By Kelly Daynard
Kirk Rankin can well remember an early morning last summer when he walked out to his barns in the morning and discovered that they’d been broken into overnight. “I felt anger and an incredible sick feeling in my stomach knowing the mess that was waiting for me inside.”
And a mess it was — 6,300 minks released from their cages from two of Rankin’s barns. There were many casualties both related to the animals being let out and then a subsequent bout of pneumonia that went through the surviving animals as a result of the incredible stress on the barn’s inhabitants.
Fast forward nine months to last weekend when another 500 mink were released from a farm in Brant County. That makes four break ins/releases in Ontario in the last year accounting for about 8,000 animals.
Rankin, who is a past president of the Canadian Mink Breeders Association and one of 300 Canadian mink farmers, is emotional when he talks about the impact on his animals and on the industry. “We’re an industry under attack,” he says, adding, “The people who do this call themselves animal activists but they’re killing — not helping — the animals.”
In the most recent case, the barn was filled with litters of newborn kits (baby mink) who were between one and 10 days of age. These babies are no bigger than your finger, in most cases. “Their mothers provide all their warmth and all their food,” Rankin says.
He explained that it’s almost impossible for humans to tell one kit from another. As a result, after a break in, it’s virtually impossible to reconnect the babies with their real mothers and mother animals are far less likely to nurse kits that aren’t their own.
The adults, he said, are also ill prepared to handle life outside of the barn. “They’ve never had to hunt for food,” Rankin says, “they’ll starve on their own.”
In the latest case, activists gained entry by cutting through the side of the barn before unhooking security cameras and opening 500 pens to release the mink.
Rankin is a fourth generation Canadian mink farm. It was started by his grandfather Dow in 1937 and continued by his father Jim when he came home from college in 1949 to farm. Today, Kirk is assisted by his sons Jamie and Curtis and nephew Steve who are the fourth generation of the family to raise mink.
Kirk has a passion for animal welfare and sits on a number of national organizations. In 2013, he led a committee responsible for updating the Code of Practice for Farmed Mink. Codes of Practice are the national guidelines that farmers follow when caring for farm animals. The 60 page document covers all aspects of mink care — housing requirements, feed and water, floor space, air quality, veterinary care, transportation and more.
Work on the document was done by a committee of experts from across the country representing many areas of interest from government and farmers to humane societies, veterinarians and researchers. Kirk said that the process was a rewarding one and one that will benefit all mink raised in Canada and all mink farmers. He said that that document has led to significant animal welfare improvements on mink farms — including bigger pens and fewer animals in each pen. “We’ve done so much work to improve animal welfare in our industry,” says Rankin, “but these activists are still coming in and doing terrific damage.” If they want to make a difference, he suggests that they try to work with the industry on animal welfare initiatives instead of killing animals through their actions.
The only good outcome resulting from the break-ins may be the show of support that the farmers experienced from those outraged by the acts of cruelty. More than 40 neighbours and other mink farmers showed up to the latest farm to offer help in catching and saving the animals.
Last summer, the Canadian Mink Breeders Association offered a $75,000 reward for information leading to charges against those responsible. As of yet, that reward has been unclaimed.