Fur Farming

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Fur Farming


a branch of livestock raising concerned with the breeding in captivity of valuable fur-bearing animals for their pelts. Animals that are raised for their fur include mink, arctic fox, silver-black fox (Vulpes vulpes fulvus), coypu, and sable (which is bred only in the USSR); the breeding of beaver (since 1939, at the Voronezh Preserve) and chinchilla (since 1962, at the Experimental Demonstration Farm of the All-Union Consumers’ Association in the city of Kirov) has also been introduced. The principal form of fur farming is the cage type. The output of cage fur farming in the USSR (fur raw materials) is exported and is used to make various fur articles for the domestic market. Most of the output of fur farming is made up of mink pelts of various natural shades. In 1970 the pelts of caged minks accounted for 70 percent of the money turnover of the international fur trade.

In Russia cage fur farming began in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the population of the North was engaged in the domestic raising for hides of young foxes and arctic foxes, which had been captured wild and were raised in wooden sheds. The cage type of fur farming did not develop in Russia, since the prime cost of pelts of animals raised on a farm was higher than the cost of those of animals captured by hunters. By 1917 there were 23 small-scale, privately owned nonprofessional fur farms in Russia, with a small number of not very valuable animals (red and white fox). In the USSR fur farming as a branch of livestock raising began to be developed in 1928-29, when the first specialized fur-farming sovkhozes were established to produce furs for export (Shirshino in Arkhangel’sk Oblast, Pushkin and Saltykov in Moscow Oblast, and Tobol’sk in Tiumen’ Oblast). By 1932 there were 20 fur-farming sovkhozes in the USSR. Since 1934 fur farming has also developed in kolkhozes. During the Great Patriotic War (1941-45) cage fur farming suffered greatly; in the postwar years it was reorganized.

From 1945 to 1970 industrialized, cage fur farming was created in the USSR. The principal producers of fur in the country have been the large, specialized fur-farming sovkhozes, which have large fur farms (with as many as 100,000 animals) equipped with mechanized areas for the animals, food-preparation sections, and mechanized refrigeration machinery for food storage and staffed by trained groups of workers and specialists in fur farming. During the same period, 118 large-scale fur-farming sovkhozes (as compared to 22 in 1945) and more than 200 cooperative fur farms were formed in the USSR. The production of pelts from caged fur-bearing animals during this time increased by a factor of 240 (from 26,000 to 6.3 million). The greatest number of cagedfur animals is supplied by the RSFSR, where 4.8 million pelts were produced in 1970 (77 percent of the entire country’s output of furs from caged animals).

Modern specialized fur-farming sovkhozes are highly profitable mechanized animal-raising farms, which operate on the principle of autonomous finance and supply cooperative, kolkhoz, and sovkhoz fur farms with purebred animals. The size of fur-farming sovkhozes is determined by the size of the main herd of female animals: sovkhozes with more than 15,000 are extra-large; with 10,000-15,000, large; with 5,000-10,000, average; and with under 5,000, small. The best fur-farming sovkhozes in the country (Saltykov and Pushkin in Moscow Oblast, Kola in Murmansk Oblast, Lesnoi in the Altai Krai, Bagrationovsk in Kaliningrad Oblast, Solov’evsk in Sakhalin Oblast, and Madona in the Latvian SSR) each have 10,000-15,000 females in their main herd of animals. Each year they sell the state 50,000-60,000 pelts each, and each farm earns 2-3 million rubles, with an economic profit level of as much as 50 percent. The common mink accounts for up to 85-90 percent of the total number of principal females on the large farms. The animals are kept in sheds, in which aboveground cages of single-link metal mesh are placed in two rows with a central passage, with mesh floors and shed-type or interior huts for shelter and whelping. The shed system of housing has made possible the elimination of helminthiases among the animals and the mechanization of services. Coypu are housed in ground-level concrete-block cages with pools for bathing.

The fox, arctic fox, mink, and sable are carnivorous animals (predators), who feed primarily on meat and fish foods; coypu feed on plant foods. During their reproductive periods, foxes, arctic foxes, mink, and sable are fed very nourishing foods, such as fresh meat (horse, seal, whale, walrus, and others), liver and by-products (rumen, lungs, spleen, head, and blood) of farm animals, and fish, milk, curds, freshly ground bone, cod-liver oil, and yeast. Among the plant foods, cereals, potatoes, and root plants and vegetables are provided. For pregnant, lactating females, as well as young animals up to three months of age, it is particularly important to feed muscle meat, whole fish, raw liver, mineral foods (freshly ground bone), and vitamin foods (cod-liver oil and greens). During other periods wide use is made of fodder fish, meat and fish wastes, cocoons of the Chinese silkworm, defatted curds, and blood from slaughterhouses. In making up the feed rations, specialists are guided by standards based on caloric value for animals of different ages, weights, and physical conditions (rest, pregnancy, and lactation) during various periods of the year. In the ration for minks during the winter and spring period meat and fish feeds make up 65-75 percent of the caloric value; milk, 5 percent; grains, 10-20 percent; vegetables, 3 percent; yeast, 4 percent; and cod-liver oil, 3 percent. In the rations for foxes and arctic foxes, the quantity of meat and fish feeds is reduced somewhat and the amount of grain is increased. The composition of rations for animals by zones and regions of the country is mainly distinguished according to the ratio of fish and meat by-products in the group of animal feeds. Fish predominates in the rations of mink and arctic foxes in the fur farms of southern Sakhalin, Kamchatka, the Primore Krai, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk oblasts, and the Baltic republics. In the regions of Siberia and the European part of the USSR fish accounts for 50 percent of the animal feeds in the rations of these animals; in the Ukraine and in Byelorussia, 30 percent. Before feeding, the meat and fish fodder, together with bones, is ground up in rotary mills and meat grinders; grain flour, vegetables, cod-liver oil, and vitamin additives (Vitamins E and Bt) are added in feed mixers and supplied to fur farms in the form of a doughlike mass.

Every fur farm has a mechanized feed preparation plant equipped with feed-processing units or an assembly of machines for the flow processing of feeds (meat and bone grinders, feed mixers, steam boiler kettles, and so on). The feed-processing plants of large fur farms have an output of 20-30 tons of various feeds per day. In cases of complete mechanization the fodder is distributed by battery-powered trucks equipped with portioning hoppers; with partial mechanization, trucks or lightweight suspended tracks are used. To store supplies of meat and fish feeds, the farms have mechanized refrigeration units. The drinking troughs are usually automatic (less frequently, the water is supplied through a hose). The complex of production structures of a fur-farming sovkhoz also includes a point for the primary processing of pelts (to bring them to export conditions) and a veterinary department with a quarantine section. Fur farms have refrigerated motor-vehicle transportation for hauling meat and fish feeds from meat-packing complexes and from railroad stations.

The principal form of labor organization on fur farms is the brigade, which takes care of the number of animals assigned to it. The average numbers of head (adult females with young) assigned to each worker are as follows: 250 mink, 80 foxes, 60 arctic foxes, 75 sables (with young of previous years), and 150 coypu. The production cycle of operations adopted on fur farms corresponds to the biological traits of the animals: (1) preparation of the animals for mating, (2) mating, (3) pregnancy, (4) lactation, (5) raising of young, (6) making up the main herd, and (7) slaughter of the animals for their pelts. The preparation of purebred females and males begins after the previous young are weaned. The liveweight of animals that have been properly prepared for mating is as follows: foxes—females 5-5.5 kg, males 6-6.5 kg; minks-females 900-1,000 g, males 1,800-2,000 g; sable—females 1,100-1,200 g, males 1,500-1,700 g. Coypu may give birth throughout the year and can combine pregnancy with the nursing of previous young; therefore, for coypu there is no period of preparation for mating. Fur-bearing animals (except coypu) are mated once a year. The average number of females to each male during the mating period is 3-5.

The whelping time for fox, arctic fox, mink, and sable is March, April, and May; for coypu it is year-round. The young are creep-fed from the age of four weeks (the young of coypu, from the age of ten days). Depending on the milk capacity of the females, the size of the offspring, and the pace of development of the young, they are weaned from their mothers at the age of 40-50 days and are placed in pairs of opposite sexes in small wire-mesh cages. Caged fur-bearing animals require natural light, which acts as a reflex regulator (through the hypothalamus) of their natural biological rhythms (normal reproduction and the change and growth of hair cover according to the seasons). In August the young are branded and are divided into those for slaughter and those to be used for breeding. In September, October, and November the animals grow their winter fur; in November and December the production herd is graded and the animals are slaughtered for their pelts.

Purebreeding work on fur farms is conducted by selection of fur-bearing animals of large size that are fertile and healthy, with valuable fur qualities. The use of genetic methods in pedigree work has made possible the production of numerous color forms of animals: 34 types of shaded mink, and several color varieties of fox and blue fox. An achievement of Soviet fur farming is the creation of farms of large black sables, whose fur has a beautiful blue undercoat. Advanced fur farms have achieved 100 percent coverage of females during mating time, 90 percent good whelpings, and 97_98 percent survival of the young during the period of rearing. The period of economic utilization of foxes and arctic foxes is 9-10 years; of minks, 5-6 years; of sables, 12-14 years; and of coypu, 3-4 years.

The gross value of caged fur animals’ pelts produced in the USSR in 1970 was 307.4 million rubles, or 85 percent of the fur production in the country. The development of industrialized fur farms in the country has made possible a sixfold increase in exports of furs from caged animals over the last five years, and their sale on the foreign market has brought in tens of millions of rubles. In 1970 the USSR occupied first place in the world with respect to production of pelts from caged fur-bearing animals. (See Table 1 for data on the output of fur farms.)

The development of fur farming in the USSR has proceded along the path of creating ever larger but more narrowly specialized fur farms on an industrial basis—fur factories. These large industrialized fur farms operate exclusively on purchased meat and fish feeds and are situated in the

Table 1. Production of pelts from caged fur-bearing animals in the USSR in 1970
 Production of pelts
Type of farmMinkArctic
FoxCoypuSableTotalProceeds of
sale of
Relative share
fur farms...........................
State industrial
fur farms...........................

economically most highly developed regions (the RSFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Byelorussian SSR, the Baltic Region, the Primor’e Krai, and Sakhalin), with good means of transportation, the presence of meat and dairy enterprises and fish-processing industries, and a good supply of high-voltage electric power for heavy-duty food-processing units and refrigeration plants. There are small fur farms only in the Far North (the Yakut ASSR and Tiumen’ Oblast), in fishing kolkhozes and cooperative-trade hunting farms, which use as feeds the low-grade fish from their catches, the waste products from the slaughter of reindeer, and the carcasses of muskrats and other hunted animals.

The USSR has developed the training of animal specialists and fur farmers with higher and secondary education. Fur farming as a scientific discipline is taught in the departments of livestock management of higher and secondary agricultural educational institutions. Scientific research in the field of fur farming is headed by the Scientific Research Institute of Fur and Rabbit Farming (Moscow Oblast, Udel’naia Station) and the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Hunting and Fur Farming (in Kirov). A large number of textbooks and monographs on fur farming are published in the country. In addition, once every two months, the Ministry of Agriculture of the USSR publishes the mass-production journal Krolikovodstvo i zverovodstvo (Rabbit and Fur Farming; since 1910).

Fur farming abroad originated at the end of the 19th century on Prince Edward Island in St. Lawrence Bay in Canada, where C. Dalton began the industrial breeding of caged wild silver-black foxes. Cage fur farming subsequently became widespread in the USA and the Scandinavian coun-tries, which produce primarily caged mink. In 1970 the production of mink pelts in capitalist countries amounted to more than 17 million pieces. The principal producers of mink pelts were the USA (4.5 million), Denmark (3.3 million), Sweden (1.8 million), Norway (2.1 million), Finland (2.1 mil-lion), and Canada (1.6 million). A small number of arctic fox pelts is produced by Norwegian fur farms. In the socialist countries other than the USSR, fur farming has been developed significantly in Poland and the German Democratic Republic. In Poland during 1970 more than 1 million mink, blue fox, and coypu pelts were produced; the GDR produced 320,000.


Zverovodstvo, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1959.
Il’ina, E. D. Zverovodstvo. Moscow, 1963.
Il’ina, E. D., and G. A. Kuznetsov. Geneticheskie osnovy razvedeniia tsvetnykh norok. Moscow, 1965.
Afanas’ev, V. A., and N. Sh. Perel’dik. Kletochnoe pushnoe zverovodstvo. Moscow, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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