VIII.–BREEDING AND TRAINING.
Ferrets are rather difficult animals to raise in numbers–it requires a
large amount of patience, great care, and scrupulous neatness, although
when full grown they are very hardy. The writer’s ferret breeding
grounds consist of special farms, on which are erected numbers of small
barn-like structures, each furnished inside with a dozen pens, and an
aisle running through the middle. Every pen is as large as a horse’s
stall, the boarding and other accessories are kept clean by vigorous
scrubbing, the sawdust on the floor is changed once a day, and the pens
and the ferrets are otherwise attended by experienced ferret men. Here
the ferrets are taught to do their work of killing and hunting by
practical experiment on live rats. Although it is in the nature of
ferrets to hunt and kill rats, the same as it is for a bird to fly, yet
we find a little extra course of training is necessary in both cases.
It will not do to hunt with ferrets until they are at least seven months
old. Ferrets breed but once a year, and have from four to nine at a
litter on the average–it is very rarely they have two litters a year.
They are trained to the whistle by feeding them every time this
instrument is used, so that after awhile they promptly respond. The
ferret is ruled through his stomach. The time of the ferret’s getting in
heat is in March, nine weeks after which they breed. The male invariably
takes hold of the female as if he were going to strangle her. The young
are born without hair, and must, therefore, be kept warm. They have
their eyes open in thirty days, and should be fed on as much milk as
they want.[A] The male should be removed from the female before the
littering, the symptoms of which are exactly like a cat or a dog, or
else he will destroy the entire brood. Care should be taken to have the
female well supplied with food during the period of copulation, or else
she may casually munch up the young herself, and the writer has lost
many a pretty litter by this little habit of the unnatural mother. As in
crops, there are years for raising ferrets which are more fortunate than
others, some seasons having a fatal effect on the young ones.
[A] They ought not to be handled before they are one month old.
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