We 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.
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.
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.
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.