Preparing your Skins for Tanning
In tanning, getting the best final product possible is highly dependent on good preparation of the skin. There is almost always a critical window of time from when an animal is shot on a hunt or butchered and when its skin arrives at our tannery. The care of the skin during that time is your responsibility!
The goal of this page is to present basic knowledge about hide preparation and the steps you need to take to ensure your hide or fur arrives at the tannery in the best possible condition for tanning.
Skinning & Short-Term Preservation
From the moment the animal is dead, bacteria and enzymes begin to work to breakdown & decompose the skin. At some point, these bacteria will reach the hair follicles and cause what is called "slippage" in the tanning industry. The hair follicles loosen causing the hair or fur to fall out during the tanning process, leaving bare patches of leather. When exactly this process occurs depends on multiple interacting factors such as the ambient temperature, sunlight exposure, humidity, position of the dead animal, & the species of animal.
There are a couple short term things one should do as soon as it is decided that a skin will be sent to tanning. If you can get the fresh skin to us in a relatively quick time-period (usually same day, depending on ambient temperature), these short-term steps may be enough to preserve the hide until we can work with it.
Every skin or hide is unique & the guidelines below do not guarantee success. All furs and hides sent to us are tanned at the customer's own risk. That being said, in most cases, following the instructions below and using common sense will safeguard your hide and result in a beautiful fur or rug.
If the skin is still on the animal, skin it as soon as possible so it is not in contact with the warm body. Skinning can only be delayed if you keep the animal very cold or frozen. If you are leaving the head and paws on the animal for us to skin out, keep in mind that these will retain heat longer and should be frozen ASAP and kept very cold in the meantime. Small animals can be frozen and sent to the tannery whole, for skinning at an extra cost. Take your time with skinning, and remember that it is better to have some flesh, meat or fat stuck to the skin than to cut holes in the skin.
The skin should be kept COLD, preferably below freezing, DRY, and CLEAN of large chunks of flesh & pools of blood. An inch of meat on some spots of the hide, although not ideal, is acceptable, but large chunks of 2-3 inches thick will inhibit cooling drastically. Dirt, mulch, or grass/hay is not a huge deal, although the cleaner the better.
If you're out in the field, you can try to drape the hide over branches or trunks in the shade so that it is spread out and not sticking to itself. Large animals such as bear, elk, & moose often need extra care as their large size and the thickness of the skin will tend to work against rapid cooling.
If you are storing your hide in a cooler for a period of time, make sure any ice you put in it is contained and will not melt around the hide until it is sitting in a pool of water.
Observe the skin & note its general appearance, color, & smell. Tug gently on some hairs and see if they come loose. If you observe /any/ one of the signs below, call us immediately before bringing your hide in.
* Presence of maggots
* Green spots on hide
* Foul smell or rotting smell
* Large patches of hair missing or "slipping" off when brushed firmly with a hand
Some hides can still be saved and tanned successfully even if one or more of these signs are present but may need specialized treatment.
If you cannot get the skin to us within 1 day or so or if the temperature is very warm, you must take further steps to preserve the skin. There are 2 main ways to preserve a hide or skin for shipment or until you can drop it off at the tannery. These are FREEZING and SALT & DRY.
We usually recommend freezing as it is the best and easiest method for most hunters and ranchers to preserve a hide. A frozen skin does not need to be fleshed and can be kept frozen for up to 6 months or more with no ill-effects, if properly prepared. The only drawback is that large hides may take a lot of freezer space.
To freeze your skin, lay it out flat with the hair side down and fold it in half, flesh side touching flesh side and hair on the outside. Next, fold any legs, tails or heads in, towards the center of the hide, and roll the skin up in a roll like a sleeping bag. Double bag the skin & press all of the air out of the bag. Place in the freezer. Do not salt the hide if you are freezing it! Freezing and salting both stop bacterial growth and decay and doing both is not necessary. If the skin is not fleshed, salting it will dehydrate the remaining flesh and membrane into jerky and make for an extremely hard fleshing job for the tanner!
2. FLESH, SALT & DRY
Unless you have previous taxidermy or trapping experience with fleshing skins we do not recommend attempting to flesh and salt a skin yourself.
We recommend this option only if you have no access to a freezer or freezer space, as it requires some experience and proper tools to take out the membrane and flesh covering the skin. A botched fleshing job can result in holes in the skin, the salt not penetrating fully into the hide and causing slippage, and/or leftover flesh drying hard on the skin and impeding the tanning process.
For capes and lifesize animals destined for taxidermy, or small game with heads and paws intact, the ears need to be turned and the lips and noes split, and the paws and tail boned out before fleshing and salting can be done. If you are not familiar with these techniques, freeze the hide or bring it to us within a day or two, so that we can prep the hide at the tannery.
First, take your skinned hide and scrape all the flesh and fat off of it. A fleshing board and fleshing knife is generally required for this. Fleshing boards can be manufactured out of wood and fleshing knives can be bought at taxidermy stores.
The skin must be smooth and white or pink when you are finished. See picture below.
Now salt the hide. The amount of salt will vary based on the size and thickness of the hide. An average deer hide will take about 20 lbs of salt and a cow hide will take 40-60 lbs. Always salt with fine white salt and completely cover the hide with salt!! Rock salt or chunky salt will likely not penetrate the skin and fail to stop decay and slippage.
Also make sure the salt the tail and small corners.
Next, leave the hide on a flat surface (an inclined surface, such as a plywood sheet with a block under one side is even better, as it allows the juices to drain) in a cool area away from the sun for 2 days. Make sure no critters can get to it! After 2 days, hang the hide up on a 2x4 in between 2 sawhorses and let it drain and then dry. You want to leave the skin to dry until it turns white but is still flexible enough to fold. You can put a fan or a dehumidifier nearby to speed up the drying process especially in humid climates. Once the skin is dry, fold it and store it in a cool, dry spot away from sunlight until you are ready to ship.