Craig A controversial mink farm in Moffat County may be out of business because an unidentified person or group released the animals from their cages Thursday.
The Moffat County Sheriff's Department currently is investigating the issue, so it couldn’t release many details, but it was certain that this was an intentional act, Cpl. Alec Brown said.
“We know that some mink were purposefully released,” Brown said.
The Craig Daily Press received an email from Bite Back, an animal-liberation publication, that offered an anonymous claim that the Earth Liberation Front had been involved in releasing the mink.
“On the night of Nov. 14, the Earth Liberation Front visited the previously unknown Colorado mink farm...This is one of the smallest mink farms in operation, so opening nearly every cage took very little time,” according to the anonymous message.
The farmers had been seeking a permit to run their business in a new location — roughly 5 miles north of Craig on Colorado Highway 13 — since they could not remain on their current property in the Western Knolls subdivision, owned by Sherman Romney, attorney and owner of Romney Law Office.
James Gore, who owns the property where the farmers were trying to relocate, said the effort by whoever set the mink free ironically was misguided.
The mink abandoned their cages, but many were shot by neighbors, and most were captured and brought back to their pens.
“We caught most of them,” he said. “We can’t use any of them for breeding stock. So, they will have to be killed and pelted.”
The anonymous message claimed the Earth Liberation Front took the breeding cards off the cages to cause further financial trouble. But Gore said that just means the mink that otherwise would have been kept alive to breed only can be used for their pelts to prevent inbreeding.
The mink farm previously had caused controversy among neighbors who lived near the existing farm and the proposed new location.
Three residents spoke out against the mink farm setting up in their area at the Moffat County commissioners meeting Tuesday. Neighbors of the current location also spoke at the meeting and pressed commissioners to get rid of the operation entirely.
They said the animals were dangerous and an environmental hazard.
Ryan Venzke, who lives next door to the farm, said mink have been escaping their pens and harassing his animals. He has lived on his property since 2009, prior to the mink farm’s existence. The mink farm has been in operation for about four years.
It wasn’t until 2011 that Venzke started to become fed up with the farm. He provided the Craig Daily Press with a photo of four dead chickens and a mink. He killed the mink to protect his chickens, and overall, he has lost 10 chickens to mink, Venzke said.
But that wasn’t the only issue, he said. The smell of the animals is overwhelming.
It smells like “rancid meat covered in skunk juice,” Venzke said.
“You can’t eat dinner out on the porch in the summer,” he said. “We have to keep all our doors closed.”
Venzke’s wife, Jana, said she worried about their 16-month-old daughter. Mink have scratched at her window and at doors, and their child is curious, she said.
“She doesn’t know the difference from dogs and cats,” Jana Venzke said.
While the family has had an ongoing dispute with the mink farm, Ryan Venzke said he is unhappy with the release of the mink.
“This is about the worst thing that could happen,” he said.
As of Friday night, 50 mink still were unaccounted for, and that number was daunting to Venze. He called the Sheriff’s Department on Friday morning to report escaped mink and said he had to shoot two that had scurried over to his property.
“I obviously didn’t get along with the people, but I didn’t want them to lose their business,” he said.
While Gore still intends to push for a permit to run a mink farm on his property, Doyle Checketts, one of the farmers, is less hopeful.
“We won’t be applying for a permit. We’re done,” he said. “I’m too old to start again.”
The farmers did recover about 150 mink that can be sold for pelts. But optimistically, they can expect only about $10,000, Gore said.
They had a contract to sell the mink as breeding stock to Europe for more than $250,000.
“I won’t be doing the mink anymore. I can’t afford to go buy stock to get back into it,” Checketts said. “I’m really tired of fighting.”
Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.