The Austin Chronicle

I O Ranch Lamb

By Kate Thornberry, March 29, 2013, Food

I O Ranch Lamb

Sunset Valley SFC Farmers Market;
Lone Star Farmers Market in Bee Cave;

When Jeff Ruyle was running two hundred cattle on his family's ranch, the cattle would eat the delicious buffalo and rye grasses, leaving the tough, Texas weeds to flourish. A neighbor suggested that Ruyle get some Dorper sheep to eat the unsightly weeds the cattle had left behind. "Sounded great," laughs Ruyle, "but it didn't work out that way. Dorpers will eat the best stuff first, like any other animal. They went right for the grass. But they do eat the weeds right along with it."

The Dorper sheep's catholic diet kept them hardy and healthy during the drought of 2011, when cattle ranching hit rock bottom. Ranchers all across the state were forced to sell their herds at enormous losses. When Ruyle saw how well the Dorpers stood up to drought conditions, he decided to switch to sheep. Dorper sheep are a wool-free breed that hails from South Africa and is commonly raised in Somalia. With their light hair coats, they thrive in our infernal Texas summer temperatures, and, compared to Somalia, Texas grazing conditions must resemble the garden of Eden to the sheep. Because Dorper sheep do not produce wool, Dorper meat does not have the muttony flavor of other breeds.

Ever since he began selling his lamb at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, Ruyle has barely been able to keep up with demand. His lamb is raised and finished entirely on green grass, which makes the meat extremely tasty and healthy. High in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, grass-fed lamb also has high levels of lutein, a compound that appears to play a role in preventing cancer. "I went into the 'grass-fed lamb' market because it seemed less crowded, and because I had grass. But now I am a complete convert," says Ruyle. "Since I began eating only grass-fed meats, I have lost thirty pounds and my cholesterol is better than it was when I was in my twenties."

Along with lamb chops, lamb rib roasts, leg of lamb, and shoulder and leg roasts, I O Ranch Lamb also sells a signature cut: lamb sirloins. Similar in size to a duck breast, lamb sirloins are boneless, easy to cook, and extremely flavorful. "With cattle, I was always at the mercy of forces I couldn't control: the weather, world trade policies, futures markets," says Ruyle. "I love selling my lamb directly to folks at the farmers' markets. All I have to do is get people to try it; after that it sells itself."

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