Sep 242008

Frida the baby ferret It was 4:30pm on a Friday afternoon. I was sitting in the office about to start writing this column when one of the twins burst in.

“Dad, can we take the ferrets for a walk?” she asked. I looked out of the window. For once the sun was shining. You’d be amazed at how quickly I can move when a viable opportunity to avoid work presents itself. I was out of the door in a flash, the laptop and the column forgotten.

We’ve had the ferrets for just over two years now… and they really are wonderful pets. They’re so much more fun than alternative small animal options: rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters.

Ferrets are naturally playful, inquisitive and affectionate. They ‘re predators… and like all predators (cats, dogs, lions, etc.) they get their energy in small, high-value doses. That means that, when they’re not sleeping (and they can sleep for up to 16 out of every 24 hours… which, I must admit, makes me a bit envious), they spend most of their time playing and exploring to hone their hunting skills. Compare that to a guinea pig, for example, which needs to spend every waking hour chewing frantically just to stay alive, and you’ll start to see what I mean.

A slightly more mature Frida exploring my desk And then there’s instinctive behaviour: when a herbivore hears a sudden noise it’s primary instinct is to flee, but a carnivore’s natural instinct is to investigate a potential meal. Both are thinking of lunch… it’s just that one is looking for its lunch while the other wants to avoid becoming lunch. So, guinea pigs, rabbits, et-al spend all their time running away, while ferrets tend to run towards strange sounds and actually engage in active play. When was the last time your guinea pig played chase with a feather on a string?

As for the supposedly vicious nature of these marvelous mustelids, I have to say it’s mostly a myth. Yes, they have the arsenal to inflict a nasty bite… but then so does your average dog, cat and even the aforementioned rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters if mistreated. Vicious ferrets are, by and large, mistreated ferrets, and as a general rule they won’t bite unless seriously provoked.

I went out to their large hutch/enclosure to fit their leads and harnesses (matching little red and black numbers) and after a bit of squirming, wriggling (the ferrets) and cursing (me) we were ready to go. Walking with ferrets is a slow process – especially when you’re heading down a country lane. They keep diving into the hedgerow investigating smells – mice, rabbits, rats, foxes, badgers and whatever else has crossed the path the night before. Their leads get tangled in the undergrowth and progress is… well, let’s call it gradual.

At this time of year that’s ideal, because ambling slowly along a hedgerow thick with brambles gives you ample opportunity to pick out the best of the blackberries. The crop this year is, admittedly, not spectacular – spoiled by rain and lack of sunshine – but there are enough around to make picking them worthwhile as you wait for a stray ferret to emerge from a hole in a drystone wall.

That night, as the bread machine beeped to tell me the jam was ready to pour into jars, I found myself smiling involuntarily. This is what country living is all about (strange looks from local farmers while walking the ferrets notwithstanding). There are a few things I miss about living in the city – largely involving more convenient access to products and services – but by and large the country wins hands down. At this stage I wouldn’t move back to the city for diamonds….

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  8 Responses to “Blackberries, ferrets and jam….”

  1. Hey i was just wondering if you were from Cork?
    And if you are where did you get your ferrets?
    I have been looking everywhere for them for more than a year!
    Please if you have any info on breeders forward them onto my email address
    or comment back on this page.
    Thanks a million!

  2. Hi Saul,

    Thanks for stopping by…. I’m down in West Cork, and got the ferrets from a friend who no longer breeds them. AFAIK the pet shop in Bantry sometimes has kits for sale… they have their own ferrets there, and also know a lot of local ferret owners.

    You’ll find their number on this post on the website.

  3. Im down West too.
    Your welcome, Thanks for all the info and stuff!
    Well I already have my name down on the list for the new kits they might be getting in before New Year.
    So fingers crossed there could be two new additions to the family in 2009. Are those pictures above of your own guys?
    Thank you so much Calvin!

  4. Hi Saul,

    Glad to help!

    Yes — the photos are of my ferrets — Frida and Frankie — two jills from the same litter we got as babies from a friend. The top pic is of Frida just after we got her — there aren’t many things cuter than a ferret kit, to be honest. The lower pic is one of them wreaking havoc in my office :-).

    Hope things work out for you.


  5. Thank you so much!
    Well they are really cute!

    I hope so too!! :)

    All the best


  6. “(strange looks from local farmers while walking the ferrets notwithstanding)” Hehehe… oh how well I know about that… :) Farmers or everyone else… Strange looks, sometimes even mean ones… and so many myths about these little amazing creatures! :) It makes me laugh (or want to cry for the animals sake) every time I hear them. Really nice article… and oooohhh… I can smell the grass and fresh berries..

  7. “Vicious ferrets are, by and large, mistreated ferrets, and as a general rule they won’t bite unless seriously provoked”

    I think it is incredibly irresponsible to tell people this. Ferrets bite. Alot. I’ve had ferrets and while some do not bite, the vast majority do. I have a scar on my bottom lip to prove it and I can tell you my ferret was never mistreated or seriously provoked – infact I try to avoid all physical punishments as a rule, instead, he spent alot of time with people (at least four hours a day), was actively played with and given attention to for that time, was never hit or yelled at, fed often and always watered and given treats on occaision and yet he bit both myself and my husband on the lips when given the slightest chance (infact, he leaped off something to be able to bite me on the lip, needed three stitches that day).

    I think it would be better to tell people the truth that ferrets do bite and that way, they will not get this poor creature home, wonder why it is biting them and conclude that they must have a rogue Ferret and get rid of it. Just like dog owners may have to accept dogs may dig in your garden, even if you want them to or not, ferrets will bite – not out of malice but play. This is part and parcel of owning a ferret.

  8. Hi starbug2,

    Thanks for the comment…. It’s true; ferrets experience the world through their mouths, and are insatiably curious. They will ALWAYS try and hold on to things the only way they can… with their teeth, but that’s not the same thing as biting. Nipping is an instinctive part of ferret play, and ferrets are incredibly playful.

    The problem is that ferret skin is much tougher than it’s human equivalent, so ferrets have to be taught to “play gently” with their human friends. This can be harder with males, which tend to play rougher by default, but patience and perseverance usually bears out.

    Leaping through the air to lacerate your lip is far from typical pet ferret behaviour, in my experience, and while the occasional light nip during play (as you’d have with a puppy or kitten) is indeed an intrinsic part of ferret ownership, full on biting for no apparent reason certainly is not!

    Of course ferrets, like any other active pet, are not suitable for everyone… and I’d never suggest anyone get a ferret without doing proper research and understanding that these are pets that put every much as much demand on your time as a cat or dog would. There’s a good summary here and on this Australian site here.

    I’m sorry you’ve had problems with your pet ferret biting… but have to disagree with your assertion that this is the norm. In my experience, and from reading around the web, it plainly isn’t.

    If you’re looking for a small, playful, interactive pet that’s bursting with personality, ferrets beat rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters et-al hands down!

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