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Iowa Lamb Corporation Strives to Create
Case-Ready Lamb Program

November 2003

Colorado Springs, Colo. (NLPA) -- The market for case-ready meat products is becoming more prominent in the sheep industry. Long on shelf life, short on in-store labor, case-ready meat brings advantages to a rising number of regional, local and chain stores across the country.

Iowa Lamb Corporation, a lamb processor located in Hawarden, Iowa, expanded its facilities to help meet the growing demand for case-ready lamb products in the Midwest.

"Case-ready meat products are the way of the future," according to Bill Brennan, plant manager at Iowa Lamb Corporation. "In the United States, the demand for case-ready meat products is on the rise. There is already a trend in other processing industries to produce ready-for-market products."

Brennan said he felt the key to the successful integration of case-ready meat products is to educate processors, distributors and consumers about the benefits and features of case-ready products.

"By implementing this case-ready program, Iowa Lamb has increased the demand for lamb production in the Midwest," he said. "The case-ready program introduces new products to the consumer and allows the grocer to offer more variety."

Iowa Lamb harvests live lambs and processes them into whole, chilled or frozen carcasses or vacuum packaged subprimals. Before the expansion, these vacuum packaged and boxed subprimals were sold to retail companies, then portion-cut and packaged by the retail butcher and placed in the display cases. According to Rick Harbaugh, sales representative for Iowa Lamb, with case-ready techonology, the entire process is completed in the packing plant.

Iowa Lamb completed its expansion into case-ready production with the help of a low-interest loan from the National Livestock Producers Association’s Sheep & Goat Fund. Harbaugh said the case-ready expansion added 10,000 square feet to the facilities and was launched in January 2002.

"NLPA’s Sheep & Goat Fund has been very helpful; it came at a good time," Brennan said. "We have been happy to work with NLPA and would recommend the Fund to anyone else in the sheep or goat industry who is considering expanding operations."

The NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund is a revolving fund established within NLPA to assist the U.S. sheep and goat industries by strengthening and enhancing the production and marketing of sheep and goats and their products in the United States.

Iowa Lamb also used NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund financing to enhance its case-ready capabilities by purchasing an additional state-of-the-art packaging machine. This machine helps address Iowa Lamb’s customer demand for its box sales by significantly increasing Iowa Lambs average daily processing cababilities, Harbaugh said.

Iowa Lamb Corporation has more than 100 employees throughout the harvesting and processing facility; five to 10 were added as a result of the case-ready expansion.

According to Kelly Bultman, sales representative for Iowa Lamb, the value-added case-ready program has offered employees added benefits and opportunities through education and training programs, such as HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control point) training, and training on portion control and how to properly cut retail products.

Iowa Lamb Corporation was established in 1983 and is one of the largest lamb processors in the United States, Brennan said. Iowa Lamb is partially owned by lamb producers - there are 13 owner/producers of Iowa Lamb. Another 500 producers in 14 states provide 430,000 live lambs annually. By controlling the product from live lamb to case-ready cuts, the company can give more detailed feedback to its producer-owners.

"With the producers directly involved in the packing company, we can give them more detailed information as to the type of lamb to raise, feeding and maintenance requirements and how to ideally determine harvest," Brennan said. "This information allows the producers to improve the consistency of the raw materials in order to satisfy customer demand."

Kaitlyn Bartling, Executive Director for the Iowa Sheep Industry Assn., commended Iowa Lamb Corporation.

"The Iowa Lamb Corporation expansion has been a positive economic attribute for the state of Iowa and the Midwest," Bartling said. "Case ready products keep more of the consumer dollar in Iowa."

The NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund is the result of a joint effort of the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center (NSIIC) and the National Livestock Producers Association (NLPA). The NSIIC made funds available to NLPA, which serves as a liaison and established the Sheep & Goat Fund.

For more information about the NLPA Sheep & Goat Fund, please call 1-800-237-7193 or visit NLPA’s web site at Applications are also available online.

By Sally Bush and Melissa Schneider, NLPA Correspondents

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