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With fur prices as low as they are, the topic of long term fur storage is surfacing more often these days. Items like small and slightly damaged coons are almost impossible to sell right now, but we trappers are nothing if not optimistic. Many are hoping they can store their low value fur for a year or two and bet on being able to sell them during a market recovery.
Should you store fur?
Let’s talk for a minute about whether you should store fur at all. Anytime you wait to market a perishable good with an uncertain market like fur, you take a lot of risk. First off, nothing lasts forever, so you will have to market the fur sometime. There are ways to preserve fur for quite a while, but not forever. It’s possible that the fur won’t be worth any more, and possibly worth less, when you do finally have to sell it. There’s also risk that the fur will be spoiled or damaged during storage. Simply put, fur storage isn’t for everyone.
The great advantage to long term fur storage is that it gives you a great deal of flexibility around when you can sell fur. You can hunker down and hang onto fur during the low times, and if all works out, sell it when things pick back up. It’s kind of like having a bulk fuel tank. In typical market years, it can be a good strategy to buy gas in bulk during winter when its cheap, and use that cheap fuel when others are paying high prices in spring and summer. Storage enhances marketing flexibility.
Why is proper fur storage important?
Several things impact the quality of fur over time. When exposed to air, fur can go stale. Some pelts can also develop a yellowish tinge that degrades the quality of the fur. Beetles, moths and other bugs can destroy the pelts, as can mice and other rodents. Improper moisture conditions can cause mold growth, which can ruin furs as well. Raw fur has a lot of enemies in storage, which makes it important for us to do our best to store it right.
Fur Storage Options
Let’s consider storage for four basic types of fur: carcass fur (whole animal), green fur (hide that has not been fleshed, stretched and dried), raw fur (skinned, fleshed, stretched and dried) and tanned fur.
Carcass Fur (whole animals) can be stored in the freezer for a period of time, individually in bags to protect the fur from frost and contact with freezer edges and other items. This is really not a preferred storage method because the carcasses take up so much freezer space.
Green Fur has virtually no shelf life at room temperature, and a short shelf live refrigerated, but can be stored frozen for quite a long time (months, or even a couple of years) under the right conditions. The trick is to minimize air contact with the skins. Many trappers have good luck with this. Furs are skinned and immediately placed in plastic bags. Air is forced out of the bags and the furs are frozen. Since air contact is the greatest enemy of frozen green fur, vacuum sealing can be a great option. Vacuum sealing units can be bought pretty cheaply, and long, wide rolls of vacuum bags can be used to seal and protect the pelts. Many trappers claim they can store furs for up to 2-3 years using this method, with no visible loss in quality. When they’re ready to sell fur, they simply thaw out the skins and proceed to flesh, stretch and dry them.
If you don’t want to go the vacuum seal route or have pelts that won’t fit in the vacuum bags, you might try the jumbo Zip Loc bags that have a port to connect your vacuum cleaner and suck air out of the bag. Or you can remove air manually.
Raw fur (skinned, stretched, fleshed and dried) can be stored for several years under the right conditions, but if not properly stored its quality will degrade quickly. Pelts should be initially dried at around 60-70 degrees F, and should keep for several weeks at room temperature. If stored beyond a month, however, room temperature won’t cut it.
Pelts become stale with exposure to air, humidity causes mold, and bugs can get to the fur. Refrigeration can prolong the shelf life of raw fur, but moisture in refrigeration units can really degrade pelt quality.
For true long term storage of raw fur, it should be frozen. To prevent freezer burn, the pelts should not be exposed to air. Vacuum sealing is a popular option, but may not be necessary. As long as the pelts are stacked tightly in the freezer, air spaces removed and pelts kept from touching the freezer walls, they should last for years. If vacuum sealed, it’s recommended that the pelts not touch plastic, so pelts should be wrapped in paper towels, paper or cardboard prior to being sealed in plastic bags.
Well packed furs in a well kept freezer should help give trappers a great deal of flexibility in when to market their fur. Just keep in mind that storing fur involves risk – fur can spoil, and the poor market may not recover for years. But at least long term storage allows for some options.
Another option is to send your fur to one of the large auction houses, who have extensive cold storage facilities for long term fur storage. For the opportunity to sell your fur and collect a commission, both North American Fur Auctions and Fur Harvesters Auction will store your fur for free. And they know how to do it right.
Finally, tanned fur can be stored indefinitely. Unfortunately, tanning is costly, and it’s difficult to sell tanned fur except in small specialty markets. It’s an option to consider, though.
As trappers, we should always do our best to get the most value from our fur, and maintaining quality during long term storage can be an important component of maximizing that value.