Bolton Ferret Welfare

Diary of a Highland Lady - December/January 2003/4

Ivy on her tartan - 4Kb View from the ferret pens - 5Kb

Well, I've completed my first year as a Highland Lady and I can hardly believe it has flown by so fast. Yet, in other ways, so much has happened - interviews, filming, lectures, all sorts. Life hasn't slowed down at all, despite being so far from civilisation - if you think of the city as civilisation, that is. I can't say that the West End of London seemed very civilised. OK, the inside of the Royal Institution was very select and sedate, but outside - well, all the nightmares of Central London - noisy, smelly, crowded. Give me my new home any day. Besides, would you believe that Easy-jet doesn't serve Ferretone? That's lost them a customer, I can tell you, although I can't say I'd want to return to the noise and chaos of city life too often. Not that it's exactly quiet up here. We are in the middle of the rutting season and the red deer stags are roaring their heads off from dawn to dusk. It's a very odd sound - a bit like cows gargling with spaghetti. Occasionally there's a gunshot, too. I'm told it's the stalking parties on the hills but somehow it often coincides with a venison dinner for us all. I'm still working that one out.

And then Autumn brought back the wild geese, thousands of them honking away day and night as they flew across the mountains. It's all right for my Ladies Companion Robyn, she's as deaf as a post, but I didn't get a decent night's sleep for weeks while they were on the wing. Mind you, even Robyn can't ignore the bombers from Lossiemouth. Since they came back from the Gulf they've been acting like blooming joy-riders belting up and down the glens. Blow you out of your hammocks when they pass, I can tell you. It's given the Royal Scots Raccoon Guards some strange ideas, too. They've started sitting astride a branch in their tree making engine noises and hurling pine cones at unsuspecting passers-by. And I'm not at all sure what they are up to in the orchard - can you make Molotov Cocktails with rotten apples? Whatever they are doing, it is sure to destructive, messy, noisy and probably illegal.

And talking of noise, I can't say that Dr June and Dr Jeff are being very quiet either. They've taken to sitting the gate after dark and making odd 'Oooohs and Aaaahs!' like a pair of yokels. I couldn't work out what was happening each night until Robyn described what was going on. The Northern Lights have been spectacular over the last few weeks so they've been out enjoying the free show until it's too cold to sit on gates without getting their assets frozen.

Speaking of frozen, there's been early snow on the mountains so we are surrounded by white peaks already, and I can smell the snow in the air. Robyn says the 'Pudding' is white already. The 'Pudding' is actually Sail Mhor (pronounced Sal-vor) a strange mountain shaped like an upturned basin. Everyone calls it the Pudding. (Strictly speaking since the whole estate belongs to Sir Tim Rice, I guess it's a Rice Pudding). Before long the hours of daylight will be at their lowest and we will all settle down quietly for the winter and reflect on our first year here. Sadly, some old friends have gone but we have newcomers, too. One litter of kits that came in during the summer are staying permanently. They are an odd bunch of albinos and 'mis-marked' polecats but they are a delightful family, and frightfully well behaved for kits of this day and age. They will take on some of the PR work next summer so that the older ferrets get time off. Another newcomer is a baby weasel who was found abandoned and, through various rescue routes, ended up with Julie Stoodley at Sleaford Ferret Rescue. Julie, as always was very busy with a full load of ferrets, plus she was coping with a very sweet (but technically insane) stoat called Koko who was still adjusting to his new home with Julie after years of captivity in very confined quarters. It seemed a sensible solution for Julie and husband Ben to have a weekend off to visit us and leave the weasel with us. She's fully weaned now and has needle-sharp teeth which she practices with on Dr Jeff's fingers (the weasel, I mean, not Julie). He says her play-bites are worse than ferret kits' bites, and she's so fast that there's no avoiding her when she pounces! Still, play is important to all us mustelids and she would normally be learning the pounce and attack moves from her mum and sibs. I think it very kind of Dr Jeff to be a surrogate weasel to her - I'm just wondering if he's going to teach her to chew worms or how to take wing cases off beetles before eating them. It's an entertaining thought. He's called her Wisp or Wispa, which seems to suit her. At least Dr June was overruled on wanting to call her Wendy Weasel just because she wanted to paint 'Wendy's House' on the chalet-style birdbox she sleep in. Pathetic!

I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about getting more sheep - you understand my feelings towards sheep, thanks to Dolcie, the Lamb from Hell. However, some cantankerous Scottish Blackfaces arrived and one promptly brained the dog. Poor Troy, even though he's the size of a small donkey he is a shepherding breed and very gentle with sheep - after all he was the one who looked after the orphan lambs. Then WHAM! he gets a Glasgow kiss from one of the new flock. He hasn't been quite the same since. In fact he seems to have 'gone native' and dreamily wanders about with the flock and even eats sheep food at the troughs with them! All I can say is that it's a good job he didn't go that way when one of the ferrets bit him. He'd never have got himself down a rabbit hole!

We are planning a quiet family Christmas up here. You know, just we 45 ferrets, 22 sheep, the Royal Scots Raccoon Guards, the dog, the weasel, the polecat, Dr June and Dr Jeff and whatever other creatures happen to be here at the time. So long as I don't have to play Postman's Knock with any of them, I'm happy to welcome them in for Christmas.

(From Ferrets First Issue no. 15 December/January 2003/4)

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