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Bred in captivity

Russian fur-farming isn"t like the European equivalent. A typical Danish farm, for example, is a country-cottage on a green lawn with several rows of sheds - special cages for animals. There are more than 6 thousand such mini-farms in Europe.

Russian fur-farming isn"t like the European equivalent. A typical Danish farm, for example, is a country-cottage on a green lawn with several rows of sheds - special cages for animals. There are more than 6 thousand such mini-farms in Europe. Each of them earns about 100 thousand dollars a year. The average sales of a Russian farm are more than one million dollars, such farms usually have a territory of tens and sometimes hundreds of hectares. Russian farms are self-sufficient, they have an established infrastructure - everything from feed-processing rooms and transport stations to trailors and shops.

Local republic

The "Saltikovskiy" state farm which is situated not far from Balashiha (a suburb of Moscow) is called "a local republic" by the natives. There, on a guarded territory of 100 hectares behind a concrete barb-wire fence one can find about ten small farms. The distance between them is great and it"s better to use a car in order to get from one farm to another. We are leaving the director"s office in an off-road Volvo XC-70 together with its owner Alexander Saydinov who is the farm"s manager.

One can see small residential cottages of two, even three stories, scattered among the carefully locked farms. I ask the director if anybody lives in these cottages. "No, practically no one," - he says sadly. - The majority of the workers used to live here but now most of them have moved to Balashiha. It"s only the seasonal workers who have stayed. They are leaving after the slaughtering is finished."

There is a freshly piled heap of soil right behind the farm"s fence. "We"ve had our territory reduced a little bit," - says Saydinov, motioning to the heap. "They are going to build a new winter sports resort." Apart from the impressive heap, cottages and administrative buildings there are fur-preparation workshops, a veterinary service, and feed-processing rooms with refrigerators on the farm. Russia, unlike Europe, hasn"t got any special farms that process feed for fur-bearing animals and deliver it. Therefore, they prepare feed themselves in "Saltikovskoye" and similar fur-farms.

I notice that most of the cages standing in long rows are empty. The director clarifies that they were buzzing with life some time ago. Slaughtering is going to finish in a few days and everybody is busy with fur-processing now. There are several thousand dead animals each day which make their way through a fur-preparation workshop in order be finished as dressed pelts.

In summer when the young are growing it"s a different kettle of fish. Then there are about 130 thousand animals living on the farm. We"ve had 82 thousand mink cubs, 7.8 thousand fox cubs, 7.8 thousand polar fox cubs and 7.7 thousand sable cubs this year. Practically all of them usually survive. They eat 50-60 tonnes of feed per day. "Every kind of species needs its individual feed", - sighs Saydinov. - "One can"t give the same feed to a polar fox and to a fox. Sable would never survive eating mink feed. That"s why we process at least four different kinds of feed every day."

As it turns out polar fox is the simplest fur-bearing animal to keep. It has become more fertile after domestication and doesn"t need much care. Sable is the most difficult kind of fur-bearing animal to breed and manufacture pelts from. Breeding sable is a wholly separate branch of fur-farming and there are many tricks to this trade. Farms keep the technologies they use a secret. They haven"t told us anything either.

Alexander Saydinov says that he would also like to breed other kinds of fur-bearing animals. But, at the moment the farm isn"t ready for it. "We won"t be able to feed all of the different kinds of animals. Considering how many animals we usually have on the farm we can say that four species is our limit".

Not only valuable fur

Besides the pelt itself it"s possible to use animals" meat, bones, down and manure. As a matter of fact their meat is edible and even wholesome. Still, they are not going to open a sausage factory in "Saltykovskoye". "Our sanitary code doesn"t allow us to use this meat for human consumption," - Saydinov explains. - "Therefore, we sell carcasses and they make meat/bone powder from them."

Mink have got one more valuable thing - scent glands, like the ones skunks have. One can feel a sharp odour at a distance of several dozen meters from a fur-preparation workshop. "Don"t you mind dropping in? Your sheepskin coat may stink after that", - warns the director. Scent gland derivative is usually used in perfumery - instead of amber. But there isn"t anybody in Russia who deals in it.

Mink fat, which is a base for many creams, isn"t used here either. The director of the "Saltykovskoye" farm has asked about the price of fat-processing equipment. In order to establish profitable production one needs to use 100 tonnes raw meat stuffs annually. The farm is able to supply only 20 tonnes. So this idea, as well as the idea of starting to breed more fur-bearing animals, has been abandoned until times change. However, there are more than ten species living and propagating themselves on the farm today.

One small farm is occupied by lynxes. There are 17 females in the enclosures and they bring 20 cubs annually. The Lynx is considered to be a fur-bearing animal but its cubs are usually bought by businessmen who love the exotic. Farmers from "Saltykovskoye" assure us that a lynx is easy to tame even if it is 4-5 months old when it comes to one"s home. Grown-up animals are more aggressive and they often run away. Farmers say that no run-away lynx has ever really gotten very far but one lynx once escaped from its cage and slightly injured the director.

Well-off bird-lovers buy ostrich chicks at the farm - a chick that is three months old costs ten thousand roubles. Ostrich eggs are also sold there. But, there is no demand for expensive hide and feathers.

Apart from that there are horses, hens, geese, pheasants, turkeys, sheep, North American racoons and marmots on the farm. At present they are just the director"s hobby.

"I"d like to have a zoo organized opposite the tailors by next summer", - Saydinov tells us. We didn"t see the racoons: they were hibernating. But we did see tamed foxes. They are domestic by nature and are unfit for breeding - their amiable character comes together with some undesirable colour-genes.

Another source of income on the farm is the fur-tailoring establishment. There they make fur coats, jackets, waistcoats and hats, which are generally made to order. A sable coat costs about $11 000 there. On the farm they are sure that it"s impossible to find cheaper prices anywhere else.

Renata Yambaeva "Kommersant Dengi" - 10.12.-16.12.2002