The leather trade depends on the supply of its raw materials from abattoirs. Abattoirs come in all shapes and sizes from the ultra modern refrigerating works in New Zealand to the throat cutting of an animal somewhere in the bush. I feel that the most important factor when a butcher slaughters an animal is hygiene as the health of the consumer is at stake, but from a commercial point of view, we also want a properly flayed hide.

Therefore, what one needs first of all is a place, small as it may be, where animals originating from a certain area can be concentrated and where, under strict veterinary surveillance, slaughter can take place, preferably in a properly tiled building with running water.

It is certainly not indispensable to equip a small slaughterhouse with the latest machinery, pneumatic saws or hi-precision electronic scales as long as the animals can be professionally stunned and hung by the hind legs, instead of being clubbed to death, and being turned forward and backward on a dirty earthen floor for the flaying, generally surrounded by people who have nothing to do with the process.

A small abattoir does not necessarily have to cost a lot of money to be functional, hygienic and responding to the local needs, and I’ll show you!

In any small abattoir where the cost must be kept low, there is no possibility for the installation of a hide pulling machine, the price of which runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Theoretically, we would receive from such an abattoir hand flayed hides with subsequent cuts and holes. For our industry, the quality of hides is important, but in a small countryside abattoir why would you want or need an expensive hide puller?

You can easily obtain a perfectly machine pulled hide from a small abattoir with the investment of a mere US$200-300 at the local workshop of some artisan, an affordable sum for any community anywhere in the world. And in case even such a small amount cannot be found, I am sure that some NGO, who spend millions, will be able to help out. All it needs is a little bit of good will and the mental capability to think small instead of big.

In order to produce machine pulled hides in a small abattoir, you only need two mechanical hoists, one to pull the carcase up by one of the hind legs, and ‘the gadget’. This is a frame constructed from five strong 1.5m long iron pipes with a diameter of about 10cm, welded together.

The frame needs six feet which must be firmly bolted to a concrete floor. Once the frame is in place, properly centred behind the back of the hanging carcase, another hoist must be positioned behind the carcase above the third parallel pipe.

A chain, of which the final part must be Y or even better T-shaped, must be led from the hoist under the first pipe, over the second and under the third again and the two final legs of the Y or T are to be firmly pulled around the hind legs of the hide.

When you pull the hoist you also pull the hide which comes off in exactly the same way as an expensive puller. The beauty of this system is that it needs no electrical, hydraulic or pneumatic power, and it is absolutely safe for the workers, who also don’t need any extra training. The gadget needs no spare parts, requires no maintenance and works like a charm. The pipes, preferably made of stainless steel, must be absolutely smooth in order to avoid scratching the hides.

This is how I believe developing countries should be helped to produce good quality hides: several small abattoirs spread over a large territory in the appropriate community centres, laid-out with low-tech or even no-tech equipment.

A gadget like this is particularly indicated for places where slaughter takes place for only a limited number of cattle. To idle an expensive machine for a large part of the day comes with large depreciation costs, whereas this little machine costs nothing when it lies idle, but pays its value back with each single hide that is pulled through it.

Each and every artisan in the middle of nowhere can build this simple and inexpensive structure. The only real problem for the diffusion on a large scale is how to reach local authorities and the small country abattoirs and show them these pictures, give them the drawings and tell them how to use the machine.

That brings us back to square one: those who are the most in need of communicating are unable to communicate. What I hope is that someone from an NGO, the UN, Unido or Esalia reads this Limeblast, and gets sufficient inspiration to pass the idea along the line to where it would make a difference.

If enacted on a large scale, the local population would produce better hides, which they can sell at better prices, and the industry gets what it needs, a well flayed hide. Whoever is interested can send me an e-mail and I’ll send a copy of the drawing for the construction of the gadget by return. As for the US$200-300 to build it, well, you have to arrange that for yourself.

Sam Setter