General & History
Sheep and goats were probably the first animals to be domesticated,
about 12,000 years ago. Their small size and tendency to flock made it
possible to fence them in and conduct a selective breeding program to
reduce wild traits. Originally sheep were raised for meat, milk and
skins, but around 8000 years ago they began to be breed for wool.
Lamb consumption in the United States is rather low, averaging around
1 pound per person per year. Some Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups
eat lamb at certain holidays. Most is purchased by Muslims, followed by
Greeks, Jews and Hispanics, nearly all on the East and West coasts. Lamb,
as sold, is expensive here, and by time you remove the bones and all that
fat, it is quite expensive.
In the United States, three sheep designations are used.
- Lamb: A sheep one year old or less. Inspectors
determine age in live sheep from the teeth, In carcasses by the joints
in the front shank and the ribs. Lamb accounts for most of the sheep
meat sold in the US.
- Yearling Lamb: A sheep older than one year and younger
than two years. This is roughly equivalent to the term Hogget
used in Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand.
- Mutton: A sheep older than two years. Mutton is very
rare in the US, but can be found in some ethnic markets, particularly
those serving a Philippine community. Mutton has a stronger taste than
The USDA grades quality of lamb meat on a scale depending on
palatability. The grades are:
- Prime: This meat from fatter sheep accounts for less
than 10% of US production.
- Choice: This grade accounts for about 90% of all
US lamb production.
- Good & Utility: These lower grades are very
rare in US lamb production.
Who Eat's Sheep & Goat?
- Jews are free to eat lamb and goat provided it has been
ritually slaughtered. In the religion's land of origin, the Middle East,
lamb dominates because there is no lush grazing land for cattle and pig
is forbidden, so lamb / mutton is important to Jewish culture worldwide.
- Islam adopted much of it's dietary law from Judaism, and
is also predominantly a religion of less fertile regions. While beef is
not forbidden, it can't be economically raised in most Islamic regions,
so lamb / mutton is the meat of choice and goat is allowed.
- Southeast Asia: Muslim areas including the far south
of Thailand, most of Malaysia and Indonesia, favor lamb, but it's more
expensive in tropical climates, so buffalo is more popular. Non-Muslims
prefer pig, which is in good supply and much less costly.
- India: In areas of India that were under Muslim
occupation for some time, such as the Punjab and Hyderabad, lamb is
preferred, but goat is the most common meat in India. Recipes can
confuse you because during the Raj the British were pleased to call
goat "mutton" to make it taste better.
- Christians, largely recruited from the Pagans, brought a whole
lot of Paganism with them. Rejecting the religious prohibitions of
Judaism they eat whatever is economical in the region where they live.
In the Middle East and other less fertile areas that will be sheep and
goat, but cow and pig are preferred if economical.
- North Americans are predominantly Christians, Pagans, Atheists
or "Mix and Match". Lamb is not that popular here because it's too
expensive compared to cow and pig, and some don't like the smell while