Lamb is often viewed as a luxury or traditional meat in North America, but it’s popular and more common in other parts of the world.
Whether you’re enjoying a lamb roast on Easter Sunday or just living the good life with some succulent lamb chops and artisan veggies, lamb is satisfying.
But it is also expensive! Be ready for some sticker shock if you were expecting beef prices!
So, why lamb is so expensive compared to other types of meat?
Lamb is expensive due to a combination of factors that add up to a higher price per pound, such as: breeding costs, land requirements, consumer perception, and marked factors.
Although the reasons for the price difference can be complex, the key factors that contribute to the higher cost of lamb are pretty easy to explain – though you might not like them!
In this article, I’ll tell you why lamb is often more costly than other meats.
Raising Sheep is Expensive for Farmers
Sheep are one of the most costly animals to raise for farmers, especially when compared to other mammals of similar size like goats or pigs.
The expense of raising sheep comes from several factors, including ones we will discuss below, but suffice it to say that if the animals cost a lot more to take care of, you can expect their products, including their meat, to be priced accordingly.
This is certainly true of sheep, and also of lambs specifically.
The total cost to raise a sheep to the point where it can be slaughtered for meat is surprisingly high, compared to larger animals, and more expensive than other animals in their approximate size category like pigs and goats.
Breeding sheep is expensive, and not particularly cost efficient if they are being raised for meat.
First of all, the cost of breeding stock for raising quality meat lambs is among the most expensive aspects of raising sheep.
Farmers pay a premium for these animals with suitable lineage, and they also invest in the healthcare necessary to maintain their condition.
These expenses add up, driving up the overall cost of raising sheep.
Then we must look at the reproductive rate of sheep. Compared to pigs especially, sheep reproduce slowly and have small litters consisting of two or maybe three lambs.
Worse yet, birthing complications are common, as are high rejection rates by mothers.
This can make things very complicated for keepers who are depending on nature and maternal instinct to supply a steady stream of sheep to meet market demand.
Sheep Need Lots of Land and Quality Pasturage to Graze
Sheep are grazing animals that require access to lots of land and high-quality pasturage in order to thrive.
The quality of the land they graze on directly impacts their health and the quality of the meat they produce.
A lack of land, or low-quality, or unwholesome pasturage will slow the growth rate of lambs and diminish the quality of their meat.
While some lambs can be raised on milk alone, eliminating this issue, this isn’t the norm…
Lambs grow and mature quickly, and that means that most lambs require access to the same quality pasturage as adults do.
This, in turn, means that farmers must invest in not only acquiring enough grazing lands but also maintaining, managing and fortifying them.
Consider also that these lands might be few in some areas, or just very expensive, and it isn’t hard to see how that directly increases the overall cost of lamb.
The Cost of Feed is Increasing
The cost of feed for sheep has been increasing in recent years, driven by several factors, including the rising cost of grain and other commodities.
This increase in the cost of feed has a direct impact on the cost of raising sheep, which is passed on to consumers.
Grazing is critical for most sheep, and adolescent lambs, but sheep farmers often must provide their animals with additional quality feed to ensure their health and productivity.
The recession has made it difficult for some shepherds to afford this feed, leading to increased costs for supplemental calories their sheep need.
The cost of feed can account for up to 70% of the total cost of raising sheep, making it a significant expense and one that is even more keenly felt as costs creep up, up, up.
With no other options, this cost is once again passed on to the consumer.
Lamb is Perceived as a “Luxury” Meat
Never underestimate the power of perception. And since lamb is often perceived as a luxury meat in the West, associated with wealth, refined tastes, and special occasions this has led to higher prices for lamb than other meats.
It’s not considered a common staple meat in most American and some European markets despite being so nutritious and versatile.
This perception of lamb as a luxury item enables retailers and restaurants to charge more for it, plain and simple.
This pricing strategy further helps to justify the higher cost of raising sheep and lambs, as well, and keeps the market for it more or less stable.
Market and Retailer Factors
“Backroom” market and retailer factors also play a role in the high cost of lamb.
Limited but still consistent demand for lamb means that it takes up precious shelf space in markets, and retailers need to justify this by charging higher prices compared to beef which it is usually by.
Similarly, restaurants can charge a premium for lamb because it is rarely as popular (or as heavily stocked) compared to beef or pork.
As always, the correct market price of any item, at least in capitalist society, is whatever the market will bear.
Sellers at any level know this and know that lamb, despite its relatively limited appeal in the U.S. and other Western countries, will routinely fetch a premium over other meats.
You might say it’s a niche offering, but still one worthwhile for them…
And don’t take my word for it: the next time to stroll into Kroger, Wal-Mart or any other supermarket just take a look.
You will see a small quantity of lamb in the cooler case in the meat department or at the butcher, and if you compare the prices of lamb to beef or pork you can easily draw your own conclusions.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.