Seeking hide for keepsake drives new cattle business

Oxford Mail: Hayley Hanson with some of the hides Hayley Hanson with some of the hides

The cows and sheep grazing on Port Meadow look picturesque, but their happy lives have to end some time.

And one farmer is so determined that nothing goes to waste that she has started a business selling sheepskin rugs, cushions, belts, bags and other up-market accessories made from local hides.

Hayley Hanson recently started renting grazing land at Wolvercote and Boars Hill after her Herefordshire farm was shut down by an outbreak of bovine TB.

She said: “Oxfordshire has turned out to be absolutely brilliant.”

The business started two years ago after she tried to find a cattle-hide rug as a memento of her cow-themed wedding to husband Michael.

She was shocked to find the rugs she wanted were all imported from Argentina and realised there was a gap in the market for a company which sold hides from British-reared cattle.

“I couldn’t find anyone to do it unless I sent it to Italy. English leather is the best in the world, yet it is all being sent to China.”

She taught herself how to tan leather by “talking to older people, viewing YouTube, reading books and a lot of trial and error”.

“They are quite heavy and when I was pregnant, I sent them away. There is one tanner left in the UK,” she said.

She also offers a tanning service for hides supplied by customers.

“Sometimes farmers have a favourite cow or bull and we also do deerskins. Nothing goes to waste. Most of my customers come from word of mouth. Everyone knows everyone else in farming and I haven’t had to spend on advertising.”

Each item is individually crafted using different types of hide for different effects.

Her products include a laptop shoulder bag costing £300 made from bull leather grazed on Boars Hill grass, and “Oxfordshire grazed and raised” sheepskin footstools.

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She said: “The cattle are inside now but in summer we have 90 on Port Meadow.”

She also rents from Oxford Preservation Trust, which is keen to maintain traditional grazing land at Chilswell Farm, Boars Hill.

She said: “It works very well, because there are a lot of footpaths, with people walking up and down, so the cattle are used to people. And if there’s anything wrong, we soon hear about it.”

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