When students in the Animal Science 5230 class at the University of Wyoming sit down for their final, they often bring a knife and fork. The class, officially dubbed Advanced Sheep Production Management, integrates animal breeding, nutrition and reproductive physiology in sheep production management; but it’s really as much about hoof-to-slaughter science, including food prepped for the class final. The menu includes caramelized and long-cooked leg of lamb, skewered marinated kabobs, and chops and slow-cooked shoulder meat.
Whit Stewart, assistant professor, heads up the class, which includes more than 30 students. He leads Department of Animal Science students through the lambing shed, lamb feeding, using body condition scores to evaluate sheep, sheep disease, evaluating wool, and seeing the carcasses on the rail. The meat served for the final was from carcasses judged at the recent state 4-H and FFA meats contest in Laramie, and an earlier carcass evaluation portion of the class.
Stewart recognizes that having students involved in hoof-to--plate preparation is a unique aspect of the class. “They get everything related to the industry,” he says. “[Today] was the lamb preparation lab final. When you look across the country, sheep production classes usually don’t focus on that, but it’s a good way to end the semester and engage them in a different way than we have the previous few weeks.”
Sheep and the future
The class has seen continued enrollment growth as well, and there’s growing interest in other parts of the university’s sheep curriculum. Stewart points to recent data showing that more millennials are interested in eating lamb due to its unique flavor profile and versatility in traditional and ethnic culinary applications.
About 5 million sheep were raised in the U.S. in 2016, according to USDA. In Wyoming, there are about 360,000 sheep; the state ranks fourth in total sheep and lamb production and third in breeding sheep numbers. The industry has grown 4% since 2015, according to the recently released Census of Agriculture.
And sheep have more value than meat. The state produced the highest-valued wool clip in 2017 ($4.4 million, or $2 per pound), according to a 2018 USDA report. Utah came in second, with $4.1 million in total value.
“People come from all over the world to buy our wool,” Stewart says.
The class Stewart runs gets some positive feedback on Facebook pages showing an appreciation of how many students he has. “I’m taken aback they are taken aback [that] there is interest in the industry,” he says. “We are working with an extremely productive livestock species that provides meat and wool on very low-input resources. Why shouldn’t there be interest? But I think it reflects the millennial demographic. They are more willing to try lamb — and we are also seeing in our ag students an open mind to add sheep to an existing enterprise.”
Preparing lamb recipes
For the final, students are broken into groups of five, and Stewart assigns each a choice of three recipes from the American Lamb Board to prepare under the scrutiny of other class members. Stewart wanted to target nontraditional, lower-price-point muscle cuts and their preparation. Food was judged on external and internal visual appearance, aroma, presentation of the product, taste, tenderness and other aspects.
“A lot of cuts we can prepare similar to how we prepare beef — braised, slow cooked, marinated kabobs,” he says. “We wanted to highlight the diversity so they would, one, know of the great recipe resources at the American Lamb Board; and two, advocate for more lamb products.”
Here’s a rundown of the final project recipes from the 2019 spring class:
• Smoked American Leg of Lamb with Texas-Style Dry Rub, bit.ly/legoflambrub
• Slow-Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Pomegranate Apricot Glaze, bit.ly/shoulderglaze
• Southwestern Lamb Shoulder Roast, bit.ly/southwestroast
• Tzatziki-Stuffed American Lamb Burgers, bit.ly/stuffedlambburgers
• Greek Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki and Grilled Red Onions, bit.ly/tzatzikilambburgers
Find these recipes and many others at bit.ly/deliciouslamb.