Is lamb Scotland’s forgotten meat?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th October 2014

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QMSS_4C The Staff Canteen spoke to the Scottish Blackface Sheep Breeders’ Association’s promotions manager Aileen McFadzean about hill farmers, pedigree ram lambs and providing British consumers with quality assured Scottish Blackface Scotch Lamb PGI. Scottish Blackface sheep (also known as Blackies), are the most numerous pure breed in Britain accounting for over 1.7 million ewes, representing 11% of the British pure-bred flock (source: 2003 breed survey) and an estimated 25% of breeding ewes in Scotland. They have a growing following of admirers and advocates throughout the UK, all of whom champion Blackface Lamb for producing meat that is succulent, tender and flavoursome. QMS PICS SNWF 021 “The Blackface is an iconic breed and I think lamb is sadly too often over looked in Scotland where beef consumption dominates. In fact, lamb consumption in Scotland is less than half that of the rest of the UK,” said Aileen, who lives in Perth. “We always speak about Aberdeen Angus beef and Highland cattle, but lamb and sheep are the backbone of the whole economy in Scotland.  Our hill sheep farmers contribute a huge amount to the rural economy and lamb is such a wonderful product. My job is to promote it as branded Blackface lamb, not just lamb or even generic Scotch or British Lamb. Over 80% of Scotland’s agricultural area is covered by grass and rough grazing and much of this is unsuitable for arable crops, fruit and veg.  It is, however, perfect for hill sheep and their grazing is essential to the overall maintenance of the land.  A high percentage of Blackies are farmed in Scotland because they survive and thrive in these hills and that’s their main attribute - they can survive in places most other breeds can’t. Because the lambs are raised on the hills they are very slow maturing, so as a traditional breed, Blackface Lambs are born later in the season, usually in April and May, naturally mature during summer and autumn and, therefore, retain their flavour and succulence well into the New Year. Rearing Blackface sheep is a very traditional way of farming and a lot of farms are family-run by up to three generations. Aileen explained: “I was brought up with Blackface sheep and my brother and my uncles still have them. My husband and I finish some Blackface lambs and we supply them to the local butchers.” Picture 031 Aileen continued: “You have big flocks over a large area so it can take a week to gather them. Even though the farms are extensive and you have a few sheep over a lot of acres, it’s still a lot of work. “They roam on massive amounts of acres and they survive on heather and hill grass - that’s one of their main attributes.” She added: “It’s important within the hill farming industry that the tradition remains so these farms are managed to the best advantage.” This year’s sale of Blackie rams has just finished. Aileen says buyers were looking for a sheep with a good square body, a tight skin and bright eyes and good black and white colours. She said: “The passion and the enthusiasm for the Blackface breed was shown this year when one of the top pedigree ram lambs made £100,000 for further breeding – a breed record.”  This however, was an exceptional price for an exceptionally fine example of the breed.  A bit like buying a thoroughbred stallion – this ram will be used as a stud animal for around 6 years.  His progeny, which will eventually run to hundreds, will ensure that his excellent conformation and blood lines will influence the breed for years to come. The older ewes are sold off to low ground farms where they are crossed to produce a sheep called the Scotch Mule. That’s one thing Blackface sheep are famous for, being the mother of the Scotch Mule. Aileen said: “Scotch Mules are also one of the main breeds of sheep in Scotland, they are crossed with a terminal sire to produce your most commercial, finished lamb.” QMS PICS SNWF 010 Right now the hill farmers will be bringing their ewe’s in off the hills and putting them into batches in preparation for the rams going out.  They’ll also be given health checks and all this falls in line with the standards set out by the Quality Meat Scotland farm assurance scheme. Farm assurance was pioneered 25 years ago in Scotland with the introduction of Farm Assured Scotch Lamb in 1990 and full chain assurance now covers every aspect of husbandry and welfare including traceability, production methods, transport, medicine and feeding. Aileen said: “The quality assurance scheme gives the public the reassurance that every part of the chain is up to a high standard.” It is important these standards don’t drop as Blackface lamb can be found on the menus of top London restaurants including The Ivy, Fergus Henderson's St. John and Rowley Leigh's Cafe des Anglais. Aileen wants more chefs to get to know the breed and she’s keen to encourage them to know where all of their produce comes from. She said: “I think there is a great opportunity there for restaurants and chefs to make sure they are getting something which is locally produced. They should meet the farmer and see the product and how it has been reared and finished. Then they know exactly what they are supplying the customer.” Check out some QMS lamb recipes - Loin, neck and kidney of Scotch Lamb, garden kale, home cured pancetta, horseradish crème fraiche Scotch Lamb fillet, braised chicory wrapped in parma ham, pearl barley, gremolata Roast Loin of Young Spring Scotch Lamb by Tyron Ellul  

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th October 2014

Is lamb Scotland’s forgotten meat?