News Lamb Launch: Alabama Farmer Debuts Game-Changing Sheep Breed

Lamb Launch: Alabama Farmer Debuts Game-Changing Sheep Breed

Lamb Launch: Alabama Farmer Debuts Game-Changing Sheep Breed
October 28, 2019 |

Tender, consistently tasty, melt-in-the-mouth cuts of lamb are changing the game for sheep — all because of a breed that debuted at Fagerman Farm in Morgan County and attracted farmers worldwide.

Daniel Fagerman is the sole distributor and registrar of Australian White sheep in the Americas. Known for its non-gamey flavor and often called the “Wagyu of lamb,” the meat retails for around $50 a pound.

“My main goal is to show people how good this lamb is,” said Fagerman, 34, who hosted the debut symposium in Hartselle Aug. 14. “This product is more consistent in delivering the same standards over and over.”

Australian White fat has a lower melting point than most lamb, which means it dissolves immediately when eaten. Those flavors keep consumers coming back for more, said Huntsville-based chef Rick Vonk.

During the debut, sheep farmers from South American countries mingled with producers from places like Mexico, Mississippi and Minnesota. The 30-plus growers were eager to learn about the Australian White and sample lamb during an after-party, which Vonk catered.

Vonk and a team of chefs took a less-is-more approach to the six-course tasting menu. They used light seasoning and sauces to enhance the meat’s natural flavor and fat, while an open fire flamekissed the lamb. Cuts ranged from leg of lamb to sirloin and ribs to rack of lamb.

Vonk noted lamb is traditionally gamey with a distinct aftertaste. Replacing that taste with a meaty, consistent flavor is a game-changer, he added.

At his day job, Fagerman is chief technology officer at LiDARUSA in Hartselle, which specializes in unmanned aerial vehicle and mobile mapping systems. Fagerman and his father, Jeff, broke into the revolutionary technology industry years before demand was fully there — an approach Fagerman is mimicking on the farm.

“Like with the Australian White, there was no market for our technology until we made it,” said Fagerman, whose hobby farm has grown to nearly 700 head of Katahdin sheep.

Fagerman first keyed into the Australian White during a meeting in Mexico in 2018. The breed was developed seven years earlier by Tattykeel, a farm in New South Wales, Australia.

“Our aim was to design a breed of sheep that was easy to raise with no wool — only hair — and that would grow quickly with exceptional carcass traits and eating quality,” said Graham Gilmore, whose family owns Tattykeel.

The Australian White, which requires limited maintenance, combines traits from Poll Dorset, Texel, White Dorper and Van Rooy sheep. The breed has been successfully produced from the extreme cold of Mongolia to the dry heat of Australia and now the humid Deep South.

“It’s with great pride and gratitude that we have the opportunity to bring the Tattykeel Australian White to Alabama and then the whole U.S.,” Gilmore said. “We will always have doubters, but our aim is clear — to produce quality meat for the chefs who are now demanding the best product available.” 

After a year of research and red tape, Fagerman’s dreams became a reality when his first Australian White lambs were born this spring. A team implanted the embryos in Katahdin sheep, a less expensive alternative to importing live animals from Australia.

Fagerman said he hopes to double his farm over the next year while encouraging farmers to invest in the Australian White.

“These sheep are more appealing to producers because of their conversion of feed, rapid rate of growth, uniformity and ability to adapt to their environment,” he said.

Farmer Ely Valdez attended the sheep debut in Hartselle and said he hopes to add the Australian White to his flock, which grazes on a solar farm near San Antonio, Texas.

“We’re looking for something with more consistent, better meat quality,” Valdez said. “We want to be one of the first ones to get into the business.”

Fagerman admits introducing a breed to the U.S. has challenges. They’re working to improve the embryo success rate, identify processors and increase farmers supplying product for high-end chefs. The end goal is to develop demand for Australian White lamb on menus across the U.S., from Las Vegas to Atlanta to Washington, D.C.

“There is no other breed of sheep in the world that has been developed with these improved traits to provide a better consumer dining experience,” Fagerman said. 

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