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Lamb. We need more of it.

When I was a kid (no pun intended... oh wait, maybe it was) growing up in New York, lamb chops were one of my favorite meals. It seems we had lamb at least once a week. My wife and I were talking about this the other day, and she echoed the sense I have nowadays that the only place you can find lamb is in a high-end restaurant, and all you get is this little bitty rack with the tiny ribs sticking up, at seven prices. Yeah, it's tasty, but sheesh...

Go on down to Smith's or your local grocery store, and if you're lucky there may be a couple of scrawny blade chops (read: garbage meat) hiding between the beef and pork, or a whole leg for about $45.00. But for all the sheep being raised in this country (5.6 million head in 2010, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service), you'd think there would be a lot more on the shelves. Utah's fields appear to be crawling with sheep - our ranchers here call them "prairie maggots" - but where does all that fine meat go?

The American Lamb Board serves up delightful charts on the various lamb cuts and how to cook them, but I'll be dipped in bees if I've ever seen more than one or two of these in a supermarket at any one time.

Apparently this is due to a combination of factors.

  • The lamb market is in a bit of a crisis, and the ASIA (American Sheep Industry Association) is pushing a plan called 2+2+2=Rebuild, which asks that each producer increase the size of their operation by two ewes per operation or by two ewes per 100 by 2014, increase the average birthrate per ewe to two lambs per year and increase the harvested lamb crop rate by 2 percent.
  • Supply is, ultimately, driven by demand - and in this country, demand seems low. Down in the very dregs of demand, mutton - delicious and desirable in my book - is largely considered trash, suitable for consumption only by blighted minorities or Tolkienesque trolls. Add to this the fact that a good percentage of lamb available here comes from Down Under, either Australia or New Zealand where there are more lambs than people, and it's no surprise that the American lamb scene looks somewhat stressed.
  • There appears to be a regional difference as well. I have found indications that lamb is much more available and reasonably priced in places like New York, or other cities where there is a larger ethnic population who do not turn up their noses at this fine meat.
  • Lamb is not just food - it's a commodity, meaning that its price and availability are determined by a byzantine labyrinth of factors such corn prices, hay prices, weather conditions, harvest times, scientific analyses of fat marbling, yields, chemicals, and a host of others, including that one scrap of information that only a sheep farmer would know: sheep are the only animal in the world that want to die.

I have some dear friends that raise these woolly spawn of Hell, I've taken care of them myself, and I've seen all sides of them - from the cute and fluffy and affectionate, to the rampaging, stupid hundredweight bodies that hurl themselves against gates and tread on your feet (or head) with their very sharp hooves, to their absolute Satanic deviousness and ability to find every possible way to get sick or in trouble. But I'm just a city duffer with a love of the outdoors; from the good folks themselves, who do this year round, I have heard stories that would make your skin crawl. A good dog and an unlimited supply of sweet feed appear to be useful.

It seems that the only real answer will be to have a good freezer on hand, and find a local slaughterhouse that will sell me a whole or a half sheep. I'd die and go to heaven if I could score the offal as well, and be able to make my own haggis. But until then, I can only dream...


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Apr. 17th, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
I shall have to introduce you to Eggers' Meats when you're up for Pony Con next summer.

But yes, it's enough that I would put "More Lambchops on plates!" on my autosignature if it wouldn't mortify Kathy.

Edited at 2011-04-17 03:15 pm (UTC)
Apr. 17th, 2011 11:23 pm (UTC)
We need an Eggers' Meats closer to Payson...
Apr. 17th, 2011 06:32 pm (UTC)
Come on over!

(I'm ready to strangle some of them after they mashed through the fence yesterday.)
Apr. 17th, 2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
You know I would if I were closer...
Apr. 17th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
Maybe too many people think of them as cute (a likely reason for a small veal market as well). Maybe Christians keep thinking of the Lamb of God -- tho in that case, it would have to be in low demand in every Christian nation.
Apr. 17th, 2011 11:24 pm (UTC)
All the more reason to eat it, to my way of thinking.
Apr. 17th, 2011 08:17 pm (UTC)
I have heard that the flavour of the meat is stronger than many people like, especially if they are in places that really only eat beef pork or chicken.

Available land is also an issue. You can't increase production by overstocking paddocks in any sustainable way. It leads to environmental damage and a reliance on supplementing their food which in turn raises costs for the farmer and risks further disease in the animal.

Yeah lots of sheep here. Anything less than 2000 is considered a hobby farm. Having so few that you can actually give them names is unheard of.
Having said that, lamb is getting more expensive here too. It used to be the cheap meat but now its twice as expensive as beef.
Apr. 17th, 2011 11:25 pm (UTC)
>now its twice as expensive as beef.

Now that's just wrong. While the factors you state are valid, there's something twisted about that particular economic phenomenon.
Apr. 17th, 2011 11:31 pm (UTC)
It makes sense in the large scale economy. Most of what Australia farms is exported. The value of the commodity on the global market sets the local price. If something is worth a shipload to sell overseas then you have to match that price to buy it locally, unless overseas demand for it drops.

The nationalistic "Buy American" campaign is a good thing for your own economy. Sadly, if you love your home grown industries you have to pay through the nose to support them.
Apr. 18th, 2011 11:56 am (UTC)
Oh and I did lol at "prarie maggots" haha
reminds me of the sacred ibis birds we get here which i have heard referred to as "dump chooks" as they are often seen picking through refuse at the dump and look like chickens from a distance.
Apr. 17th, 2011 10:43 pm (UTC)
When I get lamb, it's normally down at the market where the Wholesale Butcher fills the scales for a fixed sum....

I got plenty o' mutton, and mutton's plenty fo' me...

Ewe, ewe with the stirs in your fries.....

FLEEECE release me, let me grow.....
Apr. 17th, 2011 11:27 pm (UTC)
Blimey I ain't had nothing but maggoty bread to eat for three stinkin' days. When can we have some meat?
Apr. 17th, 2011 10:45 pm (UTC)
If you plee-ee-ee-eese Mr Growser, I'm o-o-o-only a little la-a-a-a-amb....

oh baaaaaa baaaa roux....


The Old Wolf

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