This fact sheet was developed by students enrolled in Purdue's ANSC 442 Sheep Management course in Spring 2000, as a semester project. These fact sheets provide useful information on various topics related to sheep. View the list of fact sheets.

An Online Resource to Selecting & Finishing
Club Lambs
Animal Science 442 - Sheep Management


Why Show Lambs?

    Showing lambs in open shows or at a local 4-H County Fair can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a young person.  It teaches responsibility and goal setting.  Showing lambs can also provide a mean to enhance determination and motivation.  Being able to get your first lamb just after it has been weaned off of its mother and care for it until the show requires much time and energy.  However, after you have brought that lamb out of the show arena with that ribbon or even top prize, the great feeling of accomplishment is beyond words for a young person.  Any time a child has the opportunity to start a project, see it to its completion and then reaps the rewards is an awesome feat.  When they receive additional support and praise from family and friends, the experience is enriched that much more.

    This web page will take you through, step by step, the necessary components of showing lambs.

How to Select Your Lamb

    Some decisions must first be make in terms of what type of animal you will be showing.  Ask yourself the following questions to better determine just what kind of lamb you want to show.
· Is this lamb going to been shown in a market class or in a breeding class?
· Is the lamb going to be judged for meat or wool quality... or a combination thereof?
· And a personal preference question ... do you want to show a white faced or black faced animal?
    The major goal of producing market lambs and breeding stock does have some common ground.  Consider and select animals based upon the following characteristics:
· Growthiness:  (or size for its age)  Select animals that grow rapidly.
· Soundness: (or correctness)  Animals with correct structure throughout the overall body will help to keep a lamb healthy.
· Substance:  A moderately heavy boned animal grows better than a small-bodied animal.
· Wool:  Long - fibered, dense, uniform fleeced sheep with no dark fibers should be selected first.
· Age:  When selecting animals for show, choose animals that fit best into the time frame allotted by each show (will state age requirements in the rules or "show bill").  If selecting breeding stock, ewes will reach peak production between the ages of three and six years.
· Conformation: Longer bodied lambs with adequate depth allow for better growthiness and good muscle development over the loin and in the rear legs.  Short, fat, early-maturing lambs should be avoided.
· Breed Character:  If you select a pure bred animal, correct breed characteristics are necessary.  Being as close to National Breed Association standards aids in uniformity.

Now... Do you have a certain breed in mind?

    Listed below are some of the breeds popular among the American shows.

  •                                                                 The Border Cheviot breed was developed in Scotland.  Characteristics include a bare, polled, white head; bare, white legs;    and a fleece grading 48's to 50's.  This breed is hardy, long-lived and an active grazer.



    The Columbia breed was developed in the United States.  Its wool ranges from 50's to 60's.  The Columbia is known for its size, wool-producing ability and productivity under range conditions.  It is large, white faced, polled, and has wool on its legs.

    The Corriedale breed originated in New Zealand.  It is medium to large, has a white face and wool on its legs.   These sheep are polled and produce wool grading in the 50's to 58's.  They produce heavy fleeces of high quality wool.

    The Dorset breed originated in England and is medium-sized.  It has white, strong, dense fleece; a white face; wool on the legs; and is polled, scurred or horned.  The fleece grades in the 50's to 58's.  Ewes breeds out of season, are good milkers and often produce more than one crop of lambs per year.

    Finnish Landrace (Finn Sheep) was developed in Finland and is small, white-faced and barelegged.  It is very prolific and reaches sexual maturity early, usually producing from two to four lambs.  The gestation period is shorter than other breeds.  Ewes milk well and are good mothers.  Wool quality grade ranges from 54's to 56's.

    The Hampshire breed was developed in England. It is a popular meat type breed. The Hampshire is large, has a black face with wool on the cap. It has black legs with wool on them, is polled and produces medium grade fleeces in the 50's and 58's. Hampshire lambs are known for a fast growth rate, and ewes have a high milking ability.

    The Montedale breed originated in the United States. It is medium in size, white-faced, bareheaded and barelegged. It is polled and produces a fleece in the 48's to 58's. This breed is hardy and prolific.

    The North Country Cheviot breed is larger than the Border Cheviot, but has similar characteristics: a bare, white head; bare, white legs, and a fleece grading 48's to 56's. It is an active grazer and is hardy and long-lived.

    The Oxford, an English breed, is medium to large in size, has a dark brown to grey face, is polled and carries wool grading form the 46's to the 54's. Oxfords have a fast growth rate, are good milkers and prolific. Oxfords have a topknot of wool on the head and wool on the ears.

    The Rambouillet breed was developed from the Spanish Merino breed in France. It is large, white-faced, has wool on its legs, can be horned or polled, and produces fine wool, grading from 64's to 70's. It is long-lived, rugged and will breed most anytime of the year, producing lambs in the spring and fall.

    The Shropshire breed was developed in England. It is medium sized, has a dark face, wool on its legs and is polled. Its wool grades in the 56's to 60's. It is prolific, matures early, milks well and is meaty.

    The Southdown breed is the oldest breed of sheep, originating from England. It is small to medium in size, has a grey to mouse-brown face, has wool on its legs, is polled and produces wool in the 60's to 62's. Southdowns have meaty carcasses and can be used to sire crossbred market lambs.

    The Suffolk breed originated in England. It is large and has a bare, black head; black face and legs; and is polled. It has a fast growth rate, is reasonably prolific, is a good milker and produces medium wool with a spinning count from the 48's to 58's. This breed is known for its meatiness, high carcass quality and is used as a meat-type sire.

    Feeds for Sheep



        Permanent pasture should be the predominant source of nutrition for the sheep flock. Intensive sheep production systems where the sheep are housed and fed harvested feeds are not as profitable as more extensive production systems where they harvest their own feed. When a sufficient quantity of forage is available, sheep are able to meet their nutrient requirements from forage alone along with a supplemental source of salt and minerals. Clover should be overseeded on permanent pastures in the winter to improve the quantity and quality of forage produced during the grazing season. Sheep prefer to graze leafy, vegetative growth that is 2 to 6 inches tall rather than stemmy, more mature forages. Pasture growth is not distributed evenly throughout the year. Approximately 60 percent of the annual dry matter production of most species of cool season grasses occur in the spring. When pastures are not stocked heavily enough to utilize the spring flush of growth, sheep graze and regraze certain areas while other areas are left to mature and go to seed. This type of grazing behavior weakens those plants that are grazed more frequently and gives the less desirable plants a competitive advantage. Approximately one-third of spring pasture should be fenced for hay production. After a hay cutting, pasture should be given a three- to four-week recovery period before making it available for grazing the remainder of the year. Rotational grazing programs designed for the movement of sheep every 10 to 14 days are instituted in late June and early July to improve both pasture and lamb production. More intensive rotational grazing systems where higher stocking rates are used help to promote more complete forage utilization, but also require greater input costs in the form of fence and water and may result in higher levels of internal parasitism, increased risk of coccidiosis, and impaired lamb performance.


         Average or poor quality hay should be fed during gestation, leaving the higher quality hay to be fed during lactation. Because protein requirements of the ewe increase dramatically after lambing, less protein supplementation from concentrate feeds is required when higher quality hay is used. Second-cutting, mixed grass-clover hay may be more economical to feed to the ewe flock than alfalfa hay. This is especially true if alfalfa hay must be purchased from off the farm. Alfalfa hay is an excellent feed for sheep and is best used during lactation when ewes require more protein to promote higher levels of milk production. Many producers have fed alfalfa hay to gestating ewes with good results. However, some producers feeding alfalfa hay to gestating ewes have experienced problems with vaginal prolapses, late term abortions, and milk fever. If alfalfa hay is being fed during late gestation, it should be limit fed and be free of must and mold. Because of its high quality and palatability, ewes consume more alfalfa hay than is needed. The bulkiness of the hay in the rumen may place pressure on the reproductive tract, resulting in a vaginal prolapse before lambing. Ewes receiving alfalfa hay during gestation are more prone to milk fever than ewes fed grass hay. Because alfalfa is high in calcium, ewes are able to meet their calcium requirements without mobilizing body stores of calcium. However, after lambing, ewes not accustomed to mobilizing bone calcium may experience milk fever because of their inability to meet the additional calcium requirements associated with lactation. Regardless of the type of hay fed, producers should submit hay samples to a forage-testing lab to determine its nutrient content. By knowing the nutrient content of the hay, diets can be more accurately and economically formulated for the sheep flock.
    In general, there is less waste and more flexibility when feeding hay harvested as square bales. However, round bales can provide quality feed for sheep when stored and fed properly. To minimize dry matter and nutrient losses, which can approach 40 to 50 percent, round bales should be covered with plastic for outside storage or placed under shelter. Bales should be stored on pallets or tires to prevent ground contact. Feeding round bales without a feeder may result in as much as 30 percent of the hay being wasted, and poses a hazard to the sheep should the bales roll over. A variety of round bale feeders are commercially available. Feeders designed in the shape of a cradle hold the bales up off the ground, are maintenance free, and appear to work best for minimizing waste.


         High quality, finely chopped (1/4 to 1/2 inch) corn, grass, or small grain silage is acceptable feed for sheep. Care must be taken to properly harvest, store, and feed silage. Poorly packed silage may contain harmful molds, which causes listeriosis (circling disease) in sheep. Moldy or frozen silage should be discarded and troughs should be cleaned daily.
    Corn silage is low in protein and calcium. Studies have shown that the addition of 20 pounds of urea, 10 pounds of ground limestone, 4 pounds of dicalcium phosphate, and 5 pounds of calcium sulfate per ton of silage at the time of ensiling makes a complete feed for the ewe flock by increasing its crude protein and calcium content. Alternatively, extra protein, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamins can be supplied through a grain mix topdressed on the silage at the time of feeding.
    Because of its high moisture content, 3 pounds of silage is required to supply the TDN furnished by 1.5 pounds of hay. The bulkiness of silage prevents adequate dry matter intake and its use as the sole source of feed for ewes in late gestation. A typical diet fed to ewes during the last four weeks of pregnancy on an as fed basis would contain: 6 pounds of corn silage (35 percent dry matter), 2 pounds of hay, 0.5 pound of corn, and 0.25 pound of soybean meal.


        When additional energy and protein are required, corn and soybean meal commonly form the basis of the grain portion of the diet. However, when justified by supply or price, other grains may replace all or part of the corn and soybean meal in a diet. Because of its high fiber content, the replacement value of oats ranges from 50 to 100 percent. The higher replacement rate is used for breeding sheep, while the lower rate is used in creep feeds and finishing diets for lambs. Alternative sources of protein to soybean meal include cottonseed and peanut meal.


        Urea is not a protein supplement, but a source of nonprotein nitrogen (NPN) for protein synthesis by rumen bacteria. It should be used only in conjunction with high-energy feeds such as corn. Urea, which is 45 percent nitrogen and has a crude protein equivalent of 281 percent, should not supply over one-third of the total nitrogen in a diet. To determine the pounds of nitrogen in a diet, multiply the total pounds of crude protein in the diet by 16 percent. Other general rules for the use of urea are: 1) should not be more than 1 percent of the diet or 3 percent of the concentrate mix; and 2) should not be more than 5 percent of a supplement to be used with low grade roughages.


        Salt and mineral supplementation is required on a free choice, year-round basis. Failure to supplement salt and minerals results in low fertility, weak lambs at birth, lowered milk production, impaired immunity, and numerous metabolic disorders. A variety of salt and mineral supplements specifically formulated for sheep are commercially available. These supplements range from trace mineralized salt (TMS) fortified with selenium to complete mineral mixes containing all of the macro and micro minerals required by sheep. In general, TMS fortified with selenium is all that is needed during the spring and summer when sheep are grazing high quality pastures containing more than 20 percent clover. Complete mineral mixes are recommended when grazing low quality roughages, starting four weeks before breeding, during breeding, and during late gestation and early lactation. Virginia is a selenium deficient state. Studies have clearly shown that selenium supplementation for pregnant ewes via a mineral mix are superior to selenium injections in late gestation. Mineral supplements formulated for cattle and horses should not be used for sheep because they are high in copper, which is toxic to sheep. Mineral concentration is oftentimes expressed in parts per million (ppm). Equivalent expressions for 1 ppm are 1 milligram per kilogram or .0001 percent. When high grain diets, certain alternative feeds, or silage are fed to sheep, additional calcium is required in the diet. This can be supplied by adding feed grade limestone to the feed. A general rule is to add limestone at 1 percent of the diet.


        Pasture or high-quality hay provides the vitamins required by most classes of sheep. However, after a drought, or when low-quality hay or silage is fed, a supplement supplying vitamins A, D, and E may be needed. Estimated daily vitamin requirements for ewes during late pregnancy and lactation are: 6,500 international units (IU) Vitamin A, 400 IU Vitamin D, and 40 IU Vitamin E. To assure an adequate supply of vitamins, a vitamin supplement containing 3,000,000 IU Vitamin A, 200,000 IU Vitamin D, and 25,000 IU Vitamin E may be added to each ton of feed for ewes and lambs.

    Feed Additives

        Antibiotics or ionophores are often added to the diet to improve animal performance. Antibiotics are fed to reduce the incidence of subclinical bacterial infections of the digestive and respiratory tracts. Ionophores are used to control coccidiosis in lambs fed under confinement. The use of antibiotics and ionophores has been shown to improve lamb average daily gain and feed efficiency. To date, the combined use of antibiotics and ionophores in the same feed is not approved. Chlor-tetracycline (Aureomycin®), an antibiotic, is added at the rate of 20 to 30 grams per ton of feed for lambs to improve lamb performance. Supplementing pregnant ewes with 65 mg of Chlortetracycline daily starting six weeks before lambing and continuing six weeks into lactation has been shown to cause a significant reduction in baby lamb mortality. Lasalocid (Bovatec®), an ionophore, is added at the rate of 30 grams per ton of feed for lambs fed in confinement. The use of lasalocid has been shown to improve lamb gain and feed efficiency by approximately 10 percent.


        Sheep must have a free-choice supply of clean, fresh water. If adequate fresh water is available and convenient, a lactating ewe will consume approximately 2 to 3 gallons a day. Frozen water supplies, muddy conditions where sheep have to drink, and long distances to water reduce water intake and have a negative impact on production. Heated water bowls should be used during the winter to encourage adequate consumption of water by lactating ewes and lambs. Water bowls should be checked and cleaned on a daily basis.

    All sheep rations should include the following nutrients.

    · Water
    · Energy
    · Protein
    · Vitamins
    · Minerals
    · Additives

        Overall, the nutrient requirements of the ewe depend on her size. This ties in with breed as sheep vary in size according to their breed. The condition score of the ewe is also related to size. The producer should consider the current body condition of the sheep versus what is desired.
    Sheep rations should be formulated on the basis of each animal's production stage. The age of the ewe should be also be considered. Older ewes with teeth problems need a higher energy ground ration. Yearlings with lambs need a far higher level of nutrients than a mature ewe to accommodate lactation requirements plus their growth needs. Ignoring this need results in low conception and less gain.
    Cost and availability of feedstuffs are two factors that sheep producers must consider to make sure the rations they formulate will be low cost yet nutritionally adequate. Money can be saved as long as the sheep are still being fed at a level that makes money.
    When formulating a ration, it is important to consider intake. Intake will vary with the weather conditions, health of the animal, feed palatability.

    Copper Deficiency

        Copper is required for normal iron metabolism, elastin and collagen synthesis, melanin production and integrity of the central nervous system.
    More recently it has been shown that copper is one of the key trace minerals required for an effective immune response.
    Like most nutrients, excessive concentrations can cause toxicity. However, sheep tend to be much more sensitive than other farm animals.
    Copper toxicity in sheep usually results from the accumulation of copper in the liver over a period of a few weeks to more than a year with no clinical signs followed by a sudden release of liver copper stores to cause toxicity. In these situations, chronic copper poisoning may result from excessive copper intakes or from low intakes of molybdenum, sulfur, zinc, calcium or following liver damage. Sheep accumulate copper in the liver more readily than other farm animals and over a period of time, 1000 - 3000 ppm on a dry weight basis may be achieved. During the accumulation phase, blood copper levels are normal in the 0.10 to 0.20 mg/dl. Toxicity results when stress conditions cause the liver cells to die and release the stored copper into the blood. Plasma copper levels then increase 10 to 20 fold. These elevated blood copper levels (500-2000 mg/dl) usually precede clinical signs by 24 to 48 hours. The most common symptoms are anorexia, excessive thirst and depression. Severe hemoglobinemia, anemia, icterus and methemoglobinemia accompany these. Most sheep will die within 1 to 2 days of the onset of these signs.
    Sheep producers should become familiar with copper and molybdenum levels of feeds grown in their area. If the area is deficient in molybdenum or high in copper, feed samples should be analyzed routinely to monitor the copper: molybdenum ratio in the diet. Supplemental feeds which are known to be low in copper should be used whenever possible. Feeding a properly fortified trace mineralized salt is essential to the health and production of the sheep flock.

    Management Practices To Be Considered

        There are many variances in the type of setup that you can use for your sheep. Much depends on the amount of land, resources and equipment available, and cost of materials. Lambs after they have been weaned and have been gradually built up to eating full feed (or as much as they want) should have free access to the amount of feed they eat. Having a feed bunker in the pen can do this quite effectively. This useful piece of equipment allows lambs to eat feed all day without you having to continually put more feed in. Most often these will hold many pounds of feed. Depending on number of lambs per pen and their size, you may only need to fill this once or twice a week. Water can be given to the animals in the same fashion.
    You can also hand feed your lambs; however, it is more time consuming and animals may not gain as nicely as they do on full feed feeders. Lambs tend can be "more friendly" with a hand feeding system, but this can be overcome with a full feed system by daily handling the lambs.
    Lambs also need exercise and/or room to move. They should not be confined to a small area. If you do not have the space to give to the lambs, you should get the lambs out daily to allow them to walk and or run around. While exercising the lambs, if you lead them by halter, you are also training them to walk by halter with you. This makes the lambs easier to handle when it comes to clipping, shearing, and other health practices.

    Preparation for the Show

     Helpful Hints:

    · Before you attend a show, you want to make sure the lambs get plenty of exercise. It is not uncommon for an exhibitor to walk the lambs two miles a day before the upcoming show.
    · Make sure you have all important (required) papers before you take off for the show. Health papers from your veterinarian are a must. If you are showing purebreds, you may need registration papers that take at least six weeks to get back.
    · You may want to keep wethers sheared down and have them wear elastic "socks" to keep them clean and possibly help tighten the skin where wrinkles and loose skin are common. The ewes can wear blankets to keep their wool clean for blocking.
    · When transporting, make sure you don't overcrowd the trailer and that each lamb has sufficient air supply.
    · Once you arrive at the show, you want to get the animals stalled quickly and offer them water. They man need a fan to stay cool, if the weather is hot.

    Night Before the Show:

    · Feed a smaller amount than usual to prevent "pot belly" look on the lambs for the show and to make them a little more hungry for the show the next day to make them look filled out.
    · You may want to clean out the stall and re-bed or just make sure the pen is clean to cut the work needed to be done on the show day down.
    · You may want to re-clip the night before if the show schedule is tight the next day.
    · Make sure you have all equipment needed for the show.

    Day of the Show

    · Get up early and wash the lambs with a gentle soap. Make sure the legs of the lambs of the white-faced sheep are especially clean since they have wool on them. Make sure to get out all of the soap as well. The lambs also need to be adequately dried before you start to clip them for show.
    · Sheep stands can be very helpful when preparing sheep for a show.
    · Make sure you clean out the ears and nose of the lambs. Oils can be used to make black sheep appear shiny or baby powder on white sheep. Be sure to check specific grooming rules for each show. Sometimes certain "enhancers" are not allowed.
    · Try to get the lambs to drink water right before showing to achieve a full look.
    · Get up to the holding area in plenty of time for the lambs to get used to the arena.

    SHOW TIME!!!

    · You want to show the lamb without a halter unless it is a halter class. Hold the lamb by the jaw and the back of the head. If you have worked with your lamb enough, you should be able to control your lamb with only the hand under the jaw.
    · You may use the "extra hand" to squeeze the "go button" (or dock - tail area) of the lamb to get it to move.
    · Always stay on the opposite side of the lamb as the judge.
    · Never go behind a lamb to "switch sides" - always cross back and forth in front of the lamb.
    · When setting up a lamb, you want to place the legs squarely and not too scrunched up or too stretched out.
    · Keep the head held high and the back flat. This creates a more desirable lamb to the judge.
    · Most important, stay calm and keep your lamb calm. Don't forget to have FUN!
    · It is also important to know things such as weight, age, sex, and breed of your lamb (or the lamb you may be showing for someone else) in a showmanship class as well.

    Why to Show?
    We have given a step-by-step process of how to raise a club lamb to show. Showing lambs is a great project for small or undersized children to do because the animals are not as big and often not as temperamental as large steers and barrows can be. You can put as much or as little money into the project as you want. It is a great way to learn many skills that are useful to any young person and they can have a BLAST while doing it. Contact your local extension specialist to get signed up for the project! Have fun showing your lamb!

    Where to Get Additional Information About a Specific Breed:

    American Cheviot Sheep Society
    R.R. 1, Box 100
    Clarks Hill, Indiana 47930

    American Corriedale Assn., Inc.
    Seneca, IL 61360

    American Hampshire Sheep Assn.
    Box 345
    Ashland, MO 65010

    American North Country Cheviot Sheep Assn.
    717 Fal Creek Road
    Longview, WA 98632

    American Oxford Down Record Assn.
    R.R. 4
    Ottawa, IL 61350

    American Rambouillet Sheep Breeders' Assn.
    2709 Sherwood Way
    San Angelo, TX 76901

    American Shropshire Registry Assn.
    P. O. Box 1970
    Monticello, IL 61856

    American Southdown Breeder's Assn.
    R. R. 4, Box 14B
    Bellefonte, PA 16823

    American Suffolk Sheep Assn.
    55 East 100 North
    Logan, UT 84321

    Columbia Sheep Breeders' Assn.
    P.O. Box 272
    Upper Sandusky, OH 43351

    Continental Dorset Club
    Box 577
    Hudson, Iowa 50643

    Finn Sheep Breeders' Assn.
    P.O. Box 34303
    Indianapolis, IN 46234

    Montedale Sheep Breeders' Assn.
    P.O. Box 44300
    Indianapolis, IN 46244

    National Suffolk Sheep Assn.
    P.O. Box 324-S
    Columbia, MO 65205

    Or . . . contact your local Extension Agent for more information.


    Movie Clips: Showing Lambs
    avi file, 10,987 KB
    mov file, 2,392 KB

    This page was created by Animal Science 442 Students for their class project
    Spring 2000