'Working Ferrets' Heralding the New Season
JOHN BURGESS and MICHAEL SANDERSON share their thoughts, expertise and tips at the start of the new working season.
At last, after a long lazy summer, the new working season is almost upon us. As this year's new additions to the rabbit population reach their adult size, it's time for working ferret folk to dust the cobwebs from their ferreting equipment and prepare for those frosty days out. Correct preparations are vital for a successful season
Traditionally, the working season covered all the months with the letter 'R' in their name, in other words, September through to April. However, September can be too soon, depending on how warm the summer has been. Many nettles and brambles that can prevent the working of some sets are still thick and will not begin to die off until October. Some sets in the middle of grass fields, or in areas of light woodland, can be worked from around the end of September when young rabbits are big enough not to be easy prey for ferrets.
The most important preparation for the season is to learn and make notes of all the changes that have occured during the summer months to the land that you intend to work. Rabbit sets are probably the most dynamic features of the countryside, forever changing in size and shape. For those of you who work on light sandy land this is especially vital. Rabbits can burrow at an amazing rate through sandy soil and the changes that can be made in a small amount of time are amazing.
Also some sets that you worked last year may no longer be in use. Look for fresh droppings and recent diggings to determine whether or not a set is worthwhile. Some sets may be completely covered and it is worth sitting and watching where rabbits emerge.
'It is impossible to tell how a kit will react to a first
Once you have an idea about the sets you will want to ferret, all brambles and other obstructions must be removed from the site. The farmer may do this for you with tractors but if not, it's down to some good old fashion graft! A pair of secateurs and some loppers are extremely useful tools for this job. The clearance work is best done a couple of days before the ferreting trip to give the rabbits time to settle again and to adapt to the newly cleared site. While the rabbits are adapting, you have the choice to make some further preparations.
For many of you, the start of this year's season is the beginning of a new working career for this year's keen young kits. It is impossible to tell how a kit will react to a first rabbiting experience and, therefore, it is important tht you can keep track of his or her progress underground. A ferret locator and collar may not be necessary for veterans of the sport but they are vital for new starters. It is no good to simply take the locator from wherever it was stored at the end of last season and expect it to work. Provide a fresh supply of batteries because those used last season may have gone flat. Test the locator and collar around the house to make sure that it is performing satisfactorilly. I strongly recommend the working ferrets article by John Burgess (Ferrets First issue 6) to those unsure about routine locator maintenance.
'Purse nets have a terrible habit of becoming
Nets need a thorough examination before a day out. Purse nets have terrible habit of becoming tangled even if you think you've wrapped them up correctly. There is nothing worse than standing in the middle of a field on a freezing cold morning trying to negotiate with a tangled-up net! Nets made of thin nylon are probably the worst for wrapping round anything they come into contact with. Personally, I would choose nets of a thicker, harder wearing, material like hemp that does not tangle as easily. For those who make their own purse nets, acrylic cord is ideal, and is harder wearing than hemp. A tip is to sucure a wrapped-up purse net with an elastic band during transport to prevent it wrapping around other nets. Slip the rubber band on to your wrist when the net is in use.
'Always consider your ferret's safety and well-being
before attempting difficult sets'
I would recommend that you sand and varnish your ferret's carrying box. It must be completely waterproof to ensure that your ferret is always dry and comfortable during transit. It is almost guaranteed to rain on one of your days out and you do not want your ferret to be sitting the box soaking wet.
Preparing equipment is one thing but always remember that the most important thing to take care of is your ferret. Be absolutely sure that older ferrets are up to another working season and always consider your ferret's safety and well-being before attempting difficult sets.
A useful tool when ferreting is a good quality knife. This can be used to gut rabbits at the scene to minimise weight. Some people like to keep rabbits whole so that their ferrets can obtain the full goodness from them. This is fine and an excellent source of nutrition but be aware that it can often lead to your ferret contracting worms and so an appropriate remedy should be to hand. Wormers intended for cats usually work best, giving half the recommended dose for a small cat. The occasional flea or tick can be picked up when your ferret is working so some form of flea/tick spray is worth buying in advance of a ferreting trip. I use Frontline Spot-on for small cats. One drop between the shoulder blades before the season provides six weeks' protection.
Well, I hope this article has got you well in the mood and that you are about to check everything over right now! It is clear tht the new season is eagerly awaited and that excitement is brewing. All men whose wives are keen working ferreters will have to make their own Sunday dinner from now until the spring. Excuse the sexist remark but, come on, it's true!
Fellow ferreter Dave Owens is itching to get ferreting. "It's a real buzz getting ready for the start of the season and looking forward to seeing the ferrets working once more," he says.
Well, what more can I say other than please act responsibly to give us ferreters a good name and, of course, good luck.
I wish you many bulging bags of rabbits,
By mid October some of will have started ferreting. What preparations do we need to make beforehand?
For myself, the most important task is to servery all our permission, the objects being to assess the size of the rabbit population that might be offered and to look out for any new hazards, such as badgers setts, that may have been established since last year.
Also, nettles, thistles, weeds, grass etc. will still be growing strongly. These will have to be cut down just before we start so that hole entrances are not obscured.
All our equipment must be checked to make sure it is in good order.
Introduce kits that will be start working this season to wearing a locator collar.
Now, a word about clothing. All my ferreting gear is too shabby for general wear but it keeps me warm and dry, except in a torrential downpour, which I try to avoid if at all possible. However, wellies, need to be 100% watertight. Pockets need to be safe. Sometimes we are entrusted with keys to property and it would be embarrassing to lose them!
Make sure anti-tetanus injections are up to date, they last for ten years and it is so easy to overlook them but they are important, we will be working in soil and minor cuts and scratches are common. Also, check that any items that have been used out of the first aid kit have been replenished.
If you have changed your vehicle since last season, let landowners, farmers, gamekeepers etc. know. They are usually busy people and do not want to waste time investigating what a strange vehicle is doing on their land.
Well, having made your preparations, I hope you have a successful season, a lot of fun, not too much digging and profitable outlets for your catch.