Here's how to butcher a lamb…
Two weeks ago, we said goodbye to our beloved ram lamb Guido, and hello to the most delicious meat I've ever tasted.
If you're on the fence, come to my farm. I'll roast you a rump roast that's been marinating in garlic and spices until it's cooked a perfect medium rare.
You'll take a bite…
… and then you'll beg me to let you come and live on the farm so you can eat this incredible lamb all year round.
… and I'll let you, of course, because I'm nice like that. But I'll make you promise to always do the dishes.
… and then together, we'll eat lots of delicious meals centered around succulent red meat that is far too often disregarded in our culture.
I think it's only fair to meat everywhere that even if you “don't like lamb” you give real, grass-fed lamb a try. Sourced from a local farm would be best. Because our Katahdin lamb was enough to even have my parents moaning in culinary bliss (they'd never had lamb before).
You're going to hear me talking a lot about lamb soon because we've decided to go into the meat sheep business. Over the next few years, we're going to work on expanding our Katahdin herd and preparing lamb for sale in the real marketplace.
It's just amazing. Seriously. I don't know how else to say it.
Couple that tender, fatty meat with the fact that these animals fatten quickly… and on grass!… and it's a recipe for perfection.
But before the recipes come the hard part. The butchering. So here's how to butcher a lamb.
How To Butcher A Lamb
1. Separate the lamb.
Withhold feed for 12-24 hours. This will ensure the rumen is empty come evisceration time (an empty gut is much easier to work with than a full one).
2. Kill the lamb.
Some prefer to slit the lambs throat. Others, like us, choose to shoot the lamb. The only essential is that the animal is calm and that the kill is instantaneous. It's very important to me that the animal remains happy until it's last moment and that the moment happens without any stress or struggle. Guido was shot with a .38 revolver in the back of the skull. He died instantly.
After he was shot, his throat was slit to help release the blood. I jumped into the pen and held his head and shoulders on my lap, using my hands to massage the blood out of his body, and gave thanks for him.
3. Hang the lamb.
There's a really strong tendon that runs on the back side of the leg. A quick poke with a knife through the back of the leg allows you to easily hang the lamb up by that tendon.
Oh wait… you mean that tendon? The tendon I just slit there with my super sharp knife? Fuh-get-about-it…
We used a gambrel and some basic wire to hang ours. Very primitive. No need for super-specialized equipment.
4. Skin the lamb.
There are a million methods to skinning a lamb, but the basics are very simple. We cut around the top of the leg and used a sharp knife to gently separate the skin from the flesh. After beginning, it was easy enough to push with our fingers and separate that way. The hide was cut inwards, along the butt of the lamb, towards the anus – which was tied off with a string to ensure that nothing left the backside and contaminated the meat – and then down the belly. After you cut around the anus, it's easy enough to pull the hide off (sort of like pulling a sweater off) until you get to the head.
By the way, the hide is currently curing in salt in our shop awaiting it's tanning destiny.
5. Remove the head.
Gently cut through the flesh at the top of the neck until you hit the spine. Located a vertebrae and cut between it and the next one. Use your hands to twist the lamb's head until it pops off, using your knife to separate any spare bits of flesh.
You should now have a skinned, headless carcass. You can remove the front hooves at this point, if you wish, by locating the first joint, bending the hoof with your hand, and using your knife to separate it at the joint.
6. Eviscerate the animal.
The process is very similar for every animal. DON'T PUNCTURE GUT-TOWN, man. Be careful! A small slit at the top will get it started – continue cutting down the belly of the carcass with just the tip of your knife – very shallow cuts.
Using your hands, work the innards free. I prefer my hands because I'm much less likely to puncture the guts with my fingers than with a knife. All that's in the body cavity needs to come out, by any means necessary.
We kept the liver, kidneys, and heart. The lungs and head went to Toby. The intestines were composted. Not an ounce wasted.
7. Rinse the lamb.
Your lamb should be hide-less, head-less, hoof-less, and gut-less. It should resemble a carcass hanging in a butcher shop. Once final rinse of water will ensure any stray hairs or dirt have been removed.
8. Age the lamb.
Our lamb was then placed in a canvas bag and hung in an outside tree for 1 week to age. The temperature was perfect for this: between 36 and 43 degrees. If you butcher at a warm time of year, you'll want to refrigerate the carcass. This helps the flavors to develop, the muscles to relax, and some of the moisture to dissipate.
9. Butcher the carcass into cuts.
After one week, we brought the carcass inside and spent a few hours butchering it ourselves. We watched this fantastic video that walked us through a step-by-step process on how to cut up the carcass and since doing the Farmstead Meatsmith's class last fall with our pigs, we felt a lot more confident in recognizing bones, cuts, etc.
Although, take note, you'll want a pretty hefty bone saw to do this part. We had a weeny one and it was a lot of work – a lot more than it would have been if we just had the right bone saw to begin with.
Sharp knife. Hefty bone saw. Easy peasy.
Each cut was wrapped in plastic wrap and then in butcher paper before it was labeled and put into the deep freeze.
If you've never raised your own meat, there's simply no way to describe the incredible joy that comes from stepping back and staring at the final product. Guido was a beautiful ram – a ram fed by our own hands each day. We cared for him.
… and that care, that dedication, that commitment to him, makes the pleasure of his sacrifice and life-sustaining meat all the more appreciated.
Every bite is savored. And not an ounce is wasted.
More posts on Sheep:
- The Sheep Saga
- Why You Need Sheep
- Preparing for Sheep on the Farm
- Preparing for Lambing
- Lambing in Winter