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Disturbing Department Documents
The following extracts were taken from documents obtained from the Department of Agriculture under the Freedom of Information Act. "XXX" denotes the instances in the documents where names have not been disclosed by the Department.
Document 1: Overview of two mink farms in Ireland
Re: Visit to two fur farms on 18th and 19th August 1998
Attendance: Veterinary Inspectors - A Guthrie, K Unger, H Dawson
Purpose: Familiarisation with fur farming and assessment of welfare aspects of rearing of caged fur animals. To meet and discuss issues with management.
Each farm self contained, i.e. all operations carried out on farm from breeding, rearing, slaughter and preparation and dispatch of pelts.
Chicken and fish offal. Barley and wheat mix including vit and mineral mix (proprietary product with correct balance imported from Holland.
Offal arrives in frozen blocks and thawed and used on the day or stored in cold store (-19 degrees Celsius). Also blast freezer used.
Chicken offal 40-50 per cent, fish offal 30 per cent, barley/wheat/vits/mins 15-20 per cent. Percentage of fish offal will increase over winter to minimise calorific intake so as to have breeding mink lean and fit for breeding season.
Palatability important, e.g. mink have sweet tooth.
Offal ground up and feed made up in "Feed Kitchen" - rough, dirty, open room
Water added and feed made into a slop. Delivered into feeder trucks (similar in size to ride-on mower) which is driven through aisles between cages and dispense feed through hose pipe onto wire top of cages. Mink can feed by reaching up on hind legs (natural tendency in any case)
Best feed mix still open to debate...much research Holland and Denmark.
Infectious Disease Problems
Aleutian Disease a big problem worldwide - often serious losses through sub-clinical disease...poor thrift, poor conception, small litters. No vaccine.
Test for disease carried out when kits are mature in December/January (blood sample obtained by nail cut).
When present, affected animals are culled. If percentage goes too high, entire cull.
Other problems...botulism, viral enteritis, pseudomonas all of which are routinely vaccinated against. Occasionally distemper a problem.
Vaccination at weaning (6-8 weeks)
Open or semi-open housing - mink tolerate cold well and excessive heat can be a problem.
Wire mesh cages (usually inch guage), single tier, nest box to the front (occasionally on top). Floor is also wire and appears to be OK (non-aversive) and advantageous over solid floor re hygiene.
Size varies. Typically where breeding female and litter (or two remaining kits), dimensions = 78 x 30 x 37.5 (height) cms. Cage size smaller for singly kept females...61 x 23 x 36.
Water supplied by hydroare piping clipped to back of cages and water accessed by way of nipple drinker (some leaking at XXX) of mini-bowl drinker.
Concrete pathway aisle for feed trucks.
Mink appeared healthy and alert on both farms. Very little stereotypical behaviour noted. The managers at both premises were familiar with the Council of Europe's Recommendations concerning Fur Animals (through the Fur Breeders' Association), particularly cage dimensions. It was also accepted that changes would have to take place in the next few years. The mink appeared to be well adapted to the caged existence.
XXX keeps 100 silver foxes and these showed signs of fear during the inspection, returning to normal when the inspection team had passed through the house.
The manager indicated that they were looked after by one elderly individual only and who was attached to the farm for many years. It was not a viable proposition and he intends to discontinue foxes after the coming pelting operation.
KH Unger, SVI (Department of Agriculture Veterinary Inspector)
21 August, 1998
Document 2: Inspection of mink farm
Inspection of mink farm at premises of XXX on 06/08/1999
Attendance: Veterinary Inspectors - L McEldowney, A Guthrie, K Unger and C Anderson
Ref: Council of Europe Recommendations on Fur Farming and Council Directive 98/58/EC on the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes
4,500 breeding females kept and 9,000 cages available on a premises located close to the XXX road. The housing, feeding (cold store of 700 tonne capacity), management similar to other mink farms, i.e. self-contained operation including breeding, rearing, feeding, pelting.
Mainly American Wild or Skanglow strain of mink [dark brown] and three mink per cage (one female and two young males, as is normal practice). The mink appeared in good health, displaying signs of curiosity and only occasional stereotypy.
Chicken offal and white fish is stored in blocks in the cold store. It is important that a balance is kept between the two ingredients as chicken offal contributes too much fat in the diet. XXX find it difficult obtaining enough white fish to maintain this balance.
As with other mink farms, the feed is mixed in a vat with barley, mineral and vitamins added. The resulting paste is pumped into a container on a motorised buggy and released through a nozzle on top of each of the occupied cages.
Males and females are selected for breeding at pelting time.
Barren females, normally caged singly, are now being kept with two young males. The males are allowed to settle for 24 hours together before the female is introduced. XXX is happy with this novel arrangement so far.
Aleutian Disease is established on this farm. It has been decided that it would be too expensive to eliminate and the policy is to cull the weak breeders (often manifests in low kit numbers at birth).
An inspection of the slaughter of mink to be carried out at pelting time (to assess if this is in compliance with Council Directive 93/119/EC)
KH Unger SVI (Department of Agriculture Veterinary Inspector)
Document 3: Slaughter of mink
Re: Slaughter of Mink at XXX
40,000 mink will be dispatched on this farm commencing in the late autumn and ending in January. I visited the above premises on Wednesday 24/01/2001 and witnessed the dispatch of about 50 mink.
The method of Euthanasia is carried out in an efficient humane manner. The mink are taken from their own individual cages and placed in the gas chamber. The gas chamber consists of a wooden plywood box on wheels with an opening flap at the top of approximate dimensions 5ft x 3ft x 3ft. Fifty males or 70 females are placed in the box via the flap by two operatives. This process takes about ten minutes.
The chamber is then wheeled to the end of the mink house where a hose is connected to the valve inlet on the chamber. The valve is opened on top of the carbon monoxide cylinder. Carbon monoxide enters the chamber for about 30 seconds at which point all the mink are dead. The back end of the chamber box is opened and all the dead mink are tipped out on the ground. Carbon monoxide is supplied by BOC Gasses.
The mink did not show any signs of distress while being dispatched and in my opinion the process is being carried out as humanely as possible.
Pierce Comerford (District Veterinary Office, Portlaoise)
Document 4: Visit to fur farm
Re: Visit to fur farm at premises of XXX.
Attendance: Veterinary Inspectors - D Butler, A Guthrie, K Unger
Purpose: To assess welfare of fur animals and apprise management of Council Directive 98/58/EC concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes.
24,000 mink and 2,400 foxes kept on a remote premises.
Housing, caging, feed, husbandry similar to other mink farms. Routine veterinary calls are uncommon although there is a veterinary advisor attached to the Irish Fur Breeders Association.
Mainly white mink with 5 per cent wild or brown for vigour. Three to a cage (dam and two offspring usually). Mink appeared to be good health, vigorous and intensely curious. Cages consist plasticised wire mesh containing a cylindrical timber nest box with sawdust bedding. Cage size - 32" x 10" x 16" [Council of Europe recommendations 34" x 12" x 18" due for implementation by 31/12/2010].
Foxes are mainly Artic (sic) blue, Silver and a small number of Arctic Marble and Red crosses. Caged mainly in pairs (juveniles - male and female from same litter usually) and appeared to be in good health.
Fed in similar way to mink (chicken offal, fish and barley paste with vitamins and mineral added). Paste deposited on angled shelf on near side of cage. Also fed carcasses of mink in pelting season.
Breeding season commences February-March (Arctic foxes) and March-April (Silver foxes) with whelping from May onwards (5 to 18 pups per litter). Pelting carried out after 6 months approx.
Fox cages...40" x 30" x 30" (approx) [Council of Europe recommendations = 40" x 30" x 28" due for implementation by 31/10/2010].
(1) Management (see above) welfare of foxes
(2) Euthanasia of mink and foxes
(1) Displayed signs of wariness/fearfulness as inspecting group passed along central passageway. Normal behaviour restored after group had passed by cages. Behavioural aspects aside, the condition of these animals was very good and no visible evidence of trauma (fighting, self-inflicted injury, etc)
(2) Euthanasia box (48" x 30" x 24" approx) for mink attached to a motorised buggy. Exhaust linked to a metal box containing water through which gas passes and cooled and finally out through perforations in pipe running along top of box inside. Mink dropped through spring-loaded door on topside.
25-30 mink euthanased at a time and brought to pelting plant (close by).
These were examined on arrival. All dead and showing no signs of distress (no frothing at mouth, epistaxis, urine, faeces, wet coats). Death appears to be rapid and trauma-free.
There were no foxes being euthanased at the time of our visit. The method used is electrocution involving a 12 volt batter, transformer and electrodes (mouth to anus) ["Foxfinal" (Finland) producing 300-700 mA]. Apparently, this is the standard method in the main fox fur farming countries, e.g. Finland (3 million per annum). Restraint is by a "dog-catcher" device. The fox is inclined to bit one electrode and the other end is then applied to the anus/rectum. Experienced personnel important.
Though wary, the foxes appear reasonably well adjusted to their caged environment. This is probably due to habituation to the presence of their human carers and also most are caged in pairs.
In general, both mink and foxes appeared to be well managed. Mink seem well adjusted to cage existence and no obvious welfare problems (notwithstanding the cage size issue) noted.
D Butler (Department Veterinary Inspector) should return to the farm to observe and report on fox euthanasia.
KH Unger (Department of Agriculture Veterinary Inspector)
Document 5: Slaughter of foxes at mink farm
I visited the above premises on Friday, November 20th. I was able to view the slaughter of 12 foxes by electrocution. The procedure was carried out by a long standing employee of the company who also works full time as the carer of the animals. Restraint of the foxes was efficient and in my view humane. There was no distress displayed by the animals when caught by the animal restraint. This restraint is similar to any dog catcher which may be found at dog pounds or veterinary surgeons premises.
The animal is caught quickly around the neck by the restraint. It is lifted, using the restraint and tail, out of the cage. The animal does not struggle. It is not choked but rather is held up by the restraint around the angle of the jaw. I have checked this myself, finding I could place a number of fingers between restraint and animals neck. The restraint is attached to an opposite cage by means of a small hook at its end. This allows the operative to use one hand to insert the earth probe per rectum and then to insert the charging probe either into the mouth or onto the ear. When the animal bits the probe it is immediately electrocuted. The operative maintains the charge for 10 seconds approximately. The animal is dead at the end of this period. I have confirmed this to my satisfaction. I can say that I firmly believe that this procedure is humane. There were no indications of distress either in the animal being electrocuted or animals in adjoining cages. I believe that there may have more distress at my presence than in the procedure itself.