Getting Ready For Christmas Dinner–Learning To Butcher A Lamb

The feelings of excitement, horror and appreciation have been on my mind this past week. Today, Paul and I got to learn how to harvest and butcher a ram lamb. Our friends at Full of Sheep Farm have been raising a lamb for us. Danielle and Ed run a successful dairy sheep farm and supply us with delicious raw milk, meat and fiber (and angora rabbits).  We have been very fortunate to become friends with them, and we are so excited to learn as much as they are willing to teach us.

We arrived to the farm a little over 10 am and left around 2:00 pm.  During that time, we harvested, skinned, gutted and butchered a ram lamb that was 80 pounds live weight and 38 pounds hanging weight.  Live weight of an animal is the weight of the whole animal (guts and fleece in this case).  Hanging weight is measured after the fleece and guts were removed.  When you buy an animal (pig, goat, sheep or cow) from a farmer, the price is calculated based on the hanging weight.  This lamb was born in April, making him 8 months old.  Lamb versus mutton is a sheep under the age of 1 year.  Most meat farmers slaughter at 8-10 months.  Lambing season starts in January-February, and by fall the meat lambs are ready to harvest.  It makes sense this way, the farmer has meat and does not have to feed the animals during the cold winter months when the pasture does not grow well.

We started this lesson with Danielle straddling the lamb and using a pistol to dispatch the animal with a single shot to the head.  The lamb did not fight her.  She handles them enough that they respect her as a Shepard. She confirmed he was dead by touching his eyeball.  If he was still alive, he would have blinked.  After that, she made an incision above his jaw to let the blood out.  This whole process took less than five minutes and was significantly less traumatic than I anticipated.  I will admit, I chickened out and only heard the shot–but was there for the rest.  Never say never, but I don’t think I will ever be the one to pull the trigger, however I will be there to help Paul with processing, if we ever become sheep farmers.

Next step was to hang him on the front end loader and remove his fleece.  He had beautiful fleece.  We brought it home and have high hopes of tanning it.  I am sure it will be an experience on its own but we are looking forward to learning this skill as well.  We have a freezer full of rabbit pelts that need processing in the basement. It is becoming rather morbid, especially with the addition of a sheepskin. Tanning is a skill we really need to learn, to fully use the whole animal.

Before the sheep was skinned, Danielle tied his anus with twine (she could not locate her zip ties, the number one tool in farming) to avoid any content of the bowels spilling on to the meat. Once the sheepskin was gone, she made an incision behind the testicles and began pulling out whatever organ was first present. We kept the testicles. We’ll see if we feel adventurous enough to try them (the goal of this lesson is to use ALL of the lamb), deep fried.  Next came the intestines and kidneys.  The organs we did not keep went into a bucket, aptly name the “gut bucket”,  that will be composted.  Kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart were kept to make haggis.   I was pleasantly surprised by the stomach.  It was huge!!  It takes a lot of energy for these animals to get the nutrition they need from grass.  Having four stomachs helps!  Sheep are ruminant animals like cows. Paul had the pleasure of cleaning the biggest stomach to use for haggis.  After watching that experience, I doubt we will be using it.  It’s pretty gnarly looking and smelled really bad–think poop!  All organs were inspected for parasites and abnormalities.

Once the sheep was gutted and hosed down, we weighed him to obtain the hanging weight. We proceeded to butcher him into rough quarters. We also made a saddle roast, following a YouTube video. We cut and wrapped for about an hour and took home a hefty cooler of fresh meat that will nourish our family for Christmas and a few months to follow.

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