Hunters and keepers of animals such as cows, rabbits, sheep or llamas have a wonderful opportunity to preserve the hides of killed or culled animals by tanning the hides. This is a perfect hobby for anyone with a little time on their hands who like the appearance of a beautiful soft tanned hide hanging across their walls or decorating a guest room. Tanning a hide isn't as hard as one may first think and once you get the hang of it and realize how easy the task really is, you will want to tan hides as often as possible. The article below gives instructions on how to tan a cow hide in a relatively old-fashioned way. There are other easier methods but this one is the most inexpensive and takes a little longer to achieve the finished product.
Flesh the cow hide. This is done by scraping all the excess fat, muscle and flesh from the skin with a dull knife or a scraper. Time consuming on a hide as big as a cow hide; but worth all the extra effort. You might like to enlist the help of a friend to help you with this task.
Salt the hide. Salting the hide is necessary for preserving the hide from spoilage. Keep the hide from heat and direct sunlight--a shed is perfect for the salting process to be performed. Lay the hide fur side down; flesh side up. Cover the flesh entirely with salt. About one pound of salt is required per one pound of hide; therefore buy enough salt to complete the task. Cover every little piece of exposed hide with salt.
Cure the hide. You may leave your hide curing in the shed for two weeks or more. Allow the resulting liquid to drain away from the fur onto the floor, perhaps tilt the table slightly for drainage.
Wash the cow hide in a tub of cool, clean water changing the water several times to remove all the salt. The hide may then be soaked for a few hours until it softens.
Remove the cow hide from the tub and place it on a clean board. You may need help with this task as the hide will be extremely heavy and awkward to get out of the tub. Start scraping all the remnants of flesh and fat and sinewy bits from the hide.
Prepare the alum solution. Be certain to make enough tanning solution to soak the entire cow hide. The cow hide should be soaked for around two weeks--longer if possible. After two weeks, squeeze hide gently to remove excess and rinse under cool water until clean. Remove hide and squeeze excess water again.
Work saddle soap/mink oil into your hide to replace lost oils during the curing and soaking process. Keep working the oils in until the leather is soft and supple and pliable; not hard. Once you are satisfied with the finished product, hang, decorate or use as desired.