Sheep – lamb, hogget and mutton is our most ethically farmed meat. The UK sheep industry might be our last defence against the marching army that is factory farming. Sheep is the least intensively raised farm animal. 99% of sheep remain pasture feed and free range. Hence you don’t see ‘Free range’ on labels.
We typically refer to sheep meat as lamb as this is the most commonly consumed age, around 85%. The difference is the age the animal is slaughtered.
- Lamb is less than 12 months old, (typically 6-8 mths, spring lamb 3 mths)
- Hogget is 12-24 mths old / 1-2 yrs
- Mutton is over 24 mths old – 2yrs +
The UK sheep industry also gets the environmental thumbs up, not just for zero airmiles and low carbon footprint but also for the efficient meat production. Sheep are ruminants, they have a digestion system that means they can eat food (grass) that humans can’t, making them an efficient source of meat. Conversely, pigs and chickens eat food that could otherwise be fed to humans. Think world hunger…
*cows are also ruminants but can only be considered an efficient source of meat or dairy in an organic, pasture fed system. Intensively farmed cows are fed grain that could otherwise be fed to humans.
Sheep are perfectly designed to live in the UK, our climate and our landscape. Sheep can also live in our highlands, mountains, moorlands and areas that we wouldn’t otherwise farm.
Compared with other meats, the way sheep are raised and the age of slaughter, lamb it is a more ethical choice of meat, but we should not overlook hogget and mutton. Hogget and young mutton (2yrs) is far superior to lamb in my view, it has all the tenderness and much more flavour.
As ethical meat choices go it is the gold standard. The animal has had a longer and far better life quality than 99.9% of farm animals and the meat is amazing for texture and taste. Slow cooked as a roast, chops with BBQ sauce, a winter stew, mutton is a winner every time. For more info visit http://www.muttonrenaissance.org.uk
‘Now suppose, my pet, that we were married, and you were going to buy a shoulder of mutton for dinner would you know where to buy it?’ Charles Dickens (1812-1870) David Copperfield. Mutton used to be common place, so what happened? Wool used to be more valuable that meat so keeping a sheep for multiple seasons for their wool was the priority and the mutton was a by product. With the introduction of man made fibres in the 1960’s the price of wool plummeted meaning that it became more cost effective to farm lamb, giving the financial return as quickly to the farmer as possible. Today we need to recognise the true value of hogget and mutton, increase the demand and restore the financial balance allowing more farmers to produce it.
Where can you buy hogget or mutton? Mutton cuts often come from ewes coming out of service after their lamb production drops off. This meat is good for stews and curries but probably not for a roast. I would recommended buying lamb, hogget or mutton directly from a farm or specialist butchery outlet, there are many online options, they should be able to advise on the age and type of mutton. As with all meat there are varying degrees of quality. I will write a post dedicated to sourcing the best hogget and mutton.
Parting thoughts. I emphasis the UK sheep industry, check the label and buy British – We import a huge amount of lamb from New Zealand and other countries. Which is crazy if you think about it!