Fur comes from both farmed and wild sources. Over 85% of fur sold today is farmed.
The most common farmed fur-bearing animal is mink (Mustela vison), followed by fox (Vulpes vulpes and Alopex lagopus). Other species farmed on a smaller scale include nutria (Myocastor coypus), chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera), fitch (Mustela putorius and Mustela eversmanni), sable (Martes zibellina) and finn raccoon (Nyctereutes procyonoides). Most mink farming takes place in Europe (approximately 58%) and North America (approximately 10%). The remainder occurs in countries as far apart as Argentina, China, Ukraine and Russia.
Fur farming provides a livelihood for many thousands of individuals in Europe and North America. In Europe, there are some 6,000 fur farms, while the fur sector as a whole provides some full and part-time jobs in the European Union. In North America there are some mink, fox and chinchilla farms. Most farms are small family-run businesses. The fur sector as a whole provides some full and part-time jobs in North America.
Revenue from fur farming allows many farmers, particularly in Europe, to supplement income from other agricultural activities. Fur farming also allows farming to remain economically viable where climatic conditions limit the options open to farmers in terms of what they can produce and market profitably.
Fur farming provides an efficient use of animal by-products from human food production purchased from fish and poultry processors and other farming sectors. The consumption by fur animals of these by-products, which are not intended for human use, helps to keep down the actual cost of human food production.
The present housing systems have evolved through independent scientific research (notably behavioural studies), and practical experience over many generations of animals on farms. Mink are generally housed in sheds four metres wide. These sheds are open-sided with roofing panels. They provide normal temperature and light conditions, while protecting against direct sunlight, wind and rain. Wire cages are placed in rows in the sheds. Foxes are housed in similar sheds. In both cases, the cages are raised off the ground to ensure good hygiene. These cages give the farm animals sufficient space for normal movement and investigative behaviour.
In mink farming, year-round nest boxes bedded with straw or wood shavings are provided for breeding purposes and to ensure that the animals sleep and rest comfortably. Research has shown that the provision of a nesting box, which is now standard in mink production, is of great importance to the welfare of farmed mink.
Both mink kits and fox cubs remain in the same cage as their mothers until weaned at the age of 7-8 weeks. After that the animals are housed in little groups of 2-3 through their growth period, and only breeding animals, selected among the mature animals late in the autumn, are housed separately. Non-breeding mature animals are killed quickly and humanely. Methods used are closely controlled under national and European law and North American provincial/state or national requirements. They are administered on the farm thereby minimising the need for stressful transport.
Generally, both mink and fox are fed on a wet feed made from fish, dairy, poultry and other agricultural by-products. This is high in nutrients and may have added supplements to ensure that ideal nutrition levels are provided to maintain good health and well being. Clean water is available at all times.