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Big Success With Local Lamb!

North Carolinian Shares Great Profit Tips


By Tim King


Captain John’s Lamb proprietor Bob Pope, and his friends, enjoy putting on an interesting presentation at the Carboro, North Carolina farmers market each Saturday.

Captain John's Lamb is grown on a carefully managed former tobacco farm. They are kept from the wetlands by the use of electric fences.
Captain John’s Lamb is grown on a carefully managed former tobacco farm. They are kept from the wetlands by the use of electric fences.

Getting Instant Top-Paying Buyers For Local Lamb

If you were not one of the farm’s repeat farmers-market customers—and thus already making a beeline to the farm’s booth—the first thing you might experience about Captain John’s Lamb is the aroma of cooking.

“We cook at the market,” Mr. Pope said. “We have about 15 of our own unique recipes, and we hand out recipes. Chuck, our chef, loves to talk with our customers about cooking. We have a little Weber grill we set up. We put a fan behind the grill and blow the smoke out into the market. I worked in New York for a long time and the restaurants there exhaust the smell of their flavor out onto the street. People enjoy that and will follow their noses.”

When people’s noses bring them to the action at Captain John’s booth they will be able to sample the farm’s lamb.

They also will be able to chat up Chef Chuck about the merits of the grass fed White Dorper-by-Katahdin crosses the farm raises.

They can look at the cookbook that is on display.

There are also books by Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, that champion the merits of locally-produced food, to talk about.

By then, Pope figures, people are ready to start handing over money for Captain John’s top quality lamb.

The Right Products At The Right Price Keep Sales Up

Captain John’s product list isn’t as long as a lot of farmers who sell retail lamb. Among the 14 products are five types of sausage. The sausages, which are in collagen, non-pork casings, are a Cajun andouille lamb sausage, a bratwurst lamb sausage, a charrizo (chorizo) lamb sausage, hot Italian lamb sausage, and a breakfast sausage.

It pays to offer souvenir advertising clothing for sale, like these Capt. John Pope's Lamb hats.
It pays to offer souvenir advertising clothing for sale, like these Capt. John Pope’s Lamb hats.

“The price on our sausage is fairly economical,” Pope said. “We sell them all for $10.99 per pound. We had a fellow from Minnesota come down here. He said that our bratwurst was the best he had ever had. I guess they know something about that up there.”

The price list for the other cuts is short because Captain John’s Lamb specializes in racks ($18.99/lb.), boneless legs and half legs ($10.99/lb.), legs with the bone ($9.99), crown roasts ($18.99), and shoulders ($9.99). They don’t have lamb chops.

“We don’t do the so called lamb chops which come out of the rack,” Pope said. “We only do racks. If you want individual chops you’ll want to cut the rack up.”

They don’t sell stew meat or kabobs either.

“If you want that we’ll sell you a boneless shoulder and let you cube it like you want,” Pope said. “People like that. When they ask for kabobs and we show them a shoulder they understand they are getting a better piece of meat that way. With pre-cut kabobs you might be getting almost trimmings. When we show them the shoulder it gives us another opportunity to talk about the high quality of our products.”

They do have a double loin chop which sells for $14.99 per pound.

“We do them an inch and a half thick,” Pope said. “You get a nice generous cut about eight ounces each.”

Selling Ground Lamb Solves A Lot Of Problems

Pope and his family also sell ground lamb. It sells for $9.99 per pound.

Customers are encouraged to come have a picnic on the grounds.
Customers are encouraged to come have a picnic on the grounds.

“We sell about five to ten pounds every Saturday,” Pope said. “We do our ground lamb a little different. We take our lambs that aren’t growing that well and we grind the whole thing. That accomplishes two things. First, it utilizes that lamb we wouldn’t otherwise be able to use for the products that we want to make. Secondly, instead of using the trimmings from other carcasses for ground lamb we use it to make sausage. That way we have enough trimmings.”

“People look at our ground lamb and they see it is red,” Pope said. “In a grocery store it’s gray. They see our rack of lamb with maybe an eighth of an inch of fat on the outside and they are attracted to the fact that it is low fat.”

Telegraphing The Messages That Get More Lamb Sold

Attractive and interesting presentation of a top quality product at the upscale Carboro farmer’s market goes a long way towards selling Captain John’s Lamb. There is another critical element to the success of Captain John’s Lamb, however: Information.

“Our customers question us extensively,” Pope said. “They ask about how we raise the animals and about our farm. We have a well-educated customer base. We encourage that and invite people to our farm. When they come to the farm they can buy right from our freezers. We’re proud of what we do and we like to show people that.”

Pope has had customer field days at the farm. But a visit to the farmer’s market booth will garner a lot of information too. The Pollan and Kingsolver books often open the doors to a discussion of the value of grass fed lambs. A video that shows how the farm’s wetland areas are protected from livestock is often shown at the booth.

“Our streams and wetlands are the beginning of the drinking water for Hillsboro and Raleigh,” Pope said. “We protect those areas and people appreciate knowing about that. They are also glad to know that we don’t use any herbicides or pesticides on the farm.”

At the market, customers will also find photos of Bob Pope’s ancestors and hear about how the farm has been in the family since just before the Civil War. They are happy to learn that their purchases are protecting both the environmental and historical heritage of their area.

The local public is enthused about the environmentally-sound rotational grazing that Bob Pope emphasizes. 'And regardless of current sentiments, it's just good husbandry.'
The local public is enthused about the environmentally-sound rotational grazing that Bob Pope emphasizes. ‘And regardless of current sentiments, it’s just good husbandry.’

But people might not come back if Bob Pope and his family weren’t selling top quality lamb. Pope says his hair sheep crosses make an excellent quality product. His experience with some of the area’s chefs bears that claim out. Most of the higher-end restaurants Pope sells to change their menus from month to month. But occasionally customers won’t let them take Captain John’s Lamb off the menu.

“At Four Square (a restaurant) people call up and ask the chef if he has our lamb,” Pope said. “If he has sold out, or taken it off the menu, they tell him they’ll call back later when he has it.”

Pope largely sells frozen lamb at the farmer’s market. He sells fresh, pre-ordered lamb to restaurants.

“We sell a whole lamb to two restaurants,” he said. “They like it split down the middle. They cut it themselves. One restaurant told me he got his money out with the typical rack chop cuts. Then he sold lamb ravioli and utilized every part of the lamb in unusual dishes. He made his profit on that.”

Bob Pope’s experience shows that when you combine top quality lamb with top quality promotion you can expect to receive top quality prices.?





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