Fur Ranching

Millions of foxes and minks are raised yearly on ranches in the United States, Canada, and many European countries. Ranches in Afghanistan, Russia, and South West Africa raise Karakul sheep, whose fur is called Persian lamb. Ranchers raise chinchillas in Europe, North America, South Africa, and Rhodesia. More than 50 percent of the furs produced in the United States, and about 40 percent of those produced in Canada come from ranches.

The first fur ranches were established in the 1880's in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Today, fur ranchers conduct breeding programs based on the principles of genetics. Skilled ranchers breed their animals to produce offspring of particular colors and sizes or with other special characteristics.


Most fur trapping takes place during the winter, when furs are thickest, longest, and shiniest. Each trapper sets a series of traps called a trap line along riverbanks and at other spots that the animals visit frequently. In most cases, the traps kill the animals almost immediately.

After collecting their catches, the trappers skin the animals. They use two main methods of skinning, cased and open. Ermines, minks, and other small animals are skinned by the cased method. The trapper slits a line across the rump from leg to leg and peels the pelt off inside out. Beavers and other larger animals are skinned by the open method. The trapper slits a line up the belly and peels the pelt off from side to side. Trappers scrape the skins clean of all fat and tissue, called fleshing, dry the skins, and prepare them for market.

Government conservation programs regulate fur trapping in every state except Hawaii, which has no fur-bearing animals, and in every Canadian province. Each state and province issues trapping licenses and determines when and where trapping may take place. Regulations also set limits on the number of animals that may be trapped.

Marketing & Processing Fur

Marketing Fur

Most ranchers and trappers ship their furs to one of the great auction houses in the major fur-trading centers of the world. In the United States, the chief auction houses operate in Greenville, SC; Minneapolis, MN; New York City; and  Seattle, WA. Major Canadian auction houses are in Montreal, North Bay, Ont.; Regina, Sask.; Vancouver, BC; and Winnipeg, Man. Leading European fur auction centers include St. Petersburg, Russia; London; and Oslo, Norway. The Hudson's Bay Company in Canada was the world's largest fur-trading firm, the company closed the last of its retail fur salons in 1991.

Representatives of auction houses visit  trappers and ranchers to arrange the shipment of pelts to market. The largest cargoes of furs come to market from November through February. Fur dealers, manufacturers, and retailers attend the auction. Buyers may examine several hundred thousand pelts in the warehouses on examining days. The furs are auctioned off on sales days. Buyers must pay for their purchases on or before the prompt day, which is usually about a month after the sales day. On the prompt day, the furs are shipped according to the buyers' instructions.

Processing Fur

Pelts bought at fur auctions must be cleaned and made flexible by a process called dressing. First, the  pelts are softened in a salt solution that removes all excess tissue and grease. Next, the processors apply a special grease to the leather and put the skins into a machine called a kicker. The kicker has wooden feet that pound the grease into every pore of the skin. The pelts are then placed in revolving drums, where they are cleaned and dried with special sawdust and compressed air. Later, the processors may pluck out the long guard hairs, leaving only the thick fur fibers. The fur may also be sheared shorter to give it a plush effect.


Many furs are dyed to improve their appearance or to make them look like other types of fur. Processors may put furs into a vat of dye, or they may dye entire coats by hand. Sometimes dark fur is bleached and then dyed a pale shade. In a special dyeing process called tipping, only the tips of the fur fibers are dyed. This process makes furs resemble darker pelts of the same variety. Tipping helps the manufacturer match several pelts to be used in the same coat.

Cutting and Sewing

Furs differ in quality and appearance, and so manufacturers must carefully grade and match processed skins. A manufacturer makes the pattern for a garment and then selects the skins to be used. Workers stretch the skins and trim off the heads, paws, bellies, rumps, and tails. These parts are used to make cheaper garments.

A worker called a cutter trims and shapes the skins to make the best use of the material. An operator then sews the skins together to form a sheet of fur that approximately matches the shape of the pattern. Next, a worker called a blocker  applies small amounts of water to the skin to make it stretch just enough to cover the edges of the pattern; Then the fur is blocked, or nailed, to a large pine board and left to dry. Later, any surplus material is trimmed away, and the fur is sewn into a garment. Finally, the garment is cleaned and the lining is sewn in.


The MTA Board of Directors will meet September 7, 2014 in Lewistown at the Fergus County Fairgrounds after the rendezvous. MTA members are encouraged to attend.

Deadline for articles, pictures and other information for the Fall newsletter is September 20, 2014. Articles received after that date will not be printed. To forward your report or for more information

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I-169 and All Other Citizen Inititives Do Not Make Montana's November Ballot

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2014 Rendezvous Schedule of events.

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Did You Know?

James Felix "Jim" Bridger (March 17, 1804 – July 17, 1881) was among the foremost mountain men, trappers, scouts and guides who explored and trapped the Western United States during the decades of 1820-1850, as well as mediating between native tribes and encroaching whites. He was of English ancestry, and his family had been in North America since the early colonial period.

The Hudson's Bay Company was started in 1670 along the James and Hudson Bays. Natives would barter furs for trade goods such as knives, beads, needles and blankets. HBC company is in their 4th Century of retail and still going strong.

Robert Campbell (1804-1879) was an American frontiersman, fur trader and businessman. He joined a fur trapping expedition to Rocky Mountains in 1825 with Jedediah Smith, Moses Harris, and Jim Beckwourth. He continued as a trapper and trader through most of the mountain man era.

Fort Leavenworth, 1867, was the first settlement in Kansas territory and is the oldest active Army post west of the Mississippi River. The fort initially served as a quartermaster depot, arsenal, and troop post, and was dedicated to protecting the fur trade and safeguarding commerce on the Santa Fe Trail.

From 1828-1867 Fort Union was the most important fur trading post on the Upper Missouri. Here, seven Northern Plains Indian Tribes, including the Assiniboine, traded buffalo robes and other furs for goods such as cloth, guns, blankets and beads. This fort was a bastion of peaceful coexistence, annually trading over 25,000 buffalo robes and $100,000 of merchandise.

The Mountain Men explored and opened up the Rocky Mountain region. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company (1822-1834) established the brigade system, with teams of trappers working together. In one year they could earn half a million dollars in pelts. Eventually they were outdone by Astor's American Fur Company. By 1834, the fur trade was being played out; Astor's and the Hudson's Bay trappers were all tough competitors.