The mutton tastes good at 6,200 feet. But it isn’t just due to the ambiance –yes the meaty chops we tuck into are accompanied by a rather good locally made red Syrah, and the mountain views from the farmstead are indeed stunning, but it would taste exceptional on its own, anywhere. To understand just what makes this mutton so succulent you have to look at its provenance.
Eugenie, “Oogie” and Ken McGuire run a flock of Black Welsh Mountain sheep on a small farm on the edge of Garvin Mesa, west of the Rockies. The Black Welsh Mountain is a docile breed, traditionally used for wool and mutton. The McGuire’s sheep are raised on mixed pasture, necessarily irrigated in this arid part of Colorado, eating plants that include fescue, timothy and alfalfa, with their diet supplemented by sweet smelling hay. In the autumn they indulge in apples from the orchard where they graze. This is not the easiest place to raise sheep. The rocky volcanic soil is continually giving up huge boulders and there is a constant battle with predators, whether it be birds of prey attracted to the vulnerable lambs, coyotes, mountain lion or black bear. An eight foot elk fence surrouding the fields has helped keep game at bay and four dogs live amongst the different groups of sheep ever alert to intruders.
But Oogie and Ken are doing far more than 'just' farming. Their animals number amongst just 2000 Black Welsh Mountain sheep in North America and play their part as research flock for the USDA, (United States Department of Agriculture). They are registered with both UK and US Black Welsh Mountain Breeders Societies so record keeping and 'lamb tracking' are an essential part of the daily routine. The McGuires commitment to maintaining genetic diversity amongst the breed whilst ensuring that the sheep live a low stress life is a daily dedication. You have to understand the whole picture and you will not be surprisied then that the mutton is special. And ever practical Oogie remarks "you want to keep this breed alive, then you have to eat it!" During our stay here we certainly won't have any problem doing just that!