the earth, her head poked out a few times before she settled down to the serious business of evicting the occupants. It was only 10 minutes later when the first bunny bolted, shrugged off the net hardly altering stride and headed straight for an adjoining burrow where it neatly back netted itself. Lesson No. 1. Always net up any nearby burrows that may provide sanctuary for escapee bunnies.

The day progressed well and without resorting to digging we ended up with 7 fully-grown rabbits all fat and sweet - perfect for the pot unless you are a ferret when au naturelle is preferred. So far this season we've managed 8 trips and 55 quality rabbits and both ferrets and humans have learned a few things.

1. Locator collars are costly make sure you tape them up and ensure the collar is done tight enough not to slip over the head (teeth in finger indicates the collar is too snug!).

2. If a rabbit hits the net furthest from you, be assured that one or more fellow occupants will be out of the hole if you don't hurry and get a net or a foot over it.

3. If it's gone quiet and you think it won't hurt to have a look at the holes, then it probably will. You'll end up staring eyeball to eyeball at a bunny that will now sit in a stop with it's back-end outwards braving all comers until you crown it with your spade and remove it.

4. If the Gamekeeper/Farmer/Landowner says you can take a gun to shoot vermin then you will never fire it, and if you don't take one - yes you've guessed it - there's more vermin about than rabbits.

Finally if anyone shows an interest in your ferrets, and providing they don't bite, let them stroke them, show them that a well cared ferret isn't vicious or smelly (just lightly pungent).

I have let many people stroke and handle Bubble and Squeak, which has changed several people's ideas of ferrets. If you get a youngster interested enough to ask to go ferreting please take them with you, at worst they'll get bored and annoy you but at best we may get another convert to a great field sport.

(First published in the April 1999 issue of the NFWS News)

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