Ohio State University – Lamb Carcass Evaluation Class

This winter I had the privilege of attending the LAMB 509 course at Ohio State University in Columbus, OH.  For 3 days, fellow farmers and I gave up our roles as producers of sheep & lambs, and immersed ourselves in the roles of the meat processor, the distributor, and finally the consumer.  Class started with the professors explaining that we would have to give up everything we think about our animals – how well we’ve raised them, how much that ram we bought cost, how often we rotated pastures – and put ourselves in the shoes of the people down the line from us.  This is harder than it sounds!  Us farmers are proud of what we do… To make it easier, the professors made it a competition.  The class was divided into groups of 4 and we were given the rules of the game – evaluate live animals, understand the economics of the meat in a carcass, then bid against the other teams for the lambs we thought could make a profit by meeting the demands of the consumer.  We all thought we had this whipped.

The first day we were presented with 10 live, slaughter lambs.  Each group of students was tasked with evaluating the animals and coming up with a strategy for which one we would bid on, how high we would go, and what would we would do if we weren’t able to get the animals everyone was after.  After poking around each of the lambs, trying to determine back fat thickness, loin area, muscle depth, and countless other things farmers don’t consider as often as they should, my teammates and I had a plan!  The bidding opened, and we bought the first lamb.  After paying more than we thought we should, we were anxious to see what the rest of the animals would bring…When all was said and done, we had bought the lamb of our choice, for the lowest price of the auction.  The laws of supply and demand drove each animal’s price higher than the last, even though it was less sought after than the previous.

The 2nd day of the class, I entered OH State’s USDA inspected slaughter facility with my team, our adversaries, and our lambs.  We spent the morning gaining an understanding of how live animal traits translate to carcass traits.  The afternoon was spent learning about differences between American lamb and the Australian/New Zealand lamb that many consumers are accustomed to.

On the final day, our teams were given the most challenging task we would be given – to break the whole lamb carcass down from 1 piece of meat into attractive and consumer friendly individually packaged cuts of meat.  This meant separating the rack, chops, legs, shoulder roast, stew meat, etc.  Boy do I respect our processor after this!  It is a tremendous amount of work, requiring skills I don’t personally possess, to make the most of the meat available!  We ended up with much more waste than is acceptable.

When all was said and done…………..our team endured the least loss on our investment – and won the competition!  Not a single team was able to turn a profit from the on-hoof price paid to the retail value of the cuts of meat produced.

The most important thing this class did was introduce me to some professors that are passionate about the food they help us produce, genuinely interested in the success of the family farms they help, and eager to share their knowledge to help us farmers provide a better eating experience to the consumer.  I also walked away with a much deeper understanding for how live-animal traits will translate to the quality of the retail meat we depend on for our livelihood; it has enabled us to better select for animal traits that will provide a positive eating experience down the line.

Most importantly, it led us to change processors for our lamb and to seek a facility that better respects the animal, the hard work of the farmer, and the needs of the consumer, and delivers a superior end-product.  I’m confident that you will enjoy the changes we’ve implemented!

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