Why Is Lamb So Expensive?

Published Categorized as Ingredients, Guide, Meat

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Lamb meat is one of the most popular and delicious types of meat in the world, particularly in Europe, The United Kingdom and The Middle East. However, in many regions, such as The United States, your local butcher shop or grocery store might sell lamb for significantly more than food derived from most other meat animals. With this in mind, many people may wonder why is lamb so expensive?

Table of Contents

What Is Lamb Meat?

Lamb meat is as the name suggests meat that is harvested when you have a lamb butchered, with lamb being the name for a younger sheep. Unlike something like veal, younger lambs would not be profitable to a farmer or butcher. As such, they are often reared for just under a year before being sold and slaughtered. 

However, lamb meat will still be harvested before the sheep is fully grown. This is because meat from fully grown adult sheep is referred to as mutton.

How Does Lamb Meat Taste?

Lamb has a unique taste that is delicate yet distinctive, slightly fatty, and gamey to some people. Often this effect is as a result of the lamb being roasted. However, it can also be braised, grilled, stewed or fried to great success. Lamb is somewhat firm to cut but has a deliciously tender texture. 

Typically, lamb will be served with potatoes and other veg. Additionally, it may be cooked in a wine or mint sauce or be served with mint sauce on the side.


Are Lamb And Mutton The Same?

Whilst lamb and mutton are both types of meat derived from sheep they are considered to be distinct from one another. Like with veal and beef, the main difference between lamb and mutton ultimately comes down to the age of the animal butchered.

This is because the meat butchered from an older sheep carcass will be mutton. Meanwhile, the meat from younger sheep will be called lamb, after the fact it is butchered from slaughtered lambs.

In terms of texture and taste, mutton differs quite a bit from lamb meat. This is because instead of being tender and delicate mutton is rich and very gamey along with being slightly tougher. Additionally, mutton will come in cuts that are both larger and darker in colour. 

Whilst many people do enjoy mutton, it is typically less popular than lamb due to being firmer and less delicate. As a result of these factors, mutton will often be slow-cooked to tenderise and mellow out its flavours. 

Is Lamb Healthy?

Compared to many other types of red meat, like beef, lamb is considered one of the healthiest meats you can eat. This is because despite being quite fatty, lamb meat is incredibly rich in protein. Additionally, due to being near enough universally grass-fed, lamb cuts such as lamb chops are rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids.

Inevitably like with other red meats, eating lamb in excessive amounts can be incredibly unhealthy. However, it can also be an excellent source of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, vitamin B12, potassium, zinc, and selenium when eaten in moderation. 

Why Is Lamb So Expensive? The Main Reasons Why

When asking “why is lamb so expensive” there are many factors that must be considered. Like with the expense of oxtail there isn’t just one main reason lamb costs comparatively more than most other meats. Instead, a number of factors contribute to the price required to eat lamb. 


Lambs Are Reared Longer Than Most Livestock

One of the reasons that lamb is so expensive is the more time meat animals raised take to reach market weight, the more money has to be spent to look after them. Lambs need to be raised for just under a year, a significantly longer time than most other animals aside from cows. As a result, this combined with other factors below contributes to the expense.

There Are Many Middlemen Between The Farm And Table

Once the lamb reaches selling weight, the farmers will then sell lambs to a dealer who will then find a buyer. Often times this will be a butcher. However, this may not be the last link in the chain as they may sell some of their cuts to restaurants and grocery stores.

The result of this is that because each person in the chain needs to make a profit, the mark up on the lamb increases the further along the chain it gets. The expense of which is further exasperated by the cost of transport.

Lamb Has A Very Low Yield Of Meat Compared To Other Animals

The carcass yield from most other meat animals, especially red meat animals is much higher than that of lamb. This is because the carcass of a whole lamb only has a carcass yield of fifty percent. 

This means that if a live lamb was sold at a weight of one hundred pounds, only fifty pounds would be yielded from the carcass once butchered. Compared to other animals like chickens, pigs and cattle this is exceedingly low. Each of these produces yields of seventy percent, sixty-five percent and sixty percent respectively.

However, in addition to the low yield ratio, only about seventy-five percent of the yield will be sellable. As a result, from a one hundred pound animal the total meat that can be sold is roughly thirty-seven and a half pounds. Considering that each lamb already starts quite small, this is really not a massive amount of meat at all.

Lamb Cannot Be Reared In Factory Conditions

Unlike many other farm animals, lambs can not be farmed in mass production factory farms. This is because lambs react very poorly to stress and confinement, especially when compared to animals like chickens or pigs. 

When raised in factory farm conditions, lambs will often not grow as quickly as they should and are very likely to die prematurely. As a result, industrial farms are a lose-lose for both the lambs and the farmers.

As a result, unlike with chicken or pork which often come from factory-farmed livestock, lambs will often be grass-fed and be given plenty of outdoor space to roam. This is much better for the live lambs. However, this will inevitably increase the cost of the production process, meaning the farmer raises prices on live sheep.

Why Is Lamb So Expensive?

The Mark-Up On “Healthy” Foods

As foods attain the label of being healthy, they often end up increasing in price as this healthiness makes them more desirable. This was seen with avocados which before being discovered to be a great source of fat were actually quite cheap. 

Nowadays, however, it is not unusual to see them selling for multiple dollars in some parts of The United States. Inevitably, since lamb is seen by many as one of the healthiest meats available, the mark up on the price of lamb has increased as it is seen to be more desirable.

Lamb Is Often Considered A Luxury Meat

Due to the expense required to farm lamb and the low number of them in America, lamb is somewhat considered a luxury food. This is less of an issue in European and Asian countries where they are quite common animals.

However, in America, the delicious taste and scarcity of lamb have caused it to become popular high-end restaurant food. As a result, the association with fine dining has further increased American prices for lamb.

Can Lamb Be Made More Affordable?

Whilst lamb is indeed quite expensive, especially in America there are some ways that you can potentially save money when buying. None of these options is particularly ideal. However, if you really want to get your hands on cheap lamb then you may want to consider some of the following options.

Purchasing A Dressed Lamb

Only a butcher is likely to do this for you and the upfront cost will probably turn most away. However, if you can buy a dressed lamb then you will save a lot of money in the long run, especially if you plan to eat a decent amount of lamb.

What this means is that you would be buying the lamb whole, minus the internal organs, head, legs, etc. On average for a one hundred pound lamb that would ultimately produce thirty-seven and a half pounds of meat, this would cost around three hundred dollars.

This is a very steep initial investment. However, it will save money in the long run as it will cost on average roughly eight dollars per pound of meat which for lamb is rather cheap. Buying this way allows you to freeze and defrost the meat as you desire meaning that you will have a good stock of lamb for a long period of time.

Using Mutton In Place Of Lamb

Mutton is richer and gamier than lamb along with being slightly tougher. However, in certain dishes, mutton can work exceptionally well as a lamb substitute. Braised or stewed dishes for example will tenderise the texture and mellow out the flavour of mutton somewhat. As a result, it will be more like eating lamb.


Answered: Why Lamb Is So Expensive

Many different factors contribute to the expensive nature of lamb. Whether it be the healthy food mark up, the logistics of getting it from farm to plate or how lamb must be farmed in the first place, these factors all contribute to an increased expense. Unfortunately, if wanting to buy cheap your options are limited to either getting a dressed lamb or mutton instead. However, if willing to go for either, they can make for excellent solutions.


Why is lamb so expensive in the UK?

Whilst still less expensive than in the US, British lamb often comes at a premium due to the care needed to have year-round lambing. Especially when Easter, the most popular lamb eating period requires new lambs to be born in the worst time for it, winter. Additionally, the conditions in which British lamb thrives are poorly suited for any sort of crop due to being on hillsides meaning that the land cant serve multiple purposes.

Is lamb meat more expensive than beef?

Depending on your region which is more expensive can vary. For example, beef is typically more expensive in the UK due to the costs associated with imported feeds. However, in the US lamb is more expensive as it is far scarcer due to America having a comparatively small sheep population.

Why is lamb so bad for you?

Lamb, like all red meat, can be bad for you when eaten in excess. This is due to it potentially contributing to the development of chronic illnesses like diabetes and cancer. Additionally, lamb is also quite fatty.

Why is lamb less expensive than goat?

Lamb is often less expensive than goat since both have many of the same factors of expense. However, goat is often sold at more of a premium due to being particularly healthy compared to other red meats. Additionally, goat farming is not a massive industry in either the UK or the US meaning the availability of goat meat can be particularly scarce.