Most modern farming practices focus only on reducing the costs of production and ignore the costs to the livestock, soil, air, water, and human health associated with these practices.
I have always considered lamb an animal that cannot be raised in confinement, but I learned differently this week from my dear friend Clarissa of the Allen Farm. We’ve been known to have early morning phone conversations that last well into lunch! The summer doesn’t allow for such luxuries, but we still carve out time for a few thoughts and exchanges – recently it was about lamb.
I asked her to set aside 16 legs of lamb for me for a September wedding.
Clarissa mentioned factory farms and lamb in one sentence and I asked her if she had ever heard of that practice in the U.S. She assured me that it happens.
So of course, I looked into it, and began asking suppliers.
- Lamb is raised on pastureland, hence they graze on grass – a much better alternative than corn-fed livestock.
- Since many Americans avoid lamb, they are not part of the Big Meat cycle. Most lamb is grown by smaller producers, so you are supporting small family farmers and ranchers. With a small demand comes reduced land, water, and the nasty effects that are often paired with cattle and poultry production.
- Lamb is relatively low in fat and high in zinc and iron.
- Rotational grazing is a method of grazing that better utilizes and manages growing forages.
Basically, there are three ways to raise sheep:
- on grass (pasture)
Confinement will take considerable effort, labor and input cost.
Semi-confinement takes the middle ground, although will still take a fair amount of effort and labor during periods of confinement and also incurs significant input costs.
Pasture (grass-based) is the low labor, low input approach for people who are not interested in working so hard for the ranch but prefer the ranch work for them.
If you’ve got the right sheep and the program to match, sheep can lamb without a lot of assistance and be a lower labor enterprise overall.
Most Midwestern sheep are raised in confinement and the experience of most shepherds begins with an intensive confinement system. When sheep are confined, lambed in a crowd, penned, and turned out into a group of lambed sheep in a relatively small area, they behave quite differently than they would if they lambed in a 3 acre field where they can seek a quiet corner.
I do believe that the Allen Farm has the best lamb. Growing only the number of lambs that you can raise and sustain in one season is the Allen Farm way.