• Jolene Hamilton

4-H student raises lambs for Colorado Mills' tasting project

Kaysa Kurtz (second from left) with U.S. Army soldiers who practiced cutting the meat from Kurtz's lambs. Kurtz of Rocky Ford, Colo. was involved in an experiment to determine the effect of different types of feed on taste. [COURTESY PHOTO]

Colorado Mills of Lamar is an innovator in the sunflower feed and oil industry, and they recently partnered with Kaysa Kurtz, a sophomore at Rocky Ford High School, on a Lamb to Table Tasting project.

A popular trend among Americans is a wellness-oriented lifestyle. Health conscious consumers are more concerned about where their meat comes from, and they want to savor nutritious products without sacrificing quality.

At the same time, chefs and producers have a common goal: to reach those demands by producing high quality and nutritious meat that is financially feasible for their operations. That was the idea behind Colorado Mill’s Lamb to Table Tasting project.

“We had heard from some of our sunflower growers in Texas that they had fed some lambs sun meal and really liked the taste of it,” said Colorado Mills’ Rick Robbins. “It got us to thinking, could we actually change the taste profile of the meat by what type of feed we feed the animal?”

The company approached Kurtz to purchase and raise two lambs with similar genetics. “They asked me if I would be able to buy some sheep and then, later on, we could see what kind of taste difference they had taste-wise,” said Kurtz.

“I worked with Kaysa and got acquainted with her, and what put me towards her is she is meticulous on record keeping, so she would make sure everything was done properly,” said Robbins.

Kurtz picked a traditional show grain ration for one lamb, and the other was fed a sun meal ration from Colorado Mills called Black Gold. The lambs were raised in two pens side-by-side for 200 days, and Kurtz put her record keeping skills to use.

According to Kurtz’s records, the lamb fed sun meal gained at a faster rate with less feed, and the cost for the Sunflower-Black Gold feed was 17 cents per pound as opposed to 44 cents per pound for the Show Rite - Grain ration.

Colorado Mills’ sun meal ration comes off the press after the sunflower oil is extracted. It is 27 percent protein and 9 percent fat.

The show grain is 17 percent crude protein, 5 percent crude fat and 12 percent crude fiber. At 115 pounds, the lambs were processed and the carcasses were transported to The Modern Eater’s Studio Kitchen in Denver, where several professionals joined together to taste test the final product.

“We had 15 chefs and around 15 people from the industry. We had a representative there from the American Lamb Association and some farmers who raise sunflowers,” said Robbins.

A key player in the Lamb to Table Tasting was field butcher, chef and Beasts and Brews owner Jason Nauert of Colorado Springs. As a seasoned outdoorsman and field butcher, Nauert provides training for soldiers and military culinary teams throughout the United States. The course provides hands-on training and practice in harvesting, field dressing and processing animals. These skills allow military personnel to harvest whatever animal is available to feed the troops. Nauert brought the culinary team from Fort Carson to The Modern Eater Studio Kitchen, where he not only participated in the taste test but also gave the soldiers hands-on training.

“After the animals were processed, the carcasses were taken to The Modern Eater’s kitchen, and Nauert trained the military chefs on how to take the carcasses down to the main muscle parts and meat cuts,” said Robbins.

The Lamb to Table Tasting aired on The Modern Eater’s podcast on Jan. 14 and generated a lot of attention among consumers and the lamb industry, according to Robbins. There was a taste difference, he said.

The sun-meal-fed lamb had a very rich flavored meat and, unlike the traditional grain-fed lamb, it didn’t have the strong taste that many find unsavory. The fat of the sun-meal lamb was also preferred over that of the grain-fed lamb.

Kurtz also noticed a difference in the fat. “Chefs prepared the same meat cut from each animal. The sun-meal fat tasted like butter, and the grain-fed lamb tasted like plastic,” said Kurtz.

However, for Robbins, the biggest success was bringing everybody from farm to table into one room.

“There was a total connection of where the seeds are grown, the producer that raised the lamb and the chefs who buy meat to present to the customers of their restaurant, and everyone learned all aspects of it,” he said.

“The big goal for us long term will be making a connection from the chef to the producer, because right now a consumer and restaurant’s biggest want is to know where their food comes from, so they obviously want to make that connection.”

Robbins said this connection is beneficial in two ways: it will put more margin in the producer’s pocket because a chef will pay more knowing where the meat comes from, and the chef is going to get a higher quality product to put on their customer’s plate for a better culinary experience.

Colorado Mills is planning another taste test to determine if they get the same results, and they will be branching out into other species: goat, rabbit, beef and even buffalo.

The company plans to continue to use 4-H students for the project. “It is really neat involving the 4-Hers. We are getting ready to do one with a local 4-Her in Prowers County with goat meat,” said Robbins.

“I just can’t say enough about the job that Kaysa did. She has the passion and spark that we hope our future ag group has.”

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