imageThe sheep industry in the United States has been on a long decline. Sheep were popular here since the Pilgrims landed, but post World War II, the inventory started to tank. And has been ever since. In recent years, components of the Farm Bill have invested in figuring out why, and how to reverse the trend. This National Academy of Sciences consensus report, written in 2008, outlines an analysis of the problem and indicators of where things look to head in the future.

The Lamb Board was established in 2002, and has been investing significant effort in branding lamb (not the hot iron kind, but rather the marketing kind) to help it make a comeback. Given the beef industry’s powerful Beef, it’s what’s for dinner campaign, at some point, somebody must have realized lamb needs the same marketing oomph. Plus some, because it’s so far off the radar of most Americans, we can’t just encourage them to eat more of it; we really need to re-introduce Americans to the meat to get them to start eating it.

Of course this initiative needs to be paid for. So a law was introduced to tax sheep at the time of slaughter. It’s called the Lamb Checkoff. The beef industry also has a Checkoff program.


This and that which I read recently and thought was interesting…


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!


Premier 1 Sheep Supplies had a great article written by one of the participants of their Ireland tour. It’s interesting to me to see how different their meat sheep look, and I love the author’s reference to the “tubular” shape of show meat sheep here. The Irish Texels are extremely “beefy” by comparison.

In the WSU Lamb 101 class I took a few weeks ago (and darn, I’ll try to write more about that) there was discussion on dressing percentage. They felt that average dressing percentage for sheep is around 50%. This is the percentage of weight lost between live weight and when the slaughtered animal has been bled out, skinned,  beheaded, de-footed and the abdominal cavity emptied. So all of what’s left is what can be cooked, though there are still a lot of bones in there.

At the class, they discussed that shipped sheep, which have been eliminating for 8-24 hours and not eating or drinking, can yield higher dressing percentages- high 50% and maybe sometimes topping 60%- because they are very “empty” at the time of slaughter. And by comparison, they said to expect grass-fed sheep to yield very low dressing percentages, because they are full of grass and water. They were training us to be mock auction buyers (and we held a mock auction using photos and descriptions of sheep)- and that you’d want to pay less per pound live weight for a grass-fed sheep straight off of pasture, versus one that had been shipped overnight.

I find that the Katahdins hit the mid fifties coming straight off the pasture. And Katahdins are fairly fine boned, so the loss of bone weight post-hanging is probably less than a lot of big-boned show sheep breeds. So I do think the shorter-statured, heavy-bodied sheep tend to yield more pounds on the table, despite their dwarf-ey appearance. And it would seem the Irish think so too!

Ewelamb1 I had the chance to attend WSU’s Lamb 101 class last weekend. It’s a winnowed-down version of their more extensive Lamb 300 class. It was great! The first night involved some learning about Halal (proper Islamic) slaughter. Warning: read on only if you are comfortable with discussion of how meat gets to the table!