Depending on where you live and your culture, you may hear of people eating lamb but not eating sheep.
In the United States, lamb is very popular for meat-eaters and family dinners. In reality, people eat both lamb and adult sheep.
One tends to be more popular than the other depending on where you live, but they are, in reality, the same animal.
The main difference is the animal’s age at the time of slaughter.
People eat both lamb and sheep. Lamb refers to all meat slaughtered from sheep under 1 year. Meat slaughtered from sheep over 1 year of age is called mutton. Lamb tends to be more tender, while mutton usually develops more distinctive flavors. Lamb is also more popular.
Lamb and mutton are both from sheep.
There are some critical differences between sheep and lamb to keep in mind.
We’ll go over everything you need to know about why some people eat lamb over mutton.
Why Do People Prefer Lamb Over Sheep?
If you grew up in the United States, you see lamb chops, racks of lamb, shoulder roasts, and lamb shanks in the butcher shop and grocery stores.
You may not see sheep as frequently in the stores.
This often leads to why some people prefer lamb or sheep.
Lamb refers to meat from sheep less than one year of age, while mutton refers to meat from sheep over one year.
Lamb tends to be more tender than mutton as the sheep is younger.
Usually, lambs are brought to slaughter from 6-12 months.
Mutton meat from full-grown sheep tends to be tougher and requires more tenderizing.
The taste of mutton tends to be more distinctive as well.
While some people may think of lambs as babies, this is not the case.
Most lambs are nearly fully grown when it comes time for slaughter.
While they will continue to fill out after they reach one year of age, they are far from the cute, fluffy babies we see online.
While meat texture and flavor factors, another reason for lamb’s popularity is the time it takes to raise mutton.
If you primarily raise sheep for meat, you’ll start to have lambs ready for slaughter after 6 months.
You’ll need to wait until the sheep reach 1 year of age for mutton.
This means an extra 6 months of feeding and caring for the sheep before you cash in on the meat at the market.
Most farmers are looking to minimize expenses and maximize profits.
It makes significantly more sense financially to raise sheep for lamb meat over mutton when you look at it this way.
Check out our whole guide to the difference between lamb and sheep.
The Difference Between Lamb And Mutton
The main difference between lamb and mutton is the age of the sheep at the time of slaughter.
They are the same animal, but the term for its meat changes.
The differences in the texture and tastes of the meats benefit certain styles of meals and recipes.
For example, lamb meat tends to be excellent for roasting on a spit, while mutton tends to be better for stews.
Mutton is also very popular in Indian dishes.
What Is Lamb Meat?
Lamb meat comes from young sheep.
The classification refers to the age of the sheep.
Lamb is popularly used in holidays and parties as they are the perfect size for dinner gatherings.
Younger animals of most livestock usually have a more tender quality to their meat, and lambs are no different.
This makes them very desirable for meat-eaters.
Related: When is a sheep too old to eat?
What Is Mutton Meat?
Any sheep over one year of age brought to slaughter yields mutton meat.
Mutton is very popular in certain stews and dishes.
These dishes tend to benefit from the mutton’s less tender texture.
Those who cook mutton are well accustomed to the additional tenderizing needed to cook a good meal.
Most American consumers and other people in Western countries do not eat sheep meat or mutton from adult animals.
It is not the most popular country for mutton consumption.
Benefits Of Raising Lamb For Meat
Lamb is a popular choice of meat for holidays and dinners. Its taste and tenderness set it apart from other meat.
They also tend to be a bit more low maintenance than other types of livestock.
If you have ample space for lambs to grave, they make an excellent choice for farmers interested in raising animals for meat production.
Thrive At Pasture
Lambs thrive in pastures.
They do very well in wide-open spaces and prefer it.
They do not do as well in confinement as other livestock so keep this before bringing them to your farm.
Different lamb breeds are used to keep the grass under control and renew pastures.
There are certain breeds celebrated for their ability to restore the overall health of pastures.
Lambs are self-reliant animals.
They tend to be very independent and well-suited for grazing without supervision.
However, if you live in an area with potential predators like coyotes or wolves, we highly recommend getting a herding dog to protect your sheep from attacks.
A huge benefit of having animals graze in pastures is the reduced cost of feed.
Since they will be getting a lot of their necessary food from grazing, you won’t have to spend as much on commercial feed for your herd.
Since they prefer to have plenty of space anyway, you and your sheep will benefit.
Require Less Maintenance Than Other Livestock
Some livestock animals require lots of labor to keep them happy.
Some even need special surgeries like tail-docking and horn cutting to make keeping them easier.
Pigs often fight and resort to tail-biting.
For this reason, many pig farmers choose to get their tails cut off or shortened to reduce the likelihood of blood during fights or causing serious injury.
Similarly, dairy and beef farmers often get the horns removed from their cows.
This reduces the likelihood of cows hurting each other during fights.
It also helps to protect the farmers from dangerous horns.
On the other hand, lambs and sheep don’t require much maintenance.
They don’t need their pens or barns cleared out as they tend to spend much of their time on pasture.
Most sheep breeds are hardy, versatile, and adaptable.
This makes them an especially low-maintenance choice for livestock.
Produce More Meat On Less Feed
Many livestock farmers find lambs provide the most meat for the least amount of feed.
This means your return on investment is likely to be significantly higher than what you may get from other livestock.
Lambs allowed to graze on pastures also tend to require less investment when it comes to commercial sheep food.
Lambs who primarily graze on grass tend to mature slightly slower than those on commercial feed.
It often takes them a bit longer to reach market weight.
Creep-feeding is a great solution for this.
The method of creep-feeding involves supplementing some of your sheeps’ meals with commercial food.
This allows you to benefit from the cost-saving method of allowing them to graze while also getting them to market weight faster.
Is Lamb Healthy To Eat?
Many people consider lamb one of the most healthy options and a wonderful meat choice.
There are a few major reasons why many believe this to be true.
Lambs don’t tend to react well to stress.
It often affects their growth and development and leads to poor meat.
For this reason, they don’t make as good candidates for mass-produced factory farms as cows and pigs do.
Raised Better Than Other Livestock
The world of factory farming leads to truly dismal conditions for the animals, often bordering on animal cruelty.
The livestock at factory farms tends to be crammed into small spaces.
This is inhumane, but it also affects the quality of the meat.
We’ve all tasted the difference in the quality of meats from small farms compared to those from factory farms.
The quality is undeniable.
Animals like cows, pigs, and chickens are more resistant to stress than lambs.
While they aren’t happy about being crammed into cages and small spaces, they still grow and produce meat for factory cattle farmers to sell.
Lambs, on the other hand, do not do well in confinement.
They experience a lot of stress, and they don’t react well.
Lambs who experience excessive stress levels from confinement tend to grow much slower and not develop well.
This is unpleasant for the lambs, but it also directly affects the quality and amount of meat farmers get from each lamb.
For this reason, lambs are usually more well-kept than other types of livestock.
This means they usually taste better than other meat options for large-scale farms.
Primarily Grass Fed
Lambs and sheep love to graze the pasture.
They prefer it to living in confined spaces and receiving grain feed.
Grass-fed animals are celebrated for their high-quality taste.
Since most lambs and sheep are primarily fed grass, the meat of sheep tends to taste very good.
If you’ve ever had grass-fed beef, you’ve likely noticed the definitive delicious flavor compared to commercial beef and other mass-produced meat.
Most lambs are content to graze and occasionally visit a salt block.
Related: Are grass cuttings bad for sheep?
Choose Small Slaughterhouses
We highly recommend buying lamb and other fresh meat from smaller slaughterhouses.
They tend to put time and care into raising their livestock and slaughtering them.
You will undoubtedly notice the difference between meat from smaller slaughterhouses and farms and your average meat from the grocery store.
The risk of contamination is considerably less in smaller slaughterhouses.
Lambs are no different, and the taste difference speaks for itself.
Large-scale farms and slaughterhouses emphasize speed over quality.
This is why there is sometimes contamination of large amounts of meat.
If one animal is incorrectly butchered and excrement gets into the mix, it will contaminate a large amount of meat.
If this is something you are worried about, we recommend getting specific cuts of lamb over ground lamb.
Specific cuts of meat like shoulders, rump, lamb chop, and rack of lamb require a specific cut.
The rest of the animal is then ground together and packaged as ground meat.
Ground meat is significantly more likely to be contaminated as it mixes all the different parts of the animal.
Is Eating Lamb Ethical?
We all see the adorable photographs of fuzzy and innocent baby lambs and may wonder if eating them is ethical.
While whether eating meat is ethical is widely debated, some consider lamb to be the most ethical choice compared to other kinds of meat.
While lambs are slaughtered earlier than sheep, other livestock is usually slaughtered at a younger age.
The main exception is cows.
Cows don’t reach market weight until 12-16 months of age.
Rest assured, most lambs are a bit older and reach roughly their full size before they are slaughtered.
Chances are you are not eating a baby lamb.
Some also find lambs to be more ethical than other livestock due to how they are raised.
Lambs are unique in their ability to exist off of grazing, which reduces the environmental impact of commercial feed.
The growing and shipping of commercial feed take a toll on the environment.
Since lambs graze, they don’t contribute to this negative effect on the environment.
Lambs are also considerably smaller than other animals.
Cows, for instance, are significantly larger, and so is their excrement.
Cow feces and manure on factory farms are responsible for a large amount of methane gas.
The methane gas is released into the atmosphere and negatively affects the environment.
Since lambs and sheep are considerably smaller, they contribute considerably less to this form of pollution.
Lambs are also slaughtered at a younger age, reducing the amount of time they take up resources.
Read next: Can you eat a ram lamb?