Nervous Handler

by Max Abell

Well it's the 1st of March and we have had to pack up ferreting; we are picking up a lot of pregnant does, bolting tiny rabbits and the ferrets keep getting hung up taking the easy option of chasing the young ones. So it's time to hang up the nets until about the end of August when most of the breeding is coming to an end. If we leave re-starting any later and we get a mild winter, we will never get round all of our permissions before they start breeding again: the phrase 'breed like rabbits' is so very true.

Anyway, back to ferreting. We had quite a good season and kept our local butcher supplied with good wild organic rabbits; the butcher said he couldn't get enough of them with customers constantly asking him when he was getting more in. It seems people have started to realise that rabbit is a fat-free meat.

So not only did we do the sport we love doing and the ferrets do what comes naturally, we got paid one pound per rabbit. All-in-all we sold about four hundred and fifty rabbits which all helps towards petrol, veterinary bills and dried ferret food etc. We'll be back at our butchers in August to start all over again.

This season we had a new fellow called Paul ask if he could come with us as his grandad (with whom he used to ferret) had passed away. However, I could tell by the look on his face that he was very nervous with ferrets. On asking him why he replied “Myself and my Grandad only handled the ferrets with gloves on and one hob with a pair of washing tongs.” Well, I couldn't believe my ears and needless to say I had to change his mind very quickly if he was to come ferreting with us, as all our ferrets are as gentle as lambs. My grandchildren handle them all the time and my daughter has been hand feeding our ferrets with bits of meat, liver, etc. since she was four years old, so I knew they could be handled by anyone without fear of them biting. I was so sure that I made a bet with him. I got a whole rabbit out of the shed (gutted but still complete with head and fur) and told him to rub his hands up and down it a few times which, whilst looking somewhat confused, he obligingly did, even getting a bit of blood from the rabbit liver on his hands. I then took him over to the ferret court and told him that I was going to open the court door and that I wanted him to put his hands in amongst the ten ferrets and pick up two.

“You must be joking?” he said. “Not at all,” I replied. I put my car keys in his top pocket and said “If any of our ferrets so much as nip you, I will give you my car. What have you got to lose? One bite and you have a 2008 Ford Focus.”

“Are you mad?” he said. “No, I trust my ferrets completely,” I confidently replied.

I opened the ferret court door and he reluctantly put his hands in. Some of the jills sniffed him but they were more interested in climbing out than in his hands. “Wow,” he said (well, maybe not quite but I can't write exactly what he said) but to say he was relieved was an understatement. I was well chuffed with my jills and although very confident that they wouldn't bite, I was wondering how I was going to explain to the wife that I had just lost HER car! Paul now handles the ferrets without fear, gloves or washing tongs, but here again is another example of bad ferret-keeping. As the ferrets had not been handled regularly and gently they became nasty and through no fault of their own had to be put down when the old boy passed away. Any ferret keeper who knows their stuff will tell you that you can never handle ferrets too much: the more the better.

As always, many thanks to all who support the NFWS and the ferret rescue centres.

(First published in NFWS News - #90 May 2011)