Ottawa County Parks Foundation – March 2021 Newsletter
Vollmer Family History at Stearns Creek
by Marjie Viveen
In 1894, two potato farmers on Prince Edward Island quietly began experimenting with breeding silver foxes in captivity. They built their stock through trial and error, selectively breeding animals and raising them to maturity. In 1910, the entrepreneurs revealed their profits. On the London market, 25 skins sold for $33,262. One particularly fine fur brought a record breaking $2,627. Fox farming boomed on PEI. The commissioner of agriculture reported in 1914 that 3,130 foxes raised on 227 ranches had a value of $14 million – an average of nearly $4,500 per pelt. The industry survived a lull during WWI, and by the 1920s, fox farming was to PEI what the gold rush had been to the Klondike.
Fox fever spread throughout Canada and into the northern states. By 1922, fox farming was Michigan’s newest industry. Smart, progressive, just 21 years old, and with marriage in his future, Ludwig Vollmer saw his golden…or should we say…silver opportunity. With financial support from others, Ludwig bought his first breeding pair of foxes in 1923. The exact price he paid is unknown, but the average cost per pair that year was a hefty $2000-$3000. Thirteen kits were born in the first litter. During the roaring 20s, 2 out of 3 women in any English town would be wearing a fur coat or one trimmed in fur. The demand for pelts was astronomical. Ludwig quickly purchased a second breeding pair. His investment would literally multiply and, so too, his costs.
Silver fox require specialized kennels. Ludwig built dozens of them. Each chicken wire pen included a “surface box” where animals could shelter from the elements. A chute led to an underground den offering the foxes privacy for mating in February, birthing in mid-March through May, and weaning for 19 to 30 days thereafter. The young were fed twice a day, adults just once in the evening. Ludwig would grind the entrails and offal from cattle and horses with canned fish products. This mixture would be combined in large buckets with commercial hexite fox feed. He hauled those heavy buckets in the dark to each of his growing number of kennels. At daybreak, Ludwig made the rounds again with fresh water. Family members describe him as “the hardest working man.”
At its peak, Ludwig’s fox farm grew to 1000 animals. In February
each year, adult animals were selected for harvest, while others were left to mature or breed. In preparation for market, Ludwig carefully skinned the animals and stretched their pelts to dry. Buyers came directly to the farm. One evening Ludwig sequestered his wife and eight children in the living room while he conducted business at the kitchen table with a furrier from New York. Fluffing his fur to full advantage, Ludwig cut a $10,000 deal that night. The proud daddy could hardly wait to celebrate the bonanza with his eavesdropping family. The business would
help support Vollmers for decades.
In addition to raising silver fox, Ludwig had perfected a strain of albino fox. Overtime, all the Vollmer women were gifted luxurious white fur stoles from this special stock, which they stylishly wore on festive occasions. For Ludwig Vollmer the fox farm business had been laborious, profitable, and an astute hedge against crop failures. By the 1950s, however, fox farming was on the decline. Russian breeders had glutted and undercut the New York market. At the same time, fashion was moving in a different direction, and Americans were increasingly aware of the animals rights movement started in Europe. The Vollmers wisely shifted their full attention to tree farming. Remnants of the fox farm can still be seen at Stearns Creek.
The Ottawa County Parks Foundation accepts gifts of commonly traded stocks, mutual funds and other DTC-eligible securities. If you are considering a gift of this type, please ask your financial advisor to contact us directly for transfer instructions. Angela Miller-Niarhos, OCPF Manager, 616-215-6544.
13594 136th Ave
Grand Haven, Michigan
Stearns Creek Park is an ecological treasure for both recreation and wildlife. Although much of its 118 acres was worked for decades, the wetlands and shoreline are among the highest quality in the Ottawa County park system.