The Southwest, which is comprised of five states; Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, is so large and the cattle slaughter varies to such an extent, both as to the size and types of animals, that is necessary to break the Southwest into three distinct regions.
One region comprises all that section in Texas along the Mexican border, the Gulf Coast in both Texas and Louisiana, East Texas, Louisiana, and part of Arkansas. The kill in these locations will be predominatly lighter cattle. Slaughter will also contain a higher percentage of crossbreeds in the beef types.
A second region includes New Mexico and Northwest Texas. Here, the slaughter is made up mostly of heavier cattle and a large percentage of the hides contain brands.
The third and last region takes in Oklahoma and Northern Texas. The slaughter in this region is of animals a little heavier than those in the first region and a bit lighter than those in the second region.
However, it should be pointed out that certain members of the industry also include parts of Kansas in the Southwest area.
General Characteristics of Hides Produced
The general characteristics of the hides produced in the Southwestern area can be best summed up, basically, as light average. Here in these states cattle are bred and raised to the point where they are readily marketable to the areas where feeding operations are paramount. Hundreds of thousands of Texas cattle move every year to the great feeding areas in California, to be fed and fattened in the Imperial Valley of southeastern California. They, also are exported to the great corn states of Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. At this point, therefore, there explodes in one mighty blast much of the prejudice existing in some minds against Texas hides, since they reappear on the scene all the way from Los Angeles to New York City. A calf born in Texas may well end in the slaughter house in New York as a straight-backed well-conformed heavy steer.
Quite naturally people in the Southwestern area eat, even as do 193,000,000 Americans. They eat the product of their ranges and ranches. Cattle slaughtered are of the lighter type and variety for local Southwestern consumption. An 800 lb. Hereford or Angus steer will shed a much lighter price of outer wear than when it weighs 1,000 lbs. or more coming from a Northern or Western feed lot. The general characteristic of the hides in the Southwestern area is plumpness. Straight breeds of Angus and Hereford, as well as some Shorthorns produce a hide of even substance, small in pattern with little fall out or taper in the belly area. The dairy industry in the Southwest does create and produce the same dairy breeds found in other dairy areas, such as Wisconsin and New York. Hides from such cattle are thin and spready, much lighter in average weight.
During the past 20 years the introduction of the Zebu, better known to most as the Brahma strain, an original import from India, has caused some difference in the hide substance picture. The Brahman strain was introduced to the United States by reason of its ability to withstand terrific heat, to exist on limited moisture, and because of being impervious to flies and bugs such as ticks, lice, etc. Characteristic purebred Brahman cattle have a large hump high on the shoulder, just below the neck, and this hump is not only disfiguring, but a great source of difficulty to the United States tanner. Fortunately, introduction of the purebred Brahman was for purposes of crossbreeding, and while occasionally there is slaughter of some of this stock, it usually occurs in the older breeding animals.
In cross-breeding the Brahman with the Angus or the Hereford, several generations elapse before the hump is assimilated and disappears. Even when this takes place, the blood line characteristics of the Brahman will reveal themselves in the mixed breed, noticeable first by color and then by a lightening of the substance of the hide itself. Hides from purebred Brahman cattle are literally as "tough as a boot".
Summing up, the major portion of cattle and hides in the Southwest are of good plump stock.
Demand for Southwestern hides centers around those hides with a short pattern, plump, steers and heifers, light average weight, and predominately beef-type animals. The most desirable hide for plumpness in the Southwest comes from the Hereford breed. Other breeds that meet with good acceptance are Angus, Charolais, Santa Gertrudis (a cross between a Hereford and a Brahma), Brangus (a cross between an Angus and Brahma), and Shorthorn. There are other breeds and cross-breeds, including some dairy types that are acceptable, but these, for the most part, are considered minor. Most wanted are young steer or heifer hides that have good grain, short pattern, and are plump. It is very important that these hides from young animals are free of or contain only a small percentage of brands.
As to the mechanics and qualities of Southwestern hides: For scores of years, the highly desirable qualities and characteristics of Southwestern hides were, in part, discounted by an absence of interest on the part of producers to adequately flay the hide from the animal. Such outstanding qualities as short pattern, plumpness, and good grain surface were easily offset by the roughness of the flesh side of the hide, scores, undercuts, corduroys, and holes. This was primarily the result of improper supervision on the part of plant operators, together with a laxness on the part of buyers. The big change, however, occurred late in 1954 and during 1955, when amplitude of supplies caused merchandising changes where poor quality was prevalent. Many small packers and collectors, alike, found their hides low on the totem pole when inventory accumulations were the order of the day. By 1965, Southwestern hides from standard packers were rated much bigger by domestic and foreign buyers. The same is true in 1970.
Today, ranching in the Southwest is big business, particulary when it pertains to the breeding and raising of cattle. Hide quality has improved in the Southwest as a result of the attention and special treatment that is being given to producing good cattle. A healthy animal that is properly cared for usually results in a better hide. Ticks are no longer a serious problem. By and large, these have been eradicated or, at least, brought under control. The mange problem is insignificant; the grub-control program is improving continuously; and the trade is taking the subject of branding far more seriously.
Thousands of head of young cattle are transported from the Southwest to many parts of the United States - mostly to the Western and Midwestern States - where they are put on feed from four to eight months before being slaughtered. Larger and older animals produce a different type of hide. The weather can have a marked effect on the hides, sometimes changing the weights. Inclement weather, particulary over a sustained period, can mean a heavier hide.
Meat packers in the Southwest, particulary those in Texas, kill lighter and younger animals in the steer and heifer classifications. The older animals are mostly cows. The age of an animal has a natural effect on the hide, and, as an animal grows older, scars on its hide are accented. Naturally, such hides are not the best for leather-making.
(Source: Hides & Skins. National Hide Association. Pages 134-137)