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  • Welcome to Sheep 101. The purpose of Sheep 101 is to teach 4-H and FFA members, students, teachers, beginning shepherds, and the general public about sheep, their products, how they are raised, and their contributions to society. The site uses simple language and pictures to illustrate the various topics. To begin learning about sheep, click on a link in the menu bar or choose a topic from the drop down menu above.

  • About the author. The author of Sheep 101 is Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center. Susan has been with University of Maryland Extension since 1988. She raises Katahdin sheep on her small farm, called The Baalands, in Clear Spring, Maryland. Susan has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Animal Science degrees from Virginia Tech and Montana State University, respectively.

  • Susan Schoenian
    Sheep & Goat Specialist
    W. MD Research & Education Center
    University of Maryland Extension - (301) 432-2767 x343

Center cut leg chop

Center cut leg slices

Carving a lamb
Carving a whole lamb

Barbados Blackbelly lamb
French-style rib chops

 On a spit
Lambs on a spit

Barbacoa from Mexico



    Fresh American Lamb

  • Nutrient-dense
    Lamb is a prime source of high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals. As with other red meats, its protein is nutritionally complete, with all eight essential amino acids in the proper ratios. A 3-ounce serving of lamb provides 43 percent of an adult male's recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein. Lamb is high in B vitamins, zinc, and iron. Red meats, especially lamb and beef, are amongst the best sources of absorbable iron. For those watching their carbohydrate intake, lamb as zero carbs.

  • Lean and mean
    Compared to other meats, lamb contains very little marbling (fat in the meat). Since lamb fat is on the edges of the meat, it is easily trimmed off, which means fewer calories, only 175 in an average 3-ounce serving or 7 percent of the average daily caloric intake recommended for a 23 to 50-year old male. Only about 36 percent of the fat in lamb is saturated fat. The rest is mono or polyunsaturated fat, the "good" fat in one's diet.

     FDA definition of lean (3 oz)  Average value for cooked lamb (3 oz)
     < 10 g of total fat  8 g of total fat
     < 4.5 g saturated fat  3 g of saturated fat
     < 100 mg cholesterol  80 mg cholesterol
    Source: American Lamb Board

  • Good fat
    Lamb is one of the richest sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA possesses unique and potent antioxidant activity. It is produced naturally from linoleic acid by bacteria in the stomachs of herbivores (plant eaters), such as sheep, goats, and cows. CLA cannot be manufactured in the human body. The CLA content in milk and meat is affected by many factors: breed, age, diet, and management.

  • Lamb vs. mutton
    The meat from a young sheep (less than 12 months of age) is called lamb. It is naturally tender and mild in flavor. The meat from an older sheep (over one year of age) is called mutton. It has a more intense flavor than lamb, but is preferred to lamb in some cultures. Yearling mutton is the meat from a sheep that is between one and two years of age. It is intermediate in flavor intensity between lamb and mutton.

  • Flavor
    There is no flavor difference in the meat from a young intact male and the meat from wethers (castrated male lambs) and ewe lambs. As rams sexually mature, their hormones may cause a slight taint in the taste of the meat. Mature rams are more difficult to harvest than ewes and wethers. In some cultures, the meat from intact males is preferred to the meat from females and castrates. Sometimes, an unblemished lamb is required for slaughter.

  • The sacrificial lamb
    Since ancient times, lamb has been regarded as a religious symbol. Jesus is often referred to as the "Lamb of "God." Sheep were commonly used for sacrifice. Lamb was served during the Last Supper. Lamb is traditionally eaten at Easter (especially Orthodox or Greek) and Passover.

    Muslims (followers of Islam) are probably the largest consumers of lamb in the World. Lamb is commonly consumed by Muslims during their major holidays. During Eid al-adha (the Festival of Sacrifice), it is common for Muslim families to sacrifice a lamb in commemoration of Abraham's sacrifice of a lamb in place of his son. The meat is divided into thirds and shared with family, friends, and the poor. It is also customary for Muslims to sacrifice lambs to celebrate the birth of a child (two lambs for a boy child; one for a girl). The sacrifice is part of the "aqiqah" ceremony.

  • Per capita consumption
    In the U.S., per capita consumption of lamb (and mutton) is very low, less than one pound per person, compared to 57 pounds in New Zealand. However, many of today's immigrants to the U.S. originate from regions of the world where lamb (and goat) are commonly consumed. Thus, the U.S. continues to import lamb to meet consumer demand. There is a growing demand for lamb in the U.S., especially among people of specific ethnic backgrounds.

     Country Per capita consumption (lbs)
     New Zealand
     Saudi Arabia
     United States
    USDA, 2000