Are pelts an asset or liability? (Shepherd’s Notebook)
(Editor’s note: Susan Schoenian is a sheep and goat specialist with the University of Maryland.)
According to the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI; sheepusa.org), “there is currently no market for American sheepskins. The highest quality pelts have lost 95 percent of their value since March.”
According to the most recent USDA weekly pelt report, pelts have a negative value.
In other words, (some) producers have to pay the processor to get rid of them.
In the past, the pelt accounted for the majority of the drop (by-product) value of a commodity lamb.
In past years, it was common for the United States to export more than 1 million pelt pieces worth an estimated $15 million.
More than 80 percent went to China, the world’s largest importer.
As a result of trade disagreements, the Chinese have placed tariffs on U.S. skins, causing prices to plummet.
There are other reasons for price declines.
The value of the dollar relative to other currencies makes it more expensive to buy U.S. sheepskins.
The demand for synthetics is increasing.
Tougher environmental regulations are driving many small tanneries out of business.
Lower wool prices can also push pelt prices down.
For others, pelts are an asset. Both the California and Utah Wool Growers are selling pelts for $80 to $100 each.
There is a farm in California that is selling out of pelts (from Navajo Churro sheep), priced as high as $675.
Many other producers are niche marketing pelts at prices someone in between. Pelts are an excellent way to add value to a sheep enterprise.
While it is possible to tan your own pelts, it is more common to have the pelts professionally tanned.
Bucks County Fur Products (buckscountyfurproducts.com) in Quakertown, Pa., is the tannery of choice for most direct marketers.
A family business since 1954, Bucks calls themselves “the sheepskin specialists,” as they specialize in the tanning of sheep, goat, and deer hides.
They process skins from all over the United States. Most are shipped in and shipped out.
It is not difficult to prepare raw skins for tanning.
However, the skins are perishable and will “spoil” if they are not handled properly.
It is best to begin preparing the skins as soon after slaughter as possible.
Skins should be spread out flat (wooden pallets work well for this) and salted generously (two to five pounds each with finely granulated salt).
Excess fat, meat clumps and body parts should be removed.
The pelts should be allowed to dry sufficiently (around two weeks) before being shipped to the tannery. Finished pelts are washable or can be returned to the tannery for a “proper cleaning.”
There are many uses for sheep pelts.
Commercially, footwear is one of the most common.
Sheepskin slippers are popular. UGGS are still trendy.
The soft leather from sheep hides is used to make gloves, jackets, purses and chamois cloth.
The use of sheepskin seat covers dates back centuries.
Sheepskin is a liner for many products.
Research has confirmed the advantages of medical sheepskin in the prevention and treatment of pressure ulcers.
Sheepskin rugs and comforters are popular for babies.
According to a German study, babies who sleep on animal skins are less likely to develop asthma.
Pets, especially aging ones or those with joint problems, will likely benefit from the many positive attributes of sheepskin.
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