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Only 10 pc of Australian lamb skins suit high quality apparel market

by Kim Woods, 19 February 2018

PKF Skin Valuations principal Paul Fitzsummons.

SHEEP producers have been urged by a prominent southern Australian skin buyer to use only a keyhole crutch, minimise shearing cuts and avoid the use of branding fluid on sale lambs.

At the Australian White Suffolk Association conference last week, PKF Skin Valuations principal Paul Fitzsummons said just 10 percent of the nation’s daily lamb kill resulted in skins suitable for the dressing, or high quality apparel market.

The majority of skins are manufactured into floor rugs, footwear, baggage lining, car seats, cushions, soft toys, chamois and paint rollers.

Mr Fitzummons Adelaide-based business sources skins from terminal and maternal lambs for the price sensitive export markets of China, Russia and Turkey.

He said downgraded skin values were often caused by shearing cuts, grass seed damage, tender wool, ribbing, incorrect crutching, and the incorrect use of branding fluid or paint.

He recommended a small keyhole crutch with no shearing over the tail, shearing before lambs were lot fed to avoid “tender’’ wool, and moving stock to cleaner paddocks or shearing before seed set to avoid grass seed contamination.

On any given day at any Australian abattoir, there could be up to 15 skin buyers tendering for product. The skins are valued on the live animal before they hit the kill chain to determine the dressing percentage plus skin size and quality.

Buyers then submit their prices in a daily tendering process at the abattoir. Purchased skins are salted, graded, packed and shipped to Australia’s major export markets of China, Russia and Turkey.

Good dense wool skins hard to find

Mr Fitzsummons said over the last 15 years there has been a dramatic change in the skins presented to skin companies for purchase.

“Fifteen years ago, no matter what abattoir you went to in Australia to tender on skins, there would be around 35 per cent good dense wool skins of different breed types.

“Today, with reduced numbers of the flock, it’s hard to get good dense wool product for the dressing market,” he said.

“The amount of ribby wool, bald necks, bald bellies and strong wool makes it hard to get good quality product to sell to top end customers for fur coats, medical rugs, futon bedding, sheepskin boots and apparel.’’

Another problem is hide damage from grass seed and shearing scars.

“No one wants to wear a jacket or sheepskin boots with the light coloured marks caused from grass seed or shearing scarring.

“The skin structure of a scar is a lot tighter and does not take tanning chemicals as well as the surrounding skin,’’ Mr Fitzsummons said.

“The affected skins are only suitable for car seat covers, footwear linings or chamois.’’

Heavy ribbing, caused by a fat line in the carcase, results in skin suitable only for a secondary product, including baggage linings and footwear.

Mr Fitzsummons said the incidence of dermatitis and fly damage in skins had reduced over recent years.

“Branding fluid is an issue as it has to be scoured out – chalk marks are acceptable,’’ he said.

High quality skins go to Russian mouton market

High quality Australian sheepskins are used to produce mouton clothing for the Russian market. Made from lambskin, the mouton has a classic sheen and is usually lined with silk for coats and hats. Six skins are used to manufacture each individual full-length mouton coat.

“Mouton is finished in such a way that water and snow will bead off it,’’ Mr Fitzsummons said.

“Ninety percent of wool skins produced in Australia will end up in China, and out of that, 80 per cent will be domestically consumed within China.’’

A portion is made into leather and exported as footwear to India.

Mr Fitzsummons said price volatility in the skin market was caused by seasonal temperatures in Europe, household spend and competing fibres such as nylon and polyester.

He urged producers to be mindful of skin quality when breeding and feeding prime lambs to avoid coarse, broad or tender wool types.

PKF Skin Valuations Paul Fitzsummons with a sample of Australian lambskins made into mouton for quality Russian clothing.

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