The farm is quiet. Martin Merrild is sweeping leaves. Behind him is a row of 20 massive sheds – all empty. Two years in the past, his farm close to Hjerm in West Jutland had been residence to fifteen,000 mink, a small carnivorous mammal bred by farmers in particular person cages earlier than being skinned for its fur.
Since he began mink farming nearly 40 years in the past, Merrild’s life had revolved round a yearly cycle. It will begin with a smaller inhabitants of feminine and male mink. In early March, the females can be prepared for breeding and Merrild and his employees would have only a few weeks to make sure they bought a mate. From late April, mink the dimensions of a thumb can be born.
These would develop shortly over the summer time months to about 3-4kg. They might be killed and skinned for his or her fur in November, with the cycle repeated the next yr.
Throughout Denmark, greater than 15 million mink have been bred yearly on farms like Merrild’s. Denmark was the world’s greatest producer of mink fur, at one level producing 40% of the world’s provide, principally exported to Asia.
However on the morning of 4 November 2020, the trade got here to a standstill because the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, introduced the culling of the nation’s whole farmed mink herd: 15 million animals.
Twelve folks had develop into contaminated with a Covid-19 mutation that originated in mink and Frederiksen feared the mutation, if left unchecked, might jeopardise future vaccines.
Quickly after the announcement, veterinary officers got here to kill Merrild’s animals. His sheds have remained largely untouched ever since.
“We’re fortunate as we’ve had different issues to do on the farm,” says Merrild, who additionally grows meals crops and has a flock of poultry. “However there are males who’ve solely ever labored with mink their complete lives. They have been on a mink farm every single day. And now nothing for 2 years.”
Half an hour south of Merrild’s farm is a set of huge warehouses emblazoned with the illustration of a mink. They belong to an organization that had been feeding 3 million mink throughout the area, trucking out tons of of tonnes of feed to farms every single day throughout the peak summer time months.
At this time, it looks like a half-empty museum with none guests. Employees on the website have discovered different jobs, however the buildings and equipment stay mothballed because the homeowners await the end result of a compensation declare.
“I simply want it could finish. The enterprise is over so we simply need to have the ability to transfer on now,” says the corporate’s former chairman.
There are greater than 1,000 former mink farmers, like Merrild, who’re nonetheless ready on the end result of their compensation claims. Unable to dismantle their barns, they’re farming ghosts.
Aase Rask had nervous for the well being of her husband, Ejner, then 68, as his mink have been taken away and killed. He had identified nothing else for the reason that early Nineteen Eighties, with their son lined as much as take over the farm close to Holstebro, West Jutland.
They see few viable options for making the farm worthwhile and their son is now attempting to forge an alternate profession in equipment.
However Ejner has at the least discovered a brand new and unlikely ardour: rising strawberries. Over the previous two years, 4 of his sheds have been stuffed with berries, together with a small quantity of peppers, potatoes and different greens. The couple promote them throughout the summer time months on a stall by the roadside.
Even now, with the onset of winter, the mink cages are partly hidden by the inexperienced leaves of the crops.
“It’s extra of a passion and nearly retains my mind energetic, so I’m not simply sitting down,” says Ejner. “It has been cheaper than going to a psychologist. At the least strawberries don’t chew and everybody likes them.”
The Danish authorities just lately agreed to permit mink farming to restart after an official inquiry discovered its shutdown lacked authorized justification. Though there have been outbreaks of Covid in farmed mink the world over, Denmark was the one nation to order a wholesale cull and shutdown its trade.
However after two years, lots of the 5,000-plus vets, feed producers, auctioneers and advisers concerned have moved on, with only a handful of farmers anticipated to choose up the place they left off. Everybody else is simply ready to see their cages eliminated.
“We knew shortly that the mink wouldn’t be coming again. The infrastructure supporting the trade has gone now. It’s over,” says Merrild.
At 67, the delays to compensation have left him feeling too outdated to contemplate changing the mink with one thing else. “The perfect factor for the worth of the farm [if we sell it] is to get the mink stuff away now,” he says.
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