Little known fact: Wisconsin is top producer of mink pelts in the nation

Kaitlyn Riley
Alice in Dairyland Kaitlyn Riley wears a mahogany mink paired with white mink dyed green on the plush hood and sleeve cuffs, donated by Zimbal Mink of Sheboygan Falls.

We are diving into another new year which means it is time to think of resolutions, change and innovations. With each passing year, our farmers and processors become more efficient and productive, and the quality of their products never wavers.

We know Wisconsin is home to the finest cheese and abundant cranberries, but many people I meet are surprised to learn Wisconsin is the top producer of mink pelts in the nation. Our state’s pelt production totaled 1,091,180 pelts in 2017, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Agricultural Statistics Service. That is almost one-third of the nation’s total. Utah was the second largest producing state with 734,260 pelts.

The durable products designed from Wisconsin fur are ideal for blocking the freezing chills of Wisconsin’s winter winds. Most may picture a classic black garment when they think of mink, which is not surprising since black pelts represented 63 percent of Wisconsin’s total last year. White came in second at 14 percent, followed by blue iris at 8 percent, and mahogany at 4 percent. The other color classes, such as pastel, sapphire and violet, represent the final 11 percent. It is a vibrant part of Wisconsin’s diverse agriculture industry. The total value of pelts produced in Wisconsin was $39.6 million in 2017.

I recently had the chance to visit Sandy Bay Mink Ranch in Mishicot where I got a firsthand look at our state’s profound industry and how it connects with other agribusinesses.

Mink require a high-protein diet that is supplemented with calcium. Wisconsin’s many processing industries partner with our breeders to turn waste meat, fish, liver, eggs, cheese and other products into the perfect food staple that is mixed fresh and fed to the animals daily.

A mink at Sandy Bay Mink Ranch

As our state’s natural recyclers, mink keep these items from entering landfills. It is no wonder Wisconsin is known for producing the best quality of fur in the world as mink are fed Wisconsin cheese and meat! After the high-quality pelts are removed, the no-waste cycle continues as byproducts from the mink industry are used by pet food companies.

One of the greatest honors of being Alice in Dairyland is to represent our state’s mink breeders by wearing a garment donated by a rotating group of members in the Kettle Moraine Mink Breeders Association.

This year, Zimbal Mink made me feel like part of their family as they surprised me with one of the most unique mink coats the Alice in Dairyland program has seen. The beautiful mahogany is paired with white mink dyed green on the plush hood and sleeve cuffs. No matter where I go, the beauty of the coat is admired by strangers I meet during my travels, and I am proud to say it is genuine Wisconsin mink. Unlike a coat made with plastics and other synthetic fibers, my mink will be a garment that will last a lifetime and can be passed down from generation to generation.

The green color is ideal to represent the upcoming Alice in Dairyland Finals in Green County this May. The position is perfect for those who want to take a closer look at the diversity of Wisconsin’s agriculture industry while learning from some of our state’s finest leaders in agribusiness. Applications can be found online at

While I am certain my remaining months as Alice will fly past as quickly as the previous year has, I am excited and honored to have a real, Wisconsin fur garment to wear each winter to fill me with warm memories and a steaming sense of pride for our Wisconsin mink breeders.

Kaitlyn Riley is the 71st Alice in Dairyland