A short insight into the end-to-end process of rearing and producing my meat.
All of the lamb destined for our freezer boxes is born, reared, slaughtered and butchered within 10 miles. Somewhat more sensible than the 11,000 miles that New Zealand lamb travels to get to our supermarket shelves…
Most of the lambs are born outside – for various reasons, including less likely spread of disease and instilling hardiness into the breeding flock – whilst those bearing three lambs or anyone that may require more attention are housed in the lambing shed. This year we’re due to start on the 22nd March – 145 days after the rams went out with the ewes.
From around 2-3 days of age the lambs that are born inside will be leaping around and going stir-crazy so they and their mums will be taken out into nearby fields so they can acclimatise whilst we can keep a close eye on them.
From the beginning of April until summer the ewes will keep their lambs under control and well-fed on milk, and at the beginning of August the lambs will be weaned from their mothers in order that they can get a well earned break before going back to the rams again in October. At weaning the fastest growing single-born lambs may be ready to sell as ‘new-season’ lamb. I should point out here that I am rearing entirely pasture reared meat, so my lambs are many weeks behind the supermarket new-season products. The smaller twin and triplet lambs will need growing on, possibly until the following spring depending on the weather and grass quality. Its at this point that they are termed ‘hoggets’ and in my opinion are the best for the table. It would be almost impossible to get this quality of meat in a supermarket as they are most interested in the fast turnaround of new-season lamb which is inevitably fed up on cereal based diets to fatten quickly. Hogget from my flock on the other hand is grown slowly, in no hurry. The meat is dark and has a complex flavour that needs time to develop. The Lleyn sheep I breed lend themselves well to this as they tend not to put too much fat down and consequently the meat is still lean.
The land I rent is all managed ‘extensively’ with no artificial fertilisers, pesticides or weedkillers being applied. Much of the land is entered into Higher Level Stewardship schemes which aim to promote sustainable farming practises. The sheep are used in the management of the pasture which is grazed in such a manner as to increase populations of wild flowers which are important to the many species of bees and insects which are in decline.
During the autumn months the best female lambs are identified and kept in the flock for breeding the following year. The Lleyn breed is ideal for this system of ‘self-replacement’, and it allows me to select only improving genetic trends within the flock.