Cruel to be kind? Why I plan to eat and enjoy my home-reared lamb.

This blog might come back to haunt me. You might read it back to me in six months’ time and say ‘told you so’ if I’ve then become vegetarian. But, notwithstanding the potential for egg on face, I need to get it off my chest.

I LOVE meat. I was once described by a colleague as a ‘meatatarian’ such is my love of the stuff. I’ve eaten all manor of weird and wonderful flesh in my time – perhaps most memorable were ‘bulls jewels’ in Tatranska Lomnica, Slovakia (I wouldn’t rush to do so again, but I reckon I’m well qualified for the challenges of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here if I was, in fact, a celebrity (although that doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite these days!)). Anyway, fact is, I enjoy a good steak or roast chicken or, more to the point, roast lamb.

And guess what? I keep sheep. I’ve only got a few, but for the last fifteen months, I’ve diligently learnt how to care for them and enjoy watching them idle around the field, happily keeping the grass down. As part of the learning journey (for me and them!), they went off on a sexy sojourn in November to meet Rambo and do the sexy business. There’s an old saying, ‘in with a bang, out with the fools’ meaning a bit of lover-lover with Rambo on fireworks night (5th November), lambs born April Fools’ Day. So, as that date draws near, attention is turning to the prospect of the new arrivals gambolling in the sun. But more of that another day. For now, I want to confront a few issues that have arisen with the principle of rearing sheep.

Invariably, when I mention that I’ll have lambs in April, people are excited – who doesn’t love a fluffy lamb and who wouldn’t want to bottle-feed an orphan? There’s much talk of seeing a lamb born as a child and the memory sticking long in the memory. And then the conversation goes something along the lines of, ‘but you won’t kill them will you? You’ll keep them as pets?’ If I had £1 for everyone that’s said that, I could buy a frozen leg of lamb. And the conversation continues with, ‘you won’t be able to do it. They’ll be like pets. It’s cruel.’

And so that’s what I want to get off my chest. I AM planning to slaughter and butcher my lambs. I AM going to fill my freezer with prime, grass-fed meat. At Christmas, we’re not having turkey, we’re going to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus with the roasting of a baby sheep. Does that make me cruel? Or, does it make me compassionate?

The answer is: compassionate.  Why? Because I shall know that that animal will have had the best life possible – there aint many sheep that enjoy prime organic pasture with a sea-view on the north coast of Jersey with a doting human ‘mum’! It will be treated humanely, properly fed, vaccinated and sheltered. It will frolic throughout the summer with its siblings.

Now compare that to a supermarket bought joint. It’s packaged in plastic. No doubt the word ‘farm’ will appear on the pack but that’s more than likely a made-up ‘ye olde English’ farm name to make you think the animal was reared on some bucolic hillside, whereas in fact, it will have been mass-produced, probably not even in Britain. Even if you buy with care, do you know what you’re getting? Take this Waitrose hotpot as an example.

Apparently it’s ‘British lamb hotpot’ – except it’s made with New Zealand lamb. Would you notice? Any idea how that animal has been reared and processed? Concerned about food miles? New Zealand lamb’s probably not your best bet.

And let’s consider the quality of some meat. Intensive farming and supermarket demand mean pressure is on to produce high yield, low cost carcasses. Time is the enemy of profit – birth them, feed them, kill them – all as quickly as you can. Hardly conducive to natural growth and quality of life.

Whilst my decision to rear and slaughter my lambs may seem ‘cruel’, just think about it next time you buy a plastic pack of supermarket meat. What did it take to get it there? Where has that animal come from? Did it ever see the sun or graze on fresh pasture or peck around outdoors? Do you know what it’s been injected with, and what you are about to consume? Or do you prefer not to think about it, as long as it’s pink and trimmed and ready to cook?

Of course, it’s all about choice. But if you do think about these things, and if budget allows, buy local, support local farmers and good animal welfare. Buy meat your grandmother would recognize (what even is a turkey twizler?!) and avoid processed meat, unless it’s from the butcher who processed it. You’ll be doing local businesses and farmers and their employees a favour. But as importantly, you’ll know the origin of your meat and whether it’s been treated well. And it’ll probably be a damn-sight more tasty than some ‘plastic’ rubbish!

So, next time someone alleges cruelty at the prospect of my bringing lambs into the world to eat, I’ll direct them to this blog together with the no-doubt idyllic spring lambing blogs that I’ll be posting over the coming months. And I’ll agree that yes, it’ll be awful when the day comes to wave the lambs off to the abbatoir. I’ll be in pieces. But I’ll take comfort in knowing that I have given them a fantastic life and that by eating them, I am not buying cheap, poor quality meat which was reared abroad. And that’s got to be better for me, my family and the animals themselves than picking up some sanitised, processed, hard to identify plastic-packed meat from the supermarket. Now, just need to get my kids on message…

Learning how to body condition the pregnant ewes with my sheep mentor Jenni (in the hat). Animal welfare is key to ensuring healthy mums and lambs.

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