WE NEED TO TALK...About Lamb. - November '23

Reserve lamb from this season’s harvest in the Ranch Shop today!

We Need to Talk…about Lamb.

Folks, America has a lamb problem.

The problem: We should be eating more of it.

There are many reasons people eat very little lamb, or in some cases, eat no lamb at all, and I’d like to address several of those reasons in this newsletter. Naturally, as a sheep rancher I have a vested interest in Americans eating more (local) lamb, but personally, I also just want more people to discover the incredible flavor that lamb brings to dishes when it is raised and prepared with care.

Lamb is one of my absolute favorite animal proteins. I love beef and pork as much as anyone, but there is a distinct flavor and tenderness that can only be experienced with quality lamb. So, why don’t Americans eat more of it? Let’s go through some of the main reasons (in no particular order).

Reason No. 1: ‘Lamb is too gamey.’

Lamb certainly has its own flavor, and some people are turned off by it, but I think that more often than not, people turned off by lamb just haven’t had lamb that was properly raised and properly prepared.

Here at Waterloo Ranch, our recipe for the perfect lamb starts with the breed. The Katahdin breed we raise here are known for mild and flavorful lamb meat. And we keep our Katahdin flock well-nourished on ample, healthy pasture and generous feedings of the highest quality hays in the off-season.

Next, proper preparation of lamb begins with our great butchers and ends with execution in your kitchen. We realize that not everyone has a ton of cooking experience, and we realize that even those with cooking experience may be lacking in experience with lamb. And while we can’t come to all of your houses and cook lamb for you, as your provider of lamb meat, we promise to be a resource for you if you need us. I’m no Michelin star chef, but learning experiences at home aside, I did have a 26 year career in kitchens, and as our valued customer, you are welcome to write us with preparation questions any time. In addition to that, please subscribe to our Youtube channel, where we’ll soon be adding videos of lamb preparations we enjoy here at the ranch.

Reason No. 2 - ‘Lambs are too young.’

Most of us have seen images of lambs online in ads suggesting that it is unethical to raise them or purchase them as food. The lambs in those ad images are almost invariably a few weeks old at most. For the sake of brevity, I don’t wish to get much more into that debate here, but I will say that our lambs are usually scheduled for slaughter at 8-9 months old. The average live weight of our lambs at the time of slaughter is about 90-100 lbs. These are not the 15 lb. lambs most of us have seen in those ads.

This isn’t to say that lambs are not young when they go to slaughter to feed our families. Lambs are indeed young, but it is worth noting that most all chicken purchased for consumption in this country comes from chickens that were slaughtered at an age of 8-12 weeks old…much younger (both numerically and relatively) than the average lamb at the time of slaughter.

I guess my point is that among omnivores there are a lot of exclusions and exceptions that people cling to that are mostly arbitrary and fraught with logical and nutritional inconsistencies. In any case, I respect every person’s choice to eat and not eat whatever they wish, but if you do eat meat, humanely-raised lamb from our ranch is something we believe you can enjoy in good conscience like many other humanely-raised animal proteins.

Reason No. 3 - ‘Lamb is too expensive.’

I don’t have great news for you here. I wish I could tell you that we can beat most all grocery store pricing on our lamb as we do with our bulk beef, but that just isn’t the case. There are many reasons for this, but there are a couple of major ones I’ll briefly explain.

First, the lamb meat you see at most grocery stores comes from either very large sheep ranches, or very large sheep ranch collectives. Some of the ranches and/or collectives supplying the U.S. with lamb are in the states, but many are in New Zealand and Australia. In exchange for a supply of lamb large enough to meet the demand of grocery chains and elaborate cold chain logistics systems, the ranches and ranch collectives land large deals at low wholesale prices for their meat that can only lead to profitability under very specific sets of high-volume, low-cost circumstances (very different from ours).

The other reason for the high cost of lamb in general, both store-bought and local farm lamb, comes down to volume as well. The amount of take-home meat from a cow from our ranch this year will exceed the amount of take-home meat from one of our lambs by a factor of about 15, but the processing costs for a cow only exceed the processing costs of a lamb by a factor of 4. Nearly half of the customer’s total price of lamb from our ranch goes to the slaughter and butcher house. The vast majority of the remainder goes to feed, mineral, salt, ranch infrastructure, and marketing/advertising. Fortunately, Jenn and I are the only ‘farmhands’ here, so we don’t have any payroll costs, but even so, the sheep sector of our ranch is no gold mine, to say the least.

This is all to say that we really can’t make our lamb any cheaper, but we can promise you a great value. It’s said that one beef patty from a store or restaurant, for example, can contain meat from hundreds to maybe a thousand different cows. I’m sure the same holds true for lamb patties, but if you’re buying lamb and beef in bulk from us, you’re getting the meat of one animal from our ranch. You’re supporting a small farm and ranch, and you can rest assured that your meat comes from an animal that was well-cared-for on ample pasture and well-nourished every day of its life.

Thanks for indulging us in what is, yet again, a fairly technical newsletter. The intricacies of small farming and ranching aren’t well understood by many consumers, and we hope to shed light on what makes the offerings of our farm and ranch so special. In any case, with many of the technical details of our lamb, beef, and egg programs laid out in the past few newsletters, we look forward to some lighter newsletters ahead.

Facebook iconInstagram iconYouTube icon
© 2024 All Rights Reserved