Ferrets in the UK are mainly kept for hunting rabbits which do cause severe damage for farmers and crop growers and have to be controlled. However some of the methods used to achieve this leave much to be desired as they are sometimes gassed underground by the Ministry of Agriculture using cyanide. This is not always effective, can be dangerous to use and is quite indiscriminate in that other creatures sheltering in the warrens are also gassed.

Snaring is another very common method used but when you think about the anguish and suffering that might be caused, you realise it can inflict a slow lingering death, and I for one stopped using these a long time ago and now oppose their use.

One of John Allan's very docile (D) ark (E) yed (W) hite jill ferret.
She was born on 26th June 1996
Photograph by John Allan

The introduction by man of myxomatosis into the wild UK rabbit population in 1953 was another method tried but although it decimated the population, it inflicted an even slower and more painful looking death on the rabbit.
The use of ferrets to control rabbits in the following manner is one of the most humane and environmentally friendly methods that can be used.

When using ferrets the rabbit holes are covered with small purse nets fixed to the ground with a small wooden peg. They are so called because they act like a simple purse in that a nylon draw cord is fed around the outer edge of the net, passing through a metal ring fixed at each end, then both ends of the cord are tied to the peg. This has the effect of closing the net behind the rabbit.

The ferret is introduced into one of the holes and although a completely domesticated animal they have retained the instinct of their ancestor and will hunt through every nook and crannie within that warren, using their highly developed senses of hearing and scent to locate any rabbits present. Good eyesight is not required in this underground environment and albino ferrets are often used and even preferred by many who claim they are more easily spotted after emerging from underground and less likely to wander away.

The rabbit, with the ferret behind it, will bolt out of the nearest exit hole and be caught in the purse net. They are then despatched quickly by the ferret owner. Unlike shot rabbits these ones are ideal for the pot and are delicious done in a casserole with carrots and shallots, much more tasty that those bland large Dutch rabbits that are now being sold in supermarkets and even in some butchers shops.

Purse nets can be dispensed with and the rabbits despatched with a shotgun and this is sometimes the only way to clear some warrens that are overgrown with brambles and other dense undergrowth. These shot rabbits are not really suitable for eating as the lead shot often punctures the gut and bladder, contaminating the meat. However they are ideal for feeding to the ferrets after they have been paunched, with the stomach and gut removed. Some of the fur is also eaten with the meat, providing a good source of roughage and, like the ingestion of feathers when dead poultry or other birds are fed, is what the ferret's intestines are designed to cope with. The bones also keep their teeth in good condition and provide a valuable source of calcium.

Despite my mention elsewhere of the new proprietary complete ferret dry foods, this natural diet cannot be improved on. Nowhere will this be more obvious than when cleaning out the dung corner. The ferret stools on this diet are non sticky, thin and black and contain some fur and feather. While not going as far as to say they are a pleasure to clean out, they are when compared to the soft sticky mess that is produced by artificial foods.

Lurcher or other running type dogs are used by some to chase and catch the bolting rabbits but this practice looks likely to be outlawed in the UK under the proposed ban on hunting with dogs. A more recent development is the use of a bird of prey to chase and swoop on the bolting rabbits and looks like becoming even more popular, with large professional bodies now offering package type hunting weekends to interested parties.

Country sports and Country Life is indebted to John Allan for giving us permission to reproduce information, articles and photographs on Ferrets and Ferreting from his excellent web site.

Website: UK and Scottish Ferrets - Hunting Ferrets