|Fur Farming in North America
Furbearing animals have been raised on farms in North America since shortly after the Civil War.Today’s farm-raised furbearers are among the world’s best cared-for livestock.Good nutrition, comfortable housing and prompt veterinary care have resulted in livestock very well suited to the farm environment.
Precise attention to animal care has enabled North American farmers to produce the finest quality fur in the world.
THROUGHOUT THEIR HISTORY, mink farmers have employed selective breeding to develop a wide variety of pelt colors, many of them either rare or unknown in nature. These include white, plus a host of shades of brown and gray, sometimes with tinges of blue or pink, and bearing such exotic names as lavendar hope, sapphire, gun metal and mahogany. But the most popular pelts of all are “black”. North American fur farms were the first in the world to breed “black” mink, which are actually an extremely dark brown, quite rare in nature. So loved are black pelts by the fur industry that they accounted for 52% of all American pelts produced in 2009. And with breeding stock originally imported from the U.S., black mink are now farmed in countries around the world.
Most American fur farms are family businesses, often operated by two or three generations of the same family. A young farmer will typically take time out to gain a college or university degree in agriculture, biology or business, and then begin participating in the management of the family farm, eventually either taking over or leaving to start his or her own operation. This new operation, however, may still be under the umbrella of the family farm, with the result that one fur farm may actually comprise two or more operations next door to each other.As of 2011, farmers who are members of FCUSA can be found in the following states: Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Masschusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New England, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
In addition to mink and fox farming, there are many other types of fur farmed in North America, such as chinchilla, rabbit, bobcat, lynx and finnraccoon. For information on other types of fur farming, visit our Links page.
LIFE ON A FUR FARM revolves around the natural reproductive cycle of the animals.
Mink typically breed in March, and give birth to their litters of young, or “kits”, in May. These litters may range from three to 13, but four to five is average. The kits are weaned at six to eight weeks of age. Farmers vaccinate their kits for botulism, distemper, enteritis, and, if needed, pneumonia. The animals molt in the late summer and early fall, after which they produce their winter fur. They are then harvested in their prime in late November and December.
In the wild, most young mink don’t survive through the first year. In contrast, a farmer’s care ensures that almost all domesticated mink live until the end of the year, when they are harvested. The best of the herd are selected for breeding in the following spring, ensuring that the farmer’s stock keeps improving.
|Quality Fur from Quality Care
PROVIDING ANIMALS with humane care is an ethical obligation of all livestock farmers, while for mink farmers it also makes good business sense, since the healthiest animals produce the finest pelts.
As with all America’s livestock producers, fur farmers are regulated by state departments of agriculture. In addition to meeting state requirements, fur farmers have developed a comprehensive set of their own standards, in consultation with veterinarians and animal scientists, to ensure the highest quality of animal husbandry.
These standards are administered by FCUSA, which is also responsible for ensuring they are revised and updated whenever required by current knowledge of animal care and farm management techniques.
|Merit Award Certification Program
THE OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of mink pelts produced in the US come from farms that are FCUSA members and participate in our Merit Award program. This is a third-party certification program involving independent veterinarians. This seal of excellence is awarded to members who meet the strict criteria set forth by the FCUSA Animal Welfare Committee in its Standard Guidelines for the Operation of Mink Farms in the United States, first drawn up in 1985 and revised as superior methods of husbandry and management evolve.The Merit Award seal recognizes commitment to humane treatment in all aspects of fur farming, including:
Inspections to verify compliance are carried out by independent veterinarians, and those farms which pass are authorized to use the Merit Award certification seal until the next mandatory inspection. On the rare occasion that a farm fails the inspection, the farmer will be required to make changes or relinquish membership.
Strict adherence to the highest standards of animal welfare has made American mink the world’s finest. Producing the world’s best does not happen by accident. It is a reward for years of conscientious attention to providing the best possible animal care.
At the international level, in 2006 the International Fur Trade Federation launched a new labelling program as part of its ongoing commitment to transparency. The Origin Assured Label (OA) informs consumers that the fur or fur product comes from a country where national or local regulations or standards governing fur production are in force.
FARMERS ARE RESPONSIBLE for their animals’ care from birth to death. While standards of animal care and farm management are developed over years of work by experts, including farmers and veterinarians, when it comes to euthanasia, farmers adhere strictly to recommendations of the American Veterinary Medical Association.Such standards of practice are outlined in the 2007 AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia and are under continuing review.Farmers and veterinarians look to this AVMA report as the key document on this issue, and such practices fall under the jurisdiction of the state departments of agricuture’s humane officers who are tasked with enforcing state anti-cruelty statutes.
FCUSA, representing mink farmers in 28 states, opposes any legislation, at the state or federal level, which undermines the validity and strength of the AVMA’s work developing guidelines for their veterinarians and others in the field.
In accordance with the recommendations of the AVMA, the only method of euthanasia approved for mink by FCUSA is controlled atmosphere euthanasia using bottled gas, either pure carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.
When harvest time comes around, a mobile unit is brought to the animals’ cages to eliminate stress that might be caused by transporting them long distances. This mobile unit includes a specially designed airtight container which has been prefilled with cool gas. The animals are placed inside and immediately rendered unconscious, dying quickly and humanely.
|Fur Farming’s Role in Agriculture
The U.S. Department of Agriculture includes mink farming in annual agricultural production statistics and reports, as do most state agriculture departments.Farmed mink play an important role in the agricultural chain, consuming large quantities of by-products from the production of human food. In producing 100,000 mink pelts a year, one farm in Wisconsin feeds its animals 2 million pounds of expired cheeses and 1 million pounds of damaged eggs. It is estimated that world-wide, fur farms consume over a billion pounds of these by-products annually.
The menu varies depending on what is available locally. In coastal regions, diets are likely to be based on fish. Elsewhere, fur farmers may rely on by-products from meat- and poultry-processing plants, or dairy producers.
Diets are also supplemented as necessary with prepared rations sold by animal feed companies.
The by-products described here are unsuitable for human consumption, and those which are not sold to fur farms or pet-food producers must be disposed of, typically in landfills. By buying these by-products, fur farms reduce the waste generated by human food production, and also provide a source of revenue for other agricultural producers, effectively subsidizing food costs for consumers.Although fur is the primary product of farming, nothing is wasted. An important secondary product is a highly valued oil produced from the mink’s thick layer of subcutaneous fat. Mink oil is used to condition and preserve leather, and also in the manufacturing of hypoallergenic facial oils and cosmetics.
The carcasses are rarely eaten by humans as the scent gland gives the meat a flavor which most people don’t enjoy. But they still have their uses. Some farmers sell them as crab bait, or give them to wildlife preserves, zoos or aquariums. Others will use them to make organic compost. Or they may be rendered down to provide raw materials for a wide range of products, from pet food and organic fertilizers to tires, paint and even cosmetics.
Last but not least, the nutrient-rich manure from fur farms is in heavy demand as a natural crop fertilizer.
|Fur Marketing in North America
In common with the fur industry as a whole, the marketing of mink pelts is an international affair. Working on behalf of American farmers, trade missions promote our product in all the main buying markets, from Europe to the Far East, and through representation at the major international fur fairs in Paris, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Montreal and New York.
Also closely involved in the marketing of American mink are North America’s two major auction houses, the Wisconsin-based North American Fur Auctions which holds its sales in Toronto, and American Legend Auctions, until recently known as Seattle Fur Exchange. Although most American produce is actually sold at these “local” auctions, buyers come from around the world, and the auction houses play a key role both in attracting overseas buyers and in ensuring the pelts are presented correctly and in the most attractive manner possible.
The wide variety of climatic conditions and available feed across the U.S. result in considerable variations in fur characteristics. But manufacturers of fur garments require large numbers, or “bundles”, of similar pelts in order to produce uniform garments. In order to facilitate the work of the buyers, auction houses encourage farmers to pool their pelts, so that similar goods can be presented in longer “strings”.
Along with farmed product, the auction houses also sell the pelts of wild animals caught by professional trappers, including muskrat, raccoon, beaver and even grizzly bear.
Fur Fervor The Salt Lake Tribune pays a visit to a fur auction. (February 2003)
For further information contact Fur Commission USA.
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