Feeling a bit sheepish

It took 5 months of waiting to discover that Seven Trees Farm can raise some tasty Katahdin lamb on grass, a few bales of hay, mineral supplement, and a little sweet feed for treats.

Grass at last

Not that the low inputs meant cheap meat. We paid $250 for mom and two lambs, spent maybe $100 more on the non-grazed food, then another $260 for slaughter, cut & wrap.

We didn’t weigh them before slaughter, but mom was biggest, the girl lamb next, then the boy lamb. Hanging weights, which is the carcass after removing insides, outsides and extremities, were 55, 43 and 40 pounds. Cut and wrap brings the net weight down even more, since more bones and fat are removed to make ‘retail’ cuts. Freezer weight of one of the lambs was 32 pounds; mom might have a better ratio once we weigh and do the math.

But extrapolating the data we do have puts our cost per pound of cut and wrapped meat in the freezer at about $6/lb.

That might seem like a lot, but sheep have two major benefits that other meat animals we’ve tried don’t – they saved us time and effort by keeping the grass down, and they are very low maintenance.

Once we figured out the best hotwire height and spacing, the sheep pretty much stayed where they belonged. Goats would have sauntered over or belly-crawled under those measly two strands of electric fencing. Pigs would just dig out the T-posts and walk over the shorted-out wire once it was safely on the ground. Chickens can be counted on to get out of a hotwired area, then forget how to get back in, to the point of death by exposure or varmint :/

As for mowing, they performed better than our other herbivore experiments. With only three sheep the grass sometimes got ahead of them, but we needed a benchmark for stocking rates, so we supplemented their grazing with periodic mowing. But unlike cattle, their poop just spreads itself out as they walk around doing their thing. Unlike horses, they eat a wider range of plants, including dandelions. And unlike goats, they actually spend more time grazing than they do breaking out and screaming for attention (although the sheep eventually learned to yell for treats too).

Once we settled into our new roles as shepherds, it was down to one big unknown – how would they taste?

The answer: So good that we wolfed down our sample chops with no thought to taking a pretty foodie picture to share. The lamb (6 months old) was tender, mild yet flavorful, with a nice amount of fat. The ‘mutton’ (1.5 years old) was slightly less tender, and a bit more flavorful without being tough or gamey.

We used this recipe as our test – 10-Minute Rosemary Lamb Chops  The simple preparation really enhanced the meat without overwhelming it, but our 1″ chops could have use a minute or so longer. But one nice thing about homegrown meat is that it’s probably not laced with mutant E. coli and Salmonella. Speaking of raw meat, here are the chops, mutton on the left, lamb on the right. waitchopsNotice the little kitchen inspector, ever-hopeful for a bribe.

Since we gobbled up our chops before belatedly remembering the camera, here is a decent likeness, borrowed randomly from the internet. Lamb2Looking forward to our next recipe taste test….leg of lamb maybe 😀

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2 thoughts on “Feeling a bit sheepish”

  1. I am jealous. We love lamb. We were going to raise a couple of pigs next but maybe some lamb would be better. We have a new butcher, here on the south end and they seem like they will be superb. http://www.7generations-artisan-meats.com/
    I talked to them shortly after they opened for business to see if they would butcher pigs the old fashioned way (leaving the skin on) and they said they would be glad to but don’t have a dunking tank for scalding so now I need to look for a 55 gal (or bigger) steel drum that has not been used for chemical storage. Any ideas would be welcome.

    1. Do you have any raspberry farms nearby? Some do picking and processing for ingredients rather than whole fruit, and they use the big metal drums. I drive by a few up here and see stacks of empty metal barrels piled in the off season.

      How lucky to have a good meat processor! Keizer no longer does pigs since going halal, but they did a great job on the lambs. We we raise pigs next we’ll have to use Lynden Meats, but I’m hoping they will do better than Keizer, who left too much fat in the ground pork.

      -Joanna

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