We had to cull one of our wethers recently. He ended up being processed into meat to feed my family.
I really didn't like the idea that the processor was going to just discard the hide with the other unedible parts, so I asked to get that back. I've never tanned any hides before but I did a little research online and so I'm documenting for you how to go about it. Hopefully, in the end it will turn out decent.
when we picked up the skin, I had to salt it down because we were leaving town for a week and I didn't have the time. I basically used Kosher salt because everything I read said not to use rock salt or iodized salt. So I got a few boxes at Sam's Club..
We then rolled up the skin and threw it into a garbage bag which we put in our shop's freezer till we had time to work on it.
After we thawed it out, it was time to flesh out the skin which is basically taking off the extra meat and membranes that may have been left on the skin when the processor worked it up. Normally this would be done with a sharp knife and a skinning blade, but KP found a website that showed a gal using a pressure washer on a deer hide. So he decided to try it out.
It worked AWESOME!!! And didn't take as much time as it would have by hand. Below is a video KP took while he was running the pressure washer.
The next step on the list was gathering the supplies for the tanning solution.(Technically, because we are using alum, this is more of a pickling solution.) There were many different recipes out there on the Internet to try, but we went with one that involved more salt, alum, and sodium bicarbonate ( we used club soda).
I ordered my alum off of Amazon.
Here is the hide after KP finished fleshing it. He just put it in a bucket of water until I got home from work.
We filled a Rubbermaid tub about 1/3 full of water. Then we added the alum, salt and soda. I didn't have exact amounts. Roughly...1/4 of the bag of alum, 1/3 of the box of salt and 1 can club soda...
Stir until it's all dissolved. Then add in the skin.
Make sure you get the skin completely submerged and that there are no air pockets.
It also really helps if you have a super cute helper in the background...it adds to the experience...
Everyday for 7 days, make sure you stir the solution. That means pick up the skin and then re-submerge it making sure there are no air pockets.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
I was fortunate enough to have a day where I could focus on getting the rest of my fleeces washed. I couldn't have done it without my wonderful husband. He has got me all set up when it comes to getting things done.
He got the fire going in our outdoor wood burning stove and hooked up a hose so that I could fill the washtub full of 180 degree water. Water hot enough that it will liquify the lanolin off the wool.
The first step after skirting and picking out the 2nd's, is giving the fleece a good pre soak. This gets the really nasty stuff off and helps prevent me from having to wash more than once. I fill the tub up, then add the fleece and let it soak for a bit. Then I drain it, take the wool Out and refill the tub. I continue this process until the water is pretty clear. The first two soaks are so nasty!
The next step is filling the washtub with super hot water, then I add the fleece being careful not to agitate it. The trick with wool is to NOT accidentally felt it. Any sort of agitation and water are not a good mix. Spraying water directly on the fleece is extremely bad.
I usually use just plain old Dawn dish soap because if it's good enough for rescued oil covered animals, it's good enough for my greasy wool. This year I thought I would try this new stuff called Power Scour and I have to say that it is very good. I just had to do one wash and one rinse with this stuff. (Not counting the two presoaks).
once the wool ha soaked a bit, I turn the washer to the spin cycle and it drains the tub and extracts the extra water from the wool. I then pull the fleece out and rinse out the tub before I refill it with plain water and a few drop of cedar wood essential oil. This helps keep moths and other unwanted critters out when its stored. You could also use lavender essential oil. One thing I remember from my workshop is that moths are like bedbugs or termites, once there is an infestation they are HUGE headache to get rid of. They are attracted to the sulfur in the fiber, and the essential oils smell like poop to them so it masks the suffer smell which detracts them.
It always amazes me how white my fleeces are just by giving them two presoaks. The wool below is from the same sheep. The one on the left has just been placed in the presoak water and the one on the right is the fleece that has been soaked twice. Just plain water did that!
The fleeces below are all Shetland fleeces. The variance in color is awesome! The fleeces below are from Buckeye, Narnia, and a Shetland fleece that was given to me. It's a brown color called Moorit. I'm excited because I will have two of this color next year from my 2016 lambs.
Getting a closer look at Buckeyes fleece shows that he is grey,white, fawn and a little bit of moorit. His fleece is extremely soft as well, softer than all the others. It feels good to be done with the washing phase. At least now I can not worry so much about storing them till winter.