The US Hide, Skin and Leather Association (USHSLA) applauded a new report issued by the US cattle industry that highlights continued improvements in cattle hide quality in recent years. The report, which tracks US cattle and beef industry quality statistics over time, found that, in 2016, nearly three quarters of all harvested steer and heifer beef animals did not contain any hot-iron branding marks. Of those branded, the majority were located on the butt of the animal, which is the hide and leather industry’s preferred location for branding.

“The positive findings in the recent Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) report are a testament to the US cattle industry’s concerted efforts to improve producer value and returns to all sectors of the beef industry,” said USHSLA president Stephen Sothmann. “The data reveals a major shift in the US beef herd, as US cattle producers have become increasingly aware that their branding decisions can have a major impact on the overall economic value of the animal.”

According to the BQA report, 74.3% of cattle had no brand – a marked improvement over the 55.2% of cattle without a brand in 2011, and to the 55.0% of non-branded cattle in 1991 when the first report was issued.

“This report demonstrates a clear increase in the quality of US cattle hides used for leather production in recent years,” added Sothmann. “It highlights the commitment of the US cattle rancher to produce the highest-quality product for all consumers, including global leather consumers.”

The report also revealed that significant progress has been made regarding brand location on cattle hides, and branding of all types has declined considerably. While no branding marks are preferred by the leather industry, butt brands, or brands located near the tail of the animal, are considered the best location, because the branding scar is easy to remove during the leather tanning process and will not significantly impact the overall value of the tanned hide.

Furthermore, the amount of hides with ‘side brands’ (located on the side, shoulder or rib cage area of the animal) decreased from nearly 14% in 1991 to 6% in 2016. Side brands often pose challenges to leather tanners, as their location reduces the available portion of the hide that can be used to produce leather.

“While the US hides and leather industry would prefer to see no brands on hides, which would help to maximise the value of the US cattle industry, the BQA report nonetheless confirms that sustained, positive progress has been made” said Sothmann. “The US hides and leather industry understands that cattle producers and ranchers may choose to brand cattle for identification and other purposes, and encourages them to choose brand locations that will maximise the hide’s eventual use in leather production, thereby reducing waste.”

The difference in brand locations affects the overall economic value of the animal. No brands on the hide will garner the highest price per head; while, on average, butt brands are $1–2 a piece lower, and side-branded hides can range $10–12 lower. The BQA report captures the lost value of branding practices by the US cattle industry, estimating that producers lost nearly $1 a head in 2016 as a result of branding practices. However, due to increased awareness by cattle producers, the value lost has shrunk from $2.43 a head since the first BQA report in 1991.

The BQA is a nationally coordinated, state-implemented programme that provides systematic information to US beef producers and beef consumers about how common sense husbandry techniques can be coupled with accepted scientific knowledge to raise cattle under optimum management and environmental conditions.