Don’t be Disappointed… Some Tips On Preparing Bison Hides!

Bisset Creek Tanners
Box 148
Smeaton, Saskatchewan
S0J 2J0
Phone (306) 426-2036 or (306) 222-4425 any time.


Proper preparation of bison hides will help ensure a quality end product. Here are a few tips on how to process the hides before sending them away to be tanned.

Don’t be Disappointed…..Some Tips On Preparing Bison Hides!

Raw skins that are tanned as robes or rugs require special care before processing. Excessive hair loss from hides that are improperly cared for can cause disappointment for the customer and the tanner. Therefore an explanation of why this damage occurs and what can be done to prevent it is important.

Microorganisms called bacteria frequently cause spoilage/decay on unpreserved skins. Bacteria are one-celled organisms that do not have stomachs or digestive systems. They digest their food outside of their cell be secreting digestive enzymes through their cell wall onto a food source like dead animal tissue. The enzymes break this tissue down into small pieces that the microorganism can absorb back through its cell wall where it is assimilated and used for energy. Hair follicles on the tissue have nothing to hold them in place when the tissue around them is broken down. Bacteria that are not stopped immediately cause irreversible damage that results in hair slippage or bald patches in a surprisingly short time.

The common places microorganisms are found are on the epidermis or outer layer of skin, in digestive juices of the gut and the feces. They thrive in warm, dark and moist places so it is important to skin the animal immediately to start cooling the hide and meat. Remove the skin before cleaning the body cavity to avoid contamination with the digestive juices and or fecal matter. Blood can also cause problems because it spreads bacteria and concentrates its populations in pools. Nutrients in blood are readily

Available to the microorganism giving the pooled populations enough energy to do a lot of damage. If blood or juices get onto the skin, rub a few handfuls of salt directly on to the spot.

Salt kills most bacteria and forces any remaining survivors into an inactive spore stage. They will remain in this state until water is reintroduced into the hide. Salt also sets the hair follicles not effected by bacteria.

The best method to preserve skins prior to tanning is as follows:

Spread skin out completely on clean cloth or grass in a shaded, cool area.

Remove fat and large pieces of flesh quickly but carefully to prevent slicing into the skin. Salt heavily with a fine, white, non-iodized salt to a depth of about 1f4 inch, working the salt into the flesh side by hand. Ideally the skin should be elevated slightly on one end so excess moisture can run off. Allow the salt to remain for about twelve hours or overnight. The next day remove the old salt and replace with another layer of fresh dry salt. The skin can now be folded and shipped to a tannery. To reduce shipping costs, reduce the moisture content by allowing the skin to dry before shipping. Leave salt on after the second salting and keep in a cool dry place until the hide is still flexible enough to fold but not stiff enough to crack. Keep away from insects and rodents. Place in burlap or cloth sack rather than a plastic bag and ship in a cardboard box. Plastic does not allow moisture to escape and this can cause damage.

We strongly advise against freezing bison hides because of the length of time it takes to completely freeze the large bulk. It is inevitable that some slippage will occur when frozen. The extent will depend on how fast the hide is chilled and how low the temperature of the freezer is. If freezing is your only means of keeping the hide until it is sent to a tanner a few pointers may help to reduce damage.

Keep the hide as clean as possible. Wipe off any blood, digestive juices or feces with a strong salt water solution and a clean rag. Cool the hide quickly. Removeall fat and large pieces of flesh. If snow is used to cool the hide remember that it is an insulator. The flesh side of the hide may be chilled but the fur on the snow may still be warm. Therefore turn the hide from flesh side to fur side periodically to insure even cooling. Another method of cooling is to elevate the hide off the ground so air can circulate

around it. As soon as the hide is cool, fold and place in a burlap or cloth sack. Do not use a plastic bag, as it will cause a lot of damage by keeping the skin moist, dark and warm (if not cooled adequately).

Bacteria do not die when frozen in normal chest freezers because the temperatures can not be reduced enough. They continue to function in slow motion, so it is best to place the hides in the coldest freezer you can find. Temperatures between -40 and -70 are ideal.

A few more tips to keep your hides in good condition are;

  • Skinning immediately after death is easiest before rigor mortise sets in.
  • Never drag an animal in which you intend to have tanned. Where possible roll the animal into position.
  • Do not stack hides on top of each other. Stacked skins tend to produce their own heat which speeds spoiling.
  • Salting without dehydrating before freezing is not recommended for hides as robes or rugs.

Skin that is made into leather does not require as much care as described above. Cooling the hide is important but it can be frozen without any other concern. If a freezer is not available, one heavy salting will suffice. Keep the salted skin away from insects or rodents. Beatles can bore large holes into the skin which is not appealing on the finished product.

Tanners often put a lot of pride and time into their work. Bison robes are one of our favorites. They are such a beautiful article when processed properly. We encourage folks to consider the above information to insure the quality they expect.

We would be happy to help you out if you require more information on butchering, skinning or general care of your skins.

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