right now i am just in the thinking stages. what is a good hardy hair breed for lambs? i know wool breeds rule the market but i don't want to shear, ever. what causes lamb to take on the mutton taste is it age (hormone), feed or both?
Lamb doesn't get a mutton taste until it's a sheep! It's predominantly an age thing, anything under 18 mos should taste like "lamb". I find most people prefer the taste of older lamb and leaner lamb. Fat is where that tallowing flavour intrudes into the meat so leaner should taste better. Hair sheep should taste like lamb longer although I'm told it never really tastes correct to people who eat alot of lamb. My Muslim buyers won't touch hair sheep lamb. I can't say from experience how hair breeds keep but the little barbados don't look like they'd yeild much. Kathadins look decidedly average for such an expensive sheep. Dropers on the other hand look very interesting. Biggest problem with any breed where there are not alot available locally is bringing in new blood that will improve the traits you're hoping to improve. With decent numbers you can line breed in a closed flock yourself and not have that problem.
Feed can affect the taste lamb has, too much fish meal (have you ever seen a sheep fishing?) and the flavour will pass onto the meat. I would think any sharp flavoured feed in excess (like raw soy) might have that effect.
We have been raising both the Katahdin and Dorper hair sheep for several years. We find that the Dorper greatly improves the growth rate of our lambs while keeping a wonderful mild taste. We find the taste of wool sheep much stronger (tastes like the barn floor smells) due to presence of lanolin in the wool. Our hair sheep taste much like pork.
We find Katahdins and Dorpers are very hardy and prolific. Mothers do a great job raising their lambs. They will eat both our grass and underbrush very well. They are MUCH more docile than the few Barbados we once tried. I use my sheep for stock dog training as well and they work nicely for my dogs.
As the wool market continues to drop, we have found the hair sheep market quite demanding and profitable. We do have many ethnic buyers in our area that like the hair sheep just fine.
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