Election Special – A Sheep’s Perspective (Retrospectively)

So – election time again and we’ve got a few things to say. If sheep could vote (which they still can’t despite years of campaigning for eweniversal suffrage) things could really change.

For a start, we need more wooly thinking: It’s time we saw a fair price for our hard-grown locks. We’ve been fleeced by successive governments and there is no sign of a change. We demand action to fight off competition from unsustainable, oil-based products and put wool back on all our backs.

Next; Universal tagging for all species. We enjoy full traceability by being individually tagged from birth and even have our own unique QR code, so you know exactly where we have been. Even dogs have microchips these days, so time you humans caught up.
Sorting out the Nation’s food. We only eat grass and hay off the farm; we know exactly where it comes from and what goes into it. So should everyone, so eat Pasture-Fed for a better life.
Saving the NHS. We are fully organic, so would only ever see an antibiotic or chemical medicine if it was a matter of life or death. Too many sheep (and people) get fed antibiotics like smarties; no wonder they don’t work anymore.
Finally, the environment. We pasture-fed sheep have much lower emissions than most and our farms have a tiny carbon footprint. So to be green, vote pasture-fed.

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It’s all kicking off here

When the weather is as lovely as its been this month it is the best time here at Pen y Wyrlod Farm. We’ve been lambing for three weeks and now nearly a hundred little black lambs are racing around the fields as their mothers bleat for them to return.

Lamb2

Our lambs are mainly born outside but some years we have to take them into the old stone barn for a night or two if it’s cold and wet. This year the weather has been so kind they have all been able to be outside – starting their life on our organic ancient pasture.

Sarah

It’s not just happy lambs that have been making us feel good about life. We’ve welcomed back the first of the swallows that flew off to Africa as the autumn came.Swallow

And for the first time we have ducklings! We found this nest with 11 eggs on the edge of one of our ponds, but four days later the eggs disappeared and we thought the mother had been chased off.

Eggs

But this week she turned up – with a whole bunch of unfeasible cute ducklings swimming along behind her……..

Ducks

But the dawn chorus, the swallows and the ducklings are merely a happy distraction . The really important arrival this April has been lots of fresh, lush grass for our sheep to eat.

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And that’s why our lamb is so special; ancient pastures, organically nurtured and rare breed sheep allowed to grow as nature intended. The result is fantastic tasting lean lamb, hogget and mutton with the goodness of nature passed on to you!

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All In

Down here at Black Welsh Lamb we are relieved to have a barn full of hay to see us through the winter. Being grass-fed means that we have to rely more than most people on a good store, as we can’t fall back on cereal-based feeds if the hay runs out.

Haymaking; a hugely romantic, traditional aspect of farming is one of the most stressful times of the year for us.

2016 Hay

2016 Hay

Our participation in the Glas Tir environmental scheme means that we cannot cut grass until after the 15th July, which as any parent knows, is when school holidays start and good weather ends. Sometimes we can take advantage of young farmers’ need for cash the week before the Royal Welsh Show to get our permanent hay meadow contract mowed, turned and baled before the rain sets in. This year, however, the RWS dates meant that it didn’t happen, but neither did the rain and we finally cut in the first week of August.

It takes three or four days of decent sun to make really good hay and so the combination of good weather, perfect grass and decent availability of kit and labour is vital to getting things right. The idea of making good hay is that it bottles up sunshine to bring out in the winter. Any rain on it will grey out the sun and make the crop dull and lifeless.

2015_437

Plenty of grass at the moment

However, no matter how carefully you choose your week to make hay, there is an unwritten rule that the weather forecast will change about ten minutes after the grass is cut. We had a guaranteed week of sun this year, but as the mowers left, the clouds gathered and the threat of rain grew real. A few spots here and there, but the clouds subsided and we moved back into glorious sun. After a couple of sleepless nights, our beardy neighbour Tom rowed up and baled 350 bales of the best hay we have ever made. A few hours later we had it in the barn, where it rests, gently putting out a glorious hay smell and sitting ready for the winter to come.

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And the odd thistle

The sheep haven’t noticed yet, as we have plenty of nice late summer grass to concentrate on (and the odd thistle), but soon they will welcome it as a reminder of when days were long and and the sun shone bright.

For us, the hay is a passport to making sure we can offer the finest pasture-fed lamb and hogget for our loyal customers. Without it, life would be dull indeed. So here’s to a barn full of the finest and a successful winter ahead.

“There is no reason to fear the wind if your stack of hay is well tied” – Traditional Irish proverb

Our hoggets are available to order from the end of August. We supply whole of half sheep and the average weight is around 15-20Kg (including bones). We can deliver anywhere.

Drop us a line at baa@blackwelshlamb.com to enquire.

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So what’s so special about Black Welsh Lamb?

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
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Caroline’s lamb blanquette with barley

This is a recipe from our French friend Caroline, who writes….
“As promised, I’m coming back to you with a recipe using the beautiful lamb shoulder you offered us to taste, when we met you end of september just off the Offa’s Dyke, by your farm.

I made a simple stew on a slow cooker, and thickened the stock with a roux just like you do a blanquette.
It was really flavoursome and tender. It reminded me of the lambs meat of his tiny 15 animals herd, my grandfather use to give us every year, that would pack my parents freezer full for the next 6 months…”

Lamb blanquette with barley or brown lentils:
Organic or biodynamic grown vegetables would obviously be best to match the beautiful quality of the meat

750g lamb or hogget shoulder
150g barley or brown lentils
3 carrots sliced
1 turnip diced
2 branches celery diced
1 bay leaf
1 branch thyme
1 onion
2 cloves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch parsley: leaves & stalks separated
salt, pepper
For the roux (optional):
30g butter
30g flour
(100g cream)

Place the diced shoulder in a pot and cover with cold water, bring to the boil, keep simmering for 10 minutes and with a ladle skim the surface from the impurities foaming.
Remove the pieces of meat, pass the liquid through a fine mesh sieve and let it cool.
While it’s cooling, prepare your veg, wash, peel and slice or dice them.
Separate leaves and stalks of the parsley, peel and cut in 2 the onion, pick it with the cloves, peel and cut the garlic cloves in 2.
Place the meat, the veg and aromates (leaving the parsley stalk for the last 15 minutes to save the vitamins) in the rinsed pot, cover with the stock, bring to the boil and leave to cook for few hours (about 2) on a slow cooker, barely simmering,and checking meat and veg regularly, add the lentils or barley 45 minutes before the end. If you use lentils, only add the salt at the end of the cooking or they will explode. Earlier when using using barley.
Prepare the roux:
Melt the butter in a small pan, add the flour and cook it few minutes without browning.
Strain half a litre of the cooking liquor, and add it in few times to the flour mix, stirring with a whisk, and cook it few minutes, add salt and pepper, then the cream if you wish.
Pour this white cream over the meat and veg with the remaining liquid if you want a fluid stew type liquid, or strained for a richer finish.
Scatter the chopped parsley like green confetti over for a good dose of vitamine C!

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Pasture for Life

imageWe take producing pasture-fed lamb very seriously here at Black Welsh Lamb and are delighted to be one of very few pasture-fed accredited farms in Wales.

Whereas on the face of it you might expect most sheep to be pasture fed, this is far from the truth. The difficulties of raising sheep on a mixed farm mean that most lamb is fed with imported, wheat-based concentrate feeds (many of them containing GMOs), or at best is fed root crops or grain that could be used for human consumption.

Where sheep are fed grass, it is generally fertilised with artificial, nitrogen-based products that stimulate rapid growth, but which can cause problems for water courses and are made unsustainably from oil or mined minerals.

That’s why we decided to go for a totally pasture-fed regime. OK, it takes three times as long to mature our lambs, and we have to take care to nurture our series-rich pasture, but we feel better about it. No fertilisers, no sprays, no artificial feeds. Just lamb.

Oh, and it tastes better too.

PFLA Listing

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Time to Celebrate Difference

As you will know if you read our blogs, we produce organic lamb on the farm here for sale to restaurants and direct to private customers. We think we know some of the issues involved in getting great local produce, especially meat, out to consumers.

Some of our organic Black Welsh Lambs, taking their time.

This got us to thinking about how we market and distribute artisan products in a system dominated by big retail. The traditional path used by farmers selling through the wholesale market means that once stock is sold there is no contact between farmer and consumer and the product becomes commoditised. Farmer co-operatives bring more power to the producer, but the meat is still aggregated, taking on the brand of the co-operative, rather than the individual producer. Farmers’ markets provide an answer for the producer to some extent, but they are labour intensive and provide limited range and choice for the consumer, which is what we have all become accustomed to expect.

British Lamb – Is that it?

What strikes us is that the situation is very different for wine (and increasingly beer) and cheese. When we buy wine, we are offered a huge array of choice by location of origin, colour (obviously), grape variety and individual producer. Similarly, any supermarket will celebrate its range and diversity of niche cheese products and will stock a wide range of single varieties such as cheddar or camembert from different producers. How different is this to our supermarket meat choice, where we are offered lamb or beef by country of origin. Full stop. Who would be happy with a shop whose wine choice was either white or red / french or spanish? We know that as consumers we are increasingly wanting the backstory to our food, not just to build confidence in traceability and production or welfare standards, but because we want to be part of the story, to be ambassadors for brands we believe in and to share new discoveries we have made.

So, it is time for a new approach. We want to see Black Welsh Mountain, Balwen, Shetland and Ryeland all appreciated for their individual flavours, textures, fat content and colour.

We want consumers to appreciate the difference; the subtle minerality brought on by slow maturation and careful hanging, the complexity of taste from lambs raised on herb-rich pasture. It is time for single estate meat – and and the internet can make it happen.

 

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