Dirty and damaged cattle hides are costing the Ulster livestock industry anything up to £1 million a year. Ulster hides which should be going to make high quality upholstery leather are having to be diverted to less profitable outlets due to damage from excessive dung and barbed wire “scoring”.
They are worth only £2-10s to £3 each, which is 10s less than English hides and as much as £4 less than Danish hides; they have earned the reputation of being the worst in the British Isles.
Unless action is taken to improve their quality Ulster hides will continue to fetch lower prices or even become unsaleable on certain markets, believes one of the Province’s leading hide merchants, who blames much of the present position to lack of knowledge by farmers about the true value of hides.
With the increase in home killings the importance of the Ulster hide trade has almost doubled during the past five years. IIn January this year 30,226 animals were slaughtered in Northern Ireland compared with 22,447 in January, 1967, and the total for the year seems certain to reach 300,000.
Although Ulster is now virtually clear of warble fly – which can cause considerable damage to the hide – at auctions in Britain hides from Northern Ireland still fetch less than English hides.
Mr Vivian Campbell, owner of the Lisburn Hide Co, says that the difference is considerably more than the cost of transporting the hides to the market.
“For years people said that the differential was due to our remoteness from the market but the gap is much wider than simply the cost of transport,” said Mr Campbell.
“Hides from Northern Ireland have a bad reputation and we have the lowest returns in the British Isles, including the Republic. I think this is probably because their meat factories have been operating longer and there is a wider appreciation of the value of the hides.”
Now, with the closure of two of the largest English tanneries which had been users of Northern Ireland hides, increasing quantities are going to tanners in the Republic and on the Continent, where they are meeting strong resistance because of their filth and poor quality.
In a bid to open up a new market for Ulster hides, Mr Campbell’s company sent a trial consignment of 1,000 hides to Czechoslovakia but received a letter from the factors who helpted to create the opening saying that they were “absolutely staggered to find at the time of shipment that these hides are carrying almost 20lbs per hide of excess manure.”