St. Marys Journal Argus
With a small number of escaped mink still unaccounted for, about a dozen killed on the road, and about 75 succumbing to the stress and extreme weather conditions encountered upon their release, the owners of the Glenwood Fur Farm (formerly the Finnie mink farm) on the eastern edge of St. Marys were counting their blessings that a huge majority of the creatures that were removed from their cages early Sunday morning did not wander far from their nests before being recaptured.
A neighbour of the mink barns — who also happens to be the farm owner’s brother — was awakened by a knock on the door in the early hours of Sunday morning. A passerby had observed mink running free.
According to farm owner Jeff Richardson, within about 20 minutes there were about 15 people on the scene to assist, including neighbours, current and former employees who received an early-morning call for help, and fellow St. Marys-and-area mink ranchers.
“The community really chipped in and helped out,” commented Kirk Rankin, operator of a mink farm north of St. Marys and president of the Canadian Mink Breeders. Rankin was among those who rushed to the assistance of the Glenwood farm, and was on the scene Monday morning as officials from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs walked around the farm writing notes and taking away mink for testing to determine exact cause of death.
Access had been forced by cutting away a 12-foot section of exterior fencing at the rear of the property, with footprints observed leading from there through a wooded area down to Perth Road 120 near the St. Marys golf course. Two of the farm’s seven barns had been entered, with cages forced open in a variety of ways.
Richardson says 95 per cent of the animals were recaptured before noon on Sunday. “It was raining and cold just about until the time we were done (recapturing the animals in live traps),” he reported, adding that it’s probable most of the fatalities were due either to pneumonia or to infections from wounds received when the animals began fighting with each other.
The same instinct that probably led to that fighting — an instinct to protect their young “kits” — also led, however, to the survival of most of the mink. All of the animals released were mothers with litters of kits ranging up to eight in number. Most of them stayed in the vicinity instead of escaping through the exterior fence because they wanted to get back into the raised, caged-in nests inside the barns to nurse their young.
Still, both Richardson and Rankin are almost certain the break-in was the work of animal rights activists, rather than a random act of vandalism. And they were both stunned that the activists would choose to remove female mink from their cages at this stage in their life cycle.
“This is the worst time of year to have it happen,” Rankin explained, noting the baby mammals would not be able to survive long without their mother’s milk.
“You always know there’s a really, really small segment of the population who get enjoyment out of causing harm to this type of farm,” Richardson added. “But at this time of year? I don’t think there’s a mink rancher who would think that somebody would take away the mothers from all those kits and cause them to starve.”
He estimated that 5,000 kits were left without a mother in the nest for a short time Sunday morning. With the deaths and disappearances due to the incident, dozens could potentially have died but he was very pleased to report that almost all of the orphaned kits were moved into other nests with adoptive mothers, and seem to be adapting well.
Richardson says only about 12 kits were lost. But he also expects the farm’s struggle to recover isn’t over yet, as more mothers could succumb if they’re still suffering from lingering infections or pneumonia.
“We’ll do what we can to keep them comfortable and hopefully they’ll pull through,” he said.
A similar incident occurred last year near Simcoe; prior to that, the last time an Ontario mink ranch was broken into in such a manner was almost 10 years ago near Chatham, Rankin explained. But Sunday morning’s crime has fur farmers in St. Marys and area — there are currently seven operations in this vicinity, which has a long mink ranching history — thinking about heightened security measures. The exterior fencing, Richardson commented, “is more to keep the mink in, than to keep anyone out.” But after this weekend, “we’ll definitely be installing a security system that will alert us when someone comes onto the property.”