The cattle raising production and supply chain along with the continual improvement of the leather industry has a great importance within Brazil’s overall economic development. The country, which is already a leader in livestock production with modern technology, aims to improve leather processing through the introduction of modern technology and improved quality techniques.

Up to the 1990s, Brazil was seen within the leather industry as a commodity exporter, as leather was often exported as wet-blue. The exports of finished leather frequently faced some difficulties related to defects caused with the raw material. The large geographic locations and climate issues in Brazil naturally favour ectoparasites, which combined with inadequate management of farms, transport and slaughter, caused damage to the raw material, preventing the country from exporting products with a higher added value.

In 1995, CICB (the Brazilian Tanners’ Association) launched the “Brazilian Hide Quality-Improvement Program”. This project aimed at raising awareness and improving professional education in the supply chain (from the farm to the slaughterhouse), in order to improve hide quality and bring new competitive advantages to the national industry. The program has since come to an end, but the resulting benefits have continued and today the Brazilian industry is recognised as a major player in the global market. 

Improvements taken by JBS Couros, the worlds largest leather maker, have taken a close look at the supply chain from farm to slaughter and have implemented changes to upgrade raw material quality. 

Recent research has shown that about 95% of the damage suffered by the animal hide or skin comes from the period between birth and slaughter, approximately 55% occurs between birth and rearing and 45% occurs after animals’ shipment from the farm to the slaughterhouse. With this in mind, JBS Couros has developed over the years several projects aimed at hide improvement.  

Steps taken at JBS Couros

JBS Couros works closely with its supply chain in order to assure that the transport and slaughter conditions guarantee the best quality of hides. A team of experts at JBS carry out a periodical checklist during transportation and slaughter verifying approximately 40 different parameters that has an impact in raw material quality. Transport conditions, structure and management in the pre-slaughter stockyard, water, diet, rest time etc are among the items checked.

Following the checklist a work plan is designed to correct possible anomalies and improve the existing procedures, with the purpose of guaranteeing the best quality of the raw material without scratches or veins. 

Today, the company routinely implements the set of indicators and procedures according to the checklist to ensure the continuous assessment and evolution of the animals from the farm to the slaughterhouse gate.

Within the slaughter phase, the main focus for JBS is at the point where hide take-off takes place from the carcass in the butchering process. The improvement program is monitored following predetermined performance indicators and the use of manual hide cutters (people) and mechanical stripping methods are adopted which follow industry best practices. Performance reports are produced daily and sent to the respective managers within the company. 

If the performance indicators are achieved correctly, the hide cutters, ie the operatives on the slaughter line, receive a monthly Quality Award. As soon as an indicator is outside the target set, an inspector intervenes to identify the possible causes and to establish an action plan for improvement. 

The program has been in place since 2011 and significant results have already been achieved. The problems associated grain-crack have seen a reduction of 50% between 2011 and 2013. The number of butcher cuts or holes in the hides, which has the main focus of the project, has seen a reduction 51.7% achieved over the same period. 

Following the slaughter process the next area where JBS Couros have focused their attention is on the immediate conservation procedures of the hides. Quality control directly after hide removal is also of critical importance to guaranteeing the leather quality. JBS Couros works with an innovative system, which is extremely efficient in preserving the hides prior to processing at the tannery. It is composed of a cooling method that ensures a fast conservation of hides by reducing the ability of bacterial growth to cause damage on freshly slaughtered hides. Following removal, the hides are placed on an overhead conveyor that goes through an initial cleaning process. Each hide is then immersed in a tank of cold water containing bactericides and other preservation products. Although simple, this system has proved to be the most effective one from JBS’s experience in improving hide quality and it also removes the need for salt preservation, which causes problems for the tanner further down the line.

Transportation

Hide transportation also receives particular attention. The transport trucks have been fitted with special buckets to drain the water present in the hides during transport. A reduced water content lowers bacteria’s ability to grow quickly ensuring a better quality raw material when it arrives at the tannery.

The vertical structure benefits JBS with the synergies between the different areas of the productive chain. Leather quality in the final product is intrinsically related to raw material quality. JBS Couros work with the rest of the Brazilian leather industry to raise standards. The checklist and action plans, along with the hide take-off improvement program are now indispensable tools that add value to the product and ensure the continuous improvement in the supply chain and the final quality of the end product.