Farmers Elaine and Howard Dustin are animal people. That much is clear immediately as we meet them at their farm, Belfair Farm in Lawrenceburg, 90 minutes south of Nashville. Along with their 138 sheep, they have 10 dogs, 50 chickens, and 8 horses. Having grown up in Florida herding cattle on horseback, Elaine is clearly at home with her animals. And while she adores her horses, sheep are their current passion.
Upon moving to Tennessee from Massachusetts fourteen years ago, the couple couldn’t find any good lamb. “Get me 2 ewes and a ram so I can have my own meat,” she told husband Howard. But “just like potato chips, you can’t have just one,” Elaine laughed, so now they have a herd of hearty American Katahdin and black-headed Dorpers. They formed “Ladies of the Lamb” with fellow female farmer in 2014. Four years later she retired, leaving Howard and Elaine with the moniker.
Today, they’re phasing out the Dorpers to focus strictly on the Katahdin, who have the best tasting meat. The Katahdins are special in that they naturally shed and are raised solely for meat. They grow a winter coat that they instinctively rub off on the fence (at which point, the birds use for their spring nests). In contrast, other breeds such as the more common Suffolk, grow a heavier wool coat that contains lanolin, which is what can give lamb an off-taste —“like a wool sweater,” laughs Howard. The Katahdin don’t have lanolin, hence their meat is sweeter and milder.
With sheep come shepherds. And theirs are prized Akbash— Turkish guard dogs. They have renowned herding instincts and go to heroic efforts to protect their flock. According to Elaine, they can snatch a hawk from the air if too close to the sheep.
Elaine looks proudly at the flock and says, “Lamb is the forgotten food.” Countries around the world celebrate the meat and Elaine believes the American palate will soon follow. As a result, they produce a variety of products, including lamb sausage, lamb bratwurst and lamb jerky. They also sell a variety of sheep milk cheeses.
You can find them Thursdays through Sundays at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. Look for the booth decorated with photos of sweet lambs and their Akbash protectors.