sheep_2"Pass the Mutton"

by Leah McColm

What better defines Salt Spring Island than it’s sheep? A mascot for islanders and the butt of many jokes, Salt Spring sheep are seen everywhere - from roadside fields to souvenir T-shirts.

What makes Salt Spring Island sheep so special?

Some say the famous flavour comes from the sea breezes that carry salt. The salt then settles onto the land that the sheep feed from, giving them a unique texture. Another theory is the top grade food that the farmers feed them, a combination of grains, whole barley, local dry hay and grass. When the ewes are having their lambs they are fed alfalfa. Farmers like their sheep to be really lean as well, trying to keep them around 45 pounds; anything over 55 pounds is too fat (see footnote on breeds and weights >>).

There are 10 to 12 different breeds of sheep on Salt Spring, the oldest being the Suffolk which have been on the island since around 1890 when settlers came from Great Britain. Top breeds can fetch from $500 to $700. Salt Spring sheep are raised mainly for meat which is sold in local restaurants and supermarkets as well as to off-island markets and through farm gate sales. The milk is used to drink and in local cheese making operations.

Another local cottage industry is sheep's wool which is sold to local spinners to make clothing. Those sheep used for their fleece are fed an extra pound of grain. The main predator for sheep are the dogs that go into sheep farms, chasing and sometimes killing the animals. Another predator is the raven who goes after young lambs and ewes in distress.

No one really knows why Salt Spring lamb tastes so good that even the Queen of England prefers it. Perhaps it’s the salt breezes or the grains or perhaps island life simply agrees with sheep - as it does for almost everybody who lives in this paradise.

Well that’s all folks, baaaaaah for now.

Leah McColm

Addendum submitted by Darlyn on Lummi:
"There are breeds which produce a lamb with a 45 pound carcass yield and there are larger breeds such as Columbias and Suffolks which produce a lamb with an optimum live butcher weight of 140 pounds. At the industry standard dress out, such optimum live weight for lambs of larger breeds such as the Columbia converts to a dressed weight of 70 pounds. That lamb is between and 7 and 9 months of age, definitely not mutton. A lamb grades as mutton when it has lost its milk teeth. A Columbia lamb will hold its milk teeth well over 12 months. Columbia lamb, at 70 pounds dress out is just as tasty and lean, even leaner, than a 45 pound dressed out lamb from a Southdown or Dorset (which are smaller breeds)."