Thursday, 20 November 2014

Lean pickings

"But I don't want to go"

I am still learning about smallholding every day, but over the last couple of weeks I've learned a big lesson about keeping sheep. For the time has been and gone for some of them to go on their final journey. Along with the sheep I bought from the Rare Breeds Centre went the small Shetland ram who for some reason had avoided the snip when he was little.

The plan was that eight of these would go to the butchers and be sold on as meat. The Shetland lamb and Number Six (who was always the runt of the pack) I was to just get 'processed' at the abattoir and then they were to have a special role being used at the Fenland Smallholders Butchery Group for Phil to teach us how to butcher our own lamb. It's not as violent or as gory as it sounds. Back to that later.

I had been a little worried about the size of the sheep this year. I didn't get them till it was very late and they seemed to take an age to really begin growing. On top of that, the grass has been nowhere near so lush as in previous years. I also somewhat rashly ended up with a few too many sheep. Don't worry, it's not as if they are skeletal or even skinny, it's just that they didn't seem to have grown to such bulky proportions as last year's lambs.

So I was expecting that they might come in a little under the 16-18kg I was hoping for. Maybe 13 - 15 at the lowest. As for the smallest two, I thought they might make about 10 and 12kg.
Well, how wrong I was! When I picked up the first batch from the butchers, only two of them came in above 10kg. The smallest was less than 7kg!

This was disappointing to say the least.
Firstly, I would have to let them go at half the price I was hoping for and hope that people still wanted what I could offer them. On the plus side, at least it would be nice lean meat.
Secondly, it was embarrassing that I had not managed to properly fatten up my lambs.
Thirdly, I still had a flock of Shetlands and it had become clear that I would not be wanting to carry so many sheep through the winter or through next year.

The Shetlands enjoying a frosty morning last week.
Fortunately I was still able to sell the lambs as meat, though I made no money on them. That doesn't really matter as they keep the grass under control and I enjoy keeping them. I probably still ran out about even on them. I decided that the second batch of four (my butcher is a small, traditional butcher and cannot handle 8 lambs in one week) could go off this weekend anyway. I would be fighting a losing battle trying to fatten them up at this time of year when I still had other sheep to look after.

I was feeling a little down in the dumps about things when on Wednesday evening Sue and I turned up at Phil's holding onto our two skinny rats. But some time in the company of friends did wonders, or was it the couple of beers we supped down the pub afterwards?
Cutting up a lamb carcass was considerably more straightforward than I expected. My last attempt at learning butchery left me completely befuddled and feeling out of my depth - probably shouldn't have started with a whole pig. Also the bloke was a good butcher but a terrible teacher!
We had a very enjoyable and educational time at Phil's and I will certainly be having a go at my own lamb butchery in the future, at least those which I intend to consume myself.

Two of these have gone now.
And Doc (foreground) is moving up nearer the house to fatten up.
So that's that for the moment. The commercial sheep have gone. The Norfolk Horn ram who started black and ended up white with a black head, has gone. Houdini the White-faced Woodland who was seemingly impervious to electric fence, has gone.
I am left with just Shetlands. But my aim is to separate four of them and fatten them up for about February. Then, next year, there will most definitely be a different Sheep Plan. There will be considerably fewer, that's for sure. I may slim down the Shetland flock even further and keep them as special meat just for us.

In a moment I am off to pick up the second batch of lambs from the butcher. They were the largest out of the group, so lets hope that they at least make double figures and a little bit more with a bit of luck. I'm certainly not setting my hopes too high though.

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