Friday, March 30, 2007

Easter is coming

I have had such a nice time watching the lambs grow this year, photographing them for you and me, and documenting their progress. I knew what was coming next and have been trying not to think about it. For the past three Tuesdays, The Farmer has been taking lambs to the local livestock auction in Whately. With Easter approaching, this is the time of year when lambs are worth the most money. It is also the time that The Farmer’s other business, the one that pays most of the bills around here, starts to pick up. And so, many of the lambs have been leaving the farm.

Taking lambs to market is a total crapshoot. We never know which buyers will be there and how much the buyers will be paying. (Most of the buyers are middle men who truck the lambs to a slaughterhouse and then market them to butchers throughout the Northeast.) We don’t know what other farmers will be bringing their lambs either – the more lambs there are, the less they usually bring. Farm raised lambs come from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts to be sold at this market. All of these lambs are raised by farmers like us and are good quality, spring lambs.

The Farmer unloads the sheep and they are tagged with an ear tag to identify each one along with the newly required US Government National Animal Identification System Tag (read more about this here). The lambs are held in a pen and then late in the afternoon, they are individually taken into the sale room floor. They are weighed on a scale and then the buyers look and bid. It all happens very quickly – in about 30 seconds they are sold.

Each week, the selling price is quickly established – it is usually related to the weight of the lamb. Of course, how the lamb looks also helps. A sickly looking animal goes for barely anything (although I must say, none of the animals ever look sick.) Shortly before Easter, the magic weight for the highest price was between 30 and 46 pounds. (The guy in the green hat in the photo below was paying the most money.) On Tuesday, there were 300 lambs. Last week there were only 60. You can guess that we got a better price last week. But the price this week wasn’t bad and we can’t complain. After the Easter flurry dies down, the auction price of the lamb plummets.

I consider the auction a bit of entertainment in the countryside. When you walk into the auction hall, there is usually the smell of billy goat (the goats are auctioned just before the sheep). A bunch of retired farmers hang around all day shooting the breeze. The talk, as you can imagine ranges from farming, livestock, weather, prices, the government and more farming. There is a lunch counter which is busy all day.

For the past couple years, The Farmer, Julia and I have been going to the auction to see the lambs being sold late in the afternoon. When I see our first lamb enter the auction floor, my heart always sinks. But then I swallow hard and get over it and start to pay attention to who is bidding and how much the lamb is going for. I think it is good for Julia (and me) to see the process of selling of the lambs. It’s easy to get all wrapped up in the cute, sweet, fluffiness factor of the sheep and lambs and then forget about what we are really doing here. We watch them being loaded into the trailers and then wait for the check – hoping it will be decent enough to contribute to paying our tax bill. We don’t know where the lambs go nor whose table they will be on for Easter. We do know that we have produced a good quality product and can be proud of it.

We still have about fifty lambs and 150 (?) sheep left on the farm – it’s really hard to count. Some were too small to go to the auction. Some of the better ewe lambs we will keep for breeding stock. Some of the lambs we are going to grow out through the summer on pasture. We had two new sets of twins last week and there should be more coming later this spring.

I am seriously looking into marketing our grass fed lambs to the “foodie” crowd – either here in the Pioneer Valley or Boston. (I thank many of you for cheering me on.) On Tuesday, I ran into Diane Kanzler, the main organizer of Franklin County’s Fiber Twist and a party at our local yarn store Northern Woolies. She gave me some good starting points and we’ll see where it goes from here. I’m not sure if I will be doing the Farmer’s Market circuit or not. So, if you are interested in a grass fed lamb of know anyone who is, send me an e-mail and I will put you on my list.


Peg-woolinmysoup said...

Just cannot think about those dear little faces as I eat my lamb shanks tomorrow night!
I would put in an order, but shipping to Vancouver Island is prohibitive. The lambs from Saltspring Island (between Victoria and Vancouver in the Strait) are the most prized lambs in these parts.
Good luck!

Janice said...

Where is the lamb with the white heart on its side?

Anonymous said...

Those lambs look like they're actually wearing knitted sweaters!


Søren said...

hey, I'm from Whately! But I don't recognize any of those farmers. :) DAMN, I forgot to go to the Northern Woolies party! I meant to, I haven't looked at their new space yet.