There are many factors to take into account when considering the ethics of raising animals for fur.
Do you think it’s cruel to use an animal for any reason? Like shearing sheep for wool or training seeing eye dogs for the blind? A popular animal rights organization thinks so, and perhaps you do too. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, which is hopefully an educated opinion.
Like human politics, there are issues to contemplate about our treatment of all animals raised for agriculture. Animal rights activists promote synthetics, such as acrylics and fake fur, over animal-based fibers. But polluting environments from the manufacture of synthetics is not an admirable resolution for any living creature. Below is an interview with a mink rancher.
Larry Frye purchased his ranch in 1975 after becoming a leading expert in grading and breeding mink as another rancher’s foreman. His career began as a young boy where mink ranching became his way of life.
Larry maintains the standard for American dark mink on his Buhl-Frye ranch. He consistently produces some of the finest fur and breeding stock, which receives world recognition. Today all dark ranch mink are measured by his standards. He explains why he is proud to provide a clothing choice that is beautiful, renewable and environmentally friendly.
Can you tell me about becoming a yard foreman in 1962 and how you became the leading expert in grading and breeding mink?
I was the foreman for Otto Buhl until I purchased the mink ranch from him in 1975. Two years later we topped our first sale and have done so every year since. Grading mink came naturally, and I attribute much of our success to providing the best care and diet available to our mink.
What are typical days for each season on your fur farm like?
The different seasons include breeding, whelping, growing, furring and finally harvest. Breeding season starts around the first of March and lasts for about three weeks. Hours are long, sunrise to sunset with a lot of walking involved. As soon as breeding is completed, whelping pens are prepared for kits. The mink start whelping around April 20th and are generally done by the 10th of May. Again, this season involves long hours, sunrise to sunset, caring for the new babies. At about nine weeks of age, all of the kits are vaccinated and growing season begins. This mainly consists of keeping cages clean and providing a proper diet. Late summer to early fall is furring, where emphasis on good housekeeping and diet continues.
So winter is harvest season?
Yes, and this time of year requires the most labor. We usually hire six to eight extra people and work 12 to 14 hour days. A proper harvest on the farm is quick to prevent any stress to the mink or damage to the thick winter coat. They are killed quickly and humanely in accordance with approved veterinary practices. After harvest we immediately start preparing for breeding and another year.
Your website describes a personal connection with mink. How do you get personal with a mink?
This is hard to explain, but a good mink person is very aware of all mink on his or her farm on an individual basis. Taking the time, for example, to find out why a mink may not be eating. Keeping accurate pedigrees to know an individual mink’s breeding cycle is another example.
So you pamper your mink for their health?
Absolutely! While every good farmer is concerned about the well being of their animals, fur farmers have special concerns about comfort and pampering because of the fact that a fur-bearing animal’s health is directly reflected in their coat. Good housekeeping and a stress-free environment are essentials. If a fur farmer doesn’t do that, he’s shortly out of business. That is why animals raised for their fur are inherently the best cared for farm animals.
How do you practice sustainable agriculture on the farm?
Fur farming is sustainable agriculture at its best. We feed byproducts from the meat, fish and poultry industry and provide a high quality, natural clothing choice. Since the entire mink is used, our only byproduct is manure that is put on neighboring farmers’ corn and bean crops, which in turn is fed back to livestock to feed people, and their byproducts are fed back to the mink. Mink can continue to be bred year after year with virtually no impact on the earth.
Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?
I prefer to call myself a conservationist.
Are your farming aspirations beyond the family business, or do you like it small?
We credit a lot of our success to being a small family farm, and as long as it remains economically viable, we have no desire to grow beyond that.
Can you describe any specific problems you’ve had with animal rights activists?
In October of 1997 our farm was raided by the ALF (Animal Liberation Front). They released about 4,000 mink and about 400 of those were killed by traffic, as we live near a highway. The rest were returned to their pens. Several hundred thousand dollars of damage occurred. The Fur Commission produced a press release from this incident.
Do you think the fur industry is appealing to the natural, green consumer market?
Definitely. Fur, as a clothing choice is a very earth-friendly product. That should appeal to natural-loving consumers.
Buhl-Frye is a family business that proves animal farming in an admirable, ethical profession that can be profitable. The point is, businesses that benefit from animals are expected to preserve habitats, not disturb natural productivity. And modern society wants the animals we use to be treated with care, whether they are financial assets or not.
If you want to effectively help animals with your money, investigate before you donate or buy products. Make sure funds are applied directly to the care of animals, not just offices or personnel for a group that is promoting a specific agenda.
The article uses excerpts from an article by Deli Montgomery, Environmental Fashion Consultant, first appeared in Chevy Chaser Magazine (Lexington, KY), November 2001.