Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wild Mink Live Here, Too

A few weeks ago [May 2013] we learned about the existence of the Taylor mink ranch in Maynard. This begs the question – do wild mink live here, too?  The answer is yes, but not many. All of Stow and Maynard are probably home to fewer than fifty. 

Mink are nocturnal, semi-aquatic, carnivores. They prefer to live near rivers, ponds and wetlands. These relatives of otters swim well, and can stay underwater for 10-30 seconds while hunting fish, frogs and crayfish. On land, they raid bird nests, catch mice, voles, young rabbits…salamanders, insects…basically anything smaller and slower than they are. Adult males weigh 2-3 pounds; females are smaller.

Except for the brief mating period and subsequent raising of babies by the mothers, these are solitary animals. Each female’s territory covers about 40 acres of wetland habitat or a mile of stream bank. Female scent-mark and defend their claims. Males wander wider, with their areas overlapping several females. During late winter the males try to mate with as many females as possible.

Female mink share with skunks and other mustelid species the ability to control the length of pregnancy. Basically, if mated early in the period she has come into heat, implantation of her fertilized eggs in the uterus is delayed. This is to prevent her from giving birth too early – before the food supply in her territory becomes plentiful with warmer weather.

Kits that make it through their first winter – maybe one in six – will be ready to mate before they are one year old. As adults, their expected lifespan in the wild is 2-4 years, versus 7-10 years in a zoo. (Those being raised for the fur trade are killed at six months.)

Taylor family tomb; Glenwood Cemetery
More information about the Taylor mink ranch came to light after publication of the first article. John W.Taylor was a Marine sharpshooter in World War I. (His name is on the WWI plaque in Memorial Park.) Wounded in
Germany, he recovered to return stateside and was assigned to Liberty Bond fundraising events - touring the country by train with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. 

According to Fred Johnson of Maynard, whose sister was married to Taylor's son, John Taylor's interest in furs began after the war with his buying pelts from local trappers. He subsequently opened up a furrier's on Washington Street, in Boston, and became known for offering high quality fur coats. He was notorious for buying only top quality pelts at the annual auctions in New York City

Silver Blu male and Noble White female at Taylor ranch
In time, he started breeding mink on his property along Concord Street. As Fred tells it, “Mr. Taylor and his wife Huldah had a huge mink ranch – maybe as many as 10,000 animals. He was an expert on the rare, light-colored fur mutations. What he did not raise on his ranch he got from Percy Noble, his Canadian partner.”

As for what the mink were fed, Fred went on to recount "Any time a horse or cow died in Maynard, Acton or Stow one of Taylor's employees would go round with a wagon. The carcass would be processed for food."

Mink escape mink farms all the time. After more than 100 generations in captivity, selective breeding has resulted in animals almost twice the size of their wild relatives (for larger pelts), but oddly, smaller brains. One theory is this is a result of selecting for animals that will tolerate being confined in small cages.

Researchers estimate that more than 90% of escaped or deliberately released mink die with two months. The few that survive can either mate with native mink or form a feral population. North American mink are now considered an invasive species in Europe, northern Asia and the southern end of South America

Locally, there is evidence of past escapes from Taylor’s mink ranch. Fifty years after the Taylor ranch pelted out (killed all their animals, including their breeding stock), there are documented sightings of an occasional white mink at Concord’s Great Meadow National Wildlife Refuge.

Circa the 1890s Maynard was home to more than 200 horses. There was often call for the knacker - a person in the trade of taking away and rendering (processing) animals that either died on farms or were still alive but of no use and unfit for human consumption, such as horses that could no longer work.  A horse carcass, rendered, had many uses. The meat would end up in the food at a mink ranch or fox farm, or a greyhound race track, or for pet food, or to a pig farm. Bones were ground up for bone meal fertilizer. Hides went to leather. Hide scraps, hooves and joints were processed to make glue for the furniture and paper trades (hence the idea of old horses being sent to the glue factory).

In British slang "knackered" or "ready for the knacker's yard" means that one is either very tired or so old/infirm as to no longer able to do useful work. "Ready for the glue factory" has the same tone.

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