Just like people, cattle come in all shapes and sizes. European cattle are large and are unbranded. South African cattle are smaller but have many brands as well as other hallmarks of nature. And then we have South American cattle which are usually large, having one or two brands, and a large hump on their backs.
Sometimes it can be a bit of a surprise when you receive a hide of leather to find it has a hole in the shoulder-area – especially when you are able to get your head through it. These are “Hump holes” and they are prevalent in South American hides, specifically the Zebu breed of cattle. It is rare to find a hide that does not have one.
South American Zebu cattle are distinct in that they have a hump mostly made up of muscle and fat in the middle of their backs. This is not a fault of the cattle, though; it is likely an evolutionary advantage and has been present for 3000 years.
The skin of the hump is quite weak in comparison to the rest of the hide due to the stretch of the skin (the size of the hump changes as the cattle age). To put a skin in the tanning drum with the loose, fragile hump still on would result in tears affecting the whole hide and rendering it useless for upholstery needs. By simply cutting the weak area out this issue is resolved.
The result is a hole in the finished product, looking similar to a poncho. But have no fear – technology allows tanneries to use laser scanners to take measurements of the hide which is especially useful for their irregular shapes and these scanners do not include the hole size in their ultimate measurements.
Good upholsterers will have no problems cutting around the hole as long as the hide is clean, and at Inter-Leather we do our best to make sure that the hides sent out have the greatest yield possible (although like all hides, the maximum size of a panel is variable).
The other benefit to using South American hides is the lower price point, something we can all appreciate (even if we aren’t fans of ponchos).