Starting in the late 1880s a new industry developed in Canada, as animals of various species began to be bred in captivity for their fur.
Fox farming started on Prince Edward Island during the 1890s. Sir Charles Dalton and Robert Oulton, two fur industry pioneers, began the domestication of fox when they started the world’s first fox farm using pups obtained from the wild.
The first mink farming attempts in Canada took place during the period 1866-87 by Patterson Brothers in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Other species of furbearers that were farmed at that time included raccoon, marten, and lynx.
Up to the 1910s, fur farming was predominantly in the Maritime Provinces, but the industry rapidly developed in Ontario and Quebec, and a few isolated fur farms could also be found in the Western provinces.
As of 2022, there are about 50 mink farms in Canada, according to the Canada Mink Breeders Association. However, this number will fall unless the legal challenge to a proposed ban in British Columbia succeeds. As of 2020, there were 35 fox farms nationwide. Most provinces have some fur farms, but the highest concentrations are in Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
In recent years, the fox and mink farming industries combined contributed nearly $1 billion annually to the Canadian economy. However, the Covid-19 pandemic seriously disrupted sales in 2021 and 2022, making it difficult to put a current value on the industry. The picture should become clear again in 2023.
Fur farming also helps to maintain rural communities, at a time when modern, highly efficient food production technologies are reducing farming populations in many regions.
Mink and fox have been raised on farms in North America for well over a century. They have been selectively bred for more than 80 generations for such characteristics as size, fur quality and colour, but also for disease resistance, ease-of-handling and other desirable traits. This is the same way our important breeds of cattle, poultry and other domestic livestock were developed.
Fur farming is labour-intensive and requires dedication. Animals must be cared for, fed and watered every day. Animal health and fur quality are priorities and require keeping extensive healthcare and breeding records. The animals also need specialised housing, a balanced diet, clean surroundings and proper care and handling.
Scientific research on nutrition and animal diseases along with modern veterinary care, have significantly improved the health and quality of farmed furbearers over the years. The main components of feed are wastes and by-products from the commercial meat, poultry, egg and fishing industries that are unsuitable for human consumption. Furbearer diets may also be supplemented with fishmeal, vegetable protein, cereals, and certain minerals and vitamins.
The fur trade also supports advanced “ethological” research, to determine how housing designs and other factors influence the well-being of farmed mink and fox. Fur farm research projects have been and continue to be undertaken at universities and research centres in Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway and the US.
Fur farmers, as with all farmers, have environmental best-management practices to follow, and must adhere to environmental laws and regulations. Requirements vary from province to province, but all address manure management and waste disposal, air and water quality, biodiversity protection, and other land stewardship measures.
Canadian fur farmers also operate under provincial and territorial legislation and national Codes of Practice covering animal welfare. The Recommended Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals include mink and fox, and were developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council.