By Lily Kongslien
Special to the Star Journal
I recall the silver fox farm our family operated in the 1920’s and 30s. Silver fox farming began around 1890 on Prince Edward Island with the scientific breeding of the first true silver foxes. Trappers had found the first black and silver-haired pups in the litters of common red foes. This first breeding of silver foxes was successful and pairs of live foxes were much in demand as a good pair was worth thousands of dollars. The pelts were rare and had a brilliance and sheen that made them special prizes.
My father worked at the Carroll fox farm in the early 20s; he got his first several pairs of foxes from Don Carroll and began what we called the Northwoods Silver Fox Farm along the Wisconsin River. At the time there were several silver fox farms in our immediate area and the climate was ideal for fur farms. The Fromm brothers operated a large silver fox farm south of Wausau. My father purchased breeding stock from them.
On a sliver fox farm, there was the large yard area surrounded by wire fence complete with over-hang for security, as foxes are wild animals and can climb and dig. They do not become pets – they snarl and yap at strangers and even at those of us who worked with them. Inside the yard area there were individual pens made of galvanized mesh wire and two-by-fours; a complete wire cage having a dirt floor over the bottom wire. Each pen had a nesting box for bad weather, warmth in winter and a house for the mother and young pups in the spring, When the fox is mature, about two years old, they were put into special mating pens where they stayed together until the female became heavy with young, then she was placed in a special pen so watch could be kept. Here she awaited the birth of three to six pups, born in early spring. As these pups represented investment and profit for the fix farmer, great care was taken to raise them safely to adulthood. Once in a while the mother fox would carry the small sightless pups out of the nesting box onto the snow and abandon them. This is when we would make a quick search for a nursing mother cat who would nurse the abandoned pups until they were eight or nine weeks old. When the pups could eat solid food and drink milk from a dish they were placed into a pen in the fox yard to get strong and eventually become breeding stock. The pens within the yard were arranged so they could be numbered and there was a path between for easy cleaning and feeding. One main gate in the guard fence was for entrance into the general pen areas and was locked at night.
In the fall the silver fox fur was prime so they were killed for the fur and when cured, the furs were sold to various furriers in New York and to local buyers. To produce the best and most silver on the long fur, the foxes needed a special diet of cereal, meat, fish and lots of fresh water. Horsemeat was also fed to the foxes almost daily, plus meals containing liver and heart meat.
It was a sorry day after the market price and demand for furs went down. We decided all of the foxes would have to go since, with the Depression in full force, it was impossible to feed them and realize we’d have enough money from the pelts to break even financially. This was the end of an era. Our fur farm became just a farm with a few cows, calves and chickens. It was a very hard time for my father, as he had put many years of his life, and much of the income received, into his fur farm. While it was the end of fox farming, the era continues to provide great memories.