Jeff McCutcheon, Extension Agent, Knox County
(Originally Published in Sheep Team Newsletter June 2003)
Many people while discussing lamb marketing or the outlook for lamb mention a bright spot in ethnic marketing. What does that mean? US Census data reveals that one in ten people living in this country were born in another country. A large percentage of the immigrants during the last twenty years have come from countries that traditionally have lamb as their meat choice. Immigrants from Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa are bringing ethnic and religious preferences for lamb to the European based US population. If population trends continue there is a chance the demand for lamb will increase. There seems to be no discrimination between lamb and goat, with buyers taking either depending on price.
One example of how this could impact lamb marketing is with the Muslim population. It is estimated there are over 14 million Muslims in the US with most centered on the east coast.
Around 7 million are estimated to reside in the area from Detroit, MI to Louisville, KY. We are all familiar with how the celebration of Easter has increased demand for 40-60 lbs lamb in spring. In markets close to the Muslim population centers there is potential to increase demand around less familiar holidays where lamb is used in celebration. Islamic holidays like Eid Al Fitr, (Festival breaking the fast of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month) Eid Al Adha, (Festival of Sacrifice) and Islamic New Year are a few where lamb is part of the traditional celebration.
If producers want to target these marketing opportunities there are a few things to consider. The first is that the Islamic calendar is lunar and based on sightings of the new moon. A lunar year has 354 days, 11.25 days shorter than the Julian calendar used in the US. That means each holiday moves forward about 11 to 12 days each year. Targeting these celebrations to market your animals will require more planning than traditional marketing. One good web site that lists dates for religious holidays is http://www.interfaithcaledar.org
Producers should also realize that there are some religious dietary restrictions in regards to the processing of the meat. Halal is the term used to describe food that is prepared in accordance of Islamic law. Halal slaughter, like kosher (Jewish), is considered by USDA to be a religious or ritual slaughter. Besides a specific ritual during slaughter there must not be any contact with pork or instruments used in the processing of pork. There are few processing plants practicing Halal slaughter in the US, with most being located on the east coast.
Another thing to consider is that our traditional livestock auctions are not the preferred way to obtain animals. Many of these immigrants come from a culture of bartering and haggling. Some feel cheated if they can’t lower the price. Great importance is placed on building a relationship with an individual, either a farmer or order buyer.
The type of lamb desired by this market is generally, a 60-90 pound lamb that is lean, and well muscled. Fat or wasty lamb is not preferred. For Eid Al Adha, yearlings are also accepted. Muslims require an ‘unblemished’ animal. The definition of unblemished depends on the interpretation of Islamic law. The definition always rules out dirty, unthrifty, unsound, open wounds, and broken horns. Some consider docking, castration, dehorning, and ear tags blemishes.
Remember like the Easter market if you target these holidays it is best to sell 7-10 days before the actual holiday.