Friday, December 22, 2023

Hide Tanning

Having a steady supply of cow hides on hand, I wanted to try my hand at tanning. I knew the learning curve would be steep, but a guy has to start somewhere. The first hide I tried, off a black angus, basically flopped. So we revamped our method and gave it another whirl. 

From the day Ernie and I bought these Herefords I wanted to save their hides.

So we waited until late November of 2022, when their hides here full, to slaughter and skin them.

Beautiful big hides, we gave them a quick power wash before we laid them out. 

We did our best to flesh them as we skinned, but a cow hide still has a lot of work to be done on the underside. 

So to buy us a little time, we salted them and put them in the corner until all our ducks were in a row. 

Then in the spring we decided to go for it with one hide. First step was building a fleshing beam out of an old fence post and sawhorse. 

Then came the work of fleshing the darn thing. It actually wasn't too bad. This drawknife like tool did a good job. Some guys will use a power washer and just blow the fat and meat off. We tried that once but did have much luck. This worked good in the long run. 

Then hosed it down and shampooed the hair to get all the crud out of it. 

This time around, we decided on a soaking method. 

The ingredients involved sulfuric acid and pickling salt. 

We soaked it for about 30 days, turning it every so often. 

Once it was time to pull it out, we neutralized the solution with baking soda. 

Then hosed it off again. 

Not really knowing what all we were doing, I just draped it over the sawhorse and let it dry. 

Unfortunately it dried too well. The process we used basically preserved/pickled the hide, but didn't actually tan it. Which is fine for what we wanted, but you really got to keep the hide loose as it drys. They call this breaking the hide, and it is probably the hardest part of tanning big hide. If a guy could roll this thing around in his hand, it would limber up like leather. But it was just so big and tough to do anything with. 

Several months later, we decided to rehydrate the hide and start over on the drying process. 

This time we hung it from the ceiling and broke it as it dried. 

Once we called it good, then we took a knife and trimmed it up nice. 

Looks good. Can't beat a Hereford's color combination. The hide wouldn't make a good blanket, but it should make a nice rug. 

Merry Christmas Mom and Dad. 

Like I say, the learning curve is steep. One guy I read said, "You can tan your own hide. But it's best to start small, like with a rabbit." Good advice, and I would have taken it if I wanted a rabbit hide. But I wanted a cow hide! Go big or go home, I guess. Then next time around I have some new ideas to try, but I think we are getting the basic concept down. The one thing that would help is a tumbler that slowly rolls the hide around, breaking it as it dries. This is how you live and learn, though. We're on to the next one.

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