From cranberries to carrots and milk to mink, the diversity of Wisconsin agriculture is our greatest strength. Though this Wisconsin livestock animal often gets overshadowed by its cousins the cow and pig, sheep, too, are important to our state’s agriculture landscape.
Sheep have been a part of Wisconsin agriculture dating back to the 1800s, when Wisconsin ranked second in the nation in number of sheep. Today, Wisconsin is home to 75,000 sheep. These sheep are raised not only for wool but also for meat and milk production. In 2019, 12,000 sheep were raised as market animals.
Last fall, I visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison sheep research facility at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station to learn more about raising sheep in Wisconsin. On the farm, they raise four main breeds: Hampshire, Polypay, Targhee and Rambouillet, as well as crossbred sheep.
Each breed has different characteristics, differing in appearance, wool density and meat quality. For example, Polypay sheep are prolific and tend to wean the most lambs per ewe. Targhee sheep are known for their excellent wool production.
All the sheep at the Arlington farm are sheared, whether they are a wool breed or not, before giving birth, known as lambing. This process does not hurt the sheep and is instead comparable to a human haircut. Trimming the long wool aids in the cleanliness of the ewe and the health of the lamb when born.
Just as on all livestock farms in Wisconsin, animal care is of utmost importance at the UW-Madison sheep farm. The people there work closely with university veterinarians and veterinarians-in-training to ensure the sheep are well cared for and healthy.
FUZZY FRIEND: I recently visited the UW-Madison sheep research facility at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station to learn more about raising sheep.
Most often, animals sent to market are 6 to 8 months old, weighing around 150 pounds. This meat is referred to as lamb. In contrast, meat from a mature sheep is known as mutton. In the U.S., mutton is much less popular than lamb but can still be found.
Lamb is a flavorful, nutrient-rich food choice. According to the American Lamb Board, a 3-ounce serving of lamb is only 160 calories and contains nearly half of your daily protein needs. Additionally, a 3-ounce serving of lamb meets USDA’s definition of lean meat, containing fewer than 10 grams of fat. Whether you like to grill, roast or braise meat, there is a lamb recipe for you.
The American Lamb Board also shares several tips when cooking with lamb. First, before cooking, bring the lamb to room temperature. Be sure to pay close attention to your lamb when cooking, as you don’t want to overcook it. Use a meat thermometer to ensure you reach the right internal temperature. After you have finished cooking, let the lamb rest. Finally, cut your piece of meat against the grain. These tips will help ensure your lamb is succulent and tender. Find proper cooking times and temperatures, as well as recipes for pasta, soup, kabobs and more, at americanlamb.com.
Martin is the 72nd Alice in Dairyland.