By Kelly Daynard
Farmers, by their very natures, are entrepreneurs, always looking for innovative new products to try on their farms or looking at new research to find better ways to care for their livestock and crops.
The Rankin family of St. Marys is a great example of that. In the 1920’s, Dow Rankin was a cheese maker who watched as his cousin became one of the first in Canada to farm mink. At the time, farm or ranch-raised mink was unheard-of. The demand, at the time, was for pelts from mink raised in the wild.
But the Depression brought with it a change in the market and ranch-raised mink began to increase in popularity. Dow started by buying three females (at a time when there were only 600 breeding female animals in all of Canada). By the time Dow’s son, Jim, returned home from college to farm in 1949, he had increased to a herd of 40 females with the herd size increasing significantly in the decades since.
Today, Jim is retired from the farm that is now managed by the third and fourth generations of his family to live and work there.
Jim’s son, Kirk, said that the path to a career as a third generation mink farmer was, for him, an indirect one. After high school, he pursued a career in forestry with a desire to be a game warden. Yet, when he met his future wife and farm girl Judi, he knew that he’d rather have a life with her in southern Ontario than one on his own in the north. He returned home to farm with his dad and is now thrilled to have sons Jamie and Curtis and nephew Steve working alongside him.
Farm responsibilities have been divided up according to the passions of each of the four. Jamie enjoys managing the intricate art of creating feed rations which have to be changed and balanced depending on the animals’ age. Curtis studied mechanical engineering and spent a short time working at a car plant before his rural roots drew him home. Today’s he has a lot of responsibility for the care of their animals. Steve also tried an off-farm career before returning to the farm in 2004. He especially enjoys maintaining and operating the farm’s equipment.
There are about 300 mink farmers in Canada. On the Rankins’ farm, they raise minks with five different colours of pelts – Black, Demi, Mahogany, Pastel and Sapphire (which is almost a dark blue in colour). Female mink are bred in March with their kits (babies) born in April. The animals are harvested in late fall. Pelts are used for their fur while the rest of the animals are processed into feed for other animals.
Kirk has a passion for animal welfare and sits on a number of national organizations. Recently, 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. Kirk said that the process was a rewarding one and one that will benefit all mink raised in Canada and all mink farmers.
When the guys aren’t farming, they’re active sportsmen. Jamie bowls and serves as a baseball umpire. Curtis plays ball and hockey while Steve enjoys golf, hockey and baseball. Kirk loves to fish when he gets a break from the farm and Jim’s a one-time sharp shooter who used to win a lot of awards with a local rifle club.
This year, the Rankin family has been recognized by their peers for their contributions to agriculture and are the faces of February, and Ontario fur farmers, in the 2014 Faces of Farming calendar, produced annually by Farm & Food Care Ontario. Their page is sponsored by the Canadian Mink Breeders and the Ontario Fur Breeders Association.
When Jim reflects on the changes that his family farm has seen, he’s both awed and proud. “It’s so rewarding to see two more generations working on the farm started by my father.”
To see an interview with the Rankin family, visit http://youtu.be/84A_ey1tm8c