After a successful experiment with purchasing whole pigs in the fall we decided to get some lambs for the spring. The same group ordered lambs from our farmer friend –however this time rather then purchasing shares in an animal we used a more typical approach an decided to simply purchase whole animals through a farm. The animals were killed and cleaned at an abattoir and then delivered to us as sides. We had 4 animals in total with a carcass weight of about 35 lb each.
They arrived on a Saturday morning and were quickly moved from the truck they arrived in, to a large sanitized table in our backyard. In preparation we watched several butchering videos on youtube, read up on lamb dishes in our favourite cookbooks, cleaned out our freezer and fridge, sanitized everything we could think of–our cooler, butcher block counters, all of our cutting boards , knives, meat grinder, saw, and the table we took outside.
As soon as the sides arrived we began by breaking them down into thirds, the front, middle and back. Immediately they took on the appearance of cuts you might see at the butcher shop. the hind-section (back) is cut at the hip and the fore-section (front) is removed by finding the space between the 5th and 6th rib, counted from the head-end of the animal. All we needed was a cleaver a boning knife, and on a few occasions a few pulls of our hack saw. We also removed the shank and the neck.
Eack section was then cut into its familiar cuts: bone-in leg roast, shoulder roast, shank, breast, rack, chops, etc. every morsel of meat not a part of a larger cut or left on the bones was collected, weighed, and ground or seasoned and turned into lamb sausage.
The initial breaking down of the animals was easy, but became progressively more finicky as the cuts became more complex. One of our group, Jay spent his entire day turning each rack into a finished and trimmed “french rack”– cleaned to a beautiful result. There was a definite learning curve to the sausage making, although the basics were easy to grasp, if the meat was not near frozen when ground it became messy, slow-going, and quickly gummed up — and the whole process would come to a standstill as the grinder needed to be disassembled and cleaned.