July 12, 2011
I was on my way home from a professional rodeo near Medford and spotted what I thought was an odd looking farm complex, most surely a design I had never seen. So I stopped, went in, met a worker, and chatted with him for just a few moments. He told me this was the Jentzch Mink Farm, visible from Hwy 13 and CH O. I had no idea.
The worker was very busy preparing meals for the minks, some soupy looking stuff, and I did not want to bother him, so I did not stay more than a few minutes and didn’t ask for freedom to move about. He did tell me, however, that mink farming was big in Wisconsin and that by many measures, this was not a large farm. Wow, it looked big to me.
I’ve done just a bit of research and learned that the US is the fifth largest producer of mink in the world behind Denmark, China, Netherlands and Poland. It turns out Wisconsin is the number one mink producer in the US. Frankly, I was astonished. This is the first such farm I have seen, and I have not seen any others since. Probably hunting in the wrong areas.
Cold climate is great to produce fur bearing animals with thick coats, so mink farming is concentrated in the northern states. The high-altitude sections of Utah rank number two behind Wisconsin.
Mink farming in the US began shortly after the Civil war. Most American fur farms are family businesses. In the wild, minks find it hard to live out a year. On a farm they make it from May, when most are born, through November or December when they are “harvested.” By harvested, we mean euthanasia, following strict standards, most farmers working closely with veterinarians. Carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are the main means. Those that are killed are discarded after their furs are removed. The best of the breed are usually kept alive to breed again the next spring.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) sees mink farming as playing an important role in the agricultural chain, consuming large quantities of by-products from human food production, most of which is protein rich. Their food contains expired cheeses and damaged eggs, and by-products from meat, fish and poultry processing plants unfit for human consumption. They also consume a large amount of water.
Aside from their fur, their fat contains valuable oils used to condition and preserve leather, and manufacturing of hypo-allergenic facial oils and cosmetics.
There is controversy surrounding these kinds of fur farms. The arguments surround putting wild animals into an unnatural and very confined environment. In many farms throughout the world the conditions are deplorable. Fur farmers argue they are ethical and humane, following high standards of care and health control. I would urge those who are interested to study the problem and decide for yourselves. I have listened to one American veterinarian saying, “If you are concerned about the humane treatment of these animals, American mink farmers have written the book.”
I do not have a lot of photos to show of the farm, but I do have some. At least they will give you a sense for what such a farm looks like and what the living conditions might be like for the mink.
The mink live in cages inside these mink sheds. Each building contains many, many cages, on both sides. Small “tractors” can drive down the middle to clean and feed the animals. The sheds themselves must be kept clean, well ventilated, and provide natural light.
It is my understanding that the mink pen as it is called is designed usually to have a wooden box in which the mink can live. The wire cages are attached. The wire mesh enclosures enable the minks inside to eat the food that is laid on top of the cage and to eliminate waste through the bottom.