Oct 222009

Paul O’Mahony (@Omaniblog on Twitter) was asking for Ferret Photos, so here are a few from the archives of Frida & Frankie… my dynamic duo.

I realised whilst digging these out (and they’re not the best) that I have surprisingly few ferret photos in my library, and will have to remedy that over the coming weeks.

They’re lots of fun, quick on their feet, and full of mischief. They’d probably be great practice subjects for wildlife work.

Oct 032008

DNA Mollecule (Image via Wikipedia) There’s nothing worse than getting back into your car after going for a walk than finding that you or one of your passengers has trodden in dog poo.

The stench in an enclosed place is nauseating – and by the time you discover it the kids have invariably traipsed it all over the carpets, the seats, their clothes and everywhere else :-(.

Clean up after your dog

People should, of course, clean up after their dogs… but how many really do in Ireland?

Like most things here, the legislation is in place to prosecute dog owners who’s pets foul footpaths and public spaces… but the enforcement is woeful.

Is doggie DNA the answer?

In Isreael they’re taking the issue a bit more seriously… they’ve gone all CSI in the war against doggie doodoo! Seriously – DNA testing to match the poop to the canine in question and land the owner with a hefty municipal fine.

Now that’s what I call pro-active doggie detective work. So come on the Irish authorities… you’ve got some serious catching up to do when it comes to catching those canine culprits.

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….

Aug 262008
This photo was taken by my neighbours, Sue and...

Image via Wikipedia

Published in the WOW! supplement of the Evening Echo.

Forget your Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, your Andean chinchillas, your African pygmy hedgehogs and your North American chipmunks: apparently tiny Irish cattle are the latest en-vogue pet for forward-thinking families. Spurred on by high food prices and a growing desire to “get back to basics” on the nutrition front, people, it seems, are going gaga for miniature cows, and the most popular breed – the Dexter – hails from Ireland.

Pet cow with benefits

According to an article I read over the weekend, for anywhere between €250 and €2,500 (presumably depending on the pedigree) you can get yourself a mini food factory that stands no taller than a large dog, produces around 9 litres of milk every day, keeps your grass trimmed and will make a popular family pet for a few years before eventually filling your freezer with high-quality beef.

Families across the UK, it seems, are turning to Dexters, and launching themselves into very-small-scale farming. Registrations of the breed, which originated in the south of Ireland as the perfect “cottager’s” cow, have more than doubled since the millennium, according to the Dexter Cattle Society. But the traditional miniature breed isn’t having it all its own way; keen to jump on the miniature band wagon, people are busy creating miniature versions of other popular breeds, including the Mini-Hereford and Lowline-Angus.

A single Dexter cow will, in theory provide as much milk as a family can use, and a single calf each year that can then be grown on for meat. With concerns over the quality and health implications of intensively reared meats, and food prices heading skyward at an alarming rate, its easy to see why mini cows are catching on. I’ve no doubt the girls would love one, but I can think of a few downsides.

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May 012008

Shaun the sheep, RIP Published in the Evening Echo, 30/04/2008

When we first saw him standing in the boot of the VW Golf he was so tiny, helpless and utterly gorgeous that we fell in love with him instantly. You couldn’t help but want to take him home and mind him. So we did.

But wait… you need a bit of background. We’d arranged to meet friends in Kenmare. On the trip over the Cork Kerry mountains they came across a forlorn, abandoned little creature, bleating desperately on the windswept roadside. They looked for the newborn lamb’s mother, but she was nowhere to be seen, there was no farm in the immediate vicinity, and no way of identifying who owned him. Lost and abandoned he would surely die… they could either leave him to the crows and other scavengers, or step in and rescue him.

Perhaps the right choice would have been to leave him to his fate… but how many of us, faced with such a dilemma, could leave a helpless baby to die? I suspect not many. And so they brought him into Kenmare to meet us.

Now, this must be a fairly regular springtime occurrence in Kenmare… because they went into the local pharmacy (not the co-op or farm-supply shop… a regular pharmacy), and lo and behold, they stocked rubber lamb-teats and ewes milk replacement formula.

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