Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sheep breeds and taste

I've been experimenting with sheep as a new product for the farm.  Lamb is well-accepted and popular. and grass-finished lamb appeals to me.  Most of what they eat is produced on the farm, and the care required during their growing phase is pretty minimal. 

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. 

1 comment:

Rich said...

Depending on what your customers want, why not wait until the grass-fed lambs are about 70-90 lbs (the same as the grain-fed) instead of butchering based on age?

In the grass-fed vs. grain-fed beef debate the pro-grain side will make comparisons based on age to give grain-fed an advantage (a steer can be finished on grain at 16 mo. while a 16 mo. grass-fed steer might be under 800 lbs. and still growing). But, comparing two 1100 lb steers regardless of age gives a more valid comparison.

Of course, beef is different because of the marbling process (greatly simplifying it, the amount of marbling in beef is more based on size rather than on age) compared to lamb and mutton.

It might be that a 70-90 lb grass-fed lamb is even better than a 50-70 lb grass-fed lamb.