It was that earlier this year that we decided to start the process of home producing and rearing our own lamb for the shop at La Hogue. I say “we”, it was, I admit, a purely selfish personal ambition of mine, as being the son of a West Country Livestock Farmer I’d grown up in and around animals, and having moved to East Anglia 10 years ago, I’d missed the mooing, baaing, crowing and associated smells and unpleasantries from livestock.

We started off with some home bred lambs from our pet ewes (once the girls here at La Hogue realised my plans for the lambs I was vilified, shunned and sent to Coventry without any supper). Despite being in the dog house, I then increased the flock with some fantastic young Charollais and Texel cross lambs from local farms. I then bought several small groups of breeding ewes including some Black Welsh rare breeds again from local farms, and two strapping Stock Rams called “Brad & Mo” in preparation for next year.

My wife (and partner at La Hogue) Jo, was becoming suspicious and slightly concerned at where the numbers of sheep arriving at La Hogue were going to end up.

The ewes and lambs are being grass reared on paddocks here at La Hogue, Barton Mills and several thoroughbred horse studs in the locality whose owners delight at the lawn mowing capabilities of sheep. Me being a bit of a softy they also get treats such as the left over vegetables from the Farm Shop & Cafe – broccoli being a particular favourite.

Even my 4 year old boy asked me in the car one day,“Daddy why do you keep buying sheep?”

I replied “Because they don’t talk back, son.”

Now although all the above sounds idyllic and dandy (apart from being sent to Coventry), I knew in the back of my mind that the time was looming to investigate and make the decision as to where my lambs were going to be slaughtered for the shop.

Abattoirs have had a fair bit of bad press in recent years and in some cases rightly so where there was over whelming evidence of cruel handling or general welfare issues of animals. There was no way I was going to risk this so I started researching the nearest abattoirs and asking awkward questions of their management with regard to the process.

One abattoir stood out to me and that was Lamberts in Eye, Suffolk. On research of their website, I was slightly surprised but intrigued to see they displayed an article where 3 or so years ago three of Lamberts employees had been found guilty of improper handling of animals. My first reaction was to dismiss Lamberts as an option, but then on further consideration, started to be intrigued by the honesty (or naivety) of having this on their web page.

I phoned their Managing Director Kevin Burrows (whose family had been involved in traditional butchery for approximately 200 years) and after a few questions and without prompting, he said the only way I was going to be happy was if I followed the lambs right through the process so that I could be satisfied they were treated properly. This was not something I was going to relish but felt he was right if I really wanted to be certain things were as they should be.

The day arrived and after carefully selecting the lambs, which I thought were in the prime condition, set off to Eye in my recently purchased livestock trailer with 13 lambs bedded in oodles of soft barley straw.

Lamberts Abattoir

I phoned their Managing Director Kevin Burrows (whose family had been involved in traditional butchery for approximately 200 years) and after a few questions and without prompting, he said the only way I was going to be happy was if I followed the lambs right through the process so that I could be satisfied they were treated properly. This was not something I was going to relish but felt he was right if I really wanted to be certain things were as they should be.

The day arrived and after carefully selecting the lambs, which I thought were in the prime condition, set off to Eye in my recently purchased livestock trailer with 13 lambs bedded in oodles of soft barley straw.

I was met at Lamberts by Kevin Burrows and their newly appointed Marketing, PR & Communications man Graham Pentelow. I was again intrigued that an abattoir should have a full time PR manager. It simply surprised me that such a business should have one, but as time went on it became clear why.

It immediately hit me that Kevin was a no nonsense, plain talking sort of guy who if you asked him a question he would puff his chest out and answer honestly with nothing to hide. I liked that. After a briefing of what the process entailed I was dressed up in a hygienic suit and donned a white net hat that even Hilda Ogden would have been embarrassed to wear.

I backed my trailer onto the loading ramp and noticed I was being watched by a stern looking lady wearing a silly hat like myself. This, explained Graham was one of three independent EEC vets who check the animals as they are unloaded and follow them into the lairage and holding pens.

The other thing I noticed was the number of CCTV cameras at every point I went. It almost felt like I was off the film Running Man where Arnold Schwarznegger and accomplice’s steps are videoed at every nook & cranny. The incident 3 years ago was stamped on with the employees responsible unceremoniously sacked.  The situation arose in outdated premises and without the ability to effectively monitor welfare.  Lamberts now occupy purpose built facilities opened in 2010 with CCTV cameras installed and uncompromising procedures being put in place to allow complete transparency to all. Every industry has a small proportion of rogues – even Policemen, Bankers, Lawyers and God forbid Farm Shop owners. However, as long as there are systems in place to seek out those Rogues hopefully good will prevail.

Once off the trailer and the vet having been satisfied with their well being, Kevin Burrows’ nephew Craig took me through the next part. The lambs were carefully guided into a pen where at the end was what looked like to me a cradle shaped sheep holding pen.

Craig explained that this was a new innovation, that once the sheep walked into it they felt safe and relaxed. My experience of livestock told me that it looked as though this was the case.

Before they were aware that anything untoward was going to happen the first lamb was then “stunned” and it was over. I couldn’t help thinking to myself that when my day came this would be what I would choose. Quickly, efficiently and little preconception of what was going to happen.

The lambs were then processed down a line where at the next check point an independent meat inspector carefully checked all was well with both the carcass and offal. The efficiency and work ethic of the staff on this processing line was stunning and I wished I could take a few of them back in my sheep trailer to La Hogue (although before I’m vilified by my staff we have an excellent team).

The final part of the process was an independent meat & livestock commission grader who inspected and graded the lambs according to their fat content and conformation.

So there it was – I certainly didn’t find it a pleasant experience but I felt I had done everything possible to ensure the lambs were treated with respect – which they were. It also got me thinking about education and knowledge of the food chain:

In Denmark it is on the school curriculum that children must visit an abattoir once to experience the process and increase knowledge of where their meat comes from. Is this crazy or should it be applauded?

I know I would be slightly hesitant to take my 4 year old in case of trauma, but then kids in my experience often don’t react like adults and have fewer inhibitions. All I know is that it pains me that a good proportion of children and even adults in this country are clueless to what happens to put a lamb chop on their plate.

As for Lamberts and the Burrows family, it’s clear they are very proud of what they do and how well they do it. Abattoirs are an easy punch bag for the public, the same as traffic wardens and speed trap vans but unless the whole country is to turn vegetarian then someone has to do it – and Lamberts do it with pride and compassion. This was the reason for a full time PR man to convey how Lamberts, and many other sadly diminishing abattoirs, do this job that many wouldn’t- with excellence.

Our High Welfare Home produced traditional and Rare Breed Lamb is now available in both the farm Shop & Cafe – and we offer it with pride.

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