Farmer Susan Shultz doesn’t hold back when describing what she’s learned from Ohio State University’s Henry Zerby.
“The most respected meats man in the United States,” she said. “Ohio State is absolutely blessed to have the quality of people we have in the meat department.”
Likewise, Zerby is an admirer of her work.
“Lamb is actually my favorite red meat,” said the animal science professor who oversees the university’s meat lab.
Shultz, whose family runs Bunker Hill Farm in Logan County, was among the farmers who met with Zerby and other instructors for the intensive two-day Lamb 509 class aimed at helping them create more desirable cuts of meat. It’s an important experience for farmers who may be several steps removed from customers at the butcher’s counter.
“We don’t want their thought processes to stop with that lamb once it leaves their farm,” Zerby said.
And there was only one way for Shultz to truly understand what the animals she raises provide: Participate in the butchering process.
It was an eye opener for Shultz who, after evaluating live animals, was surprised at how different they were under the skin.
“It really brought home the point that we better know what we’re selling. We better know our product,” she said.
Roger High, executive director of the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association and a sheep specialist with Ohio State University Extension, said lamb farmers are working toward products that are “not too fat, not too lean” and provide the best eating experience for the consumer.
Because lamb is typically a more expensive meat, often savored on special occasions, High said that makes it all the more important for farmers to continue to step up their game.
“If consumers are going to buy something special, it has to be good,” he said.
Looking at consumer trends, Zerby said, first and foremost, farmers are aiming to provide products that are safe, wholesome and convenient. But he also noted that consumer interest in less familiar cuts such as shanks and flanks is growing.
“At the end of the day, the cooking shows have been a benefit to our industry,” he said.
In addition to a better product, there could be implications throughout the supply chain as farmers take what they’ve learned and improve the ways they breed, feed and market their animals. For example, greater consistency with less fat and bone waste would improve efficiency and sustainability.
For Shultz, the class provided a reminder for how her attention to detail on the farm will benefit everyone down the line. But one of her biggest takeaways is the value that both farmers and consumers receive as result of the university’s support.
“We in Ohio are very fortunate,” she said.
Did you know? Ohio ranks 12th in the production of sheep and lambs and is the largest sheep producing state east of the Mississippi River. Sheep production provides Ohioans with more than 3,000 full and part-time jobs.
If you enjoyed this article, consider becoming a Farm Bureau member and you’ll receive ongoing access to information about your local food community, including seasonal recipes. Membership includes a free subscription to Our Ohio magazine. Learn more about other exclusive member benefits.