Do you have lambs available for Eid al-Adha?

Because demand for Eid is crazy busy, and we are super busy in summer, we no longer accept any appointments for on-farm slaughter during the week leading up to Eid. And, supply of lamb in summer is tight, most of our April lambs aren’t ready to go until fall or winter, and our yearling lambs are long since sold in spring. This year our reservation list is already booked out to the Oct-Nov time frame; so we have no availability for lambs for Eid in July. Sorry!

Can I choose the lamb I want for slaughter?

We are not able to offer the service of choosing one lamb to slaughter out of a group of lambs. Our lambs are sold by live weight range. If you want to arrange a visitor appointment to view our general operation, the quality of our animals and graze, and see lambs in certain live weight ranges to help you train your eye, we can accommodate this.

But, we don’t have a “lamb Walmart” shopping experience where buyers can view and choose a particular lamb 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 30 minutes to find and haul your lamb up to the barn, and if the purchase is canceled, another 30 minutes 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.

Can I buy a young lamb to grow out for butchering on my own place?

Yes, you can. We don’t always have the optimal schedule for this if you are trying to maximize  use of your summer graze. Most of our lambs are born in April, and are weaned at 90 or 120 days of age; so are ready to leave here in July or August. But, we do sometimes have some earlier-born lambs, or bottle lambs that are weaned in early June.

If taking on lambs less than 3 months old, it’s best if they can be supplemented while on grass. Lambs are born with an undeveloped rumen, and it doesn’t fully mature to make the best use of grass until they are 3-4 months old. Young lambs can fail to thrive if transitioned onto pasture alone, especially if your grass isn’t perfectly maintained in a “boot high” vegetative stage with no seed heads. Lambs can benefit from either a grain source (corn-oats-barley “COB” or a pelleted sheep or allstock feed) or alfalfa. This feeds their “true stomach” and boosts growth and immune strength during the phase when their rumens are still maturing. Here on our farm, lambs benefit from nursing throughout the summer, so they are getting that extra protein boost on top of their graze. Lambs can be transitioned to good grass alone as early as eight weeks of age, but you may see some stagnation in growth progress for a few months before they “catch up.”

Can you butcher my lamb for me?

We cannot, as we are not licensed butchers. In Washington state, there are three legal channels for slaughtering food animals.

The first is the simplest: the owner of the animal has the legal right to do his own butchering. So, if you purchase a lamb from us, and you have the skills, you’re free to slaughter and process it according to your preferences. You must supply all your own tools and materials, and you are solely responsible for food safety practices.

The second option is to take the lamb to a custom-exempt butcher shop. These are state-licensed shops that can legally process animals for the animal’s owner. So, you still have to own the lamb at the time they process it, and you pay them directly for their services. We use Kelso’s Kustom Meats in Snohomish. They do a great job, and will cut and wrap the product to your specifications. They will also just do the kill/skinning/gutting, if you would prefer to take home the whole frame and “fabricate” (or break down into individual cuts) yourself. All cuts that leave a custom-exempt butcher shop, by law, carry a label that specifies “not for re-sale”. The meat cuts must go directly to you and your family, and can only be shared with house guests. They cannot be sold commercially.

The third option is for the animal to be sent through a USDA-inspected slaughter plant and cut/wrap facility. There aren’t many of these facilities left in our state, and most of them are inaccessible to small family producers. The only way that meat can be sold/bought by the cut is if it goes through one of these plants and is specially labeled as USDA-inspected. The processing cost of this channel is higher.

Can I have a lamb processed for XX date for a celebration?

This usually doesn’t work out unless there is lucky timing. If you don’t want to do your own butchering, we can send your lamb to the local custom-exempt butcher shop in town, where they can process it any way you like. But the butcher shops are very, very busy most of the year. We schedule our fall and winter slaughter dates months in advance. We usually only send one batch of lambs per month. Many of those spots are pre-sold months in advance. So usually a lot of planning-ahead is needed to line up one of these dates with your celebration needs. Occasionally, luck is on the customer’s side, and a last-minute request coincides with a butcher date we already had on the books, we have room on that date to add an order, and we have a lamb that fits the customer’s weight request. You can see, a lot of planets have to align for this to work out! So, it’s worth asking, but don’t get your hopes up! 🙂

In spring and summer, it’s easier to get a butcher date. But, it’s expensive to drive the slaughter truck out here for one lamb. So, it’s most affordable to get on a “batch” order where we’re already sending a bunch of lambs on one day.

What options do you have for Halal slaughter?

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.

How do I know what lamb weight I need?

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.

Can I come over right now to butcher a lamb?

No.

Can I come tonight?

No.

Can I come tomorrow?

No.

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, and it requires planning ahead, ideally by several weeks. Please read the FAQ Can I Choose The Lamb I Want for Slaughter? for information on how lambs are pre-selected for buyers based on live weight.

Can I butcher my own lamb on the farm?

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.