FILER — Counting sheep might not be easy at Life Spring Farms south of Filer.
Beyond a large house under construction, you’ll find fields of grasses and purple flowers. The short, woolly animals grazing there are a bit trickier to see; nearly camouflaged in shades of cream and brown, the sheep pick around the summer pasture, walking alongside a small herd of friendly, curious cattle.
The hearty, long-haired Icelandic sheep was farmer Lynn Schaal’s breed of choice based on a combination of wool, meat and milk.
Schaal’s lamb is certified organic, which requires him to follow federal guidelines and have his farm inspected every two years. The sheep must not be exposed to genetically modified crops or chemicals.
“For the most part,” he said, “it’s not a huge problem.”
What’s perhaps more challenging is keeping up with demand. The sheep come into heat only once a year. It can range from the end of September to the first part of February. Schaal spreads out his breeding program as long as he can so restaurants can extend the season.
Why this niche?
Schaal got into sheep as kind of an experiment. About nine years ago, Schaal’s church was doing a project in Bulgaria involving sheep. So he decided to test the Icelandic sheep breed to see how difficult it was to raise.
After starting with only six sheep, he has built a flock of around 120.
“Iceland is a pretty harsh environment,” Schaal said. “So they’re tough.”
Get a taste
Schaal sells organic Icelandic sheep and beef, on the hoof or transported to your local butcher of choice. The Icelandic lamb is considered something of a delicacy in Europe because of the flavor of the meat, Schaal said.
“The meat is very mild because there is little lanolin in the wool,” he said.
That makes it ideal for people who don’t enjoy the taste of lamb.
It’s been tough gaining support from restaurants, but several in the Magic and Wood River valleys have been convinced — now equating to about 70 percent of his business. Many offer the lamb only on special. Twin Falls Sandwich Co. has purchased the “lamburger” — lamb hamburger — in years past, Schaal said.
Nourishme in Ketchum also carries cuts of his lamb, and Schaal sells some ground beef on his own.
The ewes he keeps have a high percentage of birthing twins. Schaal raises them until they are 8 to 12 months old. By then, they’ve grown to an average of 90 pounds. He typically charges $180 for a live lamb, with a $10 charge to drop it off at your butcher of choice. The butcher’s fees are usually around $100 per animal, he said.
Life Spring Farms has sold organic beef, but that’s about to change. From an equipment perspective, it made more sense for Schaal to continue with only sheep instead of making some hefty repairs. So he decided to sell off the remaining cattle and expand his flock.
“We’re going to build to about 400 ewes,” he said.