A Gippsland couple are saving an endangered breed of English sheep, processing surplus stock and selling lamb, hogget and mutton at Alphington Farmers Market.   

Michael and Bronwyn Cowan raise endangered rare breed English Leicester sheep at their fertile farm at Darnum, 112 kilometres east of Melbourne in West Gippsland. English Leicester are a dual breed meat and carpet wool sheep that arrived in Australia in the 1820s. They are hardy animals that historically did well on Australian pastures, producing strong fibres for our carpet and rug industry and great-tasting lamb, hogget and mutton for butchers. 

Once widespread, they have been supplanted by more efficient breeds that produce finer wool, such as Merino crosses. The demise of our carpet textile industry also contributed to the reduction in their numbers, to around just 500 today.  

To keep the breed viable, small farmers like the Cowans keep small flocks and breed and keep the best animals. Young rams and older ewes, surplus to requirements, are processed for meat to provide income. “Unless people, lovers of good food, eat the lamb and mutton, then the breed will become extinct,” says Bronwyn Cowan. “That is the nature of rare breeds.”  

The Cowans sell English Leicester lamb, hogget and mutton at the Alphington Farmers Market once a month. The meat is a little darker than that of supermarket lamb and is renowned for its tender texture, traditional flavour and clean finish.   

While most cooks are familiar with cooking lamb, many are unfamiliar with the deeper, richer flavour of mutton. The animals are older and therefore need longer cooking. This makes mutton ideally suited to braises, daubes and tagines. Gypsy Pig mutton has proved its worth in the kitchen as a succulent base for dishes like lamb navarin, shepherd’s pie, Lancashire hotpot and Uyghur mutton pilaf. 

 Products: English Leicester sheep meat