One of the animals that we really enjoy raising on our farm are sheep. Not only do they provide us with a whole lot of entertainment, they also provide a super healthy meat.
Like all the other animals on the farm there are different seasons in the life for our sheep. Way back in late December the rams (males) and ewes (females) that have been living in separate pastures all summer and fall are brought together for the breeding season. Breeding season on our farm is timed so that the resulting lambs will be born when the weather has warmed up and the new grass is starting to grow, just like the deer and elk.
By “lambing” at this time of year the newborns get a good start in life. They do not have to fight the cold weather of winter. The fresh new grass helps their mother’s milk to be nutritious and abundant. I told you that they are entertaining. Well, when the lambs are little you will see a whole group of them jumping in the air, kicking up their heels and running for all their worth around the pasture before heading back to mom for a little sip of milk.
When the lambs are about a week old and have bonded well with their mothers, the little families are moved from the maternity pasture to the summer grazing pastures. Once here the flock is moved through the pastures to fresh grass every week. By moving them weekly we ensure that the ewes and lambs are getting the best nutrition for optimum health.
Come early fall the lambs are weaned from their mothers and moved to their own pastures where they will continue to graze until the snow gets too deep. Once winter really sets in we will switch their diet to hay that we have made earlier in the year. They will stay on this feed until they are ready for processing for the freezer.
When I was thinking about what these next few blog posts would include I came across some interesting history.
Sheep were among the first animals to be domesticated, probably in the Middle East. As the population moved away from the Fertile Crescent spreading throughout Europe they took their sheep with them. It is believed that the Romans introduced sheep into Great Britain. In the early 16th century the Spanish explorers are thought to have brought sheep to the New World.
Sheep have been raised for both their fiber and meat. Wool was used for clothing and housing structures. Yurts are a classic example of wool being used for structures. It has and is being used as a natural insulating material in buildings. Sheep that originate in more equatorial countries tend to have hair that sheds like a dog or cat instead of wool that the shepherd needs to shear off.
In many countries lamb is the traditional Passover and Easter meal.
Unlike North America many countries including Turkey, Greece, New Zealand, Australia, Africa and the Middle East consider lamb their staple meat.
Unfortunately, much of the lamb that is available in North America is imported from Australia and New Zealand. This does not make a lot of sense because there are many small producers right here in Canada that raise excellent quality lamb.
On our farm we raise hair sheep. They are very resilient to the extreme fluctuations in weather that we experience in northern Alberta. They are very disease and parasite resistant, which can be a problem for many breeds of sheep. This means that we do not have to use antibiotics simply because it is extremely rare for our sheep to be sick. We also do not have to use synthetic parasite controls. These traits allow us to raise sheep in the most natural way possible. From many years of experience we find that they thrive for us.
Many of our customers who are accustomed to eating lamb tell us that the meat from the hair sheep far exceeds that from the wool breeds in taste.
We invite you to join us as we explore how to shop for and prepare lamb that your family will love. All you have to do is click on the sign up button below to receive the next article in this series. We look forward to sharing our knowledge of this with you.
See you next time!