Bolton Ferret Welfare

Diary of a Highland Lady - June/July 2005

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

You'd think my family would know better than to publicly advertise their odd behaviour. Yet this is the notice they pinned to the door when they had to be out for the mornning.


Well, in a small community like ours, it only took about half an hour before everyone knew that the goat, Alfred the Grate, was weaning himself on to solid food, edible or otherwise.

The postie, bless her, didn't bat an eyelid and dutifully left the post in the barn. After all, she used to deliver dead mice and voles (nicely wrapped in envelopes and paper bags) sent to us from various local people when we were teaching Wispa, the baby weasel, to eat real 'weasel food' in preperation for her release back into the wild.

Tennyson The problem was that no one warned her of the potential traumas awaiting anyone on their way to the barn. Tennyson the turkey is now in full Spring Turkey mode, gobbling, displaying and strutting about in fine macho style. He's not exactly aggressive but he has taken to leaping out from behind the barn to ambush anyone walking through the front yard. The element of surprise is clearly very effective as the only action anyone can take is to drop everything and make a dash for safety by hurdling the five bar gate. We assume that is why we have found post in all manner of strange places since the notice went up. Thankfully (for all) Alfred is now living outside with the sheep so entry to the croft is now fairly safe unless Tennyson revises his tactics and decides to ambush visitors from another vantage point!

Alfred Alfred was not too pleased about living outside at first but he soon made friends with the younger sheep and organises endless races and climbing competitions. He usually wins but when he doesn't he is definitely a sore loser and will butt the victor hard. You can tell who had the audacity to beat him by the colour of the wool stuck on Alfred's horns. He's in his element now the lambs have arrived as they make fine playmates. He has struck up an oddly close relationship with 'Camas', a very striking grey Shetland ram lamb. Together they plague the older sheep like a pair of teenage yobs. Recently, 'Alfred's Army' has been joined by another recruit - Douglas, son of Dolcie the former Lamb from Hell. Dolcie surprised us all (and quite probably herself) by quickly and easily delivering a strapping ram lamb who hit the ground bouncing and has never stopped since. Dolcie is quite a good mother in the feeding department but a bit of a Slack Alice where his behaviour's concerned. Word has it that the rest of the sheep have told the gang to 'flock off' or they will enlist the help of Sherman, the big ram, (no coincidence he's named after a tank) to help to restore tranquillity in the sheep fields. I wish them luck. I had to endure Dolcie growing up in the kitchen - there's not a chance of peace!

There's not much peace elsewhere either thanks to yet another new arrival. Ellie is another hen reprieved from a date with a jar of Chicken Tonight. Poor thing was very quiet and unstable when she first came, in fact she did not seem at all well. Still, I suppose you could say she had almost slipped into a korma so what could anyone expect? But after some treatment and lots of TLC she became a different hen altogether. She is the noisiest creature you can imagine. She clucks and cackles when she is thinking of laying an egg, then gets louder when she is actually laying one, and finally bursts in a major cacophony of grand operatic proportions when an egg does arrive. You'd think she'd laid a football by the amount of noise she makes. She's been christened the Bantam of the Opera by everyone within earshot.

Meanwhile, back indoors, there have been a number of other new arrivals. I can hardly bear to reveal this, but Dr June has a bit of a 'thing' about stick insects, she's even written a book about them. Anyway, several stick insects hatched from eggs and are now happily growing in a glass vivarium in the kitchen. Well, they are usually in there, we do occasionally find them climbing the wall or up the windows when she hasn't put the lid on properly. Don't ask me why she wants them. Where's the fun in stick insects? What can they do? Let's face it, after going through the 'Bet you can't see me - I'm a stick', and ' Bet you can't guess what I am - I'm a stick', their interest value wears a bit thin. You can't even name them because they all look alike. (She did try with Twiggy 1, Twiggy 2 etc with biggest being called Epping Forest, but it didn't work out). Anyway, I don't think ferrets have much to fear from stick insects in the desirable pet stakes, do you?

Having said that, at least stick insects don't misbehave and drive poor Dr Jeff crazy when Dr June is working away. I do try to keep the other ferrets, sheep, goat, turkey, and the Royal Scots Raccoon Guards in check, but it's exhausting work. One minute the turkey is chasing him round the kitchen, the next the goat has leapt the gate and is munching on the roses. Add to that the seasonal delights of sheep opting for a natural water birth and lying in the burn to have their lambs, and late frosts causing the dog to get his tongue stuck to the bird bath, and it's a wonder he copes and stays sane. Well, at least he copes.

I must just say a final word about Wispa, the baby weasel who was released back into the wild a year ago. She didn't go far, in fact she stayed close to the house and the barns until just a few weeks ago. Dr June, Dr Jeff and Best Friend Fran were going to say hello to our local otter on the lochside when Fran said 'Oh, a weasel!' and, sure enough, a little lady weasel was watching them from a patch of dry bracken. Then she came towards them. Dr Jeff made his special 'weasel call' (it's a bit like the noise of a rabbit being strangled by a sock suspender) and the weasel came even closer.

It was Wispa. She didn't want to come too close or to be touched, but for almost ten minutes she let everyone know she was safe, happy and well, before disappearing into a small hole under the rocks. I know they were all very touched by the meeting.

(From Ferrets First Issue no. 24 June/July 2005)

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