Bloomberg News recently reported that Americans consumed less than 1 pound of lamb meat per person last year. Only half of the U.S. population has tried eating lamb.
Nonetheless, the number of restaurants that serve lamb is increasing because diners like adventures in eating foods they usually don’t prepare at home, according to Bloomberg.
It perplexes me why more people in the Western Hemisphere and Australia don’t eat lamb when it is so tasty and has found favor in Africa, Europe and Asia. There is a delicious reason why sheep — and their cousins, goats — were the first livestock to be domesticated by our ancestors: Their meat tasted great and was nutritious!
Wild sheep and goats were initially tamed some 10 to 12 thousand years ago in southwestern Asia. That neither species had sharp claws or teeth suited them for domestication. Their main defenses were running away and butting.
Sheep and goats’ tendency to group together also was favorable for their domestication. Dogs, which were already domesticated, readily adapted to helping their human masters herd the flocks.
Besides their meat, sheep and goats also yielded products that early livestock producers capitalized on. They had long hair and softer fleece underneath that could be used for making clothing; their skins could be used for leather goods; their bones, horns, sinews, bladders and stomachs could be used for tools and containers; and their milk could be drunk or turned into cheese for consumption.
My knowledge about sheep and goats is deficient because I have never raised them. My friends who have raised one or both species say both bond easily to their caretakers and all have different personalities. They are hard to part with.
Maybe it was luck that I was one of the best judges of sheep as meat animals at the 1964 International Livestock Exposition in Chicago (the last time the exposition was held there) in their national 4-H livestock judging contest. Now I hang my hat on cooking some of the best lamb dishes on the grill, in the oven and in stews like lentil and lamb soup.
Lamb is the only farm-raised livestock that Marilyn and several of our loved ones purchase as a whole carcass, but butchered and packaged. We have purchased one to three lambs from local producers for many years and share them with friends and family.
One supplier is a couple in our supper club. Four local couples gather monthly on a rotating basis for a gourmet meal at one of our homes; periodically we also explore restaurants that have achieved gustatory acclaim. We call ourselves the Gastronauts, and yup, the group is working on a cookbook.
One Gastronaut, Jerry, helped introduce the practice of gathering data on production traits (e.g., growth rate, ease of lambing, mothering ability, the likelihood of multiples at birth and lambing at various times throughout the year, etc.) and carcass traits (e.g., amount of meat and other usable products, marbling and tenderness, etc.) into the sheep production industry. Jerry and his wife, Mary, often serve the best lamb dishes my wife, Marilyn, and I have ever consumed, regardless of how it is prepared.
Over the past years we also purchased lambs from another local farmer who raised sheep and sold as many lambs and older sheep as he was able to butcher and package for years until he retired.
Yes, Marilyn and I also eat beef as roasts, steaks and hamburgers, and a few organically raised chickens. I like pork chops, ham and bacon too, but we eat mostly wild game like deer, pheasants, geese, turkey, quail, partridge, ducks and other assorted game, usually shot and dressed by our son, Jon. We also eat the fish from farm ponds, streams and occasionally in larger bodies of water I catch myself or with fellow fishers like Jon and his daughters, who often out-fish me.
The U.S. has only about 5.2 million head of sheep and lambs, with Texas and California leading the way as the states that produce the most lambs. Many farmers keep a few head around to keep weeds down on their farmsteads.
An important factor about sheep is that they work well to clean up pastures after cattle have consumed what they want and to prepare the pastures to regrow in rotational management for grazing livestock.
Surprisingly, many sheep producers have never tried the culinary delight they raise themselves. Most non-urban grocery stores in the Midwest don’t carry lamb as a regularly available item in their meat counters.
It’s more available in many other countries. Lamb is also considered a “clean meat” according to the Jewish and Islamic religions.
Lamb is not strong or gamy. It’s one of the more tender meats available and made even more delectable when garlic cloves are inserted into a lamb roast before cooking it.
I can’t think of a reason not to raise or eat lamb.
Contact Dr. Mike Rosmann, a Harlan, Iowa, psychologist and farmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.