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Lamb is the oldest domesticated meat species. For thousands of years man has raised sheep for meat to eat, wool for clothing, skin for parchment, as well as milk for butter and cheese. Sheep were raised by humans 9,000 years ago in the Middle East, and all along the  Mediterranean.  Sheep made it to North America with the Spanish conqueror of Mexico, Hernando Cortes, in 1519. Over 2,000 years ago, the Greeks and Romans brought sheep to England. Later, sheep were brought to the United States in the early 1800s. From Asia, to Europe, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and around the world, lamb has been an important and versatile staple. From Biblical times, lamb is considered to be blessed.

Lamb is meat from sheep less than 1 year old. Today, most of the lamb  is from 6 to 8 months old. So- called “Spring lamb” means that the lamb was harvested between March and October. The term comes from times past when lambs born in harsh winter weather hardly survived until the following spring. Today the sheep are provided shelter from wind and snow.

It has been estimated that there are more than 100,000 sheep farms in the United States. A great number of these farms are completely natural, that is, the sheep are naturally grass fed in pastures with free access to well and spring water. The sheep are never given antibiotics, growth stimulants, steroids, or any other chemical additives. They are not grain fed and never exposed to feedlot conditions. Some routine maintenance shots may be given the sheep for tetanus, overeating disease, and lamb hood disease. By raising the sheep outdoors on pasture, their manure is spread over a wide area of land, making it a welcome source of organic fertilizer, and not a “waste management problem” as is the case with animals quartered in feedlots.

What is a feedlot? A type of animal feeding operation consisting of a confined pen or enclosure, which is used in factory farming for finishing livestock, notably beef cattle, but also swine, horses, sheep, turkeys, chickens or ducks, prior to slaughter. Prior to entering a feedlot, sheep spend most of their life grazing on pastureland. Once they reach an entry-level weight and age, they are transferred to a feedlot to be fed a “specialized diet” and then from there, after reaching their finished weight, they are transported to a slaughterhouse.

The “specialized diet” usually consists of high grains such as corn, barley, milo (a sorghum), and/or wheat. However, ruminants such as sheep are designed to eat fibrous grasses, plants, and shrubs and not starchy, low-fiber grain. Switching from pasture greens to grains causes the sheep to become afflicted with a number of disorders. This could lower the nutritional value of the meat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has okayed Zeronal, a synthetic hormone used to promote efficient growth in feedlot lambs. The hormone is implanted on the lamb’s ear and is time released for about 30 days. A withholding period of 40 days is required before slaughter.

Antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat disease in lambs. A recommended withholding period is required from the time antibiotics are administered until it is legal to slaughter the animal. This is so residues can exit the animal’s system.

This is why you need to buy the natural raised lamb. Of course the USDA does not really differentiate between natural and feedlot raised animals. The USDA states:

  • “All fresh meat qualifies as ‘natural’. Products labeled ‘natural’ cannot contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient: and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed (ground, for example). All products claiming to be natural should be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term ‘natural’”.
  • Lamb is not marbled (fat in the meat) as is beef. Over half of the fat in lamb is unsaturated. Only 36% of the fat in lamb is saturated. Most of the unsaturated fat is monounsaturated, commonly found in a healthy Mediterranean-type diet.Lamb contains the fat that is good for you, consumed directly as part of the essential omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA), a liquid unsaturated acid.  Lamb is one of the richest sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), part of the omega-6,  possessing unique and potent antioxidant activity . CLA cannot be manufactured in the human body. Most of the lamb’s fat is on the outside edges and is easily trimmed. Only 175 calories, on average, in a 3 ounce serving. This is about 7% of the average caloric intake recommended for a 23-to-50 year old man.Lamb is an excellent natural source of high quality protein. The protein in lamb is nutritionally complete, with all 8 essential amino acids in the proper ratio. A three ounce serving provides 43% of an adult male’s Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein.As a source of  easily absorbed iron,  an average portion of lamb provides 20% of the RDA  intake for men and 12% for women. Iron is vital in the formation of red blood cells. Lamb provides 45% of the daily requirement of zinc, essential for growth, healing and a healthy immune system.

    Lamb is a great source of B vitamins, essential for metabolic reactions in the body. Lamb provides over 100% of the RDA of B12, (found solely in animal meat), for normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. A good source also of thiamine (B1), essential to normal metabolism and nerve function.

    Trace mineral elements such as copper, manganese and selenium are also found in lamb.

  • Lamb meat is an excellent source of high quality protein.
  • Lamb meat is an ideal source of iron. An average portion can provide 20 per cent of the recommended daily intake for men and 12 per cent for women. The iron found in lamb meat and other red meat is in a form that is easily absorbed by the body. The inclusion of iron in the diet is vital in the formation of red blood cells.
  • Lamb meat provides 45 per cent of the daily requirement of zinc, essential for growth, healing and a healthy immune system. Like iron, the zinc found in lamb meat is more easily absorbed by the body than zinc found in other sources.
  • Lamb meat is a great source of B vitamins, essential for metabolic reactions in the body. It can provide over 100 per cent of the daily requirement of B12 and is a good source of thiamine.
  • Lamb meat also contains trace elements such as copper, manganese and selenium.
  • As a result of breeding developments, feeding practices, butchery methods and trimming, the fat in lamb meat has been greatly reduced over the past 20 years. For example, Lamb Leg Steaks may contain as little as 5.1 per cent fat.
  • Half the fat in lamb meat is unsaturated, which is good for you. Most of the unsaturated fat is monounsaturated, commonly found in the healthy ‘Mediterranean-type diet’