I come off worst in a close encounter with a marauding predator

The nurse who gave me the tetanus jab was laughing so much that I feared she might be a little unsteady with the needle.

Ferret bites are not in themselves funny, but the events that led up to my having one had a certain grim entertainment value.

Last month I related the unhappy demise of Chuck, the Indian runner duck who’d been reared by one of our chickens and never left the flock. We found her dead under a bush, with no obvious signs of injury, bar an apparently broken neck.

In the week that followed there were a series of avian commotions from the garden, which weren’t unusual, but the frequency of them was. I’d investigate and find nothing out of the ordinary, so would return to my home office and hunch over my keyboard until the next bout of shrieking.

Then, at the end of the week, as I was feeding everybody, there was suddenly a great deal of chicken and duck agitation. I looked up to see a large, sleek ferret ambling across the grass. Realising that this could be our duck killer, but not entirely sure what to do next, I followed it into an enclosed area of the garden. I’d read up on stoats, weasels and mink, and knew that any one of them could bump off our chickens and ducks, and our flock was in serious trouble if this one hung around.

It had backed into a corner, apparently un-soothed by my attempts at friendly conversation, something it eventually demonstrated by sinking its needle teeth into one of my index fingers when it decided I needed encouragement to back off. This hurt a lot, and it’s possible the residents of both Kent and Sussex heard my screamed invective. Having decided that I’d got the message, the ferret let go and retreated to a corner where it crouched and waited to see what I’d do beyond bleed and curse.

What I did was to get the feed bin, in the forlorn hope that I might use it to catch the ferret. This was a stupid idea, which for some reason worked. The animal dashed towards me and I banged the dustbin over the top of it, found a flat, square piece of metal, slid this under the bin, inverted it with the ferret inside then rapidly substituted the proper lid, and having firmly secured it with elastic ties went into the house to bathe my throbbing finger with iodine.

By the time I was being jabbed at our village surgery, the bin and its duck-murdering occupant had been driven five miles to a remote wood where I released the ferret, but without the foresight of taking its picture first.

All this has rather eclipsed our other big news. The quartet of ducks hatched by Priscilla the chicken are now ten weeks old, huge, entirely independent, and have been abandoned by their surrogate mother. Previously the two hen-reared ducks we’ve bred have grown up with chicks, who mature more slowly, and their mothers have stuck with them until September, but this time Priscilla doesn’t feel the need to hang around.

Ironically, the night before she abandoned her hefty brood, I’d been struggling to put one of them to bed, picked it up, which resulted in loud complaining, causing Priscilla to shoot out and try savaging my hand. Twenty-four hours later and she is more or less blanking her former babies.

They seem unconcerned, full of beans and well adjusted, so her first go at motherhood has been a success, and once we’ve been able to determine their sex (fingers crossed, they all look like girls) will put them up for sale.


This article is from the October 2014 issue of Your Chickens magazine

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