Specially Labeled Lamb

Fresh American Lamb

Fresh American lamb is unique for two reasons. First, the average lamb that is slaughtered for meat in the U.S. weighs 135 lbs., which is considerably larger than slaughter lambs in other countries. This results in larger cut sizes (e.g. bigger loin chops!) and a higher meat-to-bone ratio. A high percentage of U.S. lambs are finished ("fattened") on grain. This generally makes the meat more tender and milder flavored. American lamb is usually prefered by panelists in taste tests. Almost eighty percent of the restaurants in the U.S. that serve lamb serve American lamb.


American Lamb logo

Click HERE to learn more
about Fresh American Lamb.



USDA Choice 

Most of the lamb sold in retail markets is USDA Choice. USDA Prime lamb has more marbling, so it is the most tender and flavorful. The protein, vitamin, and mineral content of lamb are similar in all grades.

Spring Lamb

If the phrase "Spring Lamb" is on a meat label, it means the lamb was produced between March and October, but lamb is available all the time. Though the label has much less significance nowadays, spring lamb is usually from younger lambs (3-5 months old).

USDA Choice seal

Organically produced lambs
An Organic Sheep Flock in Vermont

 Certified ORGANIC Lamb

People are increasing concerned about the food they eat and how it is produced and processed. One of the fastest growing segments of the food industry is organic food. There is disagreement as to whether certified organic food is any healthier than conventionally produced food or that organic practices, in general, result in healthier food products. Organic food gives consumers the opportunity to purchase food on the basis of their own values and beliefs. Organic food products usually sell for a premium price because they come with assurances that they have been produced in a certain manner.


USDA logo

Click HERE to learn about the
National Organic Program

 Definition of Organic Food

According to USDA, "Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; petroleum-based fertilizers or sewage sludge-based fertilizers; bio-engineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled organic, a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too."

More Compassionate Standards 

While many producers are responding to the growing consumer demand for organic products, one of the obstacles to producing lamb organically (in the United States) is that USDA organic standards prohibit the use of anthelmintics (anti-parasitic drugs); whereas in the United Kingdom, sheep farmers are allowed to use anthelmintics to treat parasitized (wormy) and other at-risk animals. A study showed that 64 percent of organic farmers in the British Isles use anthlemintics, 91 percent in conjunction with other management practices. While various alternatives to anthelmintics are being investigated (and some progress is being made), most sheep farmers still need anthelmintics to ensure the health and welfare of their flocks.

Lamb behind fence
Without the use of anthelmintics, many
lambs will succumb to stomach worms.


There is no legal (USDA) definition for what is natural meat. In many cases, products labeled "natural" are very similar to organic products, except the farm has not received third party certification. In other cases, natural products are produced more conventionally, but without the use of supplemental hormones, growth promotants, subtherapeutic antibiotics, and prophylatic anthelmintics. "Natural" lamb is usually grass-fed, but supplemental feeds, especially those fed to the ewe flock, may be from conventional sources.

Lambs along fence
Bluefaced Leicester lambs on pasture
Trial & Error Acres

Three lambs grazing
Katahdin lambs grazing in Maryland


 GRASS-fed Lamb

Many producers and organizations are touting the advantages of grass-fed products. Not only is grass a more natural diet for sheep and other ruminants, but it results in more healthful products. Grass-fed animals accumulate more Omega-3 type fats in their meat. They have more CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), an anti-fat, cancer-fighting fatty acid. Grass-fed meat is higher in protein, vitamin E, and beta carotene than grain-fed meat. Grass-fed is also deemed better for the environment because grasslands protect against soil erosioin and nutrient run-off and have countless other ecological benefits.

The USDA has not come up with a legal definition for "grass-fed." Some grass-fed lambs consume 100 percent grass diets, while others receive some grain while they are grazing pasture.

GRAIN-fed Lamb 

Grain-fed lamb is usually more tender and has a milder, less "gamey" flavor and aroma than grass-fed lamb. In consumer taste panel tests, grain-fed lamb is usually preferred to grass-fed lamb. In the United States, a majority of lambs receive grain at some point in their lives. In most other countries, lambs are grass-fed. Grain and grass-fed lamb are oftentimes marketed to different consumer segments.

Lambs eating grain
Many lambs eat both grass and grain.


Southdown lambs on rocks
Lambs play"King of the Hill"
on a farm in Southern Maryland

 Certified "HUMANE" Lamb

The purpose of "humane" certification is to ensure customers that farm animals have lives which are free from pain and distress, that they have the freedom to display their "natural" behavior," and have adequate shelter, food, water, and veterinary care. However, while scientists, producers, and animal welfare organizations agree on many points, there are many disagreements as to which practices are the most humane. Thus, receiving "humane" certification simply means that the producer has complied with the standards established by the labeling organization. Lack of humane certification does not imply that lambs are produced in a less humane manner. There are many ways to raise sheep which maintain high standards of animal welfare, and most producers have genuine concern for the welfare of their livestock.

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. . New Words . .

Grade - classification of meat according to eating quality.

Organic - part of or derived from living matter. In livestock it means animals are raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones or synthetic chemicals.

Humane - having a disposition to treat other human beings or animals with kindness; kind; benevolent.

Anthelmintic - a substance with the property to destroy or expel intestinal worms.

Subtherapeutic - below the dosage level to treat diseases.

Prophylactic - used to prevent infection.

Omega-3 type fat - A polyunsaturated fatty acid that may help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood.

Beta carotene - the precursor to vitamin A in the body.



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Last updated 14-Nov-2006 by Susan Schoenian.


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