Summer School in Salt Lake City

Sep 01, 2001 No Comments


Summer School in Salt Lake City

By Teresa Platt, Executive Director, FCUSA (April 1998 – May 2011)

IF IT’S AUGUST, it must be time for Summer School! And the Fur Breeders’ Agricultural Co-Op Summer School is one of the best around for farmers wanting to increase their knowledge of fur-bearing animals.

The FBAC 2001 Summer School was so packed with informative presentations, one could practically hear the brain cells churning and the minds expanding!

Nova Scotia Composting

Jennifer Ferguson, a graduate research assistant at the University of Nova Scotia, Canada, presented a review of a composting experiment undertaken by the Department of Agricultural Sciences which maintains a fur unit. Ferguson operates under the guidance of Dr. Kirsti Rouvinen, well known to mink farmers for her research on mink nutrition.

Some of the problems with a composting system, explained Ferguson, whether covered or not, were maintaining the heat in the compost pile, keeping the pile moist, turning the pile, wind loss of material, “leachate” or run off from the pile, and loss of nitrogen in the leachate. Labor to turn and move the pile was also a factor.

It was suggested that a simple solution might be the one used by home gardeners but on a grander scale. Home gardeners long ago developed a barrel on an axis into which the compost materials are tossed. This container keeps the compost “pile” moist and warm and is easy for the average weekend gardener to turn. Should farmers consider introducing a variation on this theme, the old cement mixer? The advantages are that a compost pile enclosed in an old cement mixer would have no runoff (leachate), no loss of nitrogen, no wind loss, it would be easy to keep moist and the internal temperature high, very easy to turn and easy to transport which would be important if several farms share the same system.

Light and Reproduction

A city slicker-turned-farmer bought 100 chicks from a chicken farm. A week later, he was back, asking for another 100. Another week later, he was back again, needing another 100 chicks. Why, he was asked, did he need another 100 chicks? Replied the city slicker-turned-farmer, “I keep planting ’em and watering ’em but none come up!”

Dr. Bruce Murphy, director of the Center for Research on Animal Reproduction at the University of Montreal, and also director of the International Fur Animal Scientific Association (IFASA), followed in this vein with his story of the part-time mink farmer whose mink produced zero kits. Knowledgeable mink farmers chuckled at that one. For those readers who don’t raise mink, the key to this story is that light impacts reproduction in photosensitive animals such as mink. Every time the part-time mink farmer turned on the lights to feed his mink after he got home from his day job, he played havoc with the mink’s reproductive system. The result: He kept planting ’em and watering ’em but none came up!

In a short time, Dr. Murphy presented an amazing amount of information on mink reproduction and light. This was a complex discussion for the advanced fur farmer and cannot be done justice here. To learn more about mink reproduction, along with the full proceedings of the Fur Congress 2000, visit the IFASA website at

Dr. Murphy touched briefly on endocrine disrupters such as PCBs which can accumulate in the fat and blubber layers of animals. Creatures consume this PCB-laden fat only to have their reproductive cycles malfunction.

The work of recently retired Dr. Richard Aulerich of Michigan State University on the wild and farm-raised mink of the Great Lakes region was instrumental in establishing that mink are extremely sensitive to food-borne toxins. (See Dr. Aulerich retires from Michigan State University.) For this reason, mink are the animal of choice for many such environmental studies to ensure the health of wild and farm-raised animals. Ultimately, of course, such studies have repercussions for man and his policies.(1)

Life on the Farm

A personable introduction to “Life on the Ruef Fur Farm” by Oregon farmer Joe Ruef included slides showing the Ruef family’s flair for raising fine dark and iris mink juxtaposed with slides providing graphic proof of wife Darcy’s flair for raising flowers. Joe explained that the farm depends on brothers Max and Clem Ruef’s large families to provide the labor.

In addition to details of the farming operation, he shared information on their manure flush system which collects into a 450,000-gallon tank. This liquid manure is then used on the Ruefs’ fields of crops. The Ruefs utilize composting too, at 160°F for 6 months from November through April. They also mix in discards from the production of Christmas time poinsettias.

And the Ruefs have an innovative way of recycling mink carcasses too, trading them with commercial crabbers who use them to attract and hold crabs for harvesting. The trade: 1 pound of mink carcasses for 1.5 pounds of seafood offal.

Q&A and Marketing Reports

A lively question-and-asnwer session featured FCUSA Research Committee member Dr. Gary Durrant, Dr. Randy Johnson of the Fur Breeders’ Agricultural Co-Op, Jennifer Ferguson, Dr. Bruce Murphy, Joe Ruef and Teresa Platt of FCUSA fielding questions from the audience.

North American Fur Auctions’ Mike Mengar and Seattle Fur Exchange’s John Perrin gave presentations on the current state of the fur markets around the world, while Tina Jagros of North American Fur Producers Marketing explained how the US policy of maintaining a strong dollar negatively impacts US farmers selling globally.


(1) See Coming to Grips with the Arctic by Lisa Mastny (PDF format).

UNDER THE GAVEL: Summer School closed out with a slap-up barbeque and an auction of breeders donated by farmer Keith Jonsson of Lehi, Utah (center). Almost $3,000 was raised to aid the family of Joseph Adams, also of Lehi, a much loved and respected police officer who was recently killed in the line of duty. On hand to talk up the bids were a couple of pros: Mike Mengar of North American Fur Auctions (left) and Ralph Griffo of Seattle Fur Exchange.

FURRIERS SAY HELLO: There’s so much to learn when fur farmers meet the fashion trade. Here Teresa Platt expands her mind with Eric and Dora Rouskas of Funtastic Furs, New York, attending the Summer School for the first time. Eric and Dora were on hand between presentations to say hello to farmers and field questions about the fine garments they had brought along. They are more than happy to help farmers design and sew coats from your own pelts, dressed or raw. So remember them the next time your breeders’ association tackles a beauty pageant project or the family needs wrapping in fur. Last winter was darn cold and next winter is coming up. There’s no excuse for a fur farming family catching a cold or being unfashionable!