Yes, you can! You must be a skilled butcher and bring all your own tools and equipment. We can park the tractor such that you can use the hydraulic loader bucket to hang the carcass for skinning and cleaning. There is a cold water garden hose available, and you can wash your hands in warm water and soap in the barn sink. You are solely responsible for safety and cleanliness of the process, and encouraged to bring sanitized, sharpened knives; and clean bags and containers for processing and transporting the meat. You must have a way to rapidly chill the meat to 42º within 24 hours, for best meat quality and to lower the risk of food-borne illness.
Please plan on cleaning up after your processing and hauling the offal with you (hide, guts, head and all other byproducts). In most municipalities, you can legally dispose of this in your normal trash bin. Ideally there should be no trace once the job is done. We like to keep a very clean farm, and this is also our home, so please help us keep things tidy.
Keep in mind that the law allows the owner of an animal to do his own slaughter and processing. Alternatively, you can pay a licensed, custom-exempt or a USDA-inspected butcher to do the process for you. There is no in-between, it’s not legal for us to help you slaughter, or even for a friend to help you, since neither are licensed butchers. But, when you purchase an animal, once the financial transaction is complete, you are legally entitled to butcher your own animal.
Can I come tonight?
Can I come tomorrow?
This is a frequent phone conversation we have with new customers. 🙂 Though we have a working farm, it’s a small family farm, and we also work off-farm. And the farm is also our home! So the farm isn’t manned like a retail store with set hours. Instead, you must make an appointment to come, so that it fits into our schedule.
Drop-in visitors are extremely disruptive to our work, our family-and-friends time, our dinner hours etc.; and we may not even be home. So please, please don’t plan on “just showing up” to either visit and learn about our operation, or because you’re hoping to butcher a lamb. You may find us a bit impatient with you if you do turn up unannounced!
There is a process for making arrangements to do on-farm slaughter. We don’t have a “lamb Walmart” shopping experience where buyers can view and pick something out from a group of confinement pens in a feedlot setting. (There is another operation in our area that offers this service, and it is a different market niche.) Our niche is pasture-raised lambs, which means the lambs are on pasture. Picture 200 sheep out on a section five acres or larger, that may be a 1/4 mile walk from our house. The sheep are not tame or friendly, so humans can’t get very close to view or touch individuals when they are in the pasture.
Thus, to start the process, you need to specify the live weight range you want. We review computer records and find a lamb that is at that weight range. Then we drive an ATV and trailer out to the pasture and round up the sheep with border collies, and retrieve your specific lamb. We bring it up to the barn so it is ready and waiting for you. This requires some advance notice, ideally a week or more, so that we can fit this sorting chore into our work schedule. And, also so the lamb can relax and eat in the barn and flush any stress hormones before you come, which is ideal for best meat quality.
This also requires a pre-paid, non-refundable deposit. It can take an hour to find and haul your lamb up to the barn, and if the purchase is canceled, another half hour to haul the lamb back out to pasture. Thus, we can’t make this effort without pre-payment, and if a buyer does need to cancel, the deposit is non-refundable, to compensate for our time in handling and hauling the lamb.
A lot of people aren’t sure what live weight they need, or want to specify lamb by age instead. But, if you specify you want a six-month old lamb, you could wind up with a 90 lb lamb, or a 30 lb lamb. There are many variables that influence how fast a lamb grows- its mother’s age and milk quality and quantity, whether its’s a single, twin or triplet, whether it’s a ewe, wether or a ram, what it’s eating, its general health and immune function, and its own genetics for growth. So, it’s really important to learn to know what live weight you desire to most clearly communicate your needs and ensure you understand the price per pound you are paying.
Here is a general guide. We typically raise our locker lambs up to 85-95 lbs live weight. Once they are killed, bled, skinned and gutted, the resulting hanging weight typically ranges between 52-58% of the live weight. This generally means a 44-55 lb hanging-weight carcass. If the meat hangs in a cooler for a day or two, there will be some “shrink” or weight loss from water evaporation. Then, once the frame is cut up into primals or retail cuts by you or the butcher, there will be some weight loss from the removal of fat and bone.
The final yield is typically 75% of the hanging weight, so you bring home about 33-41 lbs of retail cuts. This results in a small chest cooler full of meat that can fit in an above-the-fridge style freezer.
Note that weight ranges are specified here, because there is always some variation in nature. Two 90 lb lambs may yield differently, varying by five pounds or more in hanging weight. Looking at, or even physically examining lambs doesn’t always predict which one will hang at a better weight. So much depends on the volume of food and water in the stomach, how heavy-boned the animal is, and what the pelt weighs. By law, animals that are processed by custom-exempt butchers or by the buyer must be sold live and by live weight. And they are usually weighed in advance of the day of slaughter. So, we can’t guarantee exactly what hanging or final cut weight will result, this is part of the process of buying direct from a farm, is that some natural variation is inherent in the process.
Sometimes folks want to purchase a smaller lamb to use for BBQ, where the whole frame is cooked or roasted. In this case, a 30-60 lb live weight lamb is often ideal, rendering about 10-25 lbs of meat for serving.
You may find other farmers who are selling larger lambs, sometimes much larger. It’s true that some breeds of sheep can get up to a 120 lb live weight frame size at the age of six months, especially if they are grain-fed. But research has found that some of these breeds have lower eating quality, the meat can be less tender. And often lambs that are in the 120-150 lb range are just over-fat, the producer has kept them in inventory too long. This means you are paying for pounds of fat that will just result in “trim” or waste. We find that for Katahdins raised on grass, the 90 lb live weight range is a very nice size, the lambs are still very lean and young, and the meat eating quality is extremely high.
Eid is a really challenging time of year for us. You see, we only raise about 100 lambs per year. And we get about 100 calls in the days leading up to Eid, with all those people wanting to come on a single day to butcher their lamb. This is our home, so we can’t accommodate more than one or two people here at a given time. And lambs all grow at different rates, so not all of our lambs are ready for slaughter right at Eid. It’s obviously impractical to think that we would sell our entire annual harvest in a one- or two-day period.
The other challenging thing is, of all the people that want to come butcher here on Eid, we never hear from most of them again. We need customers who can support our family farm year-round, not just one day a year. We realized we needed to have a policy which reduces the demand and finds a fair way to determine who gets the privilege of coming here for one of the few Eid lambs we have available. The laws of supply and demand apply here: there are many, many people who want lambs at this time of year; and there are very few lambs available, and even fewer on-farm-slaughter opportunities.
Thus, for one, Eid lambs are more expensive: $300 instead of $200 for a 60-80 lb live-weight lamb. A $100 non-refundable prepaid deposit is required to secure your appointment. Our policy is, you have to be an existing customer who has already bought lamb at some other time of year in the past, if you want to request an appointment for an Eid lamb. Or, if you are a brand new customer, you must pre-pay the entire cost of a second lamb to be picked up some other time of year to get an Eid appointment.
We will only book a few appointments in total for Eid lambs. Your best bet for locking in a spot is to reserve in January for summer/fall Eid appointment. We want to preserve the experience of coming to a quiet, tranquil farm where the beauty of nature can be appreciated while sacrificing a lamb to feed family and friends. We don’t want to create a hectic environment with dozens or hundreds of strangers all jockeying for parking and working on butchering at the same time, causing a large environmental stress on our grass and soil and a lot of stress for us to manage the chaos! In the week leading up to Eid, we just stop answering the phone, because the call volume is honestly overwhelming. And we’re just not set up to accommodate last-minute requests for appointments, planning ahead is required when working with our farm.
Though there is great demand for Halal meat in our region, the market has not yet caught up to offer enough services to meet the demand. Your main option is to butcher your own animal so you can ensure it is done completely in the Halal way.
There is one licensed Halal butcher in our area, but the facility has complicated logistics (because it’s a USDA inspected facility) and is not our main vendor. It’s not practical for us or them to arrange for an appointment of one lamb drop-off at this facility. If a customer can pool orders with friends or family to create an order of six or more lambs, we can make a special drop-off appointment at that facility, with advanced planning. There is little flexibility in the processing there: all the lambs in the order must be processed the same way, there is no option to grind meat, and the product is dispensed fresh in one big bag/box, not frozen. One customer must be able to pick up the whole order at an appointed time in the afternoon and pay in cash for the service (no credit card processing is available). And, the customers must be prepared to do some more processing, bagging and freezing at home. This facility does a great job and it can be a good option for folks who can create a big order by organizing with friends. But it’s a fairly high-volume facility that relies on efficiency of scale to stay profitable and stay in business. Plus, USDA-inspected facilities follow strict governmental rules that specify everything from how the live lambs are handled and housed to who can enter the facility when and where and in what clothing. So, in order to preserve our opportunity to go there, we must be very respectful of their time and make the work profitable for it to make sense for them to keep accommodating us.
The third option is to evaluate what portions of the Halal way are most important, and be willing to yield on some aspects, as long as the general spirit is met. We can arrange for our custom-exempt butcher to do the throat-cut, rather than a gun-kill. Though in practicality, there is little physiological difference in the methods. The slaughter truck has variable timing in arrival, so we can’t accommodate the customer waiting here to be present at the time of slaughter for the act of prayer. Know that the animals are healthy, have been raised in a natural environment on grass, and are handled gently and with respect and thankfulness at the moment of slaughter, and that the kill is swift and accurate. Patronizing local family businesses for the raising and slaughter of your lamb is a much stronger guarantee of healthy animals and respectful treatment from birth to slaughter. Versus purchasing from a high-volume commercial supply chain that labels their product “Halal”, where there aren’t likely process controls in place to ensure the true spirit of Halal. Sometimes the practice and mindset are more meaningful than a label.