On the fur farm

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Industry sensitive to animal-welfare concerns: farmers

First in a two-part series


With her green gardener’s gloves and trowel, Gladys Gilbert slops down more than a dollop of feed for one of the thousands of foxes at M&E Fur Farm.

A 10-year employee, Gilbert can regularly be seen walking the wooden aisle in one of the farm’s seven animal sheds in North Harbour, off the Burin Peninsula highway.

The feed she dispenses includes chicken scraps, brought in to the farm’s feed kitchen once a week from Country Ribbon. It also has milled cereal imported from Nova Scotia. Some fur farmers like to use fish offal from local plants in the mix.

“I’m not one for fur. … I like feeding them,” she says, when asked about her job. “They’repretty content as long as they’ve got food.”

Further down the shed, the farm’s co-owner, Merv Wiseman, is speaking with Björn Eriksson, an agent from the Saga Furs international auction house.

Eriksson was in the province this week to inspect the farm’s operations for certification as an acceptable source for the auction house, from an environmental and animal-rights perspective.

He flew in from Helsinki, Finland, and toured several other fur farms with Wiseman — mink and fox — before leaving the province.

“We don’t sell any foxes anymore from non-certified farms,” Eriksson told The Telegram, noting the sensitivity to the public’s perception of the industry and the demands of the major fashion houses.

On the Wiseman farm, there are no signs of animal in-fighting, no bloody stumps for tails or with patches or puss, as seen in some online videos made by both anti-fur activists and those interested in simply drawing attention to poor fur farming practices.

Wiseman’s animals are still filling in their prime fur for the year. The non-breeders to be taken for their pelts will start to be killed in late November.

The farm stands as one of the largest silver fox farms in the North America and Wiseman is looking to expand.

He is planning to move from 650 to 1,000 female breeder foxes.

“I’ve put a lot of hard work into it since 1984,” he said, running through some of the hard times in the farm’s history.

The foxes nearby are giving growly yelps and pressing against the back of their cages — no less keen to be around people than they would be in the wild.

A few display spurts of high-energy activity, leaping from the bottom level of their cages to an upper shelf and then down and up again in rapid succession. Some zip from one cage to the next through tunnels wired into paired enclosures, a feature not seen on all fur farms.

“Animal welfare is a big issue,” Wiseman says, noting there are tighter codes of conduct at the federal level and new provincial fur farming regulations, brought in under the Animal Health and Protection Act.

So long as animal-welfare and environmental issues are taken seriously, he sees no reason the fur industry should not be able to expand in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Today, the public perception is really important,” said Peter Noer, at Viking Furs in Cavendish, visited by Eriksson during his visit to inspect the Wiseman farm.

Viking Furs is one of the province’s largest mink farms and, Noer says, proper care of his animals means the best possible product.

He makes no apologies for farming mink for their fur, but acknowledges it is a difficult topic for some people.

Discussion is not at all helped by industry terms like “killing trolley” — a common name for a cart used to euthanize mink come harvest time. Mink are typically killed, cleaned of grease using sawdust and then skinned.

Excess flesh and fat are removed from the pelts before they are dried, labelled and packed for shipping.

Noer hails from Denmark, was raised on a fur farm and said he was attracted to this province by an ACOA-assisted mission to his country.

He brought in 4,500 mink to start farming furs here.

He asks that people come in and tour his farm before passing judgment on the work that is his livelihood.

Viking Furs has about 15,000 of the 60,000 female mink used in the province for breeding and offers 22 full-time jobs to the local community, he said, with total employment running up to 60 in peak season.

“It’s very important to understand … we are having animals in captivity and we’re treating them good,” he said, saying the mink are fed three times a day and given fresh water.

In 2010, farm cash receipts for fur in Newfoundland and Labrador totalled $11.6 million. The next year, receipts came in at $18.9 million.

The province has pulled in $17.9 million in the first three months of 2013 — the key sales period for any year.

Fur farms are making money, but there are fewer now than in 2009.

MONDAY: farm numbers, how would-be farmers from the late 2000s have fared and the potential for growth.


Geographic location: North Harbour, Country Ribbon, Nova Scotia Helsinki Finland Newfoundland and Labrador North America Denmark

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Recent comments

  • MLM
    August 21, 2013 - 11:06

    @mick madsen Studies show that the frustrations of fur-farmed mink is real. One was even released in the prestigious magazine “nature” issued from The Zoology Department of the University of Oxford and clearly stated that minks kept in cages were in distress. They investigated to what extent these limitations affect caged mink and find that these animals will not only pay high costs to be able to perform a range of natural behaviours, but they will also release the 'stress' hormone cortisol when prevented from indulging in swimming, their favourite activity. I understand that the industry is willing to protect the business (which grossed 15 Billion $ in 2010), but in real life people are aware that the fur industry is not essential and should no longer exists. The green washing is also becoming more obvious everyday.

  • Mick Madsen
    August 20, 2013 - 16:26

    It is an often repeated misunderstanding that farmed fur animals are wild - they are not. Domestication of fur animals has taken place through almost 100 generations, and the domestication modern day fur farm animals is scientifically validated. Sure we can live without real fur. Just as we can live without Porches, internet and red steaks.

  • MLM
    August 20, 2013 - 11:27

    @ don't buy it : if one don't like fibers made from chemicals then don't buy it, but this shouldn't be used as an excuse for the real fur : no one is forced to wear fur anyway wether it's real or fake. If I were forced to wear fur, I would obviously chose the synthetic option because we all use things made form petrol includding you (car tires, plastic ligter, plastic bag, computers, micro fiber underwear, nylon jacket). The fur industry is very hypocrit claiming that synthetic fabrics are bad ! what about killing 60 Millions of animals ? what about those mink fur dyed in red with chemicals to imitate the aspect of fake fur ? (Dior and Celine did it this year) . Fur is an hypocrit industry

  • MLM
    August 19, 2013 - 12:10

    I t’s very hypocrite that these people talk about “animal rights” being an “important issue” ! The best way to protect those animals is to stop breeding them and to stop the fur industry. There are so many great alternatives nowadays ! We are at a time when more and more scientist speak up for animal respect. Studies show they are capable to feel stress and pain. Some studies exposed the ecological impact of fur farming on the local environment and a study showed that even kept in cages, animals are still depressed and stressed. This is a sick industry.

    • dont buy it
      August 19, 2013 - 13:47

      If you don't like it then don't buy it. Stick to the chemical made clothing because they're no harm, right?

  • Lucy
    August 18, 2013 - 20:15

    This is all so depressing. Wild animals kept in wire cages their entire lives, waiting to be killed only for their fur. Food and water is not enough to make a life worth living. And *how* are they killed? It's interesting that an article supposedly focusing on welfare aspects fails to go into any details. Animals farmed for their fur are often killed by gassing or electrocution to avoid 'damage' to their pelts. The whole business is ugly and about nothing but profit.

    • duh comment of the day
      August 19, 2013 - 07:48

      And here is the winner for the duh comment of the day - "about nothing but profit". Farms are businesses so duh, yeah, it's about profit.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    August 18, 2013 - 18:18

    A hideous activity predicated on servicing a gruesome vanity. Revolting.

  • Rosemary Marshall
    August 18, 2013 - 03:57

    Lip service to animal welfare is not enough. These are WILD animals, the comment about foxes yelping and pressing against the back of their cages indicates fear, and the leaping around in the cages and tunnels is stereotypical activity - an attempt to adjust to the inappropriate environment. Let's face it - fur farming is about MONEY nothing else.

    • HT
      August 18, 2013 - 17:33

      Fox fur only looks good on a fox. When will people get it? so sad.

  • Kay
    August 17, 2013 - 12:18

    I guess I just don't see the need for fur and it's not something I would ever support (and for the record, am not an extreme animal welfare activist). I can't help but pass judgement on your farm and those who wear fur for fashion vs. fur for function. I'm sorry, but three meals a day and water doesn't make for a good life in my books. I am glad the bar is raised high for these types of plants, as their operations have to be very transparent.

  • humaneh
    August 17, 2013 - 11:47

    Fox, mink fur etc only looks good on foxes and mink. Just sayin...

  • Animal Lover
    August 17, 2013 - 10:45

    What a sin. Those poor little animals. I wish I could free them all. Being bred and captured for no reason other than fur. How barbaric. You say they have good lives in getting 3 meals a day and water...well death row inmates get the same thing..how about you give that a try and see how you feel...let the animals go.

  • Ford Elms
    August 17, 2013 - 09:22

    It doesn't matter how much care they take of their animals. The animal rights industry will lie about them and slander them anyway. They also need to be careful of who they hire. Animal rights industry workers often get part time jobs on farms, encourage farm workers to abuse the animals, then film them doing it. An example of this is the "Ohio Dairy Farm Video" that recently was online. HSUS promoted it, Mercy for Animals staged it, but that poor farmer had to go through court proceedings to clear his name. And we all know that clearing your name in court doesn't clear your name in the media. I wish them well, but I'd advise them to keep a clear understanding of the difference between animal welfare and animal rights, and be proactive about dealing with animal rights lunatics. I mean, we're Newfoundlanders. Would any of us be surprised if IFAW made a film where they skinned silver foxes alive and tried to blame these people? It wouldn't be the first time they've done that to people from Newfoundland.