MACLEAN’S REPORTS

HOW TWO MINK BRED $3 MILLION

They were very special mink — with the world's first jet-black coats

DOUGLAS MARSHALL June 4 1966
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

HOW TWO MINK BRED $3 MILLION

They were very special mink — with the world's first jet-black coats

DOUGLAS MARSHALL June 4 1966

HOW TWO MINK BRED $3 MILLION

They were very special mink — with the world's first jet-black coats

EDSEI MULLEN, 38 and unmarried, has just become one of the most eligible bachelors in all Nova Scotia. Edsel and his married brother Wallace. 50, made a cool $1,000,000 last year — which means they are already two of the richest farmers in Canadian history. This year the Mullen brothers expect to gross at least $2,000,000 and they’ll be disappointed if it isn’t more.

Fans of the Beverly Hillbillies would probably guess that the Mullens struck oil; black gold, Texas tea. They’d be wrong. The brothers made their fortunes with fur; black mink. Nova Scotia ebony. Their eight-acre. 19shed farm at New Tusket, near Digby, is the nursery for the world’s first pure strain of jet-black mink. And last year mink breeders from Scandinavia to California were falling over themselves to buy a piece of the action at prices that ranged from $250 for a black female to $1,500 for a black male.

Dark (but not black) mink has always been popular with furriers and will fetch about twice as much as the

average pelt ai a fur auction. So the Mullens knew they were looking at a potential gold mine when they found two pure-black male kittens mixed in with a litter of dark mink back in 1960. They kept the discovery a closely guarded secret.

It was a year before the two blacks were bred. Half their offspring had equally black coats — the color of oiled ebony. Even the inside of their mouths was black. Mating black with black, the brothers eventually produced enough pure blacks to put their discovery on the market.

Then, two years ago, just when they were ready to break the news, a disastrous fire swept through the farm killing 300 black females and 1,200 kittens. Wallace estimates that, at current prices, the fire cost his business over $500.000. "Fortunately we managed to save the black males.” he says. “But just the same. I nearly wept.”

Painfully, the brothers rebuilt their stock. Last summer the mink went up for sale for the first time. The Mullens spent $1,600 on advertising but. as Wallace says, it wasn’t really necessary. Mink breeders keep a pretty close eye on each other and the fiveyear secret of the New Tusket blacks was already beginning to leak out. By the end of the summer the Mullens had sold $1,000,000 worth of stock — mostly to breeders from Europe and the U. S. “Other Canadians seemed slow to accept the blacks,” says Wallace. “Now I think they’ve missed the boat.”

They probably have. What still wasn’t clear last year was whether any of the black males were what is known in the genetics of mink breeding as double-dominant animals. These arc non - sterile black males which, mated to any dark mink, produce a 100 percent black litter.

The results of breeding this spring show that the Mullens do indeed have several dozen double-dominant males. When these go on the market, says Wallace, they will sell for about $5,000 each. Meanwhile the Mullens, who began farming mink in 1930, are preparing for a marketing season that will bring them more in a few months than they earned in all their first 30 years of business. A $112.500 order from Norway for 75 black males has already come in.

Being millionaires hasn’t changed the Mullens much. All the profits are going into the bank. They haven’t poured capital back into their farm because, with descendants of the New

Tusket blacks now busily breeding all over the world, the black-mink boom is bound to go bust in a few years. “We’re finding that we have to give an awful lot of money to the government,” muses Wallace. But he admits: “Things look good.”

It will be another two or three years before black-mink pelts arc available in bulk to furriers. At the moment good dark pelts sell for about $50 each. The 70 pelts needed to make a coat cost about $3,500. The finished garment retails for $6,000 or more. At those prices the lady who wants to own the world’s first jet-black mink coat will be parting with at least $15,000 for the privilege.

DOUGLAS MARSHALL