Sensationalized videos claiming to show “animal abuse” are sadly a fact of life these days for animal agriculture, and they’re often… Read More
Sensationalized videos claiming to show “animal abuse” are sadly a fact of life these days for animal agriculture, and they’re often promoted (if not actually filmed) by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. One such video, dealing with wool production from Angora rabbits, premiered in 2013 and has gone unchallenged - until now. An Angora farmer in the US contacted us to raise some real concerns about this video, which we think are worth sharing.
Before dissecting the video, let's start with a backgrounder on Angora wool production.
There are two distinct types of Angora rabbit: those that moult, and those that don’t.
Those that moult have their wool plucked every three or four months, just before moulting begins. Plucking produces the best wool because most of the guard hairs are left behind, but it is time-consuming. Plucking leaves in place the incoming coat, although one breed, the French Angora, can be fed a depilatory which results in the exposure of bare skin. Here's a video showing how to pluck an Angora properly.
Angoras that don’t moult are sheared. Because the guard hairs are included, the wool is not such high quality, but collecting it is quicker and the yield is higher because wool can be sheared even from sensitive areas of the rabbit's body. Shearing is therefore more common in commercial operations. The most important commercial breed is the high-yielding and virtually mat-free German Angora. Ninety per cent of Angora wool production today is in China, and almost all Chinese farms raise German Angoras. Here's a video showing how to shear an Angora properly.
OK, it's time to watch the main attraction. If you find videos of animal cruelty hard to stomach, just give it a miss and take my word.
0:10 – 1:03: This rabbit is almost certainly a non-moulting German Angora, even though it looks very similar to a moulting French Angora. We can tell it's a non-moulting breed because its legs are tethered to what is called a stretching board. These are sometimes used, but not always, when rabbits are sheared.
PETA describes the stretching process as follows: "During the cutting process, their front and back legs are tightly tethered – a terrifying experience for any prey animal – and the sharp cutting tools inevitably wound them as they struggle desperately to escape." In reality, while rabbits being stretched for the first time might be nervous, they soon learn to relax. Stretching keeps the rabbit still and pulls the skin taut, thereby preventing nicks and cuts from the shears - the total opposite of what PETA claims. Here's an excellent video demonstrating how stretching is done.
Oh, but what's happening now? Having set the rabbit up for shearing, the man is plucking it right down to its skin! He is also applying far greater force than is ever needed to pluck a moulting breed. This is all wrong for two reasons. First, the rabbit is obviously in pain. Second, as US Angora farmer and advisor on this blog post Dawn Panda says, this could be called "worst business practice". "We see the wool being yanked off, guard hairs included, in a manner that will ruin the coat for several cycles," says Dawn. "It will damage the hair follicles and greatly reduce the quality and value of future harvests as new coats will grow in coarser and hairier. No one trying to make money would do that."
This raises a disturbing question. Are we seeing a non-moulting German Angora being forcibly, and very roughly, plucked just for the camera?
1:04 - 1:17: Here a rabbit is being sheared, so we don't see any pink skin. It appears calm. At this point in the video, it is not clear whether this footage and the footage of a rabbit being violently plucked were shot on the same farm. We'll come back to this because, if all the footage is from one farm, the question is raised why one rabbit would be plucked and one sheared.
1:18-1:22: Here a rabbit that has just been sheared is shown suspended in the air by its front legs. This makes no sense, Dawn assures us. There is no part of Angora husbandry in which a rabbit would ever find itself in this situation. It can't even be claimed the rabbit fell off its stretching board because it's far too high. Once again, we can’t help but wonder if this bizarre scene was staged for the camera.
1:36-2:02: Here we see a parade of seven rabbits in their cages. Of these, the first three still have hair on their torsos and have been sheared. The next three have been plucked right down to their skin. The last rabbit cannot be seen clearly.
This scene suggests that the violent plucking at the beginning of the video and the shearing that followed took place on the same farm. And since commercial farmers generally don't have mixed herds of moulting and non-moulting rabbits, we can also suppose that all the rabbits shown are non-moulting German Angoras. The burning question is now unavoidable: Was the violent plucking of a non-moulting rabbit in the opening sequence staged for the camera? It would not be normal practice on a commercial Angora farm, insists Dawn.
"If animal lovers would use their heads, they wouldn’t be taken in by sensationalist publicity stunts," she says. "However, the addition of poignant music seems to ensure that one’s heart is going to overrule one’s head and voila! Misinformation is spread exponentially, the lie repeated until it’s accepted as fact. There are a number of excellent teaching videos on plucking and/or shearing Angora rabbits on YouTube; the lack of screaming, struggling or any pain is the norm, not the exception. This PETA video certainly does not reflect the reality of Angora farming as I know it!"
If PETA's Angora rabbit video was indeed staged to misrepresent normal practice, we should not be surprised. This ignominious tactic by animal activists traces its roots all the way back to 1964, when the urban myth about seals being "skinned alive" began with a film that was later proven to have been staged.
While people have a right to believe that humans should not kill or use animals in any way, they lose all credibility when they manipulate images to attack the reputations of those they disagree with.
COOL FACT #1: Fur may have saved the human race New research suggests humans (Homo sapiens) survived the last Ice… Read More
COOL FACT #1: Fur may have saved the human race
New research suggests humans (Homo sapiens) survived the last Ice Age and Neanderthals didn’t because humans were serious about fur clothing. Animal remains around Neanderthal sites lack evidence of furbearers, while human sites have fox, rabbit, mink and notably wolverine - the same fur still preferred today by Canadian First Nations for hood liners.
COOL FACT #2: Everyone's heard of the California Gold Rush, but how about the California Fur Rush?
In the early 19th century, trappers came from far and wide to the US west coast to harvest huge populations of furbearers. It was these trappers, not the gold prospectors who followed, who opened up the west and put San Francisco Bay on the trade map. But no one remembers because no one named a football team after them. Go 49ers!
COOL FACT # 3: Beaver butts are used in food flavouring
Next time you see the words "natural flavouring" on a food package, it might be referring to Castoreum, secreted from the castor sacs of beavers located between the tail and the anus. Usually it's used to simulate vanilla, but it can also pass as raspberry or strawberry.
COOL FACT #4: The fur trade determined much of the Canada-US border
The search for fur drove Europe's exploration and settlement of North America, and many of today's towns and cities began as fur-trading posts. In fact, much of the border between Canada and the US traces the territories once controlled by Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company and the Montreal-based North West Company.
COOL FACT #5: Mink farming plays a key role in our food chain
Have you ever wondered where all the animal leftovers from human food production go? Fish heads, chicken feet, expired eggs, spoiled cheeses? If you live in fur-farming country, chances are they go to make nutritious mink food. And the mink manure, soiled straw bedding and carcasses are composted to produce organic fertiliser to enrich the soil, completing the nutrient cycle to produce more food.
COOL FACT #6: Mink wastes provide biofuel
In Nova Scotia, Canada, pilot projects are transforming mink wastes into methane for bio-energy production. In Aarhus, Denmark – the country that produces the largest number of farmed mink – the public transit buses already run on mink oil.
Crabs will eat just about any seafood you offer them, but so will seals and sea lions, and they'll trash your crab pots to get at it. Enter mink bait! Crabs find their food by smell, and apparently the smellier the better because they love mink musk. But seals and sea lions can't stand it and will give your pots a wide berth!
COOL FACT #8: Canada's beaver population has never been bigger
The national animal of Canada has been prized for its luxuriant fur for hundreds of years, yet wildlife biologists believe there are as many today as there were before Europeans arrived. They also believe coyotes, foxes and raccoons are more populous now than ever. Truly modern trapping, regulated to allow only the removal of nature's surplus, is a perfect example of the sustainable use of renewable natural resources!
COOL FACT #9: Farmed mink enjoy company so farmers house them in pairs
After being weaned from their mothers, farmed mink are often raised in pairs, preferably a brother and sister, and sometimes even threes. Farmers have learned that keeping siblings together results in calmer and healthier mink.
COOL FACT #10: Fur garments are very labour-intensive
BONUS FACT: Animal activists have no sense of proportion
Each year, North Americans use about 7 million animals for fur. That's one sixteenth of one percent of the 12 billion animals they use for food. Yet animal activists focus more attention on the fur trade than on all other livestock industries combined. Go figure!
For 70 years, American mink has been the world’s favourite fur, but why? Ask a dozen people and you’ll get… Read More
For 70 years, American mink has been the world’s favourite fur, but why? Ask a dozen people and you’ll get a dozen different answers. The conundrum is that, of all the measures used for a fur's desirability, mink only ranks top in one - and that is one consumers don't even care about!
But first, a clarification: this is not a plug for mink produced in America. American mink refers to a member of the mustelid family, Neovison vison, which is, indeed, indigenous to North America, but is now bred on farms from Europe to China. The European mink (Mustela lutreola) is not used by the fur trade.
So if you’re ever asked why mink is so popular, take a deep breath, and explain there's no single answer. Here are no fewer than nine to get you started:
1) Mink Guard Hairs Are Fashionably Short
A fur's guard hairs are the ones that give it its shine and colour. Their length is also important because short-haired furs like mink are in fashion, while long-haired furs are mostly seen in trim these days. Given the famously fickle nature of fashion, that may not sound like much to pin mink's reputation on, but short-haired furs have been in fashion for 70 years!
It's not always been that way though. Back in the 1930s, fur's Golden Age, the scene was very different. Long-haired furs were the rage and fox was king, followed by skunk and muskrat.
Short-haired furs were never out of the picture; sable and ermine, in particular, have always been highly desired. But supplies of these wild furs were limited (sable farming had not yet begun), and mink farms were producing nothing like the quantity or quality they do today.
Then, with the end of World War II, mink rose suddenly to replace fox as a lady's favourite. Some say it was because more women were now in the work force and could buy their own furs, and what they chose did not make them look like trophies for rich male benefactors. Who knows? But the love affair between women and mink has been strong ever since.
2) Mink Fur Is Very Soft
If you like your furs as soft as a cloud, mink will satisfy you as long as you don't experience sea otter. But since, for conservation reasons, sea otter is now only available through a highly controlled cottage industry in Alaska, consider lowering your standards just a little!
A fur’s softness reflects the density of its hairs, and sea otter takes the prize with a staggering 400,000 per cm2 on its sides and rump. Far behind in second place is chinchilla with about 50,000 per cm2, although a "show" chin may have up to 100,000.
All of which makes mink sound like a scouring pad. The densest mink is the dressed pelt of a farmed animal, not wild, but even so we're talking just 24,000 hairs per cm2, or 16 times less dense than sea otter.
But perspective is everything here. Mink is still one of the densest, and softest, furs around. By comparison, the hair on your head (unless you're bald) is 190 hairs per cm2 tops, and probably half that!
If you’re planning an ice-fishing trip in Nunavut, mink should not be your first choice for keeping warm. Try dressing from head to toe in caribou, and remember to undress when you get home or you'll overheat! The air-filled hairs of caribou are the secret here.
But remember, caribou fur is incredibly bulky, it sheds like crazy, and you definitely cannot buy this stuff off the peg.
If the toughest challenge you face is a chilly evening stroll in Southern California, or even a freezing day in New York, mink fits the bill just fine.
Durability is rarely the top consideration in choosing a fur garment, otherwise we’d all be wearing wolverine or bear (usually used for rugs) and looking like Mountain Men. On the other hand, we don’t want furs that shed their hair or tear if we shout at them, like rabbit or moleskin.
Among furs generally used for garments, sea otter and otter have been ranked the most durable, at 100. Beaver comes third at 90, followed by seal at 75. Skunk and mink tie for fifth at 70, the highest-ranking mustelids. Other mustelids include the European pine marten (65), sable (60), stone marten (40), and ermine (25).
Fox comes in at a modest 40, and the less said about moleskin (7) and rabbit (5), the better!
So mink is not the most durable fur, but it is surprisingly tough for something so beautiful and soft!
5) Sheared Mink Is Cheaper and Lighter than Beaver
Shearing fur reduces the length of the hair to give a short, even pile, and a lighter, more supple material, almost like a textile. It's not a new treatment, but it's more popular now than ever, and the most common sheared fur today (not counting shearling) is mink. But does mink make the best sheared fur?
For knowledgable fur lovers, no sheared fur beats the plushness of North American beaver. As a semi-aquatic animal, it has thick, dense underfur. This is normally sheared to 15 mm length, and with great skill can be taken as low as 6 mm. But it also has long, coarse guard hairs, which should be plucked before shearing, or the result feels like a scrubbing brush. Unfortunately this has been sheared beaver's downfall; plucking is a skilled process and also a Canadian speciality, and that means expensive labour.
The death knell for sheared beaver sounded in the early 1990s when Hong Kong manufacturers saw a whole new opportunity in shearing mink. As semi-aquatic mammals like beaver, mink were well suited with their dense underfur. Also, European mink pelts were then available very cheap. Plus there were other business advantages.
First, mink guard hairs are silky smooth, so don't need to be plucked before shearing. That was a big cost saving over beaver right there, plus it meant all processes, from tanning to shearing to dying, could be done in China, which meant lower labour costs.
Second, sheared mink is much lighter than beaver. Light is good in fashion, even if it means weaker leather, and Hong Kong took it to new levels, producing mink with a chiffon-like bounce.
Third, unlike beaver, mink pelts were available to manufacturers in huge quantities (see 9). Why should the industry promote a few hundred thousand shearing beavers when mink pelts could be had in the millions?
And fourth, mink was already the world's favourite fur, so sheared mink sold itself. No special marketing required!
6) Mink Are Suited to Farming
Most fur garments today use farmed pelts, most of these are mink, and of all furbearers currently being farmed, none is easier than mink. But it's definitely not the easiest!
For the easy life, farm striped skunk. Eighty years ago, at the height of skunk fur's popularity, neophyte farmers often learned with skunk before graduating to the more valuable, trickier fox. Skunk thrive in large, open pens (they are sociable and hate climbing), eat table scraps, and come running at feeding time! They also showminimal or no delayed implantation (see below). The only hard part - impossible, actually - is making a profit, which is why no one farms skunk anymore.
Mink, by contrast, need isolating in covered pens (they fight and climb) inside housing specially designed for ventilation, lighting, feed and water delivery, and ease of cleaning; a carefully balanced diet; and hands-on care by the farmer and his vet at all stages of their life cycle.
Still, farming mink, and specifically breeding mink, is so much easier than other mustelids.
The key is the little-understood characteristic of mustelids called delayed implantation. After the female is impregnated, the embryos do not immediately implant into the uterus and begin developing, but instead enter a state of dormancy. Depending on the species and, perhaps, the temperature, this delay can last from just a few days to more than 10 months. The gestation period of fisher can last a full year, and American marten - which many farmers once tried to raise - are close behind.
Mink, by contrast, delay implantation for six weeks tops, but if breeding is timed to coincide with warmer weather, this may fall to about 10 days. With skill and luck, a farmer can see his new litters after just 39 days, and since his biggest expense is feed, every day counts.
And that's why almost all mustelid farmers now choose mink. The only exception are a few die-hards who stick with sable. Yet even in Russia, where the finest sable pelts are produced, only a handful of farms survived the end of subsidies under the Soviet Union. Sable have a gestation period of up to 300 days, and to make matters worse, females reach sexual maturity at age two to three. Mink are already there at one. That's a lot of extra feed!
All livestock farming is fraught with uncertainty (unless you're subsidised by government), and mink farming is no exception. But of all the different types of fur farming that have been tried, none offers the relative security of mink. It's been in demand for 70 years. If you produce it, someone will buy it.
For sure, there are ups and downs. North America's crop of pelts in 2011 sold for an average of $94.30, a record high, but in 2014 made just $57.70. But prices very rarely go below production costs, or stay there long. After World War II, skunk and fox prices fell so hard, the skunk sector was wiped out and fox farming in North America barely survived.
Still, you can't just buy a couple of mink breeders and start turning a profit. Modern mink farms are big, and economies of scale are key to their success - a far cry from most of their 150-year history. In 1969, when the US Department of Agriculture began compiling figures, there were 2,635 mink farms in the US, small family businesses producing an average of 2,000 pelts each a year. Today there are just 275 farms, according to Fur Commission USA, and while most are still family-run, pelt production averaged 13,672 in 2014. Capital investment has grown also, of course.
So to say there's money in mink farming is simplistic. If you have the expertise, reliable feed suppliers, a vet who knows mink, and a huge chunk of start-up capital, there's money in mink!
8) A Rainbow of Colours
Some furbearers come in a variety of colours in the wild depending on season, region, subspecies, or genetic mutations (much like human blondes and red-heads), and none shows more variation than fox. Wild mink, meanwhile, vary much less, ranging from tawny brown to very deep brown.
On the farm, though, everything changes. Selective breeding over many generations has resulted in farmed mink in a wide range of colours, or "phases", never seen in nature. In terms of variety, only the dramatic range of farmed fox colours outdoes mink.
This is an enormous boon for designers and consumers alike. Browns the same as, or resembling, wild mink, such as "demi-buff" or "mahogany", are huge sellers, but you can also choose from white to black, and a host of phases in between like "pearl", "sapphire", "palomino" and "violet". The choices just keep on growing.
9) Mink Supply Is Reliable and Flexible
And finally, the one class in which American mink comes top: reliability and flexibility of supply. Designers, manufacturers and retailers base their collections on materials they know will be available, and in the fur trade that means mink. Ironically, the consumers who drive the fur trade have no interest in this key aspect behind mink's continuing success, but that's not unusual. We are all consumers, and we are all prone to buying what is available, or, in other words, what we're told to buy!
A recent major North American auction exemplified mink's extraordinary dominance. Pelts of several wild mustelids were on offer: 42,000 ermine, 30,000 marten, 25,000 mink, 5,500 fisher and 4,500 otter. By contrast, no fewer than 4 million farmed mink were offered.
American mink is locked in a self-perpetuating cycle of success. All of its other merits created demand, which in turn stimulated supply, and now the entire industry is invested in creating more demand. It's not the softest, it's not the easiest to farm, it's not the most durable, and it's not the warmest. But it ranks high in every class, which is why people want it, and the industry wants you to want it - and no other fur can compete with that!
Fur Futures is an initiative of the International Fur Federation to provide financial and professional support for the fur trade’s next… Read More
Fur Futures is an initiative of the International Fur Federation to provide financial and professional support for the fur trade’s next generation. The inaugural program was held by IFF-Americas in Toronto April 6-7 to coincide with a sale at North American Fur Auctions. Seven young professionals and one student, Jacob Shanbrom, attended educational activities covering multiple aspects of the trade, including a visit to a mink farm, and seminars on mink-grading and wild fur.
One of my earliest memories is falling asleep in the back of my mother's SUV covered by her fur-trimmed parka. Since then I have always had an affinity for fur because, to me, fur represents not only luxury and elegance as perpetuated by both of my late grandmothers, but above all, comfort and safety, as a direct reference to my mom.
I bought my first piece of fur when I was 14, a black Mongolian lamb fur collar. I was absolutely hooked and spent my high school years hoarding vintage furs and going on the occasional modern fur splurge. To me, there is really no feeling like wearing a piece of fur. No other material makes me feel so safe and warm, but expensive and luxurious at the same time. I also love that items of fur clothing are often the ones that last the longest and are handed down through generations.
As a student at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I've had experiences I never dreamed I'd have, particularly all of the specialized classes I've had the privilege of taking, such as corsetry, shoemaking, and fur design. In my senior year, I have been extremely interested in material discovery, such as python, crocodile, leather, and my favorite, fur.
I have really enjoyed learning about all of the hard sewing and detail work that goes into building a fur coat. I have always been drawn to fur and fur work by the plethora of Old World techniques, like hand stitching, pick-stitching organza back in, and twill tape, tailoring, and letting out. As a shoemaker as well as a fur designer, all Old World techniques really excite me and fur is most definitely included.
I was thrilled at the beginning of my last semester to get a call that a spot was available on the "Fur Futures" trip happening in Toronto in the spring. I immediately said yes, and before I knew it, I had landed in Toronto airport and was on my way.
The opportunity to participate in Fur Futures has truly changed my life's direction. It gave me the chance to travel with seven other creative individuals all involved in the fur industry, including designers, farmers, tanners, retailers, and manufacturers. I was truly thrilled with the level of conversation fostered by such an extremely diverse group. As the only student participating, my colleagues gave me invaluable advice like not pursuing a typical fashion job but instead focusing on a specialised area like accessories, shoes or fur.
Fur Futures has also changed my outlook on the fur industry. We visited a mink farm outside Toronto to view in person the extremely high standards enforced in North America. I was thrilled to see just how healthy the animals were, and to meet the farmers and discover that most fur farms are family-run businesses, often many generations old. I was even more thrilled to learn how green fur farming is. I had always thought that with mink, just the fur was used and nothing else. Now I understand that every part of the animal is put to use, from fur to manure, being that the animal is fed such a healthy diet. Nothing goes to waste. I now feel confident standing behind fur and speaking with authority to those who may not be so supportive of fur.
We also attended a sale at North American Fur Auctions (NAFA), one of the largest in North America. Meeting with the graders from NAFA was a mind-blowing experience. I am so used to walking into a fur store or furrier and trusting that I am purchasing the highest quality; I had no idea that there are dozens of different levels of quality, especially in the case of mink. Being that fur can be controversial, I am thrilled to learn anything I can about the animals themselves, as well as any other information I can soak up.
This trip has meant a great deal to me. Being a part of Fur Futures has given me not only an opportunity to expand my knowledge, but also to broaden my network with so many new connections with wonderful people. As a designer using a sometimes-controversial material such as fur, I believe it is imperative that I understand where it comes from as well as the ethics.
After my experiences with Fur Futures, I stand proudly behind my work, knowing that fur is ethical as well as a natural product that has been around since the beginning of time. I fully intend to continue using fur and hope that other designers using fur will be able to have the opportunity to gain a better understanding of where it comes from.
I personally own fur pieces from 60 to 70 years ago, and can only hope that my own fur designs will withstand the test of time. Although fur may not be everyone's cup of tea, the choice belongs to the wearer and no one else.
One of the most insulting and insidious lies spread by animal activists is that animals are “skinned alive” for their… Read More
One of the most insulting and insidious lies spread by animal activists is that animals are “skinned alive” for their fur. The origins of this vicious lie go back fully 50 years, to the first seal-hunt protests, and those charges were soon proved to be false, as we will explain soon.
Ten years ago, the old myth was revived – this time about Asiatic raccoons. Since then, activists have become more and more extravagant, claiming (and, no doubt, believing) that rabbits, mink and other species are also treated cruelly, including being skinned alive.
One of the main goals of Truth About Fur is to debunk falsehoods about the fur industry, so let's make something perfectly clear: Animals are NOT skinned alive for their fur. Period.
Here are some of the reasons why it is absolutely ridiculous to even suggest it.
1. It would be completely inhumane
Contrary to what activists would have us believe, most farmers take great pride in what they do; they take good care of their animals and treat them with respect. After all, their livelihoods depend on these animals, and the only way to produce the high quality of mink and fox for which North America is known is by providing them with excellent nutrition and care. When you work hard to care for animals – seven days a week, 52 weeks a year – you certainly don’t want to see them suffer.
It is therefore completely ignorant (and insulting) to claim that farmers would treat their animals with cruelty. They certainly would never skin an animal alive!
If respect for the animals and normal compassion were not enough to ensure that animals are not skinned alive, the farmer's self-interest would be. A live and conscious animal will move, putting the farmer at risk of being bitten or scratched or cut with his own knife – creating a real risk of infection or disease transmission.
Why would anyone expose themselves to such risks by skinning a live animal? The answer, of course, is that they don't!
3. It would take longer and be less efficient
We've already explained the dangers of skinning a live animal – only common sense when you think about it – but let's also take a moment to consider how difficult it would be.
Farming is a business and, like in most businesses, it is important to be efficient. Clearly it must be faster to skin an animal after it's been euthanized. It is also important to understand that the skinning of a mink or other fur animal must be done very carefully, to avoid nicks and other damage that would lower the value of the fur.
So, again, why would anyone skin a live animal? Quite apart from the cruelty, it would make no business sense whatsoever.
4. It would spoil the fur
While activists like to accuse farmers of being greedy ("killing animals for profit!"), they don't seem to understand that skinning animals alive would work against the farmer's financial interest.
Today’s international markets are very competitive. The amount you earn for your fur is determined by a number of factors including pelt size, fur quality, colour ... and damage. But the heart of a live animal would be beating and pumping blood; attempting to skin a live animal would therefore unnecessarily stain the fur. Yet another reason why animals are not skinned alive.
5. It's illegal
In North America, Europe, and most other regions it is illegal to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal. Skinning an animal alive is therefore not only inhumane and immoral – it's clearly illegal. Yet another reason why animals are not skinned alive.
But what about that video?
Activists frequently cite a horrific video taken in a village somewhere in China as "proof" that animals are skinned alive in the fur industry. When this video was first shown, in 2005, fur industry officials contacted the European animal-protection group that released it. They asked for a complete, uncut version of the video, as well as for information about when and where it was filmed, so a proper investigation could be conducted.
Unfortunately, the activists refused to provide this information. Strange.
If animal welfare was really their goal, wouldn’t you think they would want a full investigation? And if this was really common practice, why has there never been another video showing this type of cruelty? (Even PETA now concedes skinning alive is not common practice, but still insists it happens on fur farms because workers are rushed. In fact, euthanized mink and other farmed fur animals are usually laid out on the wire tops of their pens to cool thoroughly before pelting; otherwise the fur can be damaged or fall out after tanning.)
Combined with the facts outlined above, the only reasonable conclusion is that the cruel actions shown in this video were staged for the camera. That would be a sick thing to do, but it wouldn’t be the first time.
The film that launched the first anti-seal hunt campaigns, in 1964, showed a live seal being poked with a knife – “skinned alive”, the activists cried! But a few years later the hunter, Gustave Poirier, testified under oath to a Canadian Parliamentary committee of enquiry that he had been paid by the film-makers to poke at the live seal, something he said he would otherwise never have done. [For more on this, see Alan Herscovici's book, Second Nature: The Animal-Rights Controversy (CBC 1985; General Publishing, 1991), pg 76.]
The moral of the story? No matter how you look at it, even from the perspective of self-interest and "greed", it is ridiculous to claim that animals are skinned alive. Now you know. And so do our activist friends who monitor these pages.
Have you ever visited a mink farm? Would you like to know more about how farmed mink are raised and… Read More
Have you ever visited a mink farm? Would you like to know more about how farmed mink are raised and cared for? Senior Truth About Fur writer Alan Herscovici asked “Les”, a third-generation Nova Scotia mink farmer, to give us a personal tour and explain the work he does during a typical year.
In Part 1: Breeding, Les explained how the mink production cycle begins early each spring. In Part 2: Whelping and Weaning, we got an insider’s view of life on the farm through one of the busiest periods, from April to June. In Part 3: Growing Up, we saw how the mink kits are vaccinated and separated into smaller groups as they grow. This time, we learn about some of the final steps in producing the high-quality mink for which Canada is known around the world.
Truth About Fur (TaF): When we last spoke, the intense work of vaccinating and separating the young kits into pairs had been completed and life on the farm was somewhat quieter as the mink grew through the summer months. What happens next?
“Les” (Nova Scotia mink farmer): As the days become shorter and the weather gets cooler in the Fall, the mink are about full grown and start putting on their winter fur. By early November we are deciding which females to keep for breeding the following Spring.
The first step is to do some blood tests. We clip the tip of a toe nail to take a few drops of blood from each mink. This is placed into a small glass tube and spun in a special centrifuge to separate the blood components.
We then extract some of the clear whitish plasma and add a drop of iodine. If rust-colored clumps appear after adding the iodine, we know that some sort of disease or infection may be present. These mink will not be kept for breeding; the data cards on their cages are marked for pelting.
TaF: So are you choosing the healthiest mink for reproduction?
Les: That’s just the first step. Then we start the most important selection, hand-grading the mink for fur quality. We are looking for a number of crucial factors, especially the velvety short-nap fur that North America is famous for. But we are also checking for the softness of the fur and consistency of colour. If there are white hairs among the brown or black fur, for example, you want to eliminate that as much as possible from your herd. This hand-grading and selection is vital. It is what determines your fur quality for years to come.
TaF: So you are selecting for health and fur quality.
Les: Yes, but we also take into account the litter size females produced, and how well they cared for their young, as well as how calm and easy to handle they are. These are all factors in deciding which females we keep for breeding the following season. And each farmer makes these decisions somewhat differently, depending on how you are trying to develop your bloodlines and fur quality for the future.
TaF: So you have balanced all these factors and decided which mink to keep for breeding. Then what?
Les: By December the mink are fully furred - we say the fur is “prime” - and it is time to euthanize the mink we will be pelting.
We wheel a special, air-tight box into the barn; it is filled with the proper concentration of bottled carbon monoxide gas. The mink are not stressed because normally it’s the feeding cart we bring through the barns.
One by one, we open the cages and place the mink into the gas-filled box. They turn around a few times, lie down peacefully, and in a few moments they are dead. Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that acts very quickly and humanely.
TaF: And then you pelt them?
Les: Not right away. First we place them on top of the cages or onto a wire shelf, to cool thoroughly. That’s very important because the fur can be damaged if it rests too long against a solid surface while the mink are still warm. We usually send them to the pelting facility the following day.
TaF: So what do you say to activist claims that mink are skinned while they are still alive?
Les: That’s complete nonsense, like so much that the activists say about us. It’s very frustrating, for sure: we work so hard all through the year to produce the best quality mink we can raise. It’s insulting and ignorant for activists to claim that we would mistreat these animals. We are proud of how we care for our mink. Our livelihoods depend on them!
TaF: What happens at the pelting facility?
Les: The mink are pelted by experts who have the experience to do this perfectly, without damaging the fur. The fur pelt is then cleaned and put onto a special stretching form to dry slowly in the proper size and shape. This has to be done at the right temperature and humidity. The fur will then be sent to the auction facility to be graded and prepared in lots for the next auction sale.
TaF: Is only the fur used? What happens to the rest of the mink?
Les: The fat from the mink is collected to make mink oil, which is used to waterproof and protect leather, or as a fine lubricant. The carcasses and manure are usually composted to make organic fertilizers. Here in Nova Scotia we also have a pilot facility to make methane from the manure to produce electricity. In Denmark they are already producing biofuels with mink carcasses.
TaF: So let me understand this: your mink were first fed by-products from our food supply – the parts of fish, poultry and meat animals that we humans don’t eat – and then, in addition to producing beautiful fur, their manure, soiled bedding straw and carcasses produce organic fertilizers to replenish the soil?
Les: That’s right, mink help to complete the agricultural nutrient cycle, while producing one of the most beautiful, long-lasting and ultimately biodegradable clothing materials in the world!
It’s durable, warm, glamorous and striking. And it comes from an animal that is abundant in the wild, easy to… Read More
It’s durable, warm, glamorous and striking. And it comes from an animal that is abundant in the wild, easy to trap, and easy to farm. In short, all the right boxes are checked for a great fur. It was also once the height of fashion. Yet today it's rarely seen in stores, and a pelt sells for the price of a coffee.
This is the conundrum that is skunk fur. Are the fur trade and consumers turning their noses up for no good reason?
Tale of the Tape
Let’s start with the end product.
Skunk fur is durable - less durable than beaver, but ahead of the pack and on a par with mink.
Skunk fur is warm. It's no caribou, but unless you live in the Arctic, it'll work fine.
Skunk fur is glamorous and striking. The guard hairs are long (1-2") with a glossy lustre, and are held erect by thick underfur. And the colouration is unmistakeable: deep brown or black, usually with white striping and cream patterns.
The most prized pelts have solid black backs with a blue sheen, and come from colder regions where pelts are thicker, hairs are finer, and the black is blackest. (No fur is blacker than northern skunk.) If there is one white stripe, and it's long and wide (hooded skunk), this may be retained in a garment, while pelts with two stripes (striped skunk) are normally dyed a uniform black.
So what’s the downside? Not much.
The guard hairs are slightly coarser than fox, the most luxurious long-haired fur.
The black guard hairs, if not dyed, fade to a dull reddish-brown if exposed to sunlight for too long a time. (Just store your fur in a closet.)
Skunk fur is reputed to have an odour, especially when wet, but this should not be a problem today. Using proper trapping techniques, it is rare that an animal sprays. And even if there is a slight vestigial smell, a skilled fur dresser can remove it.
And last, but perhaps not least, it’s called “skunk”.
Skunk Fur Production
So how easy is it to produce skunk pelts? Pretty easy. Let’s start with trapping.
First, skunks are abundant. The striped skunk, the most commonly traded species, has a conservation status of “Least concern” with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It ranges from southern Canada to northern Mexico, co-exists with humans, and in many parts of its range is growing in numbers.
Second, skunks lack caution and cunning. A box trap works great for nuisance skunks, but is too costly and bulky for fur trapping. Foothold (restraining) traps or bodygrip traps are better.
Farming skunk is also easy. Indeed, skunk farms were once seen as a stepping stone for beginners looking to graduate to more challenging and valuable furbearers.
Reasons why farming is easy include: Skunk are easily tamed, and at feeding time just come running. They’re poor climbers and have few natural predators, so pens are open-topped. They’ll eat just about anything - table scraps are fine. And selective breeding produces all-black skunk in just three or four generations.
So why aren’t we all dressed from head to toe in skunk fur? Its curious history may shed some light.
For the longest time North Americans had no interest in skunk fur, but it wasn't a case of singling it out. They weren't crazy about fox either. And even when skunk was “discovered” in the mid-1800s, demand was not at home but from Europe.
Skunk quickly became America's second most valuable fur harvest after muskrat, with almost all pelts being traded in London and Leipzig. To meet demand, the first farms emerged in the 1880s, but unreliable pelt prices forced most pioneers to close. Then the farms sprung up again at the turn of the century as European demand surged. In 1911, pelt sales in London peaked at just over 2 million.
And that's how things stayed right up to World War I. The domestic market remained tiny, a fact historians attribute to a lack of Europe's deodorising skills. Or perhaps it was that American dressers had to work with pelts so pungent, European brokers wouldn't take them.
Whatever the case, World War I changed everything, not just for skunk but the entire fur trade. With shipments to Europe disrupted, the age of major American auction houses began, first in St. Louis in 1915, then in New York in 1916.
Demand for skunk in North America finally took off, and when the European market came back on stream in 1918, the golden age of skunk had arrived.
Seeing the potential, the US Department of Agriculture published the Economic Value of North American Skunks, in 1914 and again in 1923. “Skunk fur is intrinsically of high value,” it stated unequivocally. “The propagation of skunks for their fur promises to develop into an important industry.”
Skunk trapping also helped countless rural families weather the Great Depression, mailing their pelts to Sears, Roebuck in return for a check or store credit. Through its annual newsletters and radio shows, Sears (aka "Johnny Muskrat") created a whole new generation of trappers, and became one of the largest fur buyers in the US.
All in the Name?
And then the age of skunk was over. World War II ended and fur fashion shifted dramatically. Long hair was out and short hair was in. Skunk pelts were almost worthless, red fox pelts were "unsaleable", and even silver fox was scorned. Mink was the new king, a position it has not relinquished to this day.
But a change in fashion was not the whole story. If it had been, skunk would have rebounded along with fox, which still has a loyal following today.
Some observers blame skunk's demise on stricter labelling laws. In the 1930s, the fur trade often took considerable liberties when it came to labelling. Women of all social classes wanted fur, but with the Depression raging, few husbands could afford the premium stuff. What they could afford was humble rabbit, but that didn't sound very glamorous. Enter creative marketing.
“Minkony” was rabbit dyed to look like mink. “Ermiline” was white rabbit, sometimes with black spots for that authentic ermine look. Then there were totally fictitious species like “Baltic black fox”, “Belgian beaver”, “French sable” and “Roman seal” - all rabbit!
Other furs got the creative treatment too. “Hudson seal” was one of the most popular sellers, though it was actually sheared and dyed muskrat. And no fur, of course, needed a new name more than skunk. Why tell Ma’am she was swathed in the skins of foul-smelling critters when you could sell her “American sable”, “Alaskan sable” or “black marten”?
Finally the US Federal Trade Commission cried foul. From 1938 on, the true identity of the furbearer had to be given, though the name of the animal being imitated could stay. Goodbye “American sable", hello "sable-dyed skunk".
In 1952 it went further with the Fur Products Labeling Act. Explaining the need for the new law, the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Mrs. Eskimo, who cures the pelt brought to her by husband, has no trouble telling a mink from a muskrat. But Mrs. Housewife, shopping for a fur coat, finds herself in a quandary. There are so many furs and so many names!”
Henceforth, only “the true English names for the animals in question" should appear, "or in the absence of a true English name for an animal, the name by which such animal can be properly identified in the United States.”
The trade resisted, and some unusual new names were approved. "Rock sable", for example, became "bassarisk", even though most people called them ring-tailed cats. But it spelled the end for furs like “China mink” and “Japanese mink” (both weasel).
As for skunk, in a few short years it had gone from being "American sable" to “sable-dyed skunk”, to plain ol' "skunk". Was it too much for consumers? Are we really that shallow? Apparently yes. A rose by any other name does not smell as sweet!
Skunk Fur Today
The last skunk fur farms closed decades ago, and offerings of pelts at auction today are small. Prices, meanwhile, seem frozen in time.
The largest seller today of skunk fur is North American Fur Auctions, in Toronto. At its wild fur sale last June-July, 2,332 pelts were offered (compared with 310,667 muskrat), of which 70% sold. Average price was $5.97.
Hair density has always fascinated the fur trade because the densest furs are also the softest and most luxurious. Before the advent… Read More
Hair density has always fascinated the fur trade because the densest furs are also the softest and most luxurious. Before the advent of modern conservationism, this meant that the densest furs were prone to over-harvesting. Today, we have learned from past mistakes. Trade in the densest fur of all is still restricted, but the animal's recovery is considered a great conservation success. And due to a remarkable story in the history of farming, the second-densest is abundant and readily available.
To appreciate what makes fur dense, let’s set a baseline: human hair. And because human hair varies depending on ethnicity and hair colour, we’ll choose the densest of all, a pale blond(e).
A blonde’s fine hairs average about 190 per cm2, varying depending on the part of the scalp. That's almost double Afro-textured hair, the least dense.
Now step aside blondie, and make way for that benchmark of luxury, mink.
A mink’s hair density varies by season and body part. Also, farmed mink is denser than wild, and a dressed pelt is denser than a live animal. But as a guide, a dressed, farmed pelt has about 24,000 hairs per cm2. That’s 126 times denser than the thickest human pelage!
Impressed? Well hold on. Prepare for furs so dense and soft that words to describe them are hard to find. Like talcum powder, perhaps?
Animals with the densest furs live where climates are cold, humid and windy. Size also matters; because small mammals are more vulnerable to heat loss, they generally have denser fur.
And so we find ourselves in the high Andes, home of the long-tailed Chinchilla lanigera and short-tailed Chinchilla chinchilla. Being small and nocturnal makes them elusive. They're also very rare. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies both as "critically endangered".
We can blame the “tragedy of the commons” for that. Though the term was coined for what happens when no one owns common grazing land, it also played a role in the historic fur trade.
Spanish explorers first sent chinchilla pelts home in the 16th century, but it wasn’t until the late 19th century that Europeans developed an insatiable appetite for them. Populations collapsed, prices soared, and by the early 20th century a peasant trapper could feed his family for a month with just one pelt - if he could find one!
Only late in the day, in 1910, did the range states of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru unite to ban the trade, but effective enforcement was still decades away. Extinction seemed inevitable.
Farmers to the Rescue!
And then the cavalry arrived, in the unlikely form of fur farmers.
It all began with Californian miner Mathias Chapman who, in 1923, was allowed by Chile to take 11 live chinchilla home for breeding. (It took him three years to trap them!) Ten survived the trip and one gave birth en route.
Chapman originally planned to breed pets, but he switched to fur farming. Today, chinchilla farms are found from Canada to Argentina, and in many European countries, and almost all their stock are believed to descend from Chapman's original 10.
Farming of animals can help conserve their wild cousins. By meeting demand, it reduces pressure on wild populations, as in the case of mink and fox. But it can also encourage illegal hunting and provide a cover for smuggling - the fear with tiger farming.
In the case of chinchilla, farming didn't just help protect wild populations, it probably saved them. And even if most chinchilla now live in pens and eat hay and pellets, there is absolutely no chance of them going extinct!
Dense Is Desirable
So what is all the fuss about with chinchilla fur? Hair density. No other terrestrial mammal comes close.
Hairs grow from organs called follicles which, in humans, are densest on the forehead – about 290 per cm2. Chinchilla have as many as 1,000.
Then there's the number of hairs per follicle. Hairs grow in tufts, with 1-3 (rarely 4) sprouting from each human head follicle. But a regular chinchilla has about 50 hairs per follicle, while a show “chin” (as pet owners call them) may have 100.
That means a regular chin has 50,000 per cm2 - double a farmed, dressed mink pelt, and 263 times more than our human blonde. So dense is a chin's fur that it's said fleas and ticks can’t penetrate it, and if they could, they'd suffocate!
Amazingly, there is fur even denser than chinchilla - so dense it drove men to endure the harshest conditions nature could throw at them, far from home, for more than 100 years. This was the Great Hunt!
In the early 18th century, Russian fur traders found themselves on the Pacific shores of Siberia. Drawn by a cornucopia of desirable furs, notably sable, they had spent 150 years opening up Russia's vast eastern territory.
Now they took to their boats in pursuit of fur so dense, and so valuable, it was known as "soft gold": sea otter.
Starting from the Kuril Islands, the traders island-hopped across the North Pacific, harvesting one otter population after another, plus highly profitable hair seals they found along the way. The otter trade in Alaska boomed, and then the traders headed south. There they were joined by adventurers from all over North America and Europe in the great California Fur Rush.
Thankfully the ground-breaking North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911 put an end to seal otter fever by imposing a moratorium on the hunt. But was it too late? Perhaps fewer than 2,000 otters remained. Could they ever recover?
Yes they could! Sea otters have rebounded in two-thirds of their historic range, and are today cited as a great success story in the annals of marine conservation. As a precaution given the lesson of history, IUCN still classifies them as endangered, but Alaskan fishermen are now complaining the population is growing so fast, they've become a pest!
So what is it about sea otter fur that's so alluring? You know the answer already: density. Not even chinchilla compares.
Sea otters need superb insulation because, unlike other marine mammals, they have no blubber. And unlike that other four-legged marine mammal, the polar bear, they don't leave the water unless they absolutely have to. Imagine, swimming in the North Pacific, 24/7, in winter. Unless you have inches of blubber, or are a halibut, it's almost inconceivable.
As we cross Confederation Bridge – the graceful, 13-kilometer, engineering marvel that links New Brunswick to beautiful Prince Edward Island… Read More
As we cross Confederation Bridge – the graceful, 13-kilometer, engineering marvel that links New Brunswick to beautiful Prince Edward Island in Canada's far east – I am invaded by a swell of memories and nostalgia. Our last trip to PEI was six years ago, to attend my son’s wedding, and my Dad travelled with us. This time I am heading for a family reunion, but also in search of the origins of fox farming.
Crossing the Northumberland Strait six years ago, my father, Jack, told us about his trips here with his father – my grandfather, Armand – many years before to buy fox pelts. Dad joined his father’s fur-manufacturing business when he got out of the Air Force, at the end of World War Two. PEI was where fox farming began at the end of the 19th century, and in the early 1950s it was still a leading production centre.
So when we arrived on the island, Dad wanted to stop in Summerside to search for the dry cleaners where he and my grandfather had set up shop to meet the farmers. “There was a bank across the street; they let us store the pelts in their vault overnight,” Dad recalled.
In downtown Summerside we found several tributes to PEI’s fabled fox industry – a statue of a silver fox on a stone pedestal, a huge painted fox mural on the wooden wall of an old building – but no dry cleaner across from a bank. We were about to give up – after all, a half-century had passed – but even at 87, Dad was not one to quit easily.
He went into a small jewelry store and asked the young salesperson if she knew where his dry cleaner might be. She shook her head. But then she picked up the phone to ask her Mom – PEI is that kind of place – and, bingo! The dry cleaner had closed some years before, but Mom remembered where it had been so we could do our pilgrimage. Mission accomplished!
Fast forward six years. Dad is no longer with us, but my son and his wife now have three young children. We are heading to the farm (dairy and seed potatoes) where my daughter-in-law was raised, to vacation with her siblings and their spouses and kids. My wife and I also take some time on our own to explore beautiful Prince County – and to track down the origins of the fox farming industry that first brought my father and grandfather here.
We find it in the picturesque little town of Alberton. From the wharf you can see Cherry Island, where the world’s first fox farm was built, in the early 1890s. The extraordinary story is recorded in Alberton’s charming little historical museum in the centre of town.
Charles Dalton and Robert Oulton were the pioneers of breeding and raising foxes in captivity. Their foxes were “silver-blacks”, a naturally occurring mutation of the Canadian red fox.
The story began some time before 1890 when a Mr. Lamb dug a few young foxes from their den in the woods near Tignish, not far from Alberton, and sold them to one Benjamin Haywood. Haywood tried briefly to raise the young foxes in a shed adjoining his carriage house before turning them over to Dalton.
After some unsuccessful efforts to raise the foxes in cages in his barn, Dalton formed a partnership with his friend and hunting companion Oulton. Oulton would take care of the animals, while Dalton handled finance and marketing.
Oulton decided to try raising the foxes in a more natural environment; he fenced in a section of spruce and hardwood forest on his isolated Cherry (then Oulton) Island farm. By 1895, Oulton’s farm had produced several foxes, the first to be bred and raised to maturity in captivity.
As Oulton and Dalton worked to develop a consistent strain of silver-black foxes, they began selling the pelts of the animals they did not retain for breeding at the January sale of C.M. Lampson and Company, in London. They shipped the furs from a small PEI harbor in the dead of night, to keep their production secret, and for good reason: in 1900 they received $1,807 for a single fox pelt, an enormous sum at a time when an average Island farm worker could expect to earn $320 for a year’s work!
As production increased, it became impossible to keep their project secret, and in 1900 Dalton and Oulton expanded their partnership into the “Big Six Combine”, with several neighbours. The group pledged never to sell live animals outside the group, but their monopoly was broken in 1910 when the nephew of one of the partners, Frank F. Tuplin, sold two pairs of live silver foxes for $10,000.
During the fox boom that followed (1910-14), fortunes were made. In 1910 Dalton sold 25 pelts in London for more than $20,000. The commissioner of agriculture reported in 1914 that the 3,130 foxes raised on the Island’s 277 ranches had a value of $14 million – an average of almost $4,500 per pelt!
Dalton set up a new farm near Charlottetown, PEI, to supply the Charles Dalton Silver Black Fox Company Limited, a new venture for which he had received $400,000 in cash and $100,000 in shares, in 1912. The fast-growing fox industry was riding so high by then that the train carrying breeding stock from his farm in Tignish was dubbed the "Million-Dollar Train" in the local papers.
With the outbreak of World War One, however, Dalton must have felt that the “soft-gold” rush was peaking; he sold all his fur interests and devoted the rest of his life to politics and philanthropy.
He was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1912 and 1915, where he served as minister without portfolio. He also donated generously to fund a tuberculosis sanitarium, schools and help for the Island’s poor.
In 1930, at the age of 80, Dalton was appointed lieutenant governor of Prince Edward Island, a position he held until his death in 1933.
Today, there are only a few small fox farms remaining on PEI. But the breeding stock and husbandry techniques developed by Dalton, Oulton and other founding members of PEI’s “Big Six Combine” were used to launch fox farming operations across North America, Europe and Asia.
One last personal note: one of the larger fox farms that my father visited in PEI back in the 1950s was in the tiny community of Birch Hill, just down the road from the farm where my daughter-in-law was raised. Little could he have known that, some 60 years later, his own son, grandson and great-grandchildren would be back in Birch Hill for a family reunion!
The author would like to thank the curators of the Alberton Museum for allowing us to reproduce photos from their wonderful collection. This charming museum is well worth a visit for anyone travelling to Prince Edward Island!
Have you ever visited a mink farm? Would you like to know more about how farmed mink are raised and cared… Read More
Have you ever visited a mink farm? Would you like to know more about how farmed mink are raised and cared for? Senior Truth About Fur writer Alan Herscovici asked "Les", a third-generation Nova Scotia mink farmer, to give us a personal tour and explain the work he does during a typical year.
In Part 1: Breeding, Les explained how the mink production cycle begins early each spring. In Part 2: Whelping and Weaning, we got an insider’s view of life on the farm through one of the busiest periods, from April to June. This time, we find out how young mink are cared for through the summer.
Truth About Fur (TaF): When we last spoke, you explained all the work involved in preparing and caring for the newly born mink kits. What happens next?
“Les” (Nova Scotia mink farmer): Most of our kits were born towards the end of April or beginning of May. At about one month old they start licking at the fresh feed we put onto the wire mesh of their pen, and a few weeks after that they are usually fully weaned. On our farm we install the nipples of the drinking water distribution system quite close to the nest box opening, to encourage the kits to explore the larger pen and become more independent.
TaF: Is that when you start breaking down the litters into smaller groups?
Les: Exactly. Around mid-June, on our farm, we start moving female kits into their own pens, in groups of four. If there are more than four females in a litter – say, six – we will take two female kits from another large litter to make two pens of four each.
TaF: So the kits are about six-weeks old when they’re separated from their mothers?
Les: On average. You are watching carefully to see when the kits can fend for themselves. If you move them when they’re too small, they may have trouble reaching the water nipples and become dehydrated. If you leave them together too long, they can quarrel and bite at each other to establish dominance.
TaF: What about the male kits?
Les: Some that we select for breeding next season are moved into their own pens in another barn. Most male kits, however, we usually leave, in pairs, with their mothers. Even when fully grown, the males seem to remain calm together with their mothers. And there is research from Denmark that shows they grow bigger and healthier that way.
TaF: So you are already selecting mink for breeding or harvesting at this stage?
Les: It’s a first selection. We do the same when we divide the female kits into groups of four: we are watching for the best fur colour and quality, size, vigour, and the ones from the largest litters. These are moved into a separate barn for breeding next season.
But the female kits don’t remain in fours for long. We leave the pens across the aisle empty, so we can divide each group of four into pairs a few weeks later. Some farms settle their kits into pairs directly. But we find that doing this in two steps – fours and then pairs – helps the kits to adapt with less stress. And because we have developed movable nest boxes (see Part 1), we minimise the need to catch or handle the young mink during the extra move.
During the move from fours to pairs we also vaccinate the young mink. In Canada a 4-Way vaccine is used, protecting against distemper, pseudomonas, enteritis and botulism. We try to get our mink settled into pairs and vaccinated by the first week of July, before the weather gets too hot.
TaF: What happens next?
Les: Through the summer, the mink eat and grow. We feed them at least twice a day, sometimes more. If we see that all the feed on the wire mesh of their pen has been eaten – or if the kits seem overly active – we increase their ration. Within a month, our feed order has doubled!
Traditionally, mink farmers had to source, store and mix their own feed every day – and many still do that. We are lucky because we receive our feed every morning, direct from a central kitchen that services a number of farms in the region. They have a vet on staff and professional nutritionists to ensure that the mink receive the right proportions of fat and protein and other nutrients for each stage of their development.
After the rush of whelping and weaning, and then separating the mink into pairs and vaccinating, the summer is also a quieter time for the mink farmer. We keep the mink fed and clean, of course, but we finally have more time to catch up on maintenance and paperwork ... and for some relaxation.
If you are lucky enough to have good people to help, there may even be some time for a vacation with the family. Which is just as well, because things will get busy again soon enough!
In its 2014 Sustainability Report, fashion brand Hugo Boss said that it was planning to stop using farmed fur in… Read More
In its 2014 Sustainability Report, fashion brand Hugo Boss said that it was planning to stop using farmed fur in its collections from Autumn/Winter 2016 onwards. According to Bernd Keller at the company, its sustainable corporate strategy should take precedence over the “fast and simple route to success”. Like many companies, it has realised that global consumers are demanding a more sustainable approach to business.
I completely agree that sustainability should take precedence over short-term corporate goals and applaud Hugo Boss for thinking that way, but I would respectfully disagree that moving away from farmed fur is a good method for accomplishing it.
Fur is actually one of the most sustainable materials that apparel brands can employ. Fur farms recycle food waste from other industries and can provide organic replacement for chemical fertilisers, while natural fur garments usually last 20-30 years or more and are regularly brought to furriers for remodelling, which extends their life considerably. And at the end of its life, natural fur will degrade quickly and naturally.
Globally the environmental aspects of fur are strictly regulated in accordance with national legislation. These guidelines cover the handling and distribution of manure and the use of chemicals. This means that the regulated fur industry sets the best standards in the world when it comes to the environmental impact of this type of farming.
Artificial fur, on the other hand, is far from the "safe alternative" some lobbying groups might have us believe. Fake fur, comprising polyacrylates, requires the extraction and fractionating of petroleum, its subsequent conversion into fibres and mass manufacturing into products. These are not only incredibly energy intensive and damaging to local ecosystems, but also produce extremely unpleasant chemical compounds.
Plus, fake fur garments are very much "disposable fashion" and will rarely be kept for more than a couple of years – after which they end up alongside plastic bags on rubbish tips, where they could remain for centuries.
But perhaps most importantly, I’m concerned that Hugo Boss is not respecting consumers’ choice and ability to decide for themselves. Have the vast majority of its customers in regions like Europe and Asia said they don’t want fur products and stayed away in droves? Its most recent global earnings figures would probably suggest otherwise.
Also, its 2014 annual report noted that Hugo Boss “has been in dialogue with several animal and consumer protection organisations for many years, to continuously improve in the area of animal welfare”. We certainly welcome intelligent and informed debate on the topics of sustainability and animal welfare.
So I would like to conclude with a request to Hugo Boss. If you’re genuinely keen on sustainability and truly eager to engage in dialogue with interested parties, get in touch with us at the International Fur Federation. Moving away from fur may net the brand some short-term headlines, but it may cause more harm than good in the long run. And the long run is what sustainability is really all about.
Have you ever visited a mink farm? Are you interested to know more about the care farmed mink receive? Senior… Read More
Have you ever visited a mink farm? Are you interested to know more about the care farmed mink receive? Senior Truth About Fur writer Alan Herscovici asked "Les", a third-generation Nova Scotia mink farmer, to give us a personal tour and explain the work he does during a typical year. In Part 1: Breeding, Les explained the beginning of the mink production cycle that takes place in Spring. Now we move on to the period April - June and Part 2: Whelping and Weaning.
Truth About Fur (TaF): When are the young mink born and what do you do to prepare for them?
“Les” (Nova Scotia mink farmer): Some of the first litters can come as early as mid-April. Most are born towards the end of April, beginning of May. Even before the young are born, however, the mink farmer has plenty of work to do.
First we prepare the pens to receive young mink, or “kits”, by covering the regular 1 ½-inch by 1-inch flooring mesh with a ½-inch by 1-inch plastic-coated mesh. This does not allow manure to fall away as easily, but it protects the small kits.
We also install a plastic funnel guard at the entrance of the nest box, to keep in the straw or wood shavings that will make a warm nest when the kits are born. We are constantly building up those shavings and forming them into a bowl shape, to keep the kits near the centre of the nest where the mother can nurse them and keep them warm. When you are preparing nest boxes like this for several thousand females, it keeps you pretty busy!
TaF: Is there anything special you do when the kits are born?
Les: Whelping is one of the busiest times on a mink farm. From first thing in the morning until late at night we are in the barns, checking to see who’s been born, ensuring that their bedding is in a good shape to keep the kits in the centre of the box.
We are also watching for any kits that may be born tangled in their umbilical cords. 99% of the time, the moms take good care of things themselves: eating the placentas, cleaning and nursing the babies. But sometimes you will have five babies wound together in the umbilical cords so tightly that the mother can’t free them. We take them to the little surgery section of the barn where we have heat lamps and scalpels. Once we’ve cut them free and cleaned them up, we return them to their mothers.
While we’re ensuring that the new-borns are safe, we are also watching the kits born over the past few days, to be sure they are warm enough and nursing well. We are also on the look-out for little ones that are not getting enough milk; perhaps there are too many kits in the litter. You learn to recognize their weak, hungry cries. If necessary, we may move a kit to an adoptive mother with a smaller litter.
TaF: Mink will adopt kits from another female?
Les: Often they will. You pick a female that is doing a good job caring for a small litter, and hold the tiny, young kit near her. If she snaps at it, you try another female. But if she sniffs and licks it, then you can slowly slide the kit beside her and usually she will care for it with the rest of her litter.
TaF: All this sounds like a lot of work with so many young mink.
Les: It is! During this whole period we are checking every litter several times each day. Newborn mink kits are tiny. At birth, their eyes are still closed and they have no fur, so they are very prone to hypothermia. In addition to a good bed of shavings, we keep a plywood cover over the nest box for a while, to keep in heat.
TaF: And when are the kits weaned?
Les: As the kits get bigger, we remove the plastic shield and move the food and water closer to the nest box. There is also a shelf in the pen area where the female can get away from the kits, to rest herself and encourage her young to fend for themselves.
At about one month, they will start licking at the fresh feed we put on the pens every day, and then it’s a few more weeks before they are fully weaned.
By mid-June, we can also start removing the small gauge mesh from the floor of the pens, to keep them cleaner. This continues through into late June for the litters born later. It is good that the litters are not all born at the same time; it helps to spread out the work!
TaF: It must be very satisfying to see the kits come out of the nest box and feed themselves.
Les: It is, because we have been working very hard to ensure that they make it. It is so strange - insulting really - when some activists claim that we are cruel to our animals, because we work so hard to ensure that they are healthy. We are watching for signs of dehydration, of hypothermia; it takes so much experience and concentration to watch for all the things that can go wrong with young animals. If you don’t love working with animals and caring for them, you probably shouldn’t be a mink farmer!
TaF: And how did you become a mink farmer, Les?
Les: I am the third generation of mink farmers in my family, and before that there were two more generations who were trappers and early experimenters with breeding mink in captivity. So I guess mink farming is in my genes. I enjoy working with animals, and I enjoy working with mink. It’s a passion, for sure!