The U.S. Hide, Skin and Leather Association (USHSLA) applauded a new report issued by the U.S. cattle industry, highlighting continued improvements in cattle hide quality in recent years. The report, which tracks U.S. 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 that were 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 U.S. 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 U.S. beef herd, as U.S. 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 percent of cattle had no brand – a marked improvement compared to the 55.2 percent of cattle without a brand in 2011 and to the 55 percent of non-branded cattle in 1991, when the first report was issued.

“This report demonstrates a clear increase in the quality of U.S. cattle hides used for leather production in recent years,” noted Sothmann. “It highlights the commitment of the U.S. 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. “Butt brands” continued to be the most prominent branding location, according to the report. 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 number of cattle with multiple brands fell from 9.9 percent in 2011 to 1.6 percent in 2016. Likewise, the amount of hides with “side brands,” brands located on the side, shoulder or rib cage area of the animal, decreased from nearly 14 percent in 1991 to 6 percent 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 U.S. hides and leather industry would prefer to see no brands on hides, which would help to maximize the value of the U.S. cattle industry, the BQA report nonetheless confirms that sustained, positive progress has been made” said Sothmann. “The U.S. 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 maximize 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 dollars per piece lower, and side branded hides can be range from $10 - $12 lower. The BQA report captures the lost value of branding practices by the U.S. cattle industry, estimating that producers lost nearly $1 dollar per 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 per head since the first BQA report in 1991.

U.S. cattle hides are used around the world to produce leather for everything from footwear and automobiles, to luxury handbags and home furnishings. The industry regularly exports approximately 95 percent of all hides that are produced in any given year, for a total market value of over $2 billion in 2016. China is the largest importer and consumer of U.S. cattle hides, importing nearly 60 percent of all hides produced in 2016.

The Beef Quality Assurance is a nationally coordinated, state implemented program that provides systematic information to U.S. 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. BQA guidelines are designed to make certain all beef consumers can take pride in what they purchase – and can trust and have confidence in the entire beef industry. The full report is available on the BQA website (

Source: USHSLA