Sunday, March 22, 2015

Killing Goats and Preserving Skins

Caramel was standing in the paddock when the bullet came that ended his life. A second at point blank range made sure he didn't suffer more and that was it. At eighteen months this boy goat (he didn't keep the equipment needed to be a buck) had reached his one bad day.
It is always hard to watch the demise of an animal that has a name and with whom you have a personal connection. He was born on Opportunity Farm and spent his whole life here. The greatest stress he ever faced would probably have been being stalked and barked at by Archie, the frustrated sheep dog.
Now his carcass is on a hook in the hanging shed along with that of a young deer from one neighbour and a lamb from another. They will hang there for a couple of days until they can be butchered and delivered to their relevant freezers. No doubt in a while the children will ask who they are eating and Caramel will be the answer.
Once the meat is gone there is another way Caramel will be remembered - his skin. Michelle has been experimenting with tanning and liming skins for a while with some success. Some of the children have leather slippers. I have a pair of homemade and grown moccasins and there are several sheepskin rugs to stand on. She even made two matching leather aprons to protect us when we are spoon carving. One beautiful brown sheepskin is to be a rug for a friend to stand on to do her work.

The sheepskin rug ready for washing and the two aprons ready for use
Caramel's skin and that of the deer are first pegged out on a board. It is important that all the flaps and folds of the skins are pulled out so that all the skin is exposed. I used clouts to nail the edges of the skins wherever needed. Then I used about 300g of salt scattered over the two skins to draw out the moisture. The boards are raised at one end so the salt solution will drain off. These will sit in the shed (providing the dogs can be kept out) for a few weeks.

Caramel's and the deer skin pegged out.

Next the excess fat and flesh will be scraped off with a blunt chisel (as we don't have a proper scraper), and it comes off in strips not unlike jerky. Then the skins will be immersed in a barrel containing water and lots of wood chippings from a neighbour's mulcher. Wattle bark is one of the best for tannin but most native woods have enough to tan a hide. After a week in the barrel the skin is dried. You can't leave it in too long or the hair falls out. It may be cut to size, then washed and dried again. If the leather needs to be supple then it is rubbed over a specially designed piece of curved wood and neatsfoot oil applied. If the hair is to be removed then the skin is put into a barrel full of water and agricultural lime before the tanning process. When we first tried this we blasted the hair off with a high pressure hose once the skin came out of the lime barrel. We learnt that the hair does come off but it flies everywhere so we have to be more thoughtful about where we do the blasting. Having a smelly white back lawn is not a situation to be repeated.
It is good to honour our fallen animals by preserving their skins and tanning is one of the many almost forgotten farm activities that is both easy and rewarding.

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