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Full text of "Breeding mink for their fur .."

BREEDING MINK 



FOR THEIR 



FUR 



PRICE FIFTY CENTS 



GEORGE F. NORTON 



1 







FRONTISPIECE 



SEE FRONTISPIECE. 

The mink, from head to tail, is usually 15 to 18 
inches long. The tail is about half as long as the body, 
makmg the entire length from 22 to 27 inches. 

The female is smaller than the male. The ears are 
rounded, small and nearly hidden by the adjacent fur. The 
fur is soft and thick. Mixed with long, lustrous hairs on all 
parts of the body and tail. The tail is rather bushy but 
slightly tapering at the end. Northern mink have the finest 
and glossiest fur, which is of a rich, dark brown color; the 
back being the darker and the tail nearly black. The head 
is broad and there is a white spot on the under jaw. 



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Copyrighted by GEORGE F. NORTON, 1913. 
234 East 178th St., New York. 



CHAPTER I. 

INTRODUCTION 

In this book the writer intends to illustrate the practical 
side of mink raising, and to show how easily mink may be 
made to net their owner from $50 to $5,000 or more 
each year. 

It is our intention to give the reader practical advice and 
mstruction as to the securmg, breedmg and marketing of 
mink; being the result of experience, observation and con- 
sultation with other mink breeders. 

Of all the small fur-bearing animals in this section, the 
mink is the most valuable, brmgmg as much as $8 for 
prime, dark mink, and there is reason to believe that within 
the next two years the price will advance to $ 1 2 or more. 
For breeding purposes they were bringing $25 each, as 
reported by Mr. W. G. Gates of Idaho, in March, 1913. 

The catch of mink is steadily decreasing, the price is 
steadily advancing, and it will not be long before the best 
mink pelts will bring the price quoted in the preceding 
paragraph, and a pair of fine breeders will probably bring 
as much as $75. 

Fur breeding is just beginning to attract attention. The 
ever increasing trapping information has made it possible 
for a greater number each year to catch our fur animals, and 
the ranks of the fur bearers are rapidly being thinned out. 

There is a catch of probably $15,000,000 worth of fur 
yearly, at trappers' prices, and while the demand for fur is 
increasing, if the fur bearers are being thinned out, how is 
that demand to be supplied? The answer is breed and 
raise the fur. That seems the only answer, and it is really 



necessary therefore that mink farming be taken up as a 
business in order to perpetuate its luxurious fur. 

Furs are a necessary luxury; the market can never be 
oversupplied ; the future of fur farming is secure. The 
United States Government is experimenting in mink farm- 
ing and there are indications that the mink industry will 
soon be taken up by many. Those who are already in the 
business and have stock to sell for breeding purposes will 
reap the reward for being ready. Before many years a 
farm stocked with 1 00 female mink should bring the owner, 
during the following December, an income of over $8,000. 

CHAPTER II. 

EXPERIENCE 

"Our first mink farm," writes Mr. J. B. Smith, a well- 
known Pennsylvania trapper, "was on a small sandy 
island in the west branch of the Susquehanna River and 
the stock consisted of a pair of wild mink, which were seen 
one afternoon in the early spring of 1 898 digging at a 
hole in the sandy bank of the island. 

"A great deal of spare time was spent in the vicinity of 
this island, either in the canoe or on the bank at a safe dis- 
tance from the den, and one evening, about the middle of 
May, six young mink were seen at play near the mouth of 
the den. 

"A peculiar fact about this family of mink was that, 
although the mink while in captivity do not pair and the 
male will kill the young, still this pair Hved in the same den 
with their young until June, when the whole family was 
dug out and put in a large dry-goods box. 

"The den or hole in which the mink were found was 
about nine feet long, terminating in a room or nest, which 
was lined with fine dry grass. 



"Later in the summer a 5-foot strip on the upper floor 
of our barn, which was 30 feet wide, was divided into 
pens 5 feet square, with connecting doors between, and we 
began to wean the mink from an all-meat diet to one of milk 
and cornmeal. 

"The young mink made the change quite readily, but 
the old pair were very wild and savage, and for a long time 
would not eat much of the milk and cornmeal. They were 
given as many sparrows as could be caught for them, and 
they gradually acquired a taste for the cornmeal mush. 

"About the middle of the following December, when 
their fur was prime, the old male and the two young males 
were killed and their pelts marketed. A new male, caught 
that winter, was placed with the five females. 

"Having had several years' experience in breeding ferrets, 
we raised the mink in the same way, and in the following 
May had two dozen young mink. Twenty of these lived, 
and when their fur was prime, three of the darkest young 
females were saved with the two darkest old females and 
the male, and the rest were killed and marketed, clearing us 
about $75 over the cost of raising them. 

"At the present time those I 7 young and 3 old mink 
would bring about $150 as fur, and for breeding purposes 
would sell for $500 at the present prices." 

CHAPTER III. 
THE FARM 

The "farm" or pen may be a box not smaller than 4 or 
5 feet square and 3 feet high. Across the lower two-thirds 
of the front should be stretched a 1 -inch wire mesh 2 feet 
wide, leaving the upper third of the box boarded, A hinged 
cover 2 feet wide should be placed across the top in front. 



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and back of this the top should be nailed fast. On the 
back 1 foot of 1 -inch wire mesh should be stretched across 
the upper third and the lower two-thirds should be boarded 
up as shown in Fig. 1 . There should be a box of dry grass 
or straw for the mink to hide in. 

A larger "farm" may be a fenced-in yard of some 20 to 
40 feet square, divided by inside fences into pens 10 to 20 
feet wide and running the full length of the yard. 

A stream or pond is not absolutely necessary, but it would 
be an advantage to have a small stream running across the 
pens as shown in Fig. 2. 

The mink must have plenty of fresh water daily, and if 
they are kept as shown in Fig. 1 , it should be given them 
in a granite pan about 3 inches deep and a foot square. 

If there is no stream for the farm, the water may be run 
from a spring or other source into a trough of wood or 
concrete, or into a concrete well 2 or 3 feet deep in each 
yard. (See Fig. 2.) 

The mink are happier with a stream, for they delight to 
play in the water, and the happier mmk can be kept the 
better quality of fur may be marketed. 

A plot of from one to five acres, containing a small pond 
or stream, with some shade, would make an ideal mink 
farm if it were not for the initial cost of fencing such an 
area. 

The outside of the fence, shown in Fig. 2, should be 
built of 6 or 7-foot chestnut posts set 4 or 5 feet apart and 

2 feet deep in a concrete wall. This wall is made by dig- 
ging a trench 1 8 inches wide and 2 feet deep all around the 
inside of the yard, or the 1 -inch mesh net may be extended 

3 or 4 feet below the surface. A strip of 1 8 gauge 1 -inch 
mesh 2 feet wide should be nailed to the posts, next to the 
foundation, and above that a strip of sheet-iron (12x3 ft.) 




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Fig. 2 



should be nailed, leaving a 1 -foot strip to be bent in for 
an "overhang." Angle-irons should be nailed or bolted to 
the posts, as shown in Fig. 3, and the sheet-iron bent over 
and fastened to them. 

Or the entire fence may be of the netting, with "T" 
strips across the top of each post, on which a strip of netting 
is nailed for an overhang. 

The higher your fence the safer your mink are from 
dogs getting in from outside, and a "T" or double over- 
hang will prevent anythmg from climbmg over the fence 
either way. Do not make the mistake of building your 
yards of boards, and allowmg your valuable animals to 
escape. 

The division fences may be of I -inch mesh, with half of 
a sheet-iron strip nailed flat across the top to act as an over- 
hang to keep the mink from climbing from one yard to the 
other. Gates should be made as in Fig. 2. 

The nests may be boxes with hinged lids about a foot 
square and 6 inches to a foot high, placed as shown m 
Fig. 2, so that the round 5-inch opening to the nest will be 
more secluded and will not admit much light. The mother 
mink will like her nest much better this way, and if the 
young are not handled she will leave them in the nest till 
they are able to run about of themselves. A quantity of 
fine dried grass should be given for nests. 

The individual cage in which the female is put for 
breeding should be 3 to 5 feet square and 4 feet deep at 
the front, or side next to the yard, and should have a board 
cover, hinged at the front and sloping toward the back to 
allow the water to run off. 

These boards should be covered with tar-paper to ex- 
clude rain, for, although the mink is fond of water, it dis- 
likes a damp, cold nest. The floor of the cage should also 



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be raised an inch or two above the ground on account of 
the dampness. 

Road dust, sand or dry earth should be thrown over the 
cage floor, and this must be taken up and renewed every 
week. K,eep a good supply on hand for this purpose. 

In front of the cage should be the cage yard, containing 
a water trough and a feed pan. This yard is for the use 
of the female while rearing her young. 

The large yards are for the mink between the breeding 
seasons, and for the young mink, if any, as indicated in 
Fig. 2. One yard is for mixed young mink, another for 
females, and a third, smaller yard, for the adult male or 
males. In each yard a shelter of boards covered with a 
foot or more of earth makes a cool retreat for the mink in 
summer. Plenty of shade MUST be provided if you wish 
to keep the fur dark, but there must be no boards or bushes 
near the fence so that the mink may climb out. Such a 
"farm" would probably cost from $50 to $100. 

CHAPTER IV. 

STOCKING THE FARM 

Having made the yards ready, we will now consider how 
to procure the mink for breeding: Trapping the adult mink 
in the fall or winter, trapping or digging out the young mink 
in late April or in May, and also buying the mink from a 
dealer in animals or from a mink breeder. 

Trapping seems to be preferable, for breeding mink are 
expensive animals to purchase. No one likes to part with a 
good breeding female for $25 when she is apt to bring her 
owner from 6 to 8 young ones, the pelts of which, if sold 
the following December, would bring between $50 and $75. 
That is why you are advised to begin as soon as possible and 
be ready to furnish breeders when the big demand comes. 




60 



It pays to raise stock for breeding, as shown in the black 
fox industry of Canada, where Prince Edward Island 
farmers paid $10,000 a pair for breeding foxes the past 
summer. 

The best trap for catching mink is the live-bait box-trap, 
baited with an old hen or two or three mice. The live bait 
is placed in a separate compartment at the back of the box- 
trap, so that the mink may see and smell them, but cannot 
harm them. 

A quarter-inch mesh makes a good partition, and tht 
mink, walking on a trip-pan, springs the trap. 

The inside of the trap should clear from 2 feet to 30 
inches in order to avoid injuring the mink in the door. The 
live-bait box-trap (Fig. 4) is one of the best I have used 
for catching mink. 

It is better, on a small farm, to stock the mink in the 
fall, just after the ground is well frozen, for they will dig 
as deep as 3 feet in their attempts to get out. After three 
or four months they will give up such attempts for free- 
dom and accept the farm as their home. 

If they are captured in the fall they will have become 
reconciled to their new life by the time the ground is soft 
enough to dig into. 

The mink born on the farm do not try to dig out. They 
will jump and climb, however, almost as well as a cat, and 
must be given no chance to get up on bushes or boards near 
the fence. 

CHAPTER V. 

BREEDING 

The mink do not pair in captivity, and one male should 
be kept for five or six females. 

Mink begin to breed when one year old and continue to 
breed for six or more years. 



The male should be kept separated from the females, 
except during the matmg time, from February 1 5 to 
March 15. 

The young, which are born blind and bare about six 
Weeks later, are from four to eight in number. 

Shut the female out of the cage and with a stick examine 
for any dead young. If any are found remove with a stick, 
being careful to avoid leaving any human taint in the nest, 
for that might cause the female to carry her young about 
and result in their being killed from exposure. 

When a month old ihe young mink may be taken away 
from the female and placed in a yard by themselves until 
ready for market or for mating. 

CHAPTER VI. 

FEEDING 

As already stated, mink may be fed on corn-bread and 
milk, but if they are wild adult mink they will have to be 
taught to eat cornmeal mush by feeding at first a little meat 
in their milk and they will get enough of the milk with the 
meat to form a liking for it in a short time. 

Cornmeal mush cooked with a little fresh butchers' lean 
meat waste is the best all-round food as a steady diet. 
Fresh plucked sparrows or fresh fish may be given every 
four or five days. 

The mink being a night-roamer, should be fed in the 
afternoon or evening, and only once a day, for if the food 
were given in the forenoon it would probably lie unheeded 
until night, when it would be too dry or spoiled. 

In the morning take up what food is left uneaten. Use 
no salt, but give plenty of fresh water every day. 



Fem?les with sucking young should be fed twice daily. 
Keep everything clean and give only as much food as the 
mink will eat up at one feeding. 

If the mink get too fat they become heated, shed their 
hair, lose their "p"me" and develop poor fur. It is a good 
plan to let fat mink go without food every 1 5 days and 
it will do them good. 

Mink may be fed as one does house cats, scraps from 
the table, johnny-cake and occasionally raw liver, but cooked 
food is the safe food, and one should not experiment on high- 
grade mmk. (If you wish to experiment on feedmg, select 
two or three scrub mink and try it on them.) 

Wild mink eat frogs, but in my experience only a very 
hungry captive mink will eat a frog, and the frog must be 
a lively one. 

Chicken heads and lights may be given occasionally if 
they are fresh. If possible, keep a cow for milk, raise corn 
for cornmeal mush. Enclose a one to five-acre swale with 
poultry netting and raise Belgian hares for mink food. There 
is nothing better in the meat line for mink ^han the blood 
and flesh of fresh killed rabbits, and a little may be given 
every day or two if you have enough to make it a regular 
practice. Stock a small pond with carp and have a supply 
of fresh fish on hand. 

When all the food has to be purchased it costs about 
$2.50 to raise a mink to marketable age. 

Just before killing time give the "prime" mink an egg 
every other day for a week and note the gloss on the pelt. 

Remember that a happy and contented mink grows a 
prime pelt. 



CHAPTER VIL 
TAMING 

The writer has found it impracticable to try to tame wild 
adult mink, but if handled with thick buckskin gloves the 
young born in captivity soon grow tame enough to be 
handled with the bare hands. 

To take up a mink, move slowly and gently, placing the 
gloved hand, palm down, just over the mink's shoulder, pass 
the thumb and first finger around the neck. Be sure to 
HOLD the mink, for every failure makes him more difficult 
to tame. When you have hold of the mink, lift him up 
with one hand and with the other hold his hind legs. 

If it is a young one and your gloves are thick, give him a 
chance to bite your finger, and when he does so pull toward 
the back of his mouth as you would pull on a gun trigger 
and his tusks will slip off the finger. 

The harder you pull toward the hinge of his jaw the 
more sorry Mr. Mink will grow. If he squeals he may be 
(and usually is) conquered; if not, and he takes hold again, 
punish in the same way once more. 

Tame mink bring big prices as pets and for breeding pur- 
poses. Female mink with young cannot be trusted as pets 
until after the young are weaned. 

CHAPTER VIII. 

MARKETING 

Some time in October or November decide on which of 
the young females you wish to keep for breeding and put 
them in with the adult females. 

It is not advisable to keep the young males unless you 
have a particularly fine dark one, but it is much better to 



get a new male occasionally, which can be done by ex- 
changing your young males with other mink farmers or by 
trapping wild ones. 

An Idaho mink breeder wrote me in March, 1913, as 
follows: "I am sold down to my breeding stock and have 
no more to spare. While they lasted I got $25 apiece for 
mink and sold three marten for $100." 

If you have decided to kill some of the mink for market, 
feed them all they will eat (including eggs if they are not 
too costly) and when the pelts are prime, about December 
1 5 to 20, usually after two or three weeks of severe cold 
weather, they will be fit to kill. 

When the females are about seven years old they have 
reached their limit of usefulness and should be included in 
the lot prepared for market. 

Prepare the skins according to the following directions 
and they may be kept till the market price is the highest. 

CHAPTER IX. 

SKINNING 

To skin the mmk, slit the legs on the under side from one 
foot across the vent to the other foot. Skin the legs, feet and 
toes, leaving the claws on the skin. Skin around the tail- 
bone, leaving the tail fast to the back of the skin, and pull 
the tail-bone out of the tail with the help of a split stick. Slit 
end of tail. 

Then turn the skin over the body as if you were removing 
a shirt. Where necessary to start the skin use a knife, but be 
careful not to cut the skin nor leave any more flesh and fat 
on the skin than can be helped. 

When you reach the front legs, slit the sole of the foot, skin 
and push them out whole, leaving the feet and toes on the 



skin. Next will come the ears, and they should be cut off 
close to the skull. Skin very carefully around the eyes, 

paying particular attention not to cut the eyelids, and follow 
on to the nose, leaving the pelt entire. 

It is not considered a complete pelt unless the tail, feet 
and toes, ears, etc., are left on the skin. 

Take off all extra flesh and fat and the skin is ready for 
the drying-board. 

This drying-board should be about lYi feet long by 
about AYi inches wide at the bottom, tapering as shown in 
Fig. 5. 

Pull the skin on the board with the belly on one side and 
the back on the other, with the fur side in, and stretch it 
snugly on the board so there are no wrinkles in the skin and 
the skin lies flat. 

Tack it at the bottom on one side, and before tacking the 
other, run a smooth stick, the size of your finger, under the 
skin the length of the board. Have these sticks prepared, 
one for each board. 

Put the skin in a dry, airy place where the sun cannot 
get at it, and never use artificial heat. A trifle of salt 
sprinkled into the tail after the tail-bone is removed is the 
only place where salt should be used. 

When the skin is dry, pull out the stick and the skin will 
easily come off the board. 

Do not use anything like salt or alum on the skin, as that 
may cause it to absorb moisture later, which may rot the 
skin. 




in 

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. — n- — > 



CHAPTER X. 
SHIPPING 

Lay the skins out flat, cover them with paper and do 
theni up in burlap, with your name and address on a card 
inside for identification, and if your skins are surely dry they 
are ready to ship. 

Select a reliable dealer and write him what skins you 
are sending him, and how many. Put "From" and your 
name and address on the outside, as well as the name and 
address of the dealer to whom you ship your goods, and 
send them by parcels post. 

IN CONCLUSION 

Mink raising is not a "get-rich-quick" scheme, and those 
who cannot give the proper care and attention to the busi- 
ness had better close this book and forget it. Raise a pair 
of mink as a side issue for a year to become familiar with 
them, and put your book knowledge into practical expe- 
rience. Above all, if you do not like pets, don't undertake 
fur breeding of any description. For the man or woman 
who goes into mmk farming gradually and handles them 
intelligently there is a very comfortable, pleasant and re- 
munerative business awaiting. 

At present the following States do not prohibit, but en- 
courage the raising and sale of mink: 

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, 
Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, 
Maine, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, 
Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, 
Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

In the following States one must obtain a permit or 
license: 



Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, 
New Jersey and South Dakota. 

The following States, at the present writing, prohibit mink 
raising, but it is indicated that they will soon pass laws 
favorable to game and fur breeders: 

Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and New York. 

Where the game laws conflict with mink raising, they 
were in force before raising mink as a business was 
considered. 

It is advisable to consult the State Game Warden, 
enclosing a self-addressed and stamped envelope before 
engaging in mink breeding in any of the doubtful States. 

Meanwhile the New York mink breeder may obtain one 
or more acres in Connecticut or New Jersey, within com- 
muting distance, and engage in the mink business to any 
desired extent. 



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