By Amy Conner
June 2005 -- Sheep producers are taught to think about what happens to their product once it leaves the farm or ranch in The Ohio State University Lamb 509 Short Course.
?A lot of times as producers, our thought process stops when the animal leaves the farm. One of the things we try to teach people is that we really need to think of the industry as a whole,? says Henry Zirby, Ph.D., extension meat specialist at The Ohio State University and instructor in the Lamb 509 Short Course.
Instructors in the course encourage sheep producers to learn about the processes that take place at the meat packer and retail levels, and learn the product?s attributes that affect consumer demand.
?We hope participants learn more about the sheep industry, what they are producing and what types of things they can do to produce a better lamb for the consumer,? says Roger High, the Ohio State University sheep specialist and Ohio Sheep Improvement Association executive director. ?We have lambs, we feed them and sell them; but as an industry, most producers really don?t know the packages they are producing.?
This three-day, hands-on course addresses the importance of producing consistent, high-quality products for the consumer. It is jam packed with useful information producers can take back to their farm or ranch and implement into their sheep operations on a daily basis.
The course begins with participants being trained on how to conduct a live evaluation and apply those practices to eight lambs. The characteristics identified in the live evaluation are age/gender class, weight, dressing percentage, finish and muscling.
?We try to bring in a variety of lambs for students to determine the value of the animals,? says High. ?They actually have the opportunity to get their hands on the lambs and to discuss the muscling, fat, pelt values and live weight.?
Those same lambs are then offered at an auction, in which attendees are split into groups of four to purchase the lamb they will use through the rest of the course.
Once the lambs are purchased, participants have the opportunity to witness the harvest demonstration. Instructors show the stunning, bleeding, pelt removal and evisceration process, stressing the importance of cleanliness to prevent contamination. The carcasses are chilled overnight for use on the second day.
The carcass-evaluation process kicks-off the second day, providing participants with the opportunity to review the U.S. Department of Agriculture grade and quality classifications and the yield of each lamb sold at the auction. Only after a demonstration, teams fabricate their lamb, breaking down the carcasses into wholesale cuts.
After the fabrication process, each team weighs and prices the three components of their lamb: muscle, fat and bone.
?The core of the course is when we get into fabricating the lambs. Producers have a concept of how much fat, muscle and bone are in a carcass; but until they actually break these things down into piles of fat, muscle and bone, they don?t have a very good understanding of how much fat is actually inside the carcass,? says Zirby.
Meat processing is another hands-on experience offered to participants of the course. They learn how different meat products are developed and also produce some value-added products.
On the final day of the course, quality measurements are discussed, including the implications of genetics, nutrition and handling on meat quality. The winners of the group contest, those who made the most money from the lamb they purchased at the auction and fabricated into wholesale cuts, are announced.
?This exercise allows participants to learn about those things that are making them and others in the industry money. Once they learn what is important to the customer, then hopefully we can bridge the gap between what they are producing and what the consumer wants on the dinner plate,? High says.
Attendants of the December 2004 Lamb 509 Short Course had numerous positive comments about what they learned and the hands-on experience they gained.
?I like the idea of what we?ve done. First, selecting our own animal and following it through to the cutting floor and fabricating it,? says Dale Duerr, Lamb 509 participant and sheep producer from Tuscarawas County in Ohio. ?It?s a total experience from live animal to eatable product.?
A small group of hair sheep producers from southwest Virginia also attended this course because it provided them with their first opportunity to receive a hands-on experience of fabricating a carcass, grading and judging it.
?I now feel I am very capable of judging which animals on my farm are ready for harvest,? says Tom Mewbourne of Nickelsville, Va. ?This information is terrific for us to learn, plus I can teach it to other members of the Scott County Hair Sheep Association.?
No different from the previous two courses, the Lamb 509 Short Course offered in December 2004 was strongly attended.
?I think we are in a trend in which people want to learn more about what they are producing,? says High. ?We may be filling the gap of what they don?t know and hopefully when they leave, they have a better understanding of what they do know.?
The next Lamb 509 Short Course will be offered in conjunction with the National Lamb Feeders Association Howard Wyman Sheep Industry Leadership School July 10-14, 2005. For more information visit www.nlfa-sheep.orgor call 503?370-7024.