- For alternative meanings, see Fur (disambiguation).
The term fur refers to the body hair of non-human mammals also known as the pelage (like the term plumage in birds). Fur comes from the coats of animals; the animal's coat may consist of short ground hair, long guard hair, and, in some cases, medium awn hair. Not all mammals have fur; animals without fur may have the epithet "naked", as in The Naked Ape and naked mole rat.
Fur usually consists of two main layers:
- Ground hair or underfur - the bottom layer consisting of wool hairs when tend to be shorter, flattened, curly and denser than the top layer.
- Guard hair - the top layer consisting of longer straight shafts of hair that stick out through the underfur. This is usually what's visible in most mammals and contains most of the pigmentation.
Fur once served as an important source of clothing for humans, most notably in cold climates. Modern cultures continue to wear fur and fur trim as dictated by climate and fashion trends, and is still considered by some a luxury item. Animal furs used in garments and trim may be dyed bright colors or to mimic exotic animal patters, or shorn down to imitate the feel of a soft velvet fabric.
Common animal sources for fur clothing and fur trimmed accessories include:
Eighty-five percent of the fur industry’s skins come from animals living captive on fur factory farms. These farms can hold thousands of animals, and the practices used to farm them are remarkably uniform around the globe. As with other intensive-confinement animal farms, the methods used on fur factory farms are designed to maximize profits.
To cut costs, fur farmers pack animals into small cages, preventing them from taking more than a few steps back and forth. This crowding and confinement is considered by some to be distressing to minks—solitary animals who may occupy as much as 2,500 acres (10 km²) of wetland habitat in the wild. Life in a cage leads minks to self-mutilate—biting at their skin, tails, and feet—and frantically pace and circle endlessly. Zoologists at Oxford University who studied captive minks found that despite generations of being bred for fur, minks have not been domesticated and suffer greatly in captivity, especially if they are not given the opportunity to swim. Foxes, raccoons, and other animals suffer equally and have been found to cannibalize each other as a reaction to their crowded confinement.
The manufacturing of fur clothing involves obtaining animal pelts where the hair is left on the animal's processed skin; in contrast, leather such as sheepskin involves removing the fur from the skin and using only the skin, and the use of wool involves shearing the animal's hair off of the living animal, so that the wool can be regrown. Fake fur or "faux fur" designates any synthetic material that mimics the appearance and feel of real fur, without the use of animal products.
Historically, the fur trade played an important economic role in the United States. Fur trappers explored and opened up large parts of North America, and the fashion for beaver hats led to intense competition for supplies of raw materials. Starting in the latter half of the 20th century, producers and wearers of fur have been criticized by some because of the belief that animal trapping and fur farms are cruel, and that the killing of animals for clothing (or fur trimmed accessories) is made unnecessary by modern natural and synthetic fibers. Others disagree with this latter notion, stating that synthetic materials are not comparable to natural fur, which still remains a popular item.
The most farmed fur-bearing animal is the mink, followed by the fox. Chinchillas, lynxes, and even hamsters are also farmed for their fur. Sixty-four percent of fur farms are in Northern Europe, 11 percent are in North America, and the rest are dispersed throughout the world, in countries such as Argentina and Russia. Mink farmers usually breed female minks once a year. There are about three or four surviving kits for each litter, and they are killed when they are about half a year old, depending on what country they are in, after the first hard freeze. Minks used for breeding are kept for four to five years.
The soft, warm texture of fur appeals to many people; for some, the attraction becomes a fur fetishism, a fetishistic attraction to people wearing fur, or in certain cases, to the fur garments themselves.