What Unusual Use Was Made of Cowhides by Cattlemen and Farmers?
Cowhides are not just discarded, they are considered byproducts. In the past, cowhide accounted for 50 percent of the byproducts of cattle production. A steer’s hide, for example, might be worth only ten percent of its value. However, cowhides are of lower quality than steer hides, making them far less valuable than cheek and tongue meat.
Cowhides are an abundant and underutilized byproduct of beef production. Today, the United States consumes more beef than at any other point in history, and the byproduct is cowhide. Leather is no longer a popular material for clothes and other products, thanks to a glut of leather. The cowhide has become a waste product due to the high price of beef, and a glut has lowered prices and rendered many hides unusable. Leather is being abandoned for car seats, clothes, and other products, and the byproducts have been disposed of in landfills.
Wattles are marked on the skin of cows and used as a form of identification. Farmers and cattlemen use wattles to show ownership of their cattle. Wattles are created by pinching and cutting parts of the cow’s hide. They are less common than earmarks. Earmarks were cut into the ears of cattle, usually, a semicircular nick called the “underbite” or the “overbite.”
Cowhides with earmarks and wattles are an effective way to identify a particular animal. Earmarks are particularly useful in dusty and foul weather. Some ranchers use ear notching or wattling as their only means of identification. But, others use plastic tags, which come in different colors and contain identification codes. Regardless of the method used, the cattle must be recorded with a state brand inspection office to maintain their legal status.
Farmers and cattlemen have long feared rustlers, and a recent incident in McPherson County, Kansas, raised the specter of theft. Though cattle rustling was once rare, it has resurged with the development of freeze irons, which are less extreme than hot irons. Rustling is a crime with a high monetary value: cattle were stolen from ranchers and farmers can fetch more than $1,000 per head. Farmers and cattlemen are taking steps to protect themselves from theft by registering their brands and changing their daily routines.
Historically, cowhides were not commonly used for the production of leather, but today they are a valuable commodity for a wide variety of products, including shoes and furniture. In addition, the production of leather contributes to food waste and the emission of greenhouse gases. In the U.S. alone, there were more than 5.5 million tons of cowhides used in the production of leather in 2009.