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tangledup

Preserving Natural Materials

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One thing that really attracted me to tying my own flies was the use of feathers and other natural materials from animals that my son and I already hunt: waterfowl, pheasant, turkey, deer, etc. I saw a post last night where someone mentioned properly preserving natural materials you obtain (I think this was specifically in reference to picking up roadkill from the side of the road lol). My question is, is there another step to preservation other than tanning the skin? Something that specifically needs to be done to the feathers or hair? 

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you can find a lot of information on this subject on the forum by using the search function in the upper right hand corner

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Ziploc, freezer, wait a few weeks, thaw, freeze, then preserve it. Scrape the tissue off the skin and use borax.

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26 minutes ago, dogfacedoc said:

Ziploc, freezer, wait a few weeks, thaw, freeze, then preserve it. Scrape the tissue off the skin and use borax.

Thais my procedure, never had a problem with skins I've harvested, either through hunting or roadkill.  

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I simply clean the skins of meat and fat and dry with borax for several days, (or without borax in cool weather) as I would for the fur market, then store in ziplocks with a bit of borax. I never freeze and see no reason to, but it won't hurt anything either. If the skin is infested with ticks, fleas or lice; Stick it in a garbage bag shoot it with raid and seal the garbage bag for an hour or so, then proceed with the cleaning and drying. Borax in the storage is to kill fur/carpet beetles & moths when they come; I used to use moth balls for this  but believe borax is more effective for me without the breathing hazard mothballs.

Some ideas on this page may or may not be useful- http://www.uky.edu/~agrdanny/flyfish/petti.htm

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Thank you all for the advice! Hopefully I'll be able to set aside some useful materials during hunting season this winter.

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On 4/9/2020 at 3:34 PM, tjm said:

I simply clean the skins of meat and fat and dry with borax for several days, (or without borax in cool weather) as I would for the fur market, then store in ziplocks with a bit of borax. I never freeze and see no reason to, but it won't hurt anything either. If the skin is infested with ticks, fleas or lice; Stick it in a garbage bag shoot it with raid and seal the garbage bag for an hour or so, then proceed with the cleaning and drying. Borax in the storage is to kill fur/carpet beetles & moths when they come; I used to use moth balls for this  but believe borax is more effective for me without the breathing hazard mothballs.

Some ideas on this page may or may not be useful- http://www.uky.edu/~agrdanny/flyfish/petti.htm

Not a good idea to use a pesticide because it will transfer to your fingers when you tie. If you lick your fingers, for example, when you dub.........

I use the freezer as suggested. The first pass in the freezer kills the living insects. The 2 week thaw allows the unhatched eggs to hatch, then the second pass in the freezer kills the recently hatched pests.

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The pesticide is only used for bugs you don't want in your food, or in your house or fur shed, and you should  decontaminate your clothes before you enter the house too.  After few hundred furs (actually  only a few of some kinds  of furs or one skunk pelt or one red fox pelt) go through a freezer everything in it will acquire a off taste that may persist til the next time the freezer is cleaned.  If you want to freeze dead animals or their pelts, I highly suggest a dedicated freezer. Some parasites like ticks can survive through long winters and subzero freezing, so a short spell in an above zero  household freezer might not do anything at all to them.  I will freeze store bought bird pelts upon receipt not to kill parasites but to kill the dead matter eaters like clothes moths and carpet beetles.  Just as often though, I will soak them in a borax solution and then dry and clean prior to storage.

Any furs that have had to have insecticide applied should be washed before skinning  and processing-  I did fail to mention that. Only two or three out of a hundred will need that, ime. If not eating the meat, or dealing with green belly,  where prompt skinning is required,  many of these can simply be laid out on their backs whole on a cold surface over night and the parasites will either die or leave, excepting ticks. Many parasites need the heat of a living host to survive.   

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For whatever reason, there's many misconceptions about insects on fur & feather items, especially from DIY. 

Most such insects, while unpleasant, that live of these animals, only stay while the animal is alive. Once the animal is deceased, they'll leave. They only feed on the live animal! So, unless you obtain the carcass immediately after the demise of the animal, chances are there won't be many live insects left on the hides. This would be fleas, ticks, lice, mites and such.

These insect types also do not feed on the hair/fur or feathers, so are no concern in that regard. If there are live insects, they should be dealt with, as should the potential for unhatched eggs.

Insects such as carrion beetles and clothes moths are the primary concern for the hides, hair, fur and feathers and they're not going to be present on a freshly dispatched animal. 

I've processed various fur types, over many years, and raised chickens for the feathers. Except for fleas on freshly killed Squirrels, I hardly ever encountered live insects. I have seen ticks too on fresh deer hides, but if they're not fresh, any ticks I've found have been dead. You will likely encounter more of these insects during the warmer months, but that may also mean they need to be fresh, since flies & such will be a whole different problem, making them not worth obtaining. The colder months are always a better bet. 

This is not to say that precautions should not be taken! Those mentioned here are all very good to do, and except for some time, they cost nothing. You don't need pesticides. Cleaning, and proper storage of materials is the best preventative measure, regardless of the source of the material. 

Many folks state to use borax and or salt, and both have their use, but even without, these materials can still be preserved and stored for tying. The only time I ever used them was for large quantities where I wouldn't get to them in a short time frame. They aid in drying, preserving and can be deterrents for insects, but will not prevent them. The only true prevention is to keep them out to begin with. Clean materials, attract less problems. Limit moisture, and you also attract less problems. Store in an air tight container or bags, and again you deny access to the materials. Borax & salt are also something you don;t need to be dealing with on your hands & fingers while tying. 

There have been discussions several times here about this topic, and a lot of good information shared. 

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41 minutes ago, tidewaterfly said:

Most such insects, while unpleasant, that live of these animals, only stay while the animal is alive. Once the animal is deceased, they'll leave. They only feed on the live animal! So, unless you obtain the carcass immediately after the demise of the animal, chances are there won't be many live insects left on the hides. This would be fleas, ticks, lice, mites and such.

These insect types also do not feed on the hair/fur or feathers, so are no concern in that regard. If there are live insects, they should be dealt with, as should the potential for unhatched eggs.

Insects such as carrion beetles and clothes moths are the primary concern for the hides, hair, fur and feathers and they're not going to be present on a freshly dispatched animal. 

You state that better than I did. Thanks.

The OP mentions hunting, so I presumed all we were talking about were fresh killed animals. I have seen some that were heavily infested with parasites. Not a lot, but fleas are pretty common and I've seen ticks on most wild animals including birds, quail were once thought a major vector of Lyme along with mice, I don't know if that is still true. Ticks can be more than unpleasant. Fleas from squirrels cause me a very unpleasant reaction.  Hence the garbage bag and spray.

The deep freezer is the single best long term storage for any fur or feather, but not as an in and out magic solution, keeping furs frozen simply keeps them away from the beetle infestations, which otherwise may come in anytime you open a door or window.

Borax, the way I use in my storage bags and boxes, is meant to kill the newly infested critters before they destroy, I don't believe the flying stage critters can be kept out of buildings safely. Borax also does a couple other things like drying the wet  pelts faster and perhaps deterring mold.

Salt is not something that I would personally use on a fresh pelt, it will dry the skin hard, but long term it can draw water from the air to the extent of causing rot in the leather, alum would be a better choice just to get a pelt dry. Salt/alum mix used to be used on heavy hides going directly to the leather tanneries. Salt is not allowed in the wild fur trade or not encouraged at least. The  wild fur buyers in this area, when we had them, did use borax in processing hides and in warm weather would keep it piled up across the door thresholds in an effort to deter beetles.

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7 hours ago, SilverCreek said:

Not a good idea to use a pesticide because it will transfer to your fingers when you tie. If you lick your fingers, for example, when you dub....

Not a good idea to lick your fingers when tying, we have no way of knowing what chemicals the materials have encountered before we get them.  Maybe the Covid will teach people not finger their mouths and nose, or maybe not.

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Slight side question... A nice piece of deer hair I dyed last week got a little mold on the hide while in the bag. I must have put it in the bag before it completely dried. (Had it out for three or four days, guess it needed longer.) I took a hair dryer to it and all seems ok, hair is all intact but the hide is still a little moist. I've got it out air drying some more, but we have high humidity here and I guess that's no help. So, no bugs, but a little mold and still a little moist. No borax available at the moment... Any tips?

Just keep it out some more, maybe more blow drying?

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On 4/12/2020 at 8:33 PM, chugbug27 said:

Slight side question... A nice piece of deer hair I dyed last week got a little mold on the hide while in the bag. I must have put it in the bag before it completely dried. (Had it out for three or four days, guess it needed longer.) I took a hair dryer to it and all seems ok, hair is all intact but the hide is still a little moist. I've got it out air drying some more, but we have high humidity here and I guess that's no help. So, no bugs, but a little mold and still a little moist. No borax available at the moment... Any tips?

Just keep it out some more, maybe more blow drying?

Wipe the hide side with one of the bleach type disinfectant wipes if you have them, or a little diluted bleach on a rag or paper towel. Bleach will kill mold. Then let it dry real good. Most often when mold does form, it's on the hide and not in the hair. If it is in the hair, a spray of Lysol and a cleaning with soap & warm water will take care of it. Rinse in cold water and make sure you get all the soap out. Don't use bleach on the hair, as bleach also damages such materials. 

Making sure any natural material after it's been cleaned or dyed, is as dry as possible before placing it in a bag or container is imperative.  Get some silica desiccant packs too and after the material is completely dry, place a pack or two in the bag with the material. That will aid in controlling the moisture, especially from humidity. 

Natural materials retain some moisture in the hides, so limiting how much, aids in keeping mold from forming, and it helps with insects too as they need moisture. It won't keep them out, that's the purpose of the sealed bag or container, but will deter them from entering if there is a breach in the bag or container for whatever reason.  

Blow drying is not a bad idea, but it probably will only dry the surface moisture. You need to let the hide dry thoroughly. I made the mistake one time, years ago, of laying sealed bags of materials, which I thought were completely dry, in direct Sun shine. The insides of the bags had droplets of water formed on them, drawn out of the hides by the heat. I had to remove them all from the bags, dry them a few days and put into new bags. It's amazing how much moisture can actually still be in "dry" materials. 

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Didn't use bleach but wiped off, dried with hair drier, done. Hide lost some of its flexibility. Maybe moisturizer?

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42 minutes ago, chugbug27 said:

Didn't use bleach but wiped off, dried with hair drier, done. Hide lost some of its flexibility. Maybe moisturizer?

If you're going to cut the hair from the hide anyway, why bother with the moisturizer? Was it tanned? If not, it will likely stay stiff anyway. Even tanned hides tend to lose the tanning and get stiff after dyeing when acid dyes are used. IMO, moisturizer defeats the purpose of cleaning the mold off and reducing the moisture. It also adds something else that will be getting on your hands, fingers and flies. 

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