Lamb is a moist and tender meat full of nutrients like magnesium, vitamin B, iron, and zinc.
Lamb is considered one of the healthiest meats available because it has a high protein and low fat content.
Three ounces of lamb meat contains more than 20 grams of protein.
Lamb has a unique flavor similar to goat meat, and it is a delicacy often served in fine dining establishments.
Unfortunately, lamb costs more than other types of meat like beef and pork, so it is not as popular in the U.S. as in other countries.
So, why is lamb meat so expensive?
Lamb meat is expensive mainly due to the cost of raising the animal and the specialized transportation required during the meat production process. Lambs also yield less meat than other livestock such as cows and pigs.
Lamb also passes through several different hands from farm to table, and each person needs to make a profit.
Since lamb meat is not mass-produced, you may not find it at your local grocery store, but it is usually available from a butcher.
Keep reading to learn why lamb meat is so expensive, and see how the price compares to other varieties of meat we consume.
Reasons Lamb Meat Is More Expensive
Lambs Are Not Factory Farmed
Most of the meat we consume in the U.S. is produced on factory farms.
On factory farms, many animals are raised in small spaces.
More animals per square foot equate to more profit for the farm.
The main goal of a factory farm is to produce a high quantity of meat very quickly so it may be sold to consumers.
Lambs do not handle the stress and small enclosures involved in factory farming.
The stress of a factory farm will cause the lambs to grow much slower than normal, and they are also more prone to diseases.
Since lambs already produce less meat than other livestock, raising them on a factory farm is not ideal for farmers or consumers.
Instead, lambs are raised on small farms, given high-quality food and plenty of outdoor space to graze and roam freely.
This extra care raises the cost of lamb meat, but the quality and quantity of meat they produce are much greater.
Lambs Do Not Yield As Much Meat As Other Animals
Since lambs are baby sheep, they are very small animals.
Their small size means they produce less meat per animal than other common livestock like pigs and cows.
Chickens also produce more meat because they are raised in large numbers at a lower cost per pound to farmers.
The carcass yield of a lamb is only 50%, compared to cows with a yield of 60% and pigs with a yield of 65%.
For instance, if a lamb weighs 100 pounds alive, the carcass yield will only be 50 pounds.
This does not mean you will get 50 pounds of meat since only 75% of the carcass contains sellable cuts of meat.
This equates to just a little over 37 pounds of meat being sold to the consumer, one of the lowest yields from a livestock animal.
If farmers sold lambs for the same price as other common meat animals, they would need to produce thousands of them to make a profit.
This is not feasible since lambs do not thrive in a factory farm setting.
Lamb Meat Is Not Mass Produced
When you go to the meat section of your grocery store, you are likely to see beef, pork, and chicken packaged in large quantities.
When a store has a lot of a particular product to sell, it can lower the price while still making a profit.
Lamb meat is more expensive because it is not sold in such large quantities.
There are no large-scale meatpacking factories involved in lamb meat production, as the animals are typically raised on small farms and slaughtered on site.
The whole lamb is then sold to a butcher, who has to clean the carcass and prepare the sellable cuts of meat.
This creates a lot of extra work for the butcher, and they have to put a lot of time and effort into preparing the lamb meat, so it is ready to be sold to the consumer.
The butcher has to profit from all of their hard work, which makes the purchase price of lamb meat a bit higher.
Lamb Meat Requires Special Transportation
Lamb meat requires specialized transportation throughout the production process to keep the meat fresh and preserve its quality.
A special hauler is needed to ship live lambs to ensure the animals have plenty of space and not get overly stressed during transport.
Meat dealers usually buy slaughtered lambs before being sold to a butcher.
A refrigerated vehicle is required to ship the meat, which adds to the cost.
Since lamb is not mass-produced, the meat dealers act as middlemen to negotiate prices with butchers who will buy whole lambs.
Throughout this process, the lamb meat is kept in temperature-controlled environments to maintain its quality, increasing costs.
Everyone Needs To Make a Profit
Farmers sell their live lambs to slaughterhouses, which is usually done through a meat dealer.
The slaughterhouse sells the lamb carcass to another meat dealer, who then negotiates prices with a butcher to sell the meat to them.
The butcher is tasked with removing the sellable cuts of lamb meat from the carcass, so it is ready to be purchased by their customers.
The lamb passes through many hands before it is sold to consumers, and each person needs to make a profit.
These profit margins are often very slim, but the industry for lamb meat would not be able to sustain itself without any profit.
In turn, the price of lamb meat is higher than other meats with a lower production cost.
Lambs Are Raised Longer Than Other Livestock
Lambs have a slower rate of growth when compared to other common animals like pigs and cattle, so it takes longer for them to reach their slaughter weight.
Lambs are usually raised on a farm for a year, whereas pigs are only raised for six months.
Broiler chickens spend even less time on a farm, and they are usually slaughtered after just under 50 days.
Cattle may spend up to two years on a farm before being slaughtered, but since they have a much higher meat yield, the farmer can still make a decent profit.
Lambs are raised in smaller numbers, and they tend to cost more to feed and shelter due to their expensive food and the need for lots of space.
As previously mentioned, lambs have a lower meat yield than other farm animals.
If the lamb is not raised until it reaches its ideal weight at around a year old, it will not be profitable to sell because the meat yield will be even lower.
Lamb Is Considered a Luxury Cut of Meat
Lamb meat requires special preparation to prevent the meat from becoming tough and chewy.
It needs to be cooked within a specific timeframe to be moist and tender.
If lamb is cooked for too long, the meat will be very dry and chewy.
Since lamb meat has to be cooked a certain way, people reserve it for holidays or other special occasions.
Most fine dining restaurants will have lamb on the menu as well.
Because lamb is deemed a luxury food, people are willing to pay a premium price.
Healthy Foods Are More Expensive
As more diet trends lean toward healthy foods, the price of these foods tends to increase.
Many people follow the latest diet trends in search of better nutrition, and they are usually willing to pay a higher price for food labeled as healthy.
Lamb is considered one of the healthiest types of meat, which means it is more expensive.
Unlike beef, lamb has more healthy fats, which help reduce cholesterol levels to lower your heart disease and stroke risk.
Lamb meat is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids because the animal is usually grass-fed.
Lamb meat also contains essential nutrients like magnesium, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc.
However, like other types of red meat, lamb needs to be enjoyed in moderation.
Learn more about why people eat lamb and not sheep.
Price Comparision Between Lamb and Other Meats
To get a better idea of how expensive lamb meat is, it is important to understand the price of other livestock meats.
The following table shows the average price per pound for several types of meat.
These prices are from data in the United States and are represented in U.S. dollars.
|Type of Meat||Average Price Per Pound (USD)|
The variations in meat prices have to do with the cuts of meat.
For instance, lamb chops have a much higher price per pound than ground lamb.
Lamb chops may be priced as high as $35 per pound, whereas ground lamb is usually priced at around $10 per pound.
For comparison, pork chops cost about $4.36 per pound, and premium lean ground beef has an average price of $6.47 per pound.
Is There a Way To Save Money on Lamb Meat?
Lamb meat is generally very expensive, but there are a couple of ways to lower the cost.
You may want to consider buying a dressed lamb from a butcher.
A dressed lamb is the same as buying a whole lamb, except the internal organs, head, legs, and other parts not usually eaten are removed.
For a 100-pound lamb, you will get approximately 37 pounds of meat at about $300.
This is a significant up-front investment, but you will only pay around $8 per pound of lamb meat.
If you do this, you will need to have a freezer large enough to store the meat.
Another option is to purchase mutton instead of lamb.
Mutton comes from older sheep, and the meat is tougher and gamier than lamb.
Braising or stewing mutton helps tenderize the meat and mellow the robust flavor.
The result will have a similar taste and texture as lamb meat at a lower price.
Commonly Asked Questions
Are lamb and mutton the same?
Even though lamb and mutton both come from sheep, they are considered very different from each other.
The difference between the two involves how old the sheep are when slaughtered.
While lamb meat comes from younger sheep, mutton is produced from adult sheep.
The texture and taste of lamb and mutton are also very different.
Lamb is usually tender and has a more delicate flavor.
Mutton, however, is typically a bit tougher than lamb and has a very intense, somewhat gamey flavor.
Mutton is also a darker color than lamb meat, and it is sold in larger cuts.
Lamb is generally favored over mutton due to its more tender texture and less gamey taste.
Mutton is typically used in stews, cooked slowly to tenderize the meat and lessen the gamey flavor.
Fatty mutton may also be cut into thin strips and cooked the same way as bacon.
Why is lamb not popular in America?
Lamb is not as popular in America as in other countries because there are not as many farmers raising lambs for meat compared to cattle or pigs.
It is costly to raise lambs for meat, requiring a lot of effort with a small profit.
In addition, lambs are not factory farmed like cows, pigs, and chickens, so production levels are typically lower.
Which cultures eat the most lamb?
While American lamb consumption is low compared to other meats, it is a very popular meat in other parts of the world, used in several traditional dishes.
Lamb is a staple meat in several Mediterranean, Indian, Irish, Italian, Middle Eastern, and North African dishes.
Pit-barbequed lamb, known as Barbacoa, is very popular in Mexico.
Australia’s national dish is roasted lamb leg.
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