Monday, September 14, 2009

Lambs to the slaughter

Yesterday being Sunday, and Sundays in fall being our butchershop's animal delivery days, I took the four ram lambs to our butchers. Three of these animals are already sold according to our "virtual pig and lamb" scheme, and we've been growing them on contract since May. The fourth is for our freezer. Lambs only take a week to process. They'll be ready for the owners to collect Saturday.

I decided to accelerate the timetable when it was clear that these little lambs were more interested in their mothers, aunts and sisters than propriety and good breeding practices permit. This is the first year we've deliberately not castrated all our ram lambs, and so the sex effect in the fall has not usually been as marked as we discovered it to be this year. But we've raised some uncastrated or cryptorchid lambs in ones and twos each year and the flavor of the meat has not been tainted, so we began to question why we should castrate at all.

It may not be traumatic since we use the "Elastrator system" but it is a source of possible infection.

Anyway, it only took one of their mothers to come into heat and the downside of not castrating manifested itself quickly in the form of poor old Tillie, a rather aged ewe, having four unwanted suitors. They dogged her all the end of last week, and I was faced with the choice of a day's fencing work to make a separate pen for these "sex offenders," for which I lacked both energy and funds for materials, or a swift drive to the butchers.

Although we had planned on the former, we hadn't taken into account the high costs in both time and labor at a time in the school year when labor time is hard to find, and when the time came I chose the latter solution instead. Aimee concurred, and in two shakes of a lamb's tail, the evil deed was done.

One reason we choose contract growing as the format by which we run our livestock operation, when we clearly could make more money selling packaged meat, is because our butchershop is conveniently located, and so the animals don't have a long scary drive.

We consider ourselves reasonably experienced sheep operators at this point, having survived most of the traumatic experiences that nature's lowliest critters (an Ed Abbey quote, from The Brave Cowboy) can produce. But we still get surprised from time to time. We had guessed that we would need to separate out the ram lambs this fall if we kept them intact, and even posted about it, way back. But we were surprised by how quickly they became a pest to the older ewes. I suppose too, I was not expecting how big they would be by this point. They were certainly market weight, after only five months, the result of good feed, and possibly, keeping their testicles.

Now they're gone (you evil b*****d, Womersley), balls and all, and the next surprise is how little their moms miss them. Usually when lambs go, there's a noisy period of two to three day's mourning among the ewes, but these guys were not missed. Barely a bleat came forth in their memory. Perhaps because they had become so pesty?

Who knows what goes on in the minds of sheep? Still, I'm glad there is no mournful bleating. It always only served to remind me of what an evil lamb-stealer I am. Guilt, guilt.

We still have three lovely new ewe lambs from this year's P-crop, Penelope, Poppy, and Polly, of which two are to our Rental Ram, Snorri the Great. Possibly that's the consolation.

It will be interesting to see how the new blood from Snorri affects the herd in two year's time when we breed these girls. The two ram lambs that were out of Snorri seemed a good ten pounds heavier, and were definitely wider, than the two out of Abraram. I'm interested to see if this perception, felt mostly in my right arm, which was slightly strained from picking them up and putting them in the paddy wagon. The butchers always reports the final, dressed-out weight of each critter, so we will know for sure soon enough. A larger-sized lamb chop from the Womerlippi Farm would not be such a bad thing.

We're not done with slaughtering yet, though. The three contract-grown pigs have still to go. For months now I've been wishing for a livestock trailer for this job, but neither funds nor trailer having manifested themselves, I guess the old pig crate will get one more year's use.

What an evil animal killer I am, lamb-stealer and pig murderer.


  1. Really interesting post.Here we automatically castrate our ram lambs within the first week, but this year we had a bottle fed lamb that was left entire and it got me wondering why we do it and if to try leaving next springs ram lambs entire.As it is I don't tail dock. We have just got back two uncastrated boars, whose meat was fine so I see no reason, other than the one you've mentioned, not to leave the lambs uncastrated.

    Food for thought ...

  2. We gave up on tail-docking before we gave up on castrating. I began to realize how many of these old systems were designed for large sheep operations in Britain, Australia and the American west. Of course you'd castrate if your wethers would be in with your ewes and breeding rams all fall and winter. Without it you'd be breeding with sub-optimal bloodlines. But is it really necessary if you can slaughter lambs before breeding? And there might easily be gains, in some bloodline, to leaving them intact. I just heard from the butchers that one of these guys dressed out at 45 lbs, which was twenty pounds above our target weight. The other three were each around 35 lbs. Our castrated lambs of years past would take another month to get above the 25 lb level.

    Go figure....

  3. I will be interested to hear if there is any ram taint this year, even that they are sexually active - although if the meat is going elsewhere, I spose you might not know. I have had ram taint before and I didn't like it.. mind you others in my family thought it an improvement ( a much stronger.. mustier flavour)

    Part of our reasoning to castrate is so we can keep them longer if we want to - we could not keep an intact ram, we just don't have the space, but a wether is possible.

    i do hope you are not expecting early lamb now via poor old Tillie!...

    annie... you dont eat lamb.. so I wouldn't worry about taint if I were you!

  4. When we haven't castrated before, the meat had a slight musty flavor. Hardly noticeable. I didn't mind it at all. I wouldn't say I liked it especially, but I just didn't notice much. I tend to smoke the roasts, chili or curry the ground (minced) lamb and stew, and I eat my chops with rosemary, so I would guess I am one of those folks who likes strong flavors, and my cooking habits would mask any untoward taste.

    Tillie was very stoic about these young rams' attentions. She allowed them to sniff, but that's all she allowed.


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