Holiday celebrations and sumptuous feasts go hand and hand. Easter is special because the feast symbolizes a much more complicated set of religious concepts. The Paschal (Passover) Lamb is a symbol for Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. When lamb is not part of the Easter meal, the Paschal lamb is often symbolized by molded butter, chocolate or carefully decorated Easter eggs.
The spring lamb remains an important part of many European and American Easter dinners. Specifically, Greek celebrations are rich in tradition including a 40 day fast before the Easter weekend feast. What is a Paschal Lamb and who raises them? Shepherds raise the lambs for the Easter markets. Lamb is a general term referring to any sheep less than a year old and is available year round. Gearing up for the Easter market is special because young spring lambs are preferred by many religious families.
Sheep farming requires a lot of planning and preparing; offering Easter lambs requires additional attention because the lamb must be born, reared and finished in time for the Easter market. Ewes bred in mid-October will deliver lambs in March after a five month gestation. During the pregnancy the ewes will be cared for with corn, hay and pasture. Pregnant ewes require a constant supply of fresh water.
The lambs will be born, usually twins, after five months. When they are born the hooves are soft, like a human fingernail, the wool is curly tight and the lamb weighs about 10 pounds. The ewe is attentive in caring for her young; she carefully cleans and feeds them. After only a few days the lambs are running around and playing though still happy to nap across their mother’s wooly backs. Once all the ewes have delivered, the lambs and their mothers are turned out to play in the pasture. In addition to mother’s milk the lambs receive free choice hay and grain.
The lambs will be 30 plus days old on Easter and weigh about 35 pounds. This small size is particular to the Easter lamb and larger lambs weighing as much as 100 pounds will be raised for the regular markets. A spring lamb of 25 pounds hanging weight (after slaughter) would fit in a kitchen oven though many Easter feasts use an outdoor fire and a spit to cook the lamb. As a farmer, it is not easy to see the gentle lambs taken for the traditional meal but it is with sincere appreciation that they are an honored part of the Easter traditional feast.