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Demand for muskrat might lead to fur market rebound

By DON HOHLER • Dec 15, 2018 at 12:00 PM

GIBBSTOWN, N.J.  — John Zander is optimistic. As a family member of arguably the largest raw fur company in the nation, he bases his hope of a rebound in the raw fur market on the muskrat, a fur-bearer small in size but one that is becoming more scarce on Ohio’s inland streams every year.

“Muskrat has always been one of the most sought-after furs at Zander & Sons,” the second-generation business owner said. “I temper that statement about muskrats, however, because of the tariff with China. We export thousands of pelts to Chinese buyers, the latter using most of them for trim material. We are just about sold out of last year’s stock. We are now taking a wait-and-see attitude this year with the Chinese but we know two things, one is there are a lot of Chinese who want to wear fur and second, the manufacturing end over there is a fraction of what it costs us. To dress a coyote here costs us $15. They do it for $6 in China. Over there they dress a muskrat for $1. Here it costs $6 which is more than the original price of the pelt.”

“And that’s why I say, the Chinese are No. 1 on the raw fur market,” Zander added. “And they have money. Russia has some money as does a number of other European countries but it is evident they are not going to spend it on fur coats. It all comes down to dollars and cents. There are numbers in China and that certainly includes population with some of the populous able to afford fur garments.”

There might be an upside to the tariff and low prices Zander said. He hopes some garment-maker will take a gamble with raw fur because of the way it is devalued.

“All it takes is for one manufacturer in Europe — or, for that matter, any country — to hit it big with a new garment that includes fur and we will see the trade start back,” he believed. “Our company has been around long enough to sense something big could happen. If we get a half-dozen calls or texts in a week asking for muskrat, we know there is something in the wind as far as need for that pelt. We await those phone calls.”

By no means is Zander & Sons severing their relationship with the Chinese because of the tariff. John Zander makes as many as three trips to China every year to see his customers and that will continue as will his daily phone calls to and from European and Asian buyers. His hope is that normalcy of trade will come to pass and if that happens, he envisions a comeback in the raw fur market.

Besides muskrat, which could fetch as much as $4 per pelt at Ohio auctions, Zander also has instructed his Ohio buyer, Ken Little, not to turn down decently-colored coyote. The Ohio coy-dog is far from his western counterpart as far as fur color and quality, but it is good enough for use in trimming.

Ohio’s No. 1 fur, raccoon, is still a long way down the demand list.

“Ken will not turn down the bigger coon, 2XX, 3XX and larger,” Zander stated. “There is a call for that size providing they are put up correctly and that is as important as the size because we just can not afford to re-scrape a hide. It just takes too much away from the bottom line. Ken will pay the same as last year, between $8 and $9 dollars for a well put-up triple XXX.”

Meanwhile, Little sits tight in his Baltimore, Ohio home, waiting to see who shows up in Bucyrus.

“Not doing much buying. Nor is anyone,” Little said.

“I don’t know what to expect at the Ohio Trappers Association auction on Jan. 12 in Bucyrus,” he said. “If the sportsmen in that area are doing what they are doing down here, there will be very few pelts moving across the auction table. I just can’t believe this market. What market?

“Coon hunters are near non-existent. About the only coon hunting being done is contest hunting. Coon are treed, shot out. Weighed for the contest and then discarded. It’s a shame.”

Little admits the Amish boys are among those who are getting hurt the most by the coon prices.

“At one time and I am talking something like 10 years ago, I was paying as many as seven Amish boys to scrape my pelts and I kept them busy at $3. per pelt,” Little offered. “This year. What pelts?

“I am really wondering about the fur that is in storage and there must be a lot of it,” Little believes. “I can see it flooding the market if there is any chance at getting anything close to a break-even price.”

Little well knows what the break-even price is when he heads for Bucyrus next month.

“I see John setting a price of between $6 and $8 for perfectly put-up Triple XXX coon. Rats could bring $4 but they have to be big and dry. Coyotes, depending on the quality and fur color, could get me to go as high as $40. Mink is really uncertain now that the Chinese are being paid to raise the animal.

“Other fur? We’ll play it by ear. I know the sportsmen should get better prices and it is not their fault. One thing is for certain, however. The Bucyrus auction always brings the best prices and I warn the sportsmen to sell there and not to look for other avenues that could make more money because it is just not there.”

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