JIS News

The Sheep Farmers Development Project has been reaping real rewards for Jamaican farmers. One such farmer is Howard Hill, who is also the Public Relations Officer for the Sheep Farmers’ Association.
Mr. Hill tells JIS News that his entry into the field was purely coincidental as his original trade was that of a fish farmer. However, his need to reduce quick growing shrubs, which often overrode his pond caused him to consider the use of sheep for grazing. Since this introduction, he has traded in the fish ponds for lucrative herds of sheep and has been doing so successfully.
While many Jamaicans are more familiar with goat meat or imported mutton, lamb is seen as a higher end delicacy much touted and consumed by international food connoisseurs. Sadly though, the demand from hotels is often filled almost exclusively by foreign imports.
The Ministry of Agriculture, along with the funding agency, the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB), is however, trying to reduce this trend by the implementation and extension of the Sheep Farmers’ Development Project through the ministry’s Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP).
According to Mr. Hill, the sheep farmers in Jamaica only supply less than 10 per cent of the market with imports mainly coming from New Zealand, Australia and America.
“Our market is the hotels. They utilize a lot of lamb and we want to have a fair share of that pie,” he explains. The pie he refers to is the pooling of resources by sheep farmers and the ASSP in what he calls a ‘Feed Lot’, where farmers leave animals for a period of three months for them to be fattened, slaughtered and then marketed on the farmer’s behalf to hotels or for the local trade.
“The importance of this venture is that we are working together, as traditionally one person might not get into the hotels with any sort of consistency, because volume is not available. When we pool our resources we can make a dent in the market and have consistency of supply and quality,” he explains.
He says that quality, taste and aging of the meat are further enhanced by the provision of cold room facilities by the Bodles Research Station in St. Catherine.
The breed stocks currently available in the island are the Black Belly, the St. Elizabeth White and the Doper, which was imported from South Africa. He, however, points out that the Doper has become the sheep of choice for the market as a result of the meat, body quality, flavour and the ability to achieve premier cuts, which is required by the tourism sector.
“The cuts can stand up to any first world cut that you can get, so we are getting into the market at a level where any hotel would want our choice cuts,” he notes.
While trading in lamb meat with the hospitality industry is high on the association’s agenda, provisions have also been put in place to supply local markets and supermarkets with sheep meat produced in Jamaica.
“What we are doing in the association is going through a process of selection, and those that do not reach the standard of the hotels will be sold locally as mutton,” he tells JIS News.
The Jamaica Sheep Farmers’ Association currently has 40 members and is still growing to accommodate the expected increased membership. Persons interested in becoming members of the association must complete an application form and should be the owner of 25 ewes and a ram. However, the organization assists individuals in sourcing these animals as well.

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