If you’ve never visited a mink farm before, now is your chance! Zimbal Mink Farm is in Wisconsin, the largest mink-producing state in the US (though Utah is not far behind). The farm is larger than most, but has one thing in common with almost every mink farm in the US: it’s a family affair. Now let’s meet the third and fourth generations of this mink-farming family …
BOB ZIMBAL, third-generation mink farmer: So we’re located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is actually a great place to raise mink.
Raising mink is a lifestyle as much as a job and when we come out in the morning we look forward to caring for the animals and feeding them and taking care of their needs.
Sixty years ago my grandfather and my father started Zimbal Mink. Mink were just being domesticated, so there was a learning process how to care for the animals and feed the animals. As I child I always helped on the farm, and my father taught me to pay attention to the animals and look at their health and each individual mink’s needs.
My grandfather and my father were kind of pioneers in the industry, teaching and learning what it takes to raise a good-quality mink. And now we’re trying to pass that also the next generation of my sons and my nephew, as they come on to the farm.
The year really begins in the fall of the year where we select the breeders, and it’s all natural breeding on the farm. Breed them in March. And the end of April, beginning of May they have their litters. We are continually monitoring each female to see how she’s caring for those young ones. If there’s some difficulty, we can help them along, or sometimes if a mother can not take care of them, we can move them to the next animal.
We have a computer system which we use, and that helps us track each individual animal. Years ago when my father did it, it was all done by hand, but now it’s a computer system where we use a bar code, and we’re able to select and look for the genetic traits that we want to keep in the mink.
We look for size; size is important because it’s material that it takes to make the garment. Also we look at the quality of the hair. We’re looking for fine, soft hair on the mink, rather than coarser-type hair. And the thickness and the depth of the underfur is important.
We raise seven different colors, from black to white. There are browns, there are greys in between – lighter greys, darker greys – but we have distinct, different breeds.
Healthy Diet, Healthy Mink
A healthy mink starts with a healthy diet, and in Wisconsin we’re fortunate to have a diverse agricultural community. We have things available to us like beef, cheese, eggs, poultry.
JIM ZIMBAL, fourth-generation mink farmer: The better food helps them grow a nice thick coat, and silky. If we didn’t feed them as well, they wouldn’t turn out as well.
BOB ZIMBAL: I’m not a formally trained nutritionist, but I do work with nutritionists, and at different times of the year, the mink’s needs are different. So when a mink is reproducing, its requirements are different than when it’s growing or furring. So our food is weekly sent in to a laboratory to have it analyzed to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the mink.
The great thing about us taking these animal proteins that are not used for human consumption, we’re recycling that back into the mink industry and using that to feed the mink. So all our food is produced on our site, in our feed kitchen, keeping that food as fresh each day as possible.
We have a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility. We can open the roofs and sides and the air will flow through the building, to keep it cooler in the summer. But also we can close it up in bad weather in the winter to protect the animals from the environment.
Also this facility uses the natural light which the mink are accustomed to.
This facility is designed to make the mink comfortable, but also make it efficient for the people that are caring for the animals. So the way the bedding is put into them, the way the boxes are kept clean – things like that are designed with what’s comfortable for the animal but also what is efficient for the employees.
This facility is really a state-of-the-art facility that is going to be copied by other farmers throughout the world.
JOHN EASLEY, DVM, ranch services veterinarian: Zimbal Mink management techniques are always being developed on the farm here. They are always looking for different ways for them to produce and handle and care for these mink in a better way.
From a health standpoint, as a veterinarian, I look at how the animals are being taken care of on a daily basis.
The Zimbals are an active participant in Fur Commission USA’s Humane Herd Certification Program. During the herd certification process we look to see that the mink are being housed, cared for, fed, managed, to the criteria that are prescribed within the guidelines. By meeting those standards, they consistently produce some of the best-quality mink in the world, and that reflects on their caretaking abilities.
BOB ZIMBAL: My daughter, my son and my nephews and nieces travel the world, like Moscow, London, Milan, Hong Kong, New York, to keep up on the latest trends in the fashion industry. Really, what are these manufacturers and top designers looking for in the quality of the mink?
Buyers throughout the world expect consistent quality from us, and they’re expecting the highest standard in the world. Our quality exceeds their expectations, which makes Zimbal Mink the most sought-after brand in the world.
And it all starts here, on the farm, with our attention to detail.