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The Importance of Purchasing All-Natural Lamb

The term "natural" has been misused by so many food companies that it has been all but rendered useless by the consumer. The USDA has also not been helpful in coming up with a standard by which to define "natural." They define "natural meat" as meat that is minimally processed, without any preservatives. That is why pork which has been raised in huge factory farms is often promoted as "natural pork" by the big agri-business companies. Common sense would tell us, however, that pork from a factory farm, where it has been fed antibiotic-laden feed and animal by-products, is not "natural." In keeping with our belief that Americans deserve more than the minimum standards set by the USDA, the Natural Lamb Co-op defines "natural" as the way in which we raise and care for our livestock. "Natural" to our members means that the animal was raised on feed that is free from drugs and meat by-products, and that the animal was never given growth hormones. We also believe that "natural" means that the animals were raised naturally. In other words, the animals were given a life that allowed them to engage in natural ruminant behaviors.By "natural" we mean food derived from animals raised in "traditional" farm settings, rather than the high intensity, mass production methods ordinarily associated with feedlot type operations. Our animals are raised on pasture that is not treated. The animals are never exposed to feedlot conditions. The animals are provided shelter from wind and snow. They are given free access to well and spring water. We do not give them any sort of growth stimulants, steroids, or any other sort of chemical additives. We do not give antibiotics to keep them healthy. Any animal that has required medical treatment is not offered for sale as "natural." We do give routine maintenance shots for tetanus and overeating disease and lamb hood diseases.

Why All-Natural?

Animals raised in factory farms are given diets designed to boost their productivity and lower costs. The main ingredients in their feed consist of genetically modified grain and soy that are kept artificially low through government subsidies. To further cut costs, the feed may also contain "by-product feedstuff" such as municipal garbage, stale pastry, chicken feathers, and candy. Until 1997, American cattle were also being fed meat that had been trimmed from other cattle, in effect turning herbivores into carnivores. This unnatural practice is believed to be an underlying cause of BSE or "mad cow disease."


A high grain diet can cause physical problems for ruminants (cud-chewing animals). Ruminants are designed to eat fibrous grasses, plants, and shrubs--not starchy, low-fiber grain. When they are switched from pasture to grain, they can become afflicted with a number of disorders. In order to prevent serious and sometimes fatal reactions, the animals are given chemical additives along with a constant, low-level dose of antibiotics. Some of these antibiotics are the same ones used in human medicine. The long and the short of it is that when medications are overused in the feedlots, bacteria become resistant to them. When we become infected with new, disease resistant bacteria, there are fewer medications available to treat us.


Changing grazing animals from a natural diet of grasses to grains also lowers the nutritional value of the meat. Compared with natural grass-fed sheep, the meat from animals raised in feedlots contains more total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. It also contains less vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).


When animals are raised in feedlots or cages, they deposit large amounts of manure in a small amount of space. The manure must be collected and transported away from the area, an expensive proposition. In order to reduce costs, this manure is dumped as close to the feedlot as possible. As a result, the surrounding soil is overloaded with nutrients, which can cause ground and water pollution. When animals are raised outdoors on pasture, their manure is spread over a wider area of land, making it a welcome source of organic fertilizer, not a "waste management problem."


Raising animals on pasture requires more knowledge and skill than sending them to the feedlots. in order for grass-fed lamb to be succulent and tender, for example, the sheep need high quality forage, especially in the months prior to slaughter. This requires healthy soil and careful pasture management, which keeps the grass at its optimal stage of growth.