1986 article on the largest fox farm in the country

1986 article on the largest fox farm in the country

A 1986 article gives details on the Aeschleman fox farm in Illinois.

A 1990s PETA undercover investigation on an Illinois fox farm is today the best (and most horrific) footage ever obtained on fur farm. It showed the electrocution of foxes, foxes living in squalorous conditions, and badly sick and injured animals living in small cages.

Today, that fox farm is still in operation. The Aeschleman fox farm, outside Peoria, Illinois, imprisons an estimated 1,000 foxes. At one time, it was said to be the largest fox farm in the country (and may still be).

The below article was published in the Chicago Tribune in 1986. It goes into the history of the farm, as well as many details into fox farming – an industry shrouded in secrecy.

The article reads, in full:

ROANOKE, ILL. — Soybeans and corn are the primary products of Woodford County farmers, most of whom are in the fields now.

Not Dan Aeschleman. While his neighbors plant, he pours.

Yipping calls of the wild and a pungent musk odor burst through the seams of a 150-foot-long metal building on Aeschleman`s farm about 130 miles southwest of Chicago. In the dim light that seeps into the barn, an elevated thicket of wire mesh cages is visible. Each cage contains at least one set of wary, luminous eyes.

“You`ll have to be quiet, if they get excited, they might kill their young,“ warned Aeschleman`s wife, Soni.

The caged animals are silver, amber, pearl and “bastard red“ foxes bred for their color and coat texture. There are about 150 adults here and hundreds of uncounted young curled, kittenlike, in boxed dens.

Aeschleman, 37, hopes to have about 600 foxes by the end of the breeding season. He normally would kill and pelt many of them for their fur. But this year, he is more interested in their flow.

“With the urine business peaking now, I probably won`t be pelting this year,“ he said. “We need to keep the foxes to generate urine.“

These days, there is less demand for nature`s coats than for nature`s call; especially as answered by old Reynard. The animal`s effluent is valued by trappers and hunters, who use it as a “suspicion remover“ and as an animal lure for trapping and hunting and will pay Aeschleman as much as $2.25 for a 4-ounce bottle of the smelly stuff.

“Urine is a common item for a hunting or trapping supply business to sell, just like Right Guard at the drug store,“ said Aeschleman.

It is difficult to measure the depth of the market for animal urines in the U.S. There is no tax on them. No government agency monitors the flow, and the suppliers themselves tend to be secretive about their business. But the urine market is definitely nothing to sniff at, experts said.

“Fox urine is worth more than the fur these days, mostly because of deer hunters,“ said Bill Ziese, advertising director for Pete Rickard Inc. in Cobleskill, N.Y., one of the country`s largest dealers in animal urines and lures.

Fox urine is “in“ right now with deer hunters who just recently turned their noses up at the old standby, essence of skunk, Ziese said.

Ziese said deer hunters once favored skunk essence, which retails for $1,200 a gallon in pure form. “Nobody really liked it, for obvious reasons, but then a rumor spread that it didn`t really work. We think it does, but the hunters are all going with fox urine now,“ he said.

Rickard`s officials estimated that about 25,000 gallons of fox urine is sold in the U.S. annually. Although an oversupply threatens to diminish the value, a gallon of fox urine generally wholesales from $20-$25.

A little dab of fox urine goes a long way, Aeschleman said. A few fragrant drops sprinkled around the site of a fox trap, known as a “set,“

will cover the human scent that might otherwise send the intended prey scurrying, Aeschleman said.

Particularly effective, both as an attractant for lustful male critters and as a suspicion remover, is “hot“ urine taken from a female during its heat cycle. It sells for $6.50 a pint.

Deer hunters have been known to tie rags soaked in fox urine around their feet, or to sprinkle it on their hats and in their boots, to hide the human scent around deer hunting stands. Scent pads are a hot item among deer stalkers. The pads fit into hunting boots and squirt fox urine on the path as the hunter makes like a leaking Hiawatha.

“What can I say?“ Aeschleman said. “It`s money. It`s better than going broke.“

“I hate to explain to people what we do,“ Soni added.

Fox and other animal urines are also used in the “black art“ of making animal lures, a closed-mouthed science that involves blending hot urines, musk and sex gland secretions, and other animal apparatus to create a scent that will lure selected species to their doom.

Russ Carman of New Milford, Pa., whose lures are generally acknowledged to be among the best, says that “urine really is a fascinating subject. I personally have smelled a lot of urine, and I know a lot about it.“

Carman admits to being driven by a desire to concoct the ultimate animal lure.

“We have to start from scratch and develop our abilities,“ he said.

“But organic chemists are always amazed that a bunch of hillbillies can develop lures that are so effective.

“You have to be a good hunter and trapper first,“ he said, “and second, you have to live in the country. You don`t run this business in the middle of town. Your neighbors would lynch you.

“I have a lot of respect for the fox,“ he added. “But the fox really stinks.“

Although a few large distributors dominate the market, the animal urine production business is predominately a rural enterprise dominated by small operations like the Aeschleman Fur Co., which is one of 482 state-licensed fur farms in Illinois.

A native of Roanoke, the bearish, bearded Aeschleman hunted and trapped as a boy but had difficulty finding a buyer for his furs. Rather than oufit his own burly frame, and all of his relatives, in fur, Aeschleman began selling direct to fur buyers. In time, he was buying and selling the furs of others as well.

His fur trading led to a large retail business in trapping and hunting supplies and that, in turn, led to his interest in fur ranching and urine production.

Four years ago, he sold “his baby,“ a Corvette Sting-Ray, to raise the money for his first 15 mating pairs of foxes, at $300 each, he said.

The Aeschlemans had a hard go of it in the first few years. A fire destroyed their warehouse in an old school, and a thief made off with an entire truckload of furs. But with his foxes producing both more young and more urine, things are looking brighter.

“He may be an old farmboy, but he`s always wheeling and dealing and finding a better way to do things,“ said Soni, with no little pride.

The fox barn also houses Aeschleman`s small office, with its “Eat Venison, Wear Coyote,“ signs, and a larger room that serves as warehouse for Aeschleman`s catalog business and as a social center for neighbors in the winter time.

“You have to come back here in the winter,“ said Soni. “Then there is fur all over the place and people throwing wood on the fire and guys complaining about the prices and the weather and telling lies. It gets pretty lively.“

Keeping 150 to 600 foxes alive is no small chore. Under each cage there is a metal tray that funnels into a five gallon metal bucket. A fox will fill the bucket every week and a half. Aeschleman`s helper, Brian Cook, then has the job of emptying the buckets through a strainer.

“It ain`t so bad,“ Cook claimed. “But you don`t really get used to the smell.“

Bacteria in the urine has to be treated to keep the urine from spoiling, said Aeschleman, who has attended seminars conducted by organic chemists and spent three years working with them to fine-tune his urine production.

“Sometimes I feel more like a pharmacist than anything else,“ he said.

“I used to think that sewage was sewage, but there is a big difference between fresh urine and spoiled urine,“ Soni said. “The chemist would come out here and open jars and smell them for hours, it was so funny.“

Aeschleman adds an anti-freezing agent, but nothing more, to his product, he said. There is no shortage of jealousy and back-biting in the animal urine business and some suppliers have been accused of such indelicate behavior as watering down their animal urine. Such alleged behavior is likened to diluting in the illegal drug trade.

“Sure it`s done, not by name-brand guys, but I know for a fact that some of the urine sold is one-third urine, one-third ammonia and one-third water,“ said one trader who did not want his name used out of healthy respect for the high percentage of shotgun owners in the urine supply business.

But Aeschleman and other suppliers deny that much urine is cut for the simple reason that an expert trapper can tell in one whiff if he has purchased anything but the pure product.

“There have been people try to cut it, but that hurts them in the long run,“ he said.

“When a guy ordered gray fox urine and I accidentally sent him red, he sent it back,“ said Soni. “Those guys can tell the difference just by the smell.“

As a hedge against such talk, this seller stands behind his product;

“Aeschleman urines come with a 100 percent money back guarantee!“ his catalog says.

A small warehouse area off the fox holding part of his barn has shelves of hunting and trapping goods that Aeschleman sells through the catalog business.

Along with his own urines and lures, he offers those products of larger outfits such as Carman and Hawbaker`s, including such exotica as Powder River Cat Call, Stroud`s Professional Electronic Varmint and Predator Caller (with tapes of injured or wounded jackrabbits and woodpecker cries), Liquid Beaver Castorium and Genuine Sun Rendered Fish Oil.

Even with his catalog business, his foxes and the urine supplying, Aeschleman is still thinking of other ways to flush a dollar out of the wild. “I`d like to raise bears, but the state won`t let me do it,“ he said.

“I know a guy in Iowa who does it, it`s legal there, and he gets $500 each for his cubs and their urine sells for $35 a gallon, though I don`t know how you go about collecting it.“

Soni, however, draws the line at tending to anything large enough to devour her children.

“I like raising things that, if they get loose, they run away from you,“ she said, “instead of running for you.“