Our Lamb

22 November 2016

How the animal lived

Our small flock have life pretty good. They practically run wild on the farm; we keep them mainly to add species diversity to the farm. The fencing on the farm is designed to keep the cattle where we put them, but the sheep can pass under them. So they are free to roam most of the farm as they please.

Because the flock is relatively small and the area they have is large, they have virtually no parasite issues. As a result, unlike most lamb, ours are never medicated. Once a year they are rounded up for shearing, and the ram lambs are castrated on the same day. Apart from this, they do as they please. We manage them from afar and make sure they are healthy and well.

We have cross-bred with a range of traditional hardy genetics: blackface-mountain, Jacob, and some Suffolk. They are out-wintered, meaning they are not housed. They lamb on their own and mind themselves.

Sheep are interesting animals in that they are short-day breeders. This means the number of hours daily that light enters the animal’s eye affects the brain, which governs the release of specific precursors and hormones. Most sheep are seasonally polyestrous and short-day breeders. They will begin to exhibit “a heat” when the day length starts decreasing. They will come into heat every 16 to 17 days until they are bred or return to anestrus. Thus, the most natural time for sheep to copulate in Ireland is around October and November.

As a result, lambs are naturally born from late March to April when the weather starts to warm, and the grass begins to grow.

Easter lamb is not seasonal, it is forced lamb that is born mid-winter indoors and fed and high protein grain diet to reach target weights for the premium Easter market. Ironically this lamb is arguably of inferior quality.

Lamb is in season and at its best from late June to early Sept - following the natural cycle of a spring birth and slow growth on summer pastures.

How it is prepared

We use a small family abattoir that takes every care in treating each animal with the respect they deserve. The lambs are delivered the night before, so they have the night to relax in the lairage after the journey’s stress.

In the morning they are walked calmly down the chute, as they pass through a screen they are quickly dispatched with a captive bolt gun before being slung up by the hind legs, cut and bled out. In a well-run abattoir, the animals are calm before a quick and painless death.

Following this, the carcasses are skinned, and the heads, hooves and innards are removed. They then hang in the cold-room for one week to dry-age before being jointed and butchered.