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Foxy New Farming Sideline
An Illinois farmer says his new hobby "fur"-nishes him with good sideline income to supplement his farm operation.
Jon Stevens raises hogs , cattle and grain on his 160-acre farm near Altona, Ill. Two years ago, he added an exotic breed of live-stock - eight pairs of silver foxes. This year, he bought additional breeding stock and he plans to expand to as many as 50 female foxes (called vixen) next year.
Stevens bought his foxes from breeders in Iowa and Wisconsin. A silver fox for breeding purposes costs at least $200. Because he's keeping most of the pups to build up his breeding stock, he sold only three pelts last year but the best one brought $160. Prices for pelts generally range from $100 to $300, but Stevens notes that a new crossbreed called a "sapphire" has a pelt that brings as much as $1,700.
Stevens keeps his foxes in wire cages that measure 6 ft. by 3 ft. and sit approximately 1 112 ft. off the ground on cement blocks. The rear of each cage has a 2-ft. by 3-ft. wooden "den". Dens can also be fashioned from dark plastic barrels. They're divided into two sections, one for whelping (giving birth) and the other for the newborn pups.
To reduce noise from the animals, Stevens enclosed the cage area with a sheet metal fence. The enclosure is located in a pasture south of the house. He keeps males and females together except during whelping. The same pairs are mated each year and may be bred 5 or 6 years. Vixen come into heat for only 3 days each year. Their cycle depends on the amount of light and length of the days. The gestation period is between 56 and 60 days long. During the hours after birth, care must be taken to avoid disturbing the mother because too much light or noise may cause her to eat the pups. Average litter size is five pups, although two of his vixen have yielded 9 pups. Artificial insemmination techniques have not yet been perfected for foxes.
After pups are weaned at 6 wks. of age, Stevens moves them into slightly smaller "pelter" cages. He cleans manure from beneath the cages just 2 or 3 times a year. Pups can be easily handled at a young age but become increasingly aggressive as they grow. He always wears heavy leather gloves when handling the animals. He waters the foxes once daily and feeds them a pellet feed with either a milk or meat by-products base. He occassionally feeds the animals raw meat but avoids pork because foxes are very susceptible to pseudorabies. Six to 7 oz. of feed per day is enough to maintain a growing animal. Stevens vaccinates for canine distemper and worms them twice a year.
Foxes shed in the spring and their pelts reach prime condition in December. Stevens electrocutes the animals and then skins them. He says a skilled skinner can do six an hour. He ships the frozen pelts by UPS to a Wisconsin firm that cleans and dries pelts for a cost of $4.50 apiece. He then sells the pelts through a Canadian auction company, which grades the pelts on the basis of size, color and thickness. Many are sold over-seas.
Stevens started with silver foxes but has since bought several gold foxes because of the higher value of their pelts. "I started raising foxes because I thought it was neat and I wanted to try it. As it turned out, I was surprised by how good the profit picture looks."
For more information, contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Jon Stevens, Rt. 1, Altona, Illl. 61414 (ph 309 484-4502).

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1987 - Volume #11, Issue #6