SumnerHSI had forgotten to write more about the WSU Lamb 101 class until now. After we watched the Halal slaughter demonstration and toured the facility on Friday, we want to Sumner High School for the rest of the class. First, I have to say, I was really impressed with Sumner and their high school! I’m not sure I’ve ever been to the town of Sumner, and honestly, I unconsciously assumed it was some kind of scrubby, low-income suburb of Puyallup. Not so!

The town is filled with beautifully kept historic homes, and upscale, newly constructed stores. It’s a nice blend of small town feel and yuppyville. The high school is huge and sprawling, in the middle of town. But that does not stop them from having a very impressive FFA and agriculture curriculum! The staff are very well plugged-in to the AG academic community, affording their students frequent opportunities to participate in university research, including getting their names on published work. The FFA studies there earn credits in physics and biology. How about that? The hallways were filled with academic conference-style posters summarizing research products with which the kids there had been involved.

The AG science program there has really cool classrooms that attach to a walk-in cooler with ceiling tracks, so the kids have their own butchering facility right there. They have an ultrasound machine for scanning pregnancies and measuring loin eye area. Wow! Outside they have extensive barns for horticulture as well as raising hogs and sheep. They had multiple hogs there ready to farrow.

LambComparisonFor our class, they had brought two student-raised butcher lambs for us to compare. Nobody could remember their breeds for sure, but it sounded like they were likely Hamp x Suffolk crossbreds. The live evaluation, and most of the weekend class, were biased towards the “show sheep” world. This was somewhat unfortunate, as most of the attendees appeared to be pasture and meat producer people who had little interest in show aesthetics. So, here we discussed a lot of what a show judge would be looking for- pretty heads, long necks, straight toplines, zero-length tail docks, big height, and attractive angulation. The only part that seemed directly related to a butcher animal’s quality, to me, was in trying to feel how much fat they were carrying, and what their loin eye and rumps offered in depth and breadth.

We all got to go over the lambs with our own hands and make notes of which one we thought was nicer. I really couldn’t tell, I thought their differences were negligible (and it turned out they were). The ewe and wether were quite similar. The ewe is on the left, and notice how her back is “humping” a little bit. This was quite noticeable when we went over her with our hands. It wasn’t a conformation defect so much as she was acting abdominally sensitive- arching her back and stiffening whenever we’d probe her there. This information would come into play later!

TruckA local mobile slaughter unit came and did the initial processing for us. The facility was very impressive, a huge tractor trailer unit that cost $238K to manufacture. It had an internal cooler and a giant water supply tank. This processor normally offers USDA inspected butchering as part of a cooperative down south. And the USDA inspector was at our class to answer questions. But on this day, they were just performing custom slaughter, since we were going to keep the carcasses for our class.

TruckTank

We watched the processors make quick work of the lambs, and the carcasses were sent to the high school cooler for our class the next day. We headed over to the WSU Puyallup Research Center for dinner. We had lamb, of course, nicely prepared as a whole BBQ and served with BBQ sauce, rosemary potatoes, rolls and salad. Pies for dessert. It was delicious.

WSU’s head chef, Jamie Callison, held a small wine tasting and talked about pairing wines with food. While we ate, there was a panel discussion on marking lamb. It was interesting to hear about the different niches people have found- selling into the ethnic market, using web-based marketing, selling USDA-inspected meat by-the-cut, versus just direct marketing.

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