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Hide and Skin Quality

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Raw material quality is a prime concern of tanners the world over. The tanning industry and the downstream industries which it supplies – footwear, furniture, automotive, clothing, leathergoods, saddlery – are entirely dependent for their raw material on supplies of cattle hides and sheep skins, plus a small number of goat and other skins. While supplies and quality of hides and skins are vital to the tanning industry, they are just by-products for the meat, dairy or wool industries. For the tanner, the raw hides and skins represent 50-60% of the cost of producing a piece of leather.

In order for many companies in the leather industry to be competitive, they specialise in producing particular types of leather – for example high quality and high performance leathers. However the potential benefits can only be fully realised when the hides and skins available to the industry reach a consistent quality, allowing tanners to buy with confidence that the material will be suitable for the manufacture of leather to meet their target markets.

The quality of leather that the tanner can produce is determined primarily by the quality of the raw hides that he buys. But the quality of the hides cannot be fully assessed until after the hair or wool has been removed, and after the completion of the tanning process when the hide has been turned into leather. The value of the hide depends on the end use to which the leather goes. This eventually has to be reflected in what the tanner pays for his raw material.

The quality of the hide or skin is to a large extent related to the amount of damage to the grain (or “outside”) surface. The damage may be due to skin parasites that affect the live animal, related scratch, husbandry practices on the farm or in transport of the live animal (scratches, bruising, or dirt contamination); it may be due to damage during slaughter or removal of the hide; or it may be caused by inappropriate handling or inadequate preservation techniques. Most types of damage can be reduced or avoided altogether by better management of the animal or the hide.

As part of a project funded by the European Commission, a network was developed of researchers into improvement in the quality of hides and skins under the FAIR project.

Areas identified for further research and development are a need for further investigation into the operating methods of delivering clean animals to the abattoir without damaging the hide or skin, optimum methods of minimising parasite damage to hides and skins, practical and economic methods of identifying hides and skins through the chain from farmer to tanner where quality can be fully assessed, and development and evaluation of quality improvement systems, in order to provide some incentive to farmers and/or abattoirs to reflect much more directly the quality and value of the hide in the price.

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