Happy New Year, friends. The first days of 2014 have brought with them some of the coldest temperatures Wisconsin has seen in nearly two decades. As I continue with my travels during this chilly Wisconsin winter, I am honored to be able to stay warm in my beautiful mink coat while representing one of our state's most valuable agricultural exports. In fact, Wisconsin is number one in mink pelt production and is also home to the highest mink-producing county in the nation, Sheboygan County.
For nearly 50 years, mink breeders across Wisconsin have continued the tradition of donating pelts for a garment that is presented to each Alice. This year, the Patrick family graciously stepped up to the plate and donated nearly thirty pelts for my mink coat, which I was presented with in September by the Kettle Moraine Mink Breeders. Last July, during one of the hottest weeks of the summer, I had the opportunity to tour Patrick Fur Farm, near Rib Lake. Their ranch specializes in dark (black) mink, and it produces some of the finest furs in the world. The Patricks showed me how well they care for their mink, just as so many other Wisconsin farmers care for their livestock. Because it was such a warm day, extra efforts were taken to make sure the mink were content and comfortable, from providing them with extra drinking water to running water off of the barn roofs to cool them down.
Mink experience different life cycles throughout the year. Females are bred once in March, and after 45 days they whelp, or give birth. Baby mink are called kits, and there are usually between five to seven kits per litter. When born, the kits are only about the size of your finger. The kits grow quickly, though, and are separated to pens that house one or two mink to give them plenty of room to comfortably grow and protect their coats. By September, they are already fully grown, and by November, they have developed their winter coats, preparing them for Wisconsin's cold winter weather.
Speaking of weather, Wisconsin's climate makes it the perfect area to raise mink. Winters are cold enough for mink to produce a full, high-quality winter coat, and, normally, our summers are not too hot. Just like the mink at the ranch I visited, mink throughout our state are given great care year-round. Like other farm animals, mink ranchers work with veterinarians and nutritionists to keep their animals safe, happy and healthy.
Ranchers work with nutritionists to make sure that the mink's dietary requirements are being met as it grows and develops. Good nutrition is the key to animal health and pelt quality. Wisconsin's processing industries provide many different scrap foods high in healthy nutrients. Expired or waste meat, eggs and cheese, to name a few, make excellent food for mink. Feed is mixed together and delivered to feed animals twice daily. Mink are great recyclers, so feeding them these foods reduces what otherwise would get put into our landfills.
A recent survey showed that Wisconsin produced 1.1 million mink pelts, making up 34 percent of the total United States production. Pelts produced in our state come in a wide variety of colors, including Black, Mahogany, Pastel, Blue Iris, Sapphire, Violet and White. Wisconsin's mink industry is not only number one in the nation, contributing approximately $100 million to our state each year, but it also satisfies demand around the globe, including places in Asia and Europe. This industry exemplifies the diversity and importance of Wisconsin's $59 billion agriculture industry.
Thank you so much to all of the hardworking mink ranchers who work year-round to take great care of their animals, from the hottest of summer days to the most frigid winter nights. A special thank you to the Patrick family for opening up your farm to me, sharing your story and donating the beautiful pelts for my coat. It is something I will always treasure, especially during the cold days that lie ahead.
Remember, Wisconsin agriculture is yours. Today, tomorrow and always.