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They buried the cow at 8.30 pm. It had died in the afternoon. The vet had been working with it for three weeks but could not save it. Here on the island you bury them deep. With a four-hour sail to the mainland you have no other option. We stood and watched in silence.
It was not a dairy cow, it was a cow kept for breeding. The business of this island is beef, mostly Aberdeen Angus. There appear to be a couple of small herds of Highland Cattle as well. We are on a Scottish isle and tourism is increasingly important. Highland cattle are docile and good looking although Aberdeen Angus give better meat.
No one talks about hides or hide prices. They have no place in the farmers’ thinking here. Beef is the first, second and third priority out of three. Through my knowledge of the leather industry, I know more than the farmers here about where the hides will end up. The new Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules (PEFC) from the EU make sense. The hide is never a determining product with livestock, and here it is not even an afterthought.
This is a point well made in a letter written by Stephen Sothmann, President of the U.S. Hide, Skin, and Leather Association, to a website that thoughtlessly (we hope) published an article about furniture written by PETA:
“Cattle are raised for the primary product, beef, which accounts for 90% of its total value. The rest of the products derived from the animal are waste byproducts that must be recycled and turned into usable materials, or risk being composted or destroyed in ways that would be detrimental to the environment. As long as we produce livestock for meat and dairy consumption purposes, animal hides and skins are going to be a natural and inevitable byproduct of the process. We, as a society, have an ethical responsibility to use those materials and not be wasteful.”
As I look out in the evening sun at cattle grazing on long term grassland, with the Sea of the Hebrides immediately behind and the islands of Berneray and Mingulay in the far distance, I know the farmer takes great care with the husbandry and that, for his beef to do well, traceability and animal welfare are vital. In all, this the hide has no role until the moment of slaughter when the production of leather is the best route for disposal.
That same hide will make long lasting leather. Responsibly processed through leather manufacturing (an important point), leather tanners’ produce is one of the world’s best materials.
Dr Mike Redwood
May 22, 2018
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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