Well its no secret that New Zealand is famous for sheep. Wool and meat were two massive export industries until fairly recently when a change to wine and dairy cows and the desire for man-made textiles rather than wool meant that the sheep industry was in decline for a while. The national flock has gone from 70 million to 30 million over the last few years. However there is not as much money in grapes as there used to be and wool is becoming very fashionable again. This means that a lamb which used to sell for about $60 is now going for $200+ and ewes (female sheep) are going for even more. There was an auction last week where one went for $360 and a lamb $315. Thats just crazy!!!
There are 30 ewes on this farm and it is coming up to lambing, with most being pregnant. We got them in for shearing a few days ago, which the sheep don't like very much but oh well. When you shear them in mid-winter it means that once the baby is born they have to go find shelter themselves and so the lamb comes with them. If not, the sheep will quite happily stay out in the cold and rain while the lambs, still very small, will freeze to death. 5 lambs have been born so far and they are so cute!!! We have to catch them, find out if they are ewes or rams and put tags in their ears accordingly. This is like having your ears pierced with a large plastic earring but animals have a much greater capacity for pain then humans and after a few second they seem fine. You have to do it in the first few days, and catch them with a shepherds crook because after that there is no chance of outrunning them. Any lambs which are twins (so far of the 5 on is single and there are 2 sets of twins) will be kept as part of the permanent stock to breed and get wool from. singles lambs and rams will be kept till they are old enough to be weened then sent to the works to be sold as lamb. Some of the older sheep with deteriorating teeth will also be sold as mutton once their lambs are weened because you either keep them and let them starve to death when they struggle to eat or just shoot them so they die painlessly.
For dinner last night we had mutton, a mature sheep. Lambs are less than a year old, hoggit about 1-2 years and mutton is an adult. They taste slightly different and have different textures. Hoggit is the favorite here, having more meat then lamb but still the sweet, meaty flavor. We are having a leg of hoggit for dinner tonight so I will be excited to try it. Mutton is a different matter however. I've had it before, in a pie and being tough it is best for slow cookers and stews, so in the pie it was nice. We had it very differently, it was a Mutton flap. The flap is the belly, a very thing piece of meat surrounded by gristle and fat. (Incidentally fat in grass fed red meat is better for you than grain fed red meat, another reason to buy outdoor farmed foods rather than factory farmed ). We had it wrapped around a large amount of stuffing. I can only describe the portion by comparing to a beef wellington, where the stuffing was like the beef fillet, and the mutton flap was wrapped around like the pastry of the wellington. As it cooked the fat melted and dripped through the stuffing, it was very nice but I can't say I like the taste of the meat itself. It was a little tough and tasted like what sheep smell like. I couldn't get the smell of sheep droppings, unwashed wool, and the general smell of a farm out of my nose as I was eating, and covered it in stuffing, sauce and veges to hide the taste.
In between the sheep we have still been working on the vines, its taking forever!!!!