I love wearing my Wisconsin mink vest during my travels across our state! (Photo credit: Alice in Dairyland)

For more than 50 years, Kettle Moraine Mink Breeders Association has provided Alice in Dairyland with a mink garment as a demonstration of their craftsmanship. As Alice, I proudly wear my vest to help educate the public about this unique aspect of Wisconsin’s agricultural industry, helping represent that Wisconsin is a top mink fur producer in the nation.

In Wisconsin, 99% of all farms are family owned and operated, and mink ranches are no exception. My vest is made from pelts that came from Zimbal Mink, a 70-year-old business that’s grown from humble origins of five mink as a wedding gift to being a national leader in the industry.

Mink ranching is very similar to animal agriculture involving other species of livestock such as cattle or swine. To see the family business continue into the future, it makes good business sense to provide quality care to their mink to offer a quality product, which continually places Wisconsin-produced mink at the top worldwide. Ranchers work closely with veterinarians and nutritionists to maintain the health of the mink, ensuring their animals are safe and well cared for.

Zimbal Mink prepares fresh food daily for their animals. Mink are carnivores and their diet consists of high-quality protein sourced from Wisconsin’s rich animal agriculture community.

A large part of the mink diet is food byproducts that are not fit for human consumption. Many Wisconsin food processors partner with our state’s mink breeders to use waste products from foods such as meat, fish, liver, eggs, cheese and others. Mink’s specially formulated diet is mixed fresh and fed to the animals each day.

Thank you to Langer Fur Farm for an educational tour about Wisconsin mink! (Photo credit: Alice in Dairyland)

As natural recyclers, mink help keep food waste from entering landfills. This high-quality food is one of the main components needed to raise high-quality mink. It is very important to ensure they also get fresh, pure water all-year round, even in the cold. The water at Zimbal is on a filtered circulation system that is heated in the winter months and chilled in the summer months, readily available for the mink to drink.

When most people imagine a mink garment, the traditional color that may come to mind is black, or perhaps mahogany. However, there are in fact dozens of colors of mink produced, including sapphire, blue iris, pastel, peaches and cream, and violet.

Zimbal Mink and the Kettle Moraine Mink Breeders have taught me about an industry that makes a $16.8 million annual impact on Wisconsin’s economy. In 2022, Wisconsin produced 571,750 pelts, or 43% of the nation’s total production. Wisconsin also has an international reputation for producing the world’s highest quality mink, with pelts produced here being worn around the world.

There are many puzzle pieces of America’s Dairyland that fit together to make Wisconsin’s agriculture industry $104.8 billion strong. The mink ranchers I have met as Alice showcase the heart of Wisconsin farms: hard-working, dedicated families that put the greatest emphasis on quality and care for their animals.