The first mink ranch in the Buffalo Narrows area was owned by Halvor Ausland. It was located on Deep River about seventeen miles from the town of Buffalo Narrows. Estimates as to when Ausland started ranching vary. In 1952, C.S. Brown, a geographer with the Department of Natural Resources stated in a geographic report that Mr. Ausland had begun mink ranching in 1920. While a planning study, prepared by Amisk Planning Consultants, states that this ranch started in 1939. Halvor Ausland stated he began ranching in 1928. Ausland is reported to have started with wild mink and later purchased some tame mink in the United States.
Webmasters Note: According to his own written notes, Halvor Ausland, started mink ranching in 1929. He never started with wild mink, he purchased three ranch raised mink, two female and one male. The male died and so the first year of mink ranching was over. He later purchased more mink and continued from there. Although it is not part of the original history of Buffalo Narrows, I am taking the liberty of including a picture of those original mink (above). One of these mink can be seen in the pen on the right in the photograph.
In a quote from his book, The Managers tale, Hugh MacKay Ross, the Saskatchewan District Manager for the Hudson's Bay Company, had this to say: (Courtesy of J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing).
"Credit for the success of the mink ranches in the Buffalo Narrows area has to go to Mr. Halvor Ausland who owned a large ranch on Deep River, a few miles east of Buffalo Narrows. From the start, he became interested in genetics and did a lot of experimenting to produce new mink strains. He originated the "palomino" strain--a light brown or dark orange colour. In fact, he made more money selling breeding trios--two females and one male--than he actually made in producing mink pelts. He was more than generous with advice and assistance to other embryo ranchers and was always quick to lend a hand when requested".
By 1950-51, there were thirteen mink ranches in the Buffalo Narrows area with several ranches having over one-thousand mink. In 1952, Churchill Mink Ranch was established. This is reported to have been one of the largest mink ranches, with as many as seven thousand at one time. By 1956, there were thirty-three mink ranches in the area with a combined total of twenty-one thousand mink. In 1965, there were eight ranches on Little Peter Pond Lake, seven ranches on Big Peter Pond Lake and eighteen on Churchill Lake. From the accompanying map it is evident that there were as many as fifty mink ranches in the area, although in all likelihood, these ranches were not in operation at the same time.
Tom Pedersen and his mink ranch, 1947.
Several of the other mink ranchers, such as Tom Pedersen (first mink ranch in the town of Buffalo Narrows), sold breeding stock in a similer fashion. The mink rancher made much more money selling mink as a breeder than as a pelt.
Oscar Petit (left) and Halvor Ausland at a mink show in Waites yard in 1956.
The Operation of a Mink Ranch
The mink kits were usually born in May. Mink have been known to have as many as fourteen kits (webmaster's note: I have seen as high as eighteen, usually, these were adopted out to other female mink with smaller litters), although the average is probably four. Mink kits are very susceptible to cold wet weather and must be kept warm and dry. To facilitate this, the rancher had to build a cage with a nest box area and frame made of wood. The cage was covered with mink wire. The rancher had to put hay (grown locally or imported from the south) into the nest box. The wealthier mink ranchers would build sheds to cover the cages as an added measure of protection from the elements.
Mink Rancher, Bill Publicover (left).
A full grown mink would eat about one quarter of a pound of this fish mixture in June and July, one half of a pound in August and September and three fourths of a pound per day in October and November. Males usually ate about one third more than females. Young kits had to be fed twice a day (a more liquid mixture than the adults), while the adults were fed once per day, usually after the heat of the day had passed . Some ranchers caught their own fish, while others bought "offal" (the remains of fish from the filleting plant). In the 1960's, Claude Bouchard had a contract with Waite fisheries to remove the offal in exchange for carting away the garbage from the plant and cleaning up part of the plant. Bouchard, employed a man to sort offal at the plant and perform the sorting operation. The offal was then put through a grinder and frozen into twenty-five pound blocks for sale at three cents per pound.
Tom Pedersen's mink yard.
The rancher would kill the mink by breaking it's neck, although a few ranchers used cyanide boxes, (Halvor Ausland at pelting time, would inject the mink with nicotine. It killed them instantly). The rancher could either flesh and stretch the mink pelt himself before shipping it the buyer, or ship the unprocessed pelt to a fleshing company. Many ranchers preferred the fleshing company, because the rancher did not want to purchase the large number of stretching boards needed for the operation, and because the professional fleshers did a better job resulting in higher prices for the processed pelt.
The mink ranching industry in the Buffalo Narrows region died in the late 1960's and early 1970's because of the unstable and unpredictable nature of the market, and the increase in cost of such things as mink meal, power, gas, oatmeal and labour. Many of the mink ranchers lost money when they went out of business. Some, like Halvor Ausland, sold out before the prices went down, but many more did not. The death of the mink ranching industry dealt a devastating blow to the economy of the region, resulting in increased unemployment and welfare.
Sketch showing local mink ranches from 1928 to 1975.