Though not everyone keeps sheep for meat, those who do will be aware that there are by-products from the abattoir which in most cases do not come back to the producer. The most obvious are the skins, along with horns and offal usually. Abattoirs sell these products elsewhere into the relevant trade but is possible to get skins back for tanning.
There are a few areas of red tape that have to be considered when sending sheepskins to the tannery. This is mainly due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001, along with strict rules regarding movement, skins were no longer permitted back on the holding that the animal came from. However, since then the Animal By-Product Regulations came into effect which allows individuals to collect fresh skins from the abattoir. In most cases an AB117 form needs to be complete to ensure that your skins are returned to be tanned.
Once the skins are available then the quicker they arrive at the tannery the better. In order to help preservation during transportation, they should be kept as cool as possible and covered entirely in salt and put in an air-tight container or bag. This will ensure that they arrive in the best condition possible for processing; many people will deliver the skins to the tannery themselves, but if this is not an option it is a good idea to seek advice on how to transport them. Your average courier won’t be too keen on handling these goods.
There are now very few tanneries in the UK, and there can be long waiting lists. If you would like sheepskins from your own sheep, the main producers are now Devonia Products and Organic Sheepskins. See also Sue’s blog article on tanning for more details and pictures of the tanning process.