Sierra Thomas, 9, practices bracing a lamb at John Cox’s Eagle Point ranch in preparation for show at this weekend’s Jackson County Spring Fair. - Bob Pennell

Find your lamb here

EAGLE POINT — Weighing in at nearly 130 pounds, Walker can probably be called a lamb only in the technical sense of the term.

By this weekend's Jackson County Spring Fair, the 5-month-old Suffolk will have attained 140 pounds on his diet of feed and hay supplemented with a daily constitutional. Along with almost 250 like him, Walker will pose for the judges before standing auction. The knowledge that most fair lambs are bound for the butchers' didn't stop 18-year-old Nikolai Skudlarek, a 4-H Club member, from raising Walker and other lambs over the past seven years.

"At first I felt a little bad, but once it's in your mouth, it tastes good," said the senior at South Medford High School.

Whether they bid at Sunday's auction or scout local grocery stores next week, Rogue Valley residents too can taste lambs locally raised without hormones, antibiotics or other additives. Members of 4-H and Future Farmers of America agree to a code of conduct at the penalty that auction profits would be forfeit if their animals were found to contain any foreign substances.

"I kind of take pride out of it — knowing I put out something that's healthy," Skudlarek said.

Lambs arrive at Spring Fair weighing at least 100 pounds but not more than 150 pounds. Although market price is about 90 cents per pound, the grand champion likely will bring its owner between $7,000 and $8,000 dollars, said John Cox, leader of Riverview 4-H Livestock Club. Last year, none sold for less than $3 per pound, Cox added.

"Muscle equals money," Cox said. "There won't be any fat on these lambs."

Spring Fair started decades ago to spare lambs, rabbits and poultry from searing temperatures and to accommodate their early readiness for market, said Chris Borovansky, Jackson County Expo manager. Hearkening back to the days when husbandry was a fair's focus, Spring Fair lacks the July fair's commercial attractions. Sunday's auction, he said, is "kind of a well-kept secret."

"You're getting pretty high-quality lamb," Borovansky said, adding that he's purchased fair lambs in past years.

A hefty number are sure to sell to Medford residents Sherm and Wanda Olsrud, who honor fair participants with a special sale at their Medford grocery stores. This year's sale likely will start the weekend after Spring Fair at Sherm's Thunderbird Market on West Main Street and Food 4 Less on Biddle Road, said meat department manager Lloyd Cline.

Price fluctuates depending on the cost of trucking lambs to Roseburg or Eugene butchers inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cline said. Customers who put in an early order can purchase a whole lamb for around $2.50 per pound, Cline said. Individual cuts of meat usually sell out within a week, he added.

If lamb-lovers miss Sherm's sale, several other local ranchers like Cox sell lambs with their butchering cost included. Cox's price is $320 for a whole animal, $175 for half.

"We don't do any additives, no hormones, no steroids," Cox said, adding that his Eagle Point ranch could attain organic status if he ceased using chemical fertilizer on his fields.

But Cox said he has only seen his business boom amid growing concerns about the origin of meat. When he started raising lambs eight years ago, Cox said he could barely sell them. Now 85 percent are pre-sold.

Cox's lambs, most males, are butchered when they reach 6 months old. Consequently, they should have no "gamey" flavor, he said. And unlike New Zealand lamb, it hasn't languished in storage before reaching the table, he said.

"It's 10,000 miles fresher."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail

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