As demand grows for mink coats and hats around the world, Wisconsin continues to lead the nation in the production of the fur pelts.
Wisconsin’s mink farmers produced more than 1.1 million pelts last year -- with black being the most popular color. That’s 32 percent of the total mink pelt production in the U.S.
Bob Zimbal is the third-generation owner of eastern Wisconsin’s Zimbal Minkery , one of the largest mink farms in the country. He said fur sales have been on the rise in the U.S., but China and Russia continue to be the industry’s biggest customers.
“China, 10 years ago, was not a big consuming country of the fur, and they’ve now become the largest consuming country right now," Zimbal said. "Since China’s come along, we just have not been able to produce enough for them over the last few years because they have such a large population.”
And that caused the prices per pelt to skyrocket. More mink farmers entered the industry. Zimbal said now, there’s an oversupply of mink in the marketplace, which has caused the price per pelt to drop. He said production will likely go down this year.
Brad Wiebensohn, a third-generation co-owner of Sandy Bay Mink Ranch in Mishicot, said that even when there’s an oversupply, Wisconsin mink farmers do have an advantage since they raise some of the highest-quality mink in the world.
“We need to feed these mink and they eat meat, so meat and cheese," Wiebensohn said. "Cheese is a big part of their diet also. So, the resources are here and I think the climate with Lake Michigan and northern Wisconsin is ideal for raising mink.”
Wiebensohn said mink operations are growing in the state as more children are becoming interested in the family business.