This fact sheet was developed by students enrolled in Purdue's ANSC 442 Sheep Management course in Spring 2001, as a semester project. These fact sheets provide useful information on various topics related to sheep. View the list of fact sheets.


By: Stephanie Raney, Gabriella Henderson, and Chris Holliday


The lamb project in 4-H and FFA has grown in the Midwest. This site is designed to help young people make educated decisions about their project.

The first step in organizing your lamb project is to find a knowledgeable mentor that can direct you to a responsible breeder.  You can find this person and a list of breeders around your area by contacting your local  extension or 4-H office.  


Using the help of your 4-H leader, extension leader, or someone who knows about sheep, you should determine which breed you want to show.  The breeds that are most commonly seen in the Midwest are: 

Suffolk                                                                            Hampshire



Dorset                                                                               South Down



*Commonly used are Hampshire x Suffolk crossbred lambs 


Size: The frame size is used to predict the size of the lamb when finished.  Frame size includes the body length and capacity of the lamb. You should try to avoid very small and very large frame sized lambs.  Average to large frame score lambs should be selected to see economical gains.  Lambs are typically slaughtered around 105-130 pounds, so something else to think about when deciding on a lamb is to make sure you can get them to their target weight in time for the fair.  Lambs usually gain 0.5-0.75 pounds per day. 

 Age:  The lambs need to be at least two months of age at fair time.

 Sex:   Ewes tend to be more expensive than wethers.  If you don't have any interest in breeding your own lambs in the future than choosing a wether would be a good choice.

 *It is best to buy lambs in pairs because they tend to eat and grow better when they are together.



    When selecting a market lamb, you should consider the buying situation you are in.  Are you buying a private treaty lamb, which means you are buying straight from the producer, or are you going to an auction?  If you are going to an auction, generally the lambs are in racks.  You should choose ones you are interested in and ask the producer to pull them out so you can make a complete evaluation of them.  If you go to a producer's farm, you should take your time and evaluate the lambs carefully.  

    There are a few traits on the lamb that you should evaluate before the purchase.  Muscling, growth traits, eye appeal, and structural soundness are just some of the major features you should base your decision on.

    The front end plays an important role in the eye appeal of the lamb.  It should be smooth and possess a large amount of length.  The head should have a youthful appearance.  The neck should be nice and long and blend smoothly into the shoulder.  A shorter neck usually means a thicker neck.  If you go to a producer's place to view the lamb and they are not shorn, be careful the wool does not fool you.  The shoulder should be higher than the rump, giving you a lamb that is straight lined, balanced, and flat topped.  The flank design should also appear long and smooth; lambs with bulky front ends throw off their overall appearance.  At least 60% of the lamb's total body length should consist of the loin and rump.  Ideally, the rack (rib section), loin, and the rump/loin should each make up 1/3 of the lamb.    

    When you continue evaluating the lamb, you should view the lamb's hip placement on the move as well as when it is set up.  Make sure that the lamb is fairly straight in the hip.  If it is too straight, then move on to another lamb.  Choose a lamb that has an angular shape coming out of the shoulders towards the hindsaddle.  The lamb should have an overall triangular shape.  A raised edge on the outer edges of the loin is desirable.

    Leg conformation is also important.  When you look at the lamb from a front view you want to see nice, straight legs, not ones that bow out or where the knees knock together.  The toes should also point forwards, not toed out or in.  From the rear view, again you are looking for straightness.  Bowlegged and cow-hocked (hocks come together) legs are undesirable.  The side view also tells you something about the conformation.  When you examine the front legs from the side, you don't want the knees to stick out forwards or be bent in the opposite direction towards the hind end.  You also don't want the lamb to be weak in the pasterns (looks like the ankles are close to the ground).  You should be able to draw an imaginary line from the rump of the sheep to the ground and the hind leg should line up with it.  This will tell you if the lamb is sickled hocked or post-legged.   



    Handling lambs is an important part of evaluating them for purchase.  You should feel over the rack and across the loin.  If the loin has a soft feel, which is undesirable, move on to another lamb.  Look for a loin that has a hard, firm feel and braces easily.

    There is no perfect lamb, so remember to look for the lamb that best combines the positive traits into one package.  Never pick an animal based on one trait alone, look for the one that fits your tastes, budget, and the youth that will be exhibiting the animal.  Most of all, remember to enjoy exhibiting your lamb and have fun!!


Basic Sheep Facts: 

  Body Temperature:  100.9-103.8 F

  Weight: Adult sheep average between 150-200 pounds for ewes

  Heart Rate: 70-80 beats/min 

  Respiration: 12-20 breaths/min

  Gestation: 145 days

  Estrus cycle: 18 days and length of each cycle is 28 hours




Lamb Related Sites:


Breed pictures courteous of The Sheep Production Handbook, 1997, pgs 33-48.