Your food has a story, and it starts with the American farmer.
Welcome to my second #Farmer blog post. This is a blog series where I will be introducing the reader (that's you!) to farmers who grow the food you eat and the clothes you wear. Each farmer lets me into their home for an afternoon to sit down and talk about what farming means to them. I record the conversations, take a few pictures, and leave with an ever-growing appreciation for the American Farmer and Rancher.
Let me introduce you to Deb, a Kansas sheep farmer.
Deb was kind enough to welcome me, a complete stranger, into her home to talk about her passion for farming and ranching. I loved how much she has thought about pasture management and the wise use of antibiotics in her livestock.
In addition to being a kind-hearted, compassionate, and wonderful human being, she has been farming and ranching on the same plot of land for the past 32 years. Although she also raises Hereford cattle and grows wheat, her flock of Rambouillet (pronounced Ram-boo-lay) sheep are her true passion. She’s wise and experienced, and you can just feel the sense of knowledge and wisdom she has for her land as she treks with her two dogs checking on the health of her flock. Deb often sells her Kansas-grown lamb at local farmers markets.
It may surprise you, but lamb was once the most commonly eaten meat in the United States prior to WW2. However, during WW2, Australia, New Zealand, and several other Allies to the war effort were kind and generous enough to feed American troops with affordable mutton. For those of you who aren’t savvy on the phrase mutton, it is meat that comes from sheep that are several years old. Unlike fresh American lamb, this meat is often fragrant, strong tasting, and tough. Soldiers sure got their fill of mutton during the war effort, and upon returning to the United States, wanted nothing to do with lamb again. Lamb takes time to cook and is a meat for those who want to take the time to perfect a meal , and with the popularity of the microwave and dual-income houses following WW2, the desire to cook lamb diminished.
However, meat isn’t the only thing that sheep offer. Many sheep are also bred for their wool. Deb raises Rambouillets which, in addition to providing excellent meat, also have some of the finest wool fibers in the world with the exception of the Merino breed that is popular in Australia, New Zealand, and parts of the U.S.
Contrary to what you might read on websites such as PETA or HSUS, sheep are not hurt during the shearing process. In fact, it’s more like getting a haircut than anything else. How would I know? I've shorn hundreds of them.
Yes, it is true, every once and a while a sheep might be nicked by the shears during the process, but heck, my mother cut off a piece of my ear giving me a haircut once. In her defense, it was a small piece, and I’ve since forgiven her with the exception of the occasional guilt trip.
A few interesting facts about sheep.
- Sheep are ideal grazing animals that can be found grazing everywhere from lush pastures, to mountain tops, to the driest of deserts across the world.
- Sheep have two sets of eyelids per eye.
- Sheep are ideal in grazing areas that other species cannot. You may often find smaller breeds like the Dorper grazing the weeds beneath grape vines at wineries.
- The very first wine flasks were made out of sheep stomachs.
- According to Cornell University, sheep are vital in preventing wildfires because they are adept to grazing vegetation, specifically noxious weeds, on public and private lands.
- Sheep have four compartments to their stomach. This allows them to efficiently digest grass.
- Lambs spend the vast majority of their time on pastures.
- Not all sheep have horns. The absence of horns (called polled) is a genetic trait.
- Sheep naturally produce an oil in their skin called lanolin, which makes great hand moisturizer and is also fire resistant
Have you ever had lamb? What’s your favorite way to prepare it? If not, what's preventing you? I personally love it BBQ'd with just a little garlic.
I would like to thank Deb for allowing me into her farm and her home. I was truly touched by the pride you have for farming and ranching and your dedication to your sheep and the health of your pastures.
If you would like to learn more about lamb, visit http://www.americanlamb.com
Also, if you know of a local farmer you would like me to introduce the world to, send an email my direction at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Stebner is an agricultural photographer based out of Kansas. He creates powerful, cinematically-styled environmental portraits to inspire the agricultural community. He is available for world-wide travel.