Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Sheep breeds and taste
Right now I've got a flock of about 40 katahdin sheep, and 20 of these sheep that I believe are suffolks. The katahdins are hair sheep -- they shed their wool every year, and so don't require shearing. The suffolks don't shed their wool, and do require yearly shearing. Both breeds require foot maintenance every 6 months, to trim their hooves. My ground has no rocks to speak of in it, and so the sheep hooves don't get worn down as they would on rougher ground.
The farmer I purchased my katahdins from raises his sheep on pasture, but provides feed for them throughout the year, and prior to purchasing my ewes I bought a couple of lambs from him to see what they tasted like, and what the yield was like.
Taste is one of the primary reasons that I raise the animal breeds I do. If you're going to go to the trouble of raising an animal by hand why not raise the animal that you prefer the taste of?
I also purchased three hair sheep that had been raised on grass, and that gave me a useful comparison. what does feed-raised lamb taste like compared with grass-fed?
Grass fed lamb is leaner and smaller than feed-lamb. In texture the penned-and-fed lambs were a little more tender, but not so that it really made any difference to the end consumer (me). Both were acceptably tender. Smaller: grass fed is 50-70lbs on the hoof, grain-fed is 70-90lbs, same birth date.
Fresh, as in eaten on the day that it was slaughtered, the fed-lamb was bland. So much so that it really didn't taste much like lamb. It just tasted like meat. It could have been chicken. I was pretty disappointed. While the yield was better, the lamb didn't taste like lamb. I ate a couple of chops and a bit of the leg of this lamb. hanging it for 7 days improved the flavor.
The grass-fed lamb however, was good tasting immediately. If I were to want to spit-roast a lamb, I'd take a grass fed, hands down, as they're usually cooked relatively fresh. hanging for 7 days also improved this lamb, and comparing the two side by side, I have to say that the grass-finished lamb was preferable to the fed lamb.
So I want the katahdin because they don't have to be sheared, but I want good taste. I'm happy to report that a grass-fed katahdin is as good as a grass-fed suffolk lamb, and I've tried both this year.
I have both suffolk and katahdin lambs available right now. if you'd like to try one, let me know.