By Crystal Siemers-Peterman
I am honored to be able to stay warm in my beautiful mink coat while representing one of our state’s most valuable agricultural exports. This year, A&M Dittrich Mink Farm graciously donated pelts for my mink coat, which I was presented with in September by the Kettle Moraine Mink Breeders. For more than 50 years, mink breeders across Wisconsin have continued the tradition of donating pelts for a garment that is presented to each Alice in Dairyland.
I had the opportunity to tour A&M Mink Farm near Medford. The ranch specializes in dark (black) mink as well as white, palomino, mahogany, brown, silver-blue and cross. This family-owned business produces some of the finest furs in the world. This is the second-largest mink ranch in the U.S.
In Wisconsin, almost all farms are family-owned and -operated, and mink ranches are no exception. To see their family business continue into the future, mink ranchers understand that it makes good business sense to provide quality care to their mink; offering a quality product continually puts Wisconsin mink at the top of the industry worldwide.
A&M Mink Farm, they showed me how they care for their mink, just as so many other Wisconsin farmers care for their livestock. The day I toured the farm was a warm day, and extra efforts were being taken to make sure the mink were content and comfortable, such as providing them with extra drinking water and running water off the barn roofs to cool them down.
Wisconsin’s climate makes it the perfect area to raise mink. Winters are cold enough for mink to produce a full, high-quality winter coat, and, normally, summers are not too hot. Just like the mink at the ranch I visited, mink throughout our state are given great care year-round. Like other animal farmers, mink ranchers work with veterinarians and nutritionists to keep their animals safe, happy and healthy.
Mink experience different life cycles throughout the year. Mink are seasonal breeders, which means instead of mating year-round, they mate when the lighting conditions are just right in the springtime. Selecting females for breeding is much like many other production animal species, in that the females are selected for maternal instincts to ensure all litters have the best care.
Females are bred once in March, and after 45 days they whelp, or give birth. Baby mink are called kits, and there are usually between five to seven kits per litter. When born, the kits are only about the size of your finger. They grow quickly, though, and are separated to pens that house one or two mink to give them plenty of room to comfortably grow and protect their coats. By September, they are fully grown, and by November, they have developed their winter coats, preparing them for Wisconsin’s cold winter weather.
Nutritionists make sure a mink’s dietary requirements are being met as it grows and develops. Good nutrition is the key to animal health and pelt quality. Wisconsin’s processing industries provide many different scrap foods high in healthy nutrients. Meat, eggs and cheese, to name a few, make excellent food for mink. Feed is mixed together and delivered to animals twice daily. They eat everything from chicken nuggets to American cheese — mink are great recyclers!
Mink ranchers work year-round to take great care of their animals, from the hottest of summer days to the most frigid winter nights.
A special thank you to the Mogensen family, the Van Ansem family and the entire team at A&M Dittrich Mink Farm for opening up your farm to me, sharing your story and donating the beautiful pelts for my coat. It is something I will always treasure, especially during the cold days that lie ahead.
The mink ranchers I have met as Alice showcase the heart of our Wisconsin farms: hardworking, dedicated families who put the greatest emphasis on quality and care for their animals. I am proud and honored to share the story of our state’s mink through the generosity of Wisconsin mink ranchers and industry professionals.
Siemers-Peterman is the 70th Alice in Dairyland.