Thoughtful, that's us. As summer ends and fall begins, it's time to feed humans. Since this blog is about the education of a shepherd, it's time to address the delicate subject of turning animals into meals. I'll be honest, completing the cycle is a bit of a struggle for this shepherd. I spend hundreds of hours birthing, growing, caring for the health of the sheep. So, to change gears in order to begin completion is a bit tough. Yet, humans will eat meat. If I can do my part to allow Nova Scotians to eat meat that they can know without a doubt, had a wonderfully easy life, then I think I am doing a positive thing in the circle of life. When I hear from people..."So glad to know there is local, ethical meat"...."The meat flavour is so delicate" , my work feels worthwhile. It is really important to me that people enjoy the flavour and care how their meals were raised. It makes me happy to know that my work is being celebrated as a good meal , often shared with friends, that the meat is celebrated amidst a feeling of warmth and camaraderie.
I am hearing from folks that the flavour of my lamb meat is delicate. You can never be sure why this is but I can have my theories. First of all, the animals have absolutely incredible summer pasture, rich, lush and full of varied grasses and clovers. I think not to be disregarded is the fact that these animals live a life completely without stress. Ask my brother. He says I work way too hard catering to the critters. Don't all shepherds go stand in a field and have sheep walk up to them to be scratched...yes, just right there please, that's right, ahhh, yes. Ok, maybe I am a bit anal about the nurturing. I do it for two reasons. One, if I am going to be responsible for growing supper, I will ensure that supper has a life that wants for nothing. Second, if I am going to provide the main part of a meal that someone works hard to prepare to share with friends or family I want people to sit around the table and say, wow that is delicious. Basically I want both one and two to be completely satisfied.
So enough of the why.
It is completion time. Having a lot more lambs this year means I have more product to sell. I have to spread the word. So this summer I learned how to build a website. What I learned is it is not difficult, it just takes a whole lot of time. Too many nights sitting in front of a computer until I fell asleep while I was choosing photos and making font look just so. Eventually , and just in time to start letting people know of the availability of meat, the website was ready to go public.
So, the word's out. What is the response? I have met wonderful people who have enjoyed lamb meat and understand why I fuss with the animals.
On the other hand , I also hear "I have never eaten lamb meat." Yup, another little hitch in the business model. To sell a product, people actually have to know and understand what it is you are selling. So, why have so many Nova Scotians not tasted lamb meat? Perception or just never an opportunity? Unsure how to cook it?
"The Healing Gourmet" thinks lamb meat is often overlooked when choosing a meat meal.
There are other ways to sell sheep other than my preference to sell it directly to people who will celebrate a special day with a lamb recipe or to local restaurants who will design delicious lamb meals for their guests.
I could take animals to a stockyard and sell them all quickly and easily that way. However, it is difficult to tell the stockyard manager that because of my philosophy of staying with the animals from beginning to completion (end) , the buyer may be surprised at the "extra" he buys. . Somehow I think stockyard customers that would purchase my sheep may take issue with my crawling in the back of their truck and making a trip to Quebec , where much of the product ends up going. Quebecois eat a lot of lamb and make the trip to Nova Scotia each week to pick up the efforts of shepherds around NS. Instead, I will continue to try to develop a relationship with Nova Scotian consumers and restaurants that want to know where and how the product on their plate has been raised.
So, personalizing individual customers' first orders of the season begins close to the lambs' home.
With the help of some professionals, animals are being completed, the meat is hung for a few days and then cut in various shapes and sizes by men that know what they are doing.
As potential customers consider what they want for their winter meals they tend to ask me about meat cuts. Now I could say, "Do you know who you are talking to? If you want to know how to get a newborn lamb to suck on its mother's teat I could probably help you. If you want to know how many trips in a tractor it takes to clean a stall I could tell you 20 bucketfuls for certain. I might even be able to suggest what flavour of salt block sheep like best. Cuts of meat? Not a chance." However, knowing that people expect me to know what is actually under the skin of the animals I grow, I decided I best ask around for an education in meat cuts. Who better to tell you that you know absolutely nothing about meat than a butcher? My butcher hung a completed carcass in front of me and proceeded to point out body parts and then referred to a poster noting the variety of meals each body part could become. Oh, I say..... so if you use the loin for that meal, then I guess you cannot also have the loin cut into that meal.....a common mistake of individuals, thinking they can have every cut on the poster. The education continued when I was told by the Butcher that the next step in the education was that I would show up to see each and every animal be cut for 2016's first meat orders. I counted his fingers before and after each event with the meat saw, amazed to see that after years of work he has 10 full fingers.
Regular exams throughout the day became the norm. Do you remember spot quizzes in school and just how much you enjoyed them?
"Is that a sirloin chop or a rib chop" was a common spot quiz during butcher day. The prize when I got it right was a smile from the butcher very much like David Carradine gave his disciple in the tv show Kung Fu... "Ah, Grasshopper, you are finally learning."
The initial response to the first sale of lamb meat 2016 in early September has been very positive. I cannot express strongly enough my appreciation for those that are sharing my shepherding adventure by purchasing meat. Now the challenge ahead: is to connect with new lamb meat consumers in the coming months. Are there enough of my type of customer ? To use my mother's favourite philosophical response to any difficult question...."We'll see, dear".