Last year was the third and final year of the pen vs. pasture study at the University of Maryland’s Western Maryland Research & Education Center.
According to Susan Schoenian – sheep and goat specialist at the University – part of the motivation of the study was a hypothesis that goat and lamb returns could be improved with a pen production system over a pasture system. It was hypothesized that there were both health and market value benefits. The research team knew that previous slaughter of pasture raised goats yielded mostly Selection 3s and 2s (relatively thin) and wondered whether a pen production system could yield Selection 1s – it did.
A Selection No. 1 goat is thickly muscled throughout the body as observed in a pronounced (bulging) outside leg, a full (rounded) loin, and a moderately thick outside shoulder. It also has the highest yield at 50 percent relative to thinner-looking Selection 2 or 3 goats. Similarly with lambs, yield grade 3 lambs are often thought of as ideal.
The pen goats received good quality hay and barley. The pasture goats were rotated between cool season grass paddocks and warm season annual grasses and legumes and received dwarf pearl millet, cow peas and Sunn Hemp. Mid-way through the feeding period, the pasture goats were supplemented with soybean hulls. It is hypothesized that pasture goats and lambs may not receive sufficient energy in their feed to build muscle and produce fuller-looking figure at market time.
At the end of the study, the pen goats were heavier than the pasture goats and consequently also had a higher rate of gain. The pen goats had a higher percentage of carcass lean than the pasture goats. Ms. Schoenian believes as similar study with lamb would yield similar results. An interesting supplement to this study would be to compare the costs (including labor costs and death losses) and prices received at market. Which production system yielded higher returns?
The University of Maryland study begs the question to whether the eastern U.S. ethnic lamb trade has sufficient market information to make informed marketing decisions.
In general, at the nontraditional auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania, lambs that are yield grade 2 and 3 are higher valued than yield grades 1s and 2s. In 2014 through November, the 90-110 lbs. lambs at New Holland received an average $29 per cwt. more per head that were prime and choice and yield grade 2 and 3 compared to prime and choice and yield grade 1 and 2. Quality and grades are determined visually by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service reporter at the market. The yield grade 2s and 3s are visually more “filled out” and likely more muscular looking.
It is hypothesized that because the ethnic trade is often direct trade with producers and some unregulated slaughter houses there is a lack of market information available to possibility improve returns to producers in selling more yield grade 3s. Or, perhaps returns are maximized in producing a yield grade 1 lamb. We don’t know.
Reportedly, the success of on farm direct sales to ethnic consumers is because the consumers want to pick out a live animal themselves. Most Americans do not care to pick out their meat live, so why is this important to some segments of our population? On several levels, the demands of ethnic lamb consumers might not be met from commercial outlets. First, this consumer group often wants to buy one whole carcass – and one that is a lot smaller than the 140-lb. lamb typically sold in the commercial market. Second, the ethnic consumer often wants the variety meats, the intestine sometimes and even the skin – all often not available in commercial grocers. A third hypothesis – yet to be confirmed – is that this group has been unsatisfied (even not trusting) with their commercial purchases from small, local butchers. Perhaps they got goat when they asked for lamb or perhaps they were suspicious whether the lamb was really Halal.
In the case of a Halal practice, the live animal must be “treated with respect and be well cared for. When the animal is harvested, the jugular vein is cut and the blood from the animal is allowed to drain. The animal is also blessed at the time of slaughter, “(Penn State Extension, “Marketing Lamb and Goat for Holidays,” Accessed 12/8/14). Without a doubt, these needs can be met by buying direct.
As the ethnic trade becomes more regulated and more assimilated into the commercial market it will gain the trust and fulfill the demands of consumers that currently purchase lambs direct from farms.