FATTY, tasty lamb has made a resurgence in the food market in northern Tasmania thanks to intuitive breeding work from the French family.
Dismayed with a lamb market bereft of flavour, sixth and seventh-generation farmers Steven and Sam French from Whitemore, Tasmania, decided to go back to where the family's breeding history began – with a Ryeland sheep.
"We had Ryelands for our own consumption and we thought the meat was very tasty so we did a bit of research and found it was because they still had the fat coverage on them," Mr French sr said.
Mr French's ancestors came to Australia in the 1830s and trialled a number of breeds before settling on Ryelands in the 1930s.
"At that time the Ryeland was the predominant fat lamb sire in Australia; they were really popular," Mr French said.
"As the years went by and the supermarkets became more dominant they went out of fashion because they had too much fat on them."
Looking to create a niche in a saturated market, the Frenchs joined Capelands Ryeland ewes with a Hallylulya ram 10 years ago and have not looked back.
"The stud we bought our foundation ewes from had bought from another stud a few years previously whose bloodlines went back to our original bloodlines in the 1930s, so it was like I was coming home," Mr French said.
Currently the family have about 50 pure-bred Ryeland ewes and 80 crossbred ewes and are looking to expand.
"We sell our crossbred lambs between 25-30 kilograms at $300 a lamb and we've sold more than we can produce," Mr French said.
"Ryeland rams are selling well for people who are looking for something that will lamb and finish easier."
The supermarkets would not take their meat so they sold direct to three restaurants in Tasmania and one providore.
"It's interesting that these restaurants want the fat on the meat," he said.
"I think they've realised it's very hard to get flavour without fat."
Mr French said the natural marbling of the breed and the lush prime pastures of northern Tasmania combined to create a discernibly tasty meat.
"It's such good prime lamb country, we're in a high-rainfall area that's good for grazing and the lambs fatten well with such little work put into it," he said.
Aside from providing top-quality meat, the family was attracted to the premium breeding characteristics of the Ryeland.
"They're easy-doing, good-finishing lambs," Mr French said.
Breeders in the area were looking towards the more compact, easier-lambing breeds as they were having problems with the bigger sheep, he said.
"A lot of producers for terminal sires where we sell our lambs to were having trouble with their bigger sheep, especially over maiden ewes," he said
"They were having trouble lambing, losing 30pc of their lambs – and if you're talking $130-140 a lamb it's expensive."
Helped by their relatively small-scale operation, the Frenchs have a lambing percentage of about 130pc.
"It's a very fertile breed, we've got a nine-year-old ewe that's still lambing," he said. "It's been years since we've pulled many lambs; we've not had to help many ewes over the years."
Set against spiralling input costs for farmers across the State, the Ryelands were remarkably low maintenance, Mr French said.
"We rarely fatten them up or finish them with grain or turn them out into irrigated pasture, which makes life a little easier," he said.
Mr French said the plan was to gradually increase numbers to see what the market can hold.