One Tennessee farm is bringing lamb into the mainstream.
Farmers Elaine and Howard Dustin are animal people. That much is clear immediately as we meet them at their farm, Belfair Farms in Lawrenceburg, 90 minutes south of Nashville. Along with their 138 sheep, they have 10 dogs, 50 chickens, and eight horses. Having grown up in Florida herding cattle on horseback, Elaine is clearly at home with her animals. And while she adores her horses, sheep are their current passion.
Upon moving to Tennessee from Massachusetts five years ago, the couple couldn’t find any good lamb. “Get me two ewes and a ram so I can have my own meat,” she told her husband, Howard. But “just like potato chips, you can’t have one” Elaine laughed, so now they have a herd of hearty American Khatans and black-headed Dorpers. They formed “Ladies of the Lamb” with fellow female farmer Judy Conway in 2014. Four years later, Judy retired, leaving Howard and Elaine with the moniker.
Today, they’re phasing out the Dorpers, though to focus strictly on the Khatans, who have the best tasting meat. The Khatans are special in that they naturally shed, and are raised solely for meat. They grow a winter coat, that they instinctively rub off on the fence (at which point, the birds use for their spring nests). In contrast, other breeds, such as the more common Suffolk, grow a heavier wool coat that contains lanolin, which is what can give lamb an off-taste “like a wool sweater,” laughs Howard. The Khatans don’t have lanolin, hence their meat is sweeter and milder.
With sheep come shepherds. And theirs are prized Akbash—Turkish guard dogs. They have renown herding instincts and go to heroic efforts to protect their flock. According to Elaine, they can snatch a hawk from the air if too close to the sheep.
Elaine looks proudly at the flock, and says, “Lamb is the forgotten food.” Countries around the world celebrate the meat, and Elaine believes the American palate will soon follow. As a result, they produce a variety of products, including lamb sausage, lamb bratwurst, and lamb jerky. They also sell a variety of sheep milk cheeses.
You can find them Thursdays through Sundays at the Nashville Farmers Market. Look for the booth decorated with photos of sweet lambs and their Akbash protectors. More information at ladiesofthelamb.com.
Looking for tasty ways to cook lamb? Try this Roasted Leg of Lamb with Chimichurri or make lamb burgers—Elaine Dustin likes to mix ground sausage with the ground lamb in her recipe that uses 1 pound ground lamb, ½ pound lamb sausage, 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese, ¼ cup chopped fresh mint or rosemary, 1/2 cup chopped green onion, 2 minced cloves garlic, salt, and pepper. She combines the ingredients, shapes the mixture into 6 patties, and grills the burgersto desired doneness.
*This story comes to us from Edible Nashville. Photos by Lauren Daughtery