We are often asked what it is that makes our lamb so special, or at least different to other products. To be honest, it is hard to know where to start: We aim to produce the tastiest, most tender, natural meat by the most sustainable means and with the least impact on the World. That sounds like quite a challenge, so how do we go about it?
- We are organic. It is a common assumption most sheep are “just about organic”, but this is sadly far from the case. Our Soil Assocation organic licence is rigorously audited each year to ensure that we use no routine antibiotics or medicines (in fact we used no antibiotics at all last year), no feeds or mineral supplements with any gmo ingredients and that we maintain the highest standards of animal welfare at all times. We are not allowed to apply any chemical fertilisers or herbicides on the land and we have to work to a plan for developing long-term fertility rather than farming the top two inches of our soil. Whilst this is all a challenge, we have been here long enough to understand our fields and our sheep sufficiently to work with them to meet these standards and we are firm believers that Soil Association organic is a trusted brand for our clients.
- We are pasture fed. Again it would be fair to assume that sheep eat grass – but whilst they do, many sheep are also fed lots of other stuff including imported, grain-based concentrates with added soya, ammonium chloride, copper inhibitor and vitamin E. Our sheep eat grass and hay from the farm, full stop. We can do this because all our land consists of traditional mixed pasture, with many different varieties of grass and herbs to provide a balanced diet for our stock. Pasture fed lamb has a number of other advantages; fewer food miles, leaner, tastier meat, greatly reduced carbon footprint and suitability for specialist diets such as Paleo. There are lots of claims made about grass-fed meat, but only a select few farms are accredited by the Pasture Fed Livestck Association, who set the benchmark for pasture-fed meat. We are one of only three farms in Wales to be PFLA accredited and we are proud to have met their rigorous standards.
- Our choice of sheep. We farm pedigree Black Welsh Mountain sheep – a traditional breed that suits the upland grass of our farm. We have a closed flock of more than 300 sheep that we have bred from a starter flock of just six over a period of fifteen years. This means that our lambs are closely matched to our grass and can make the best use of it throughout the year. Black Welsh Mountain sheep are renowned for their lean and tender meat and we build on this by maturing them slowly for at least 15 months, as opposed to 15 weeks for mainstream commercial lambs, selling them as hogget lambs. This longer maturation period allows the meat to develop more complexity of flavour, whilst retaining its texture and tenderness and without building the excess fat that comes from feeding cereal-based supplements.
- Focusing on the soil. We believe that healthy soils make for healthy food and so are very careful to build fertility and resilience in our soil. This means no ploughing (most of our fields have not been ploughed for more than a hundred years), maintaining a balance of mixed grasses, clover and herbs, minimising tractor use and encouraging wildlife by looking after our hedges and field margins. All this helps to reduce compaction and allow air into the soil, which boosts growth and allow the grass to take up micro-nutrients from the soil more efficiently. Critically, it also helps build our earthworm populations; allowing worms to take dead leaves and organic matter from the surface and replacing it with mineral rich worm casts. Worms are incredible animals, living for up to ten years in permanent burrows and forming a vital part of our ecosystem. You may be surprised to know that in a healthy field of cows, the weight of earthworms beneath the soil should be greater than the weight of the cows grazing the grass!
- Careful processing by excellent partners. We have learnt from experience that it is no good producing the finest lambs, only to see them devalued by poor processing. We are delighted to work with the organically approved abbatoir facilities at Bromhalls of Stonehose and the excellent hanging and butchery at Model Farm, Ross on Wye. Our hogget lambs are hung for a minimum of two weeks prior to being butchered and so it is critical that they are kept in the right conditions. Many butchers struggle to keep hanging spaces dry enough, as they are continually opening cold room doors, allowing moisture to enter. Model Farm is a low volume processor providing perfectly controlled conditions for gently ageing the meat and the results reflect this.
- Our customers. The final link in the chain is the customer and we are very fortunate to work with some excellent chefs and private individuals who really value what we do, as well as enjoying the unique taste of our lamb. We only sell direct, as we want to maintain the connection between producer and end user. We hope that you will enjoy our lamb and trust that you will agree that our approach has really brought results. We want Black Welsh Lamb to be the best meat you have ever tasted, as well as being part of a positive approach to the environment.