Cedar and Ben have always been interested in livestock as an addition to the vegetable operation. We weren't sure what form this interest would take, but in 2013, we applied for and were awarded an Ag-Options grant to fund the start-up of a meat sheep operation.
After much research, we decided to start with the Katahdin breed. They are a hair variety. This means that they shed their winter coat and produce little to no wool. They were bred for fast meat growth, ability to thrive in a pasture setting, mild flavor, and resistance to internal parasites. They are also very curious and gentle.
We started out with 4 pregnant ewes that birthed 7 lambs. Going into 2018, we have 13 ewes that are pregnant. Our initial breeding stock come from Highlander Farms in Fairview. Nick Nichols has been breeding Katahdin sheep there for many years. He has helped us get off to a good start with strong genetics and more than a little hand holding in the first year.
Our sheep spend most of the year on the large field on Gridstaff rd. We have a long term lease on this field with the primary purpose of grazing the sheep. The sheep are rotationally grazed inside portable electric fencing. We move them to fresh ground every 5-7 days. This ensures the pasture produces the most forage and that the sheep are not exposed to constant internal parasite pressure. In the non-grazing season, we move them up to our home where they lamb in a sheltered place close enough for us to keep an eye on them. They get hay and non-gmo grain supplement to ensure that they have adequate nutrition during late gestation and early lactation. Here, a pregenant ewe got a little excited about the grain bucket!
Any mention of the sheep project must include our guard donkey, Lulu. There is a constant threat of predation from dogs and coyotes. Donkeys make great guard animals. They eat the same grass as the sheep, bond strongly with them, and have a natural agression towards dogs and coyotes. Lulu is the sweetest creature around as long as you are not a dog. She loves people and an occasional apple slice or carrot will win her heart forever. This loving portrait of her was done by Kat Turczyn.
The lambs are butchered at Washington County Meats in Bristol, VA. This is a USDA inspected facility. From our visits, it is a low stress environment. All the lamb is then frozen and stored at 10 or below in our commercial freezer.
For recipies and ideas on how to cook the various cuts of lamb, please check out these sites.
American Lamb Board recipe ideas http://www.americanlamb.com/lamb-cutting-board/
Jamie Oliver's guide to lamb https://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/ultimate-guide-to-lamb-cuts/
and here is great overview of cooking methods for all types of red meat from Cooks Illustrated https://cimeatbook.com/principles-of-meat-cookery/