It has been said that California is a state unto itself when it comes to hides. If applied strictly to native California cattlehides, this would largely be true. However, a large percentage of the hides processed in California come off cattle brought to California to be placed in feedlots. They come from several states to be fast-fed and readied for market.
There is a similarity among some of the animals crowding onto California feedlots. They are mostly range-type cattle.
Native California cattle are largely Herefords, with a small percentage of Angus, Shorthorns, and mixed breeds. In areas close to urban communities, dairy cattle are also raised.
The animals often roam in large open country or ranges, and when rounded up, the only means of identification are the brands. More branding is also experienced when they finally reach the feedlots. In addition, when the cattle are traded or sold, they are rebranded. The result: Some hides are marred by multiple brands. In most instances, the hides are sold flat, in lots, by the meat packers.
When it comes to selection, there is very little in California. There is no selection for No. 1s or No. 2s. Nor is there for natives or butt brands. Selection is limited to sorting for plump steers and dairy steers, for plump cows or dairy cows, and perhaps for medium weight steers and heavy steers. The butts go into the regular steer mix. That's it.
California hasn't progressed as fast as some areas when it comes to fleshing. In fact, we know of only one large fleshing operation. That's in Modesto. If there are others, we haven't run across them. Some hides in California are still conventionally cured and generally speaking, California hides have rather good grain.
Surprisingly enough, a considerable number of the hides in California are brine-cured in hide processors, with one large operation curing in raceways.
Better takeoff is gradually being experienced, with more meat packers using the hide stripper in place of the electric or pneumatic skinning knife or the conventional skinning knife. Installation of the hide stripper not only provides an economic saving for the packer, but definitely improves the quality of the rawstock.
A number of small meat packers on the West Coast have discontinued salting their hides and are selling them green to nearby tanners.
Curing via conventional packs is getting to be a thing of the past in California. Brine curing in processors is the "in thing" in much of that part of the country, where the volume in many instances is small. However, we repeat, one volume processor still prefers the raceway cure. To each his own.
While the Modern Hide Trim, a voluntary standard, is supposed to be the accepted standard, there are trims and there are trims. Where the hides go for export, and many of them do on the West Coast, trimming sometimes follows a modified version of the Modern Trim.
(Source: Hides & Skins. National Hide Association. Pages 136-137)
After many years of completely static conditions in the hide industry, there is now evidence of a new era of change and progress. Perhaps the increased competition from plastics has awakened the hide and leather producers to the immediate need for both economic and quality improvements. Revolutionary changes are now being seen in both the method of the hide takeoff and curing in order in insure the tanner of better raw materials and finer finished products.
Most of the cattle are normally raised in large open country or poorly fenced ranges, and the herds often get mixed. When they are rounded up, the only means of indentification are the brands. This same situation is also experienced when they finally reach the feed lots. In addition to this, when cattle are traded or sold, it is necessary to re-brand them. As a result, when the hides are finally removed, they are often marred by multiple brands. Hot-iron branding of cattle and the consequent impairment of the hide is a major problem for the industry. Research is now underway to try and find suitable substitute identification methods to replace hot-iron branding. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Cattlemen's Association and the National Hide Association (now the USHSLA) are all very active in this regard, and there is now great hopes that somes success will be achieved.
Several years of research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has greatly reduced the percentage of grub damage to cattle. Sprays and injections have been recommended and used by the cattlemen for their herds, and while this blight has not been entirely eradicated, it has certainly been partially controlled. It is hoped that further efforts will be made to eliminate this damaging scourge which causes the loss of millions of dollars annually.
Quality of take-off is based entirely on the ability of the packinghouse and the care taken in removing the hide from the carcass. Until quite recently, all hides were removed by the conventional skinning knife. Now we have the new almost automatic hide strippers, which reduce the number of cuts and scores, and also reduce the amount of fat which is left on the hide. Many packinghouses on the West Coast have already installed this new equipment, and many more are expected to follow. This procedure will not only provide an economic saving for the packer, but will definitely improve the quality of the rawstock.
Perhaps the most radical change in the hide industry in the last several years has been in the handling and curing of green hides. More and more the small packers have discontinued salting their own hides, and are selling them green to hide dealers. This enables the hide dealer to insure proper care and cure of the rawstock.
It is now generally accepted that brine curing and the perfection of new chemical additives for the brine has definitely improved the cure. It is reasonable to assume that in the years to come fewer small packers will be salting their own hides as it has become more economical and practical for them to sell their production green daily, rather than to accumulate packs of hides and to wait for them to cure before disposing of them. New trimming requirements will also exert an influence in this direction.
The regular Packer Hide Trim has been in effect for many years. For the first time, there is definite demand for a complete change in the accepted hide pattern. The Bureau of Standards has issued an acceptable trim for hides which will require a great deal more trimming prior to shipment than previously. This new concept has been accepted by some of the domestic tanners and by some of the exporters. It certainly seems practical to do this trimming prior to shipment, as these same parts which are to be trimmed would be removed at the tannery, and freight on unwanted raw material is thus eliminated. With freight rates as high as they are, this is quite a factor. It will probably take some time to get a definitely accepted trim established, but this is a step in the right direction. Here again, it is no problem for a hide dealer to trim hides which are cured at his own plant, but there would be a great deal of difficulty in trying to trim hides at a packinghouse at the time of take up. It may become necessary for the packer to trim his hides before putting them in salt, and probably this will meet with some opposition. It is another feature which may influence the packer to dispose of his hides green every day.
(Source: Hides & Skins. National Hide Association. Pages 155-157)