You'd never guess it by their sweet innocent faces, but SHEEP ARE INTIMIDATING. Sheep are known to have many different illnesses, parasites and other risks that can hurt or kill them. On top of that, they are very stoic and do not show signs of illness until it is often too late to treat. For a year we researched, read books, talked with other farmers, went to seminars and visited farms.
But if we waited for everything to be perfect, it would never happen. So we dove in.
Lamb might not be an obvious choice. They aren't a well known meat in the US, but maybe they should be. Here are just a few of their highlights:
- They are a highly efficient animal that can take unpalatable, low energy plants and convert it to high quality meat.
- They are gentle on pastures and eat both grass and broadleaf plants.
- Sheep require less land than cattle and can be stocked more densely.
- Grassfed lamb is higher in Omega 3's, CLA, Vitamin E, and other antioxidants (eatwild.com) than its conventionally raised counterparts.
- There is a need for local grassfed lamb products. Most of the lamb you buy at the store is being shipped in FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY.
- LAMB TASTES EXCELLANT. Of course this is subjective, but our grassfed lamb is tender and mild. It's a family favorite.
There are hundreds of different types of sheep breeds. When we first started looking, our most important selection criteria was:
1. Hair Sheep
2. Parasite Resistance
3. Grows Well on Pasture
We finally settled on the Katahdin breed of sheep. A hair breed means it has a coat that will shed and does not need to be sheared (we aren't in the wool business). And because they don't produce as much lanolin in their fur as wool sheep, their meat is milder tasting. Katahdins are known to be resistant to parasites which means we can avoid deworming as much as possible. They are very hardy during both cold winter months and hot, humid summer months in Michigan. Finally, they are excellent grazers and foragers on pasture. Some commercial breeds have been developed to grow on grain, this was NOT what we were looking for. We were able to check off all the items on our list with this breed.
This was the fun part. Once our lambs are trained to the electric fencing, we can start moving them through the pastures. Every 2-3 days, we set up fencing and open it up to let the lambs feast. We have learned quickly that they are most comfortable and happy in open fields or on the outskirts of the woods. Sheep, unlike goats, feel enclosed and vulnerable in the woods. This puts them on high alert with increased stress levels. We can enclose the invasive Autumn Olive and the sheep will eat all the leaves off the trees.! In their wake, the pastures grow lush and green behind them.
Sheep are NOTORIOUS for parasite issues. There are several different types of internal and external parasites they can get, all of which will cause significant health issues. To combat the life cycle of a parasite, we need to move their host (the sheep) every 2-3 days to fresh pastures. This stops the sheep from reinfecting and spreading the parasite eggs between each other. This is natural parasite control. The more dewormer used, the higher risk there is of developing resistant parasites. By allowing our sheep to feed naturally and be exposed to fresh air and sunshine, they are also more able to fend off unwanted pests through natural resistance.
The Ruminant Advantage:
Sheep were the first domesticated ruminant that we had our land (Deer are also ruminants).
Ruminants are hoofed herbivorous grazing or browsing mammals that are able to acquire nutrients from plant-based food by fermenting it in a specialized stomach prior to digestion, principally through microbial actions. -Wikipedia
Other examples of ruminants are goats, cattle, and antelope. A ruminants digestive system is set up to break down grass and plants. Ruminants are incredibly useful animals. To put it bluntly: they can take the green and growing stuff that humans can't eat and convert it to palatable, nutritious meat. And the icing on the cake? Behind them they leave the best fertilizer ever. POOP. As they eat and digest, their bodies break down the plants through the rumen microbes to provide nutrient rich fertilizer for those same plants to grow from. It is truly a beautiful cycle!
Ready to Try Lamb?
Thanks for reading about our grassfed lamb! What started as a scary prospect, became one of our favorite animals to raise. These graceful creatures just want to eat grass, stay alive and live in harmony with their environment. Sounds about right to us! Ready to try lamb for yourself? This is our favorite recipe for lamb chops. It's so easy and juicy! We also love this recipe for lamb riblets. It's so easy to throw them in the oven!
Check out our grassfed lamb products here.