Types of Leather from Different Animal Hides
Leather can be produced from the skin of any animal. Throughout history many leathers have been made across times, regions, and through different methods.
The most common today are cow, sheep, goat, and pig. Though, most any type can be obtained if needed for a project. Let’s explore some of the more common, and less common types of leather below.
In general, when speaking about animal leathers, those from larger animals such as cattle are referred to as “hides”. Those from smaller animals such as rabbits or pigs are referred to as skins. Also in terms of volume, cattle leather makes up about 67% of the total annual leather production around the world.
Cattle – Bulls
Bulls are un-castrated male cattle. They have higher levels of testosterone and in general, thick, heavy hides. Bull leather is useful for thicker leather uses such as in heavy belts and show and boot soles. A low ratio number of male cattle are kept as bulls, to reproduce the breeds, so much lower amounts of bull leather are usually available than other types.
Cattle – Steers
Steers are castrated male cattle. They are one of the most popular types of animal leather sought. There are also many more steers kept than bulls, so steer leather is more widely available. It works well for leather applications such as saddlery, belts, some shoes, and other strap items.
Cattle – Cows
Cows are female cattle that have had calves. They are very common, and popular. Cow leather is a thick, soft leather that works well for most common leather needs.
Cattle – Heifers
Heifers are female cows that have not yet had a calf. This type of leather is generally soft and pliable, great for shoes, boots, and other similar leather applications.
Cattle – Dairy Cows
Dairy cows are female cattle that are bred primarily for the production of milk. Their hides are generally soft and thin. This makes it a great leather for lighter belts, wallets, clothing, upholstery, and straps.
Cattle – Calves
Calves are young male or female cattle. Their hides are generally very soft, thin, and supple. This makes it useful for finer leather applications such as wallets, watchbands, and smaller leather accessories including handbags.
Pig leather mostly is produced in China. It is used primarily in clothing, due to the breathability and lightness of the skins. Pig leather makes up about 10% of the total leather production around the world.
Sheep leather, also called sheep skin, is popular because it often has one side as leather and the other covered in wool. the wool naturally draws perspiration away from the wearer. This makes it an ideal leather for use in year-round seat upholstery, shoes, slippers, boots, and moccasins. Sheep leather, including lamb leather) makes up about 12% of the total leather production around the world.
Goat leather is a very soft, strong, and durable leather. It is used often in the production of shoes, boots, gloves, rugs, and bags. The skins are supple and flexible, making for a comfortable feel. Goat and kid (young goat) leather makes up about 11% of the total leather production around the world.
Horse leather is most commonly associated with the premium “cordovan” leather. It is made from the butt section of horses. Cordovan leather is very thick, smooth, and dense. It works excellently for fine shoes and gloves. Also, when compared to cattle hides, horse butts cover a relatively small surface area. This is why cordovan leather products are usually small items such as shoes, gloves, and small accessories.