Easter sheep for auction at the Amana Sale Barn. Photo by Sarah Mercier.

Meat Fit for Muslims

Young billy goats flood the floor of the Kalona Sales Barn from March to April each year. Their plaintive bleats contrast with the rapid-fire, staccato rhythm of the auctioneer who sells them by the pound to the highest bidder with a slight nod or a raised finger.

Many of these goats were raised on Amish farms and will find themselves under the knife for zabiha, ritual Islamic slaughter.

“There are a lot more goats around,” said Devin Mullet, owner and operator of the Kalona Sales Barn. Mullet said about half of the two to three hundred goats sold each week come from Amish farms.

Goat and lamb meat is not part of the usual supermarket fare in the Midwest — it is Muslim and international residents that have created the demand for these fresh meats. And they prefer to know where the animal came from and who slaughtered it.

Followers of Islam adhere to dietary guidelines defined by in the Quran. These rules specify what is lawful to eat, or halal, and what is unlawful, or haram. Zabiha slaughter is similar to Jewish kosher slaughter. The halal ritual requires that the goat, lamb or cow be hand slaughtered in the name of Allah (God), that it be drained of all blood, rinsed thoroughly, and processed without alcohol or pork products.

“The purpose of ritual slaughter is to make the food both physically and spiritually pure,” said Shawn Safdar, treasurer of the Iowa City Mosque. He follows a halal diet that emphasizes wholesome food and considers it part of his worship.

Gamel Zayed is an Egyptian Muslim who moved to the United States in 2001. He has noticed a steady increase in the demand for fresh halal goat, sheep, and even beef that he supplies to meat markets.

Zayed operates Badr Halal Farms, a meat processing plant in Shannon, Ill. The rural town of 900 has no Muslim population and is 50 miles from the closest mosque.

When he began operating the business in 2004, he processed just 100 head of goat, lamb, and beef in the first year.

Now the plant processes between 500 and 600 head each week, sending the fresh meat to Chicago, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, on hangers in refrigerated trucks. Zayed said 80 percent of all meat sold is goat.

He estimates half of the goats sold at the Kalona Sales Barn end up at his plant one way or another. He sends suppliers there to purchase directly, but many farmers buy the baby billies, fatten them up and sell them to Badr Halal Farms when they are about six months old.

The Amish communities, using no telephones, electricity or cars in their daily lives have become an integral part of the halal food system.

“They are smart,” Zayed said, “[The Amish] who are raising goat know very well about Halal Farms.”

They also understand the lunar calendar on which Islamic holidays are based, Zayed said. “They know exactly the time for pricing because of holidays, prices go up and down.”

“There are more peaks in the year,” Mullet said, of the Kalona livestock auction’s sales, because there is a more diverse group buying.

Willie Lehman, an Amish father of five sons, lives in a homestead in Middlebury, Ind. He and his family joined the emerging goat business last summer, when they brought 2500 head of goat from Texas by semi-truck—to breed and sell.

Using phones and rented cars outside the homestead is now part of Amish business culture. Lehman sold off some of the nannies he ordered from Texas, to get other area farmers started in the emerging goat business.

“There used to be a time,” Lehman said, “when you could have a farm and make a living. Those days are gone and you have to have more going on to pay the bills.”

Lehman and his sons formed a partnership with two of his nephew’s families and started LLY Boer Goat L.L.C. They have 200 nannies—mother goats—to raise young stock from.

Being part of the halal food industry presents no religious conflict for Lehman, a life-long Christian. “I don’t have to believe in what they do,” Lehman said, “and they don’t have to believe in what I do.”

Badr Halal Farms has about 40 Amish accounts, including Lehman. Gamel Zayed said the Amish are reliable and produce high quality animals.

Run by twelve employees, the busy plant has a state meat inspector who assesses the animal’s health while it is alive, supervises the ritual slaughter and skinning, and examines the thoroughly rinsed, gutted carcass.