ANIMAL WELFARE ON DANISH MINK FARMS
ANIMAL WELFARE ON DANISH MINK FARMS Mink farms must be run according to the rules laid out in the “Executive Order on Protection of Fur Animals”. This order came into force on 1 January 2007 and is based on European rules in the field, a report from the Animal Ethical Committee and comprehensive research into mink behaviour. Denmark is the world’s largest producer of mink skins. As a natural consequence of this position and the Danish tradition of livestock research, animal welfare in mink production is continuously subject to scientific research. Research mainly takes place at Aarhus University and at the University of Copenhagen. Both universities run a mink farm where animal welfare is studied and described. In addition, Kopenhagen Fur operates its own research unit, which also comprises a research breeding farm.
continues. Regard for the animals’ temper is possible through commercially available breeding programmes. • The primary activity periods of mink are sunrise and sunset. Mink spend 70-80% of their time in the nest box, corresponding to the conditions of their wild relatives. Their behavioural need to stay in a nest has therefore been taken into account.
Our mink farming gives top priority to welfare. For instance:
• Farmed mink live according to their nature. They mate naturally, and the female builds a nest of straw in the nest box. They give birth only once a year. The number of litters cannot therefore be increased by artificially speeding up the weaning of the kits. Weaning of the kits at the age of eight weeks is a proven optimum compromise between female and kit welfare, and the separation of the litter is gradual and ensures proper socialisation to members of the same species as well as humans.
• Farmed mink are domesticated and extensively adapted to the physical production environment and the contact with other mink and humans. By continuously demanding selection for good welfare, the new Executive Order ensures that this development
• When young, the mink are kept in pairs, male and female, to stimulate play and diversion and to allow them to establish a hierarchy with the male as the dominant. When adult, the mink are kept separate in accordance with their solitary lifestyle.
RESEARCH “Mink welfare” – a memo prepared by Aarhus University commissioned by the Ministry of Justice in April 2010 reviews animal welfare in mink production. The conclusion is that the rules on mink farming provide a framework for good animal welfare.
• The size of the cage allows the mink to perform behavioural patterns specific to the species, i.e. the animals can move freely, care for their fur, lie down, sleep, stretch their limbs and withdraw and rest in the nest box. A doubling or quadrupling of the cage area does not increase mink welfare.
• The occurrence of fur biting is hereditary and has been reduced markedly during recent years. New studies indicate the possibility of further reducing the occurrence of stereotypy and fur biting by means of suitable stimulating objects which the mink can scratch, bite and tear.
• The new Executive Order requires shelves or tubes which the mink can use as a resting place, lookout and for the female as a refuge from the male or from the kits during the suckling period. If the pipe lies on the bottom of the cage, it serves as a stimulus, which the mink can hide in or move around. The new initiatives help improve mink welfare. It is still being looked into the availability of objects that can withstand being scratched, chewed and torn.
• The requirements of an empty cage between females during nursing as stipulated in the Order ensures more peace and quiet on the farm during this sensitive period. However, in practice, this requirement may involve extra relocation of the breeding females.
• The new Executive Order ensures that mink have permanent access to straw. Straw is important for the female’s nesting behaviour and is used throughout the year as an occupational material which the mink carry around the cage, form and chew it. Straw also serves as an insulating material in the nest box. Permanent access to straw improves mink welfare. • Stereotype behaviour is virtually unknown in young animals, most of which are put down in November. Stereotypy is thus primarily seen during winter and only in a small number of breeding animals. Similar to anticipatory behaviour, stereotypy is clearly related to feeding times. The effect of individual feeding on stereotypy reduction is still being investigated.
• Mink are only handled (moved in traps) a few times during the production cycle. Handling takes place when the female is moved to the male’s cage for mating, during weaning when the female is moved away from the litter, when the kits are relocated in pairs at the age of 9-10 weeks, during vaccination and fur sorting and when the breeding animals are split up. • Extermination is swift and painless and takes place next to the cages, making transportation unnecessary and therefore minimising distress to the animals. • The cage system allows optimum monitoring of the animals. Daily registration of remaining feed on the top of the cages and faeces texture under the cages forms part of the monitoring. Mink health is generally good and the scope and intensity of welfare problems are low. Kopenhagen Fur relies strongly on research and the myriad results in the welfare of mink. In terms of animals, it is important that we rely on wellestablished and proven research results. No one can speak on behalf of the animals. Only the animals can provide the answers, and that is basically what animal welfare research is all about; asking the animals.
INSPECTION Thus the overall framework for good animal welfare in mink production is given. It is also clear that poor management and failure to observe the rules may threaten the welfare on individual farms. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration has a group of skilled inspectors, who ensure that the rules are observed by making unannounced visits to check the conditions of Danish mink farms. The inspection shows that Danish fur farmers enerally manage to provide the required care for their animals. During inspections in 2010, animals giving cause for comment were found on approximately only one in 23 farms. This is very low compared to other animal production. The results of the inspection of the farms are available on the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration’s website. MINK ARE DISPATCHED, USING CO OR CO2. THIS IS DONE BY TAKING THE MINK DIRECTLY FROM THEIR CAGE TO THE DISPATCHING BOX. DEATH IS SWIFT AND PAINLESS. SUBSEQUENTLY, THE MINK ARE LAID TO COOL NATURALLY BEFORE THE SKIN IS REMOVED.
THE VETERINARIANS VISIT ALL DANISH MINK FARMS AT LEAST FOUR TIMES A YEAR.
CHECK YOUR FARM Kopenhagen Fur has chosen to supplement public control measures with the consultancy programme “Check your farm”. All mink farmers in Denmark therefore receive an annual visit from one of the trade’s own consultants, who checks that everything is in order. At the same time, the mink farmer is given the perfect opportunity to discuss any doubts and become updated on current rules and their interpretations. Daily farm operation, also called management, is one of the most crucial factors in ensuring proper animal welfare. The consultants are always available if the Danish mink farmers have any questions, doubts or are just interested in discussing matters with a consultant.
“The general impression is that the occurrence of disease and death in mink is at a low level, significantly lower than the level for other livestock farming in Denmark”. Expert group of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration
WOUNDS AND INJURIES When conditions on Danish mink farms are criticised, criticism is often related to wounds and injuries. It is a widespread myth that wounds and injuries are a major problem. All knowledge and experience in the area indicate otherwise. In 2010, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration published a comprehensive report on animal welfare in Danish mink farming. The report was prepared by a working group composed of representatives from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, Kopenhagen Fur, the Danish Veterinary Association, the Danish Agriculture & Food Council, the Danish Ministry of Justice, Aarhus University, the Danish Plant Directorate and the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. In other words, the specialist skills and knowledge were substantial. In respect of wounds, injuries and disease, the report concluded:
OBVIOUSLY, MINK MAY SUSTAIN WOUNDS OR INJURIES JUST LIKE ALL OTHER ANIMALS. THEY MUST BE TREATED ACCORDING TO THE DIRECTIONS OF KOPENHAGEN FUR’S INDUSTRY CODE WHICH HAS BEEN APPROVED BY THE DANISH VETERINARY AND FOOD ADMINISTRATION. OCCURRENCE OF WOUNDS AND INJURIES IS GENERALLY very LOW.
Aarhus University considered the issue again in 2011. In that connection, the researchers collected all available knowledge in the area. This involved collecting data from previous studies where injuries had been recorded, but not computed since the studies dealt with other matters. This means that a vast amount of data exists. These data also show that the issues of biting and injuries are minor. Checks performed during the autumn when the occurrence of biting and injuries is at its highest showed that less than one per mille, i.e. less than one in every thousand animals, has injuries requiring extermination. The average mortality rate on a mink farm during the growth season is 1.1%. The growth season runs from weaning of the kits in June until pelting in November. All dead mink are considered by this study, so it also
includes mink that have died from various diseases. As mentioned, only few of the dead animals have wounds or varying degrees of injury. All scientifically based sources reach the same conclusion: the number of unintended deaths, wounds and injuries is very low in mink production and considerably lower than in other animal production. INDUSTRY CODE To ensure uniform interpretation of the rules and guidelines for e.g. wound treatment, Kopenhagen Fur has prepared an industry code, which was approved by the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration in June 2011. The industry code lists requirements and interpretations of rules and ensures farmers and authorities a shared understanding of how to organise day-to-day business on a mink farm. The industry code is publicly accessible and is updated regularly (Danish only): www.kopenhagenfur.com/ branchekode TRAINING To be able to work with mink, farmers must be trained in managing the animals and their needs. This also applies to casual workers. In addition, in cooperation with a number of agricultural collages, Kopenhagen Fur has introduced mink in the curriculum as a specialising subject. VETERINARIANS Veterinarians constitute an important professional sounding board for mink farmers. Veterinarians possess vast specialist knowledge about animal welfare, treatment and infection control. This is knowledge the mink farmers benefit from four to six times a year in the form of statutory health advice visits. Well-managed farms only need four visits, while any problem farm failing to observe legislation and rules needs six visits. Health advice visits have several advantages. Animal conditions improve and good animal health receives more attention. Mink farmers also experience advantages in the form of better health and infection control on the farms, thereby reducing costs and optimise operations. VISIT A MINK FARM You are always welcome to visit a mink farm. Go to the website danskeminkfarme.dk to get in contact with mink farmers throughout Denmark. They are prepared to show you their farms, nothing beats seeing the conditions of the animals with your own eyes.
YOU ARE WELCOME TO VISIT A MINK FARM IF YOU WISH.
KOPENHAGEN FUR LANGAGERVEJ 60 DK-2600 GLOSTRUP TEL.: + 45 43 26 10 00 MAIL@KOPENHAGENFUR.COM WWW.KOPENHAGENFUR.COM