4-H/FFA Market Lamb Sheep Project

Selection and Management Checklist

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This manuscript was designed for use as a guide for those starting in a market lamb sheep project for the first time. Questions about this guide can be directed to Washington County Extension, 485 E. Third, Weiser, ID 83672.

Books or Manuals recommended by your 4-H Extension office and sold through the
Curriculum Materials Service at the Ohio State University.
Sheep Resource Handbook for Market and Breeding Projects

National Research Council, National Academies Press
Nutrient Requirements of Small Ruminants: Sheep, Goats,
Cervids, and New World Camelids (Animal Nutrition)

4-H/FFA Market Lamb Sheep Project - Selection and Management Checklist


A market lamb project is a very popular project among 4-H/FFA youth in Idaho. A market lamb project is an excellent way for a young person to learn life skills and develop a basic understanding and appreciation of the sheep industry. The sheep project teaches youth basic management skills, including feeding, housing, and basic nutrition. The market lamb sheep project also introduces youth to other aspects of the industry, such as: marketing, growth, and carcass performance, feed efficiency and quality evaluation. A market lamb sheep project teaches youth the daily responsibility and discipline required to care for a live animal and develops confidence and pride in ownership as they watch their animal grow and develop. An animal project is also an excellent tool for teaching management skills needed for a potential career in animal agriculture.

Sometimes a project mark lamb doesn't perform as well as expected or doesn't meet quality expectations. 4-H/FFA youth, parents, and leaders have difficulty accurately evaluating a feeder lamb and determining how well it will perform and compete at the fair, particularly as more and more youth, with little livestock experience, enroll in the market lamb project. Additionally, many 4-H/FFA market lamb project participants have limited knowledge of the management skills required to successfully raise a project market lamb.

This manuscript will introduce leaders and 4-H/FFA youth to management skills and selection criteria needed to successfully raise a 4-H/FFA project market lamb. The following discussion and checklist should help avoid some of the pitfalls and problems that sometimes come with a 4-H/FFA project market lamb.

Many counties provide educational activities for market lamb project participants at weigh-ins and at other programs throughout the year. District and state programs also provide youth opportunities to learn more about the market lamb project through education and participation. Project youth are encouraged to participate in these activities whenever possible. Programs such as judging clinics and contests, information field days, and animal science education programs provide valuable experience and information for youth enrolled in the market lamb project.

Selecting Your Project Market Lamb

Most 4-H/FFA members select a market lamb at approximately 2 1/2 to 3 months of age when the lamb weighs 55 to 75 pounds. As lambs grow they become easier to evaluate, but most lambs are selected at an early age and light weight because of competition from other buyers. Consequently, you need to be prepared and learn to accurately evaluate a small feeder lamb.

For youth interested in a market lamb project, it is often difficult to locate sheep flocks with project market lambs for sale. Many times the goal is to find a lamb, any lamb! Unfortunately, this can lead to frustration and disappointment. It's generally a good idea to locate your market lamb ahead of time, if possible. Work with the breeder and select your market lamb before it is ready for delivery to your pen.

Remember to call and make an appointment with the farmers before you visit. Most farmers are very busy and appreciate your courtesy and cooperation. When you visit a prospective sheep flock, remember that you are a guest and be courteous and respect the wishes of the farmer. Do not enter buildings or pens without permission. Most farmers are happy to have you visit and will enjoy showing you their flock. Enjoy your visit, but attend to your business.

Flock Background

Select your market lambs from a breeder with high-quality sheep that have been cared for and well managed. Evaluate potential 4-H market lamb sources carefully and try to visit the farm once before you select a lamb, if possible. When visiting the farm, answer the following questions:

[ ] Are the sheep well managed and cared for?
[ ] Are the sheep in good condition, alert, and active?
[ ] Are the lambs heavy enough for their age - are they growing well?
[ ] Are the lambs weaned and started on feed when sold?

Flock Health

Examine the flock for visible signs of disease. The health status may determine how well your lamb performs through the feeding period up to the fair. Choose only lambs that are free of disease and parasites and have been properly vaccinated. Young lambs are susceptible to many diseases. However, most diseases will not be a problem for healthy, vaccinated animals that are managed properly. Answer the following questions:

[ ] Are the lambs free of all visible signs of disease?
[ ] Are the lambs free of lameness?
[ ] Are the lambs coughing or scouring?
[ ] Are the lambs vaccinated for enterotoxemia (over-eating), tetanus, and sore mouth?
[ ] Are the lambs free from internal and external parasites? Have the lambs been wormed and treated for keds or ticks?

Flock Performance

Evaluate the genetic performance of the flock. Past performance will provide a basis for future performance. Select your lamb from a flock known for producing quality project lambs in the past. Your chances for success will be even greater if the sire and dam have produced outstanding lambs in the past. Answer the following questions:

[ ] Are the flock's rams and ewes quality animals?
[ ] Have other 4-H lambs produced from this flock performed well?
[ ] Are the larger sheep in the flock lean and heavy muscled?
[ ] Are the larger sheep in the flock structurally correct and sound on their feet and legs?

Selecting Your Individual Lamb

If you are satisfied with the health status and overall flock performance, then it is time to select a market lamb. Selecting a market lamb is fun and exciting, but it can be a frustrating and difficult process. Learn to evaluate each lamb individually. When evaluating a small feeder lamb, pay particular attention to structural correctness, muscle volume and expression. Remember that an unsound, or structurally incorrect feeder lamb will probably be more unsound or more incorrect as a market lamb. You will most likely not find a perfect lamb, but search for one that comes closest to your ideal. Evaluate each prospective market lamb critically, and do not start with an inferior animal. Also avoid the temptation to purchase a "bummer" or "bottle" lamb. They may be fun to bottle feed, and are cute, but raising an orphan lamb "properly" is very labor intensive, and economically never feasible.

Try not to let the breed of sheep bias your decision. Often 4-H/FFA members demand a lamb of a certain breed regardless of performance or composition. Quality project lambs come in various breeds and each has its own merit in the show ring. Don't compromise quality for breed.

Evaluating Performance, Age, And Weight

Evaluate the performance of the lambs eligible for selection. Make sure they meet your standards for breed, age and quality. Keep in mind that you want to show your market lamb at the fair at an ideal weight and most fairs have minimum weight limits at the fair. Therefore, you need a lamb that is at least 5 months old at the fair. Avoid lambs that will be younger than 5 months and older than 7 months. Make sure that your lamb will meet any weight restrictions when you weigh-in at the beginning of the feeding period and be aware of any weight requirements at the fair.

Lambs will generally come to the fair at end weights of 110 to 140 pounds. Lambs that are too small or light weight usually cannot show competitively or may not reach the minimum show weight limits for fair. At the other extreme, lambs that reach the fair at extremely heavy weight may not be competitive or may exceed the fair's maximum allowable weight.

Project market lambs that reach a desirable end weight of 125-140 pounds are the most desirable to the sheep industry. So, to maximize your competitiveness and industry value, it is important to reach an acceptable end weight for your individual project market lamb.

To determine an estimated market weight for the market lamb you will select, use the following chart:

Market Lamb Finish Weights
Based on Height at Shoulder and Weight
To find Expected Finish Weight Intersect Height & Weight
Height inches 50 lbs
Beginning Weight
60 lbs
Beginning Weight
70 lbs
Beginning Weight
80 lbs
Beginning Weight
90 lbs
Beginning Weight
19 105-110 lbs 0 0 0 0
20 110-115 lbs 105-110 lbs 0 0 0
21 115-120 lbs 110-115 lbs 105-115 lbs 0 0
22 120-125 lbs 115-120 lbs 110-115 lbs 105-110 lbs 0
23 122-127 lbs 120-125 lbs 115-120 lbs 110-115 lbs 105-110 lbs
24 0 122-127 lbs 122-127 lbs 115-120 lbs 115-120 lbs
25 0 125-130 lbs 127-132 lbs 117-122 lbs 115-120 lbs
26 0 0 130-135 lbs 122-127 lbs 120-125 lbs
27 0 0 135-140 lbs 125-130 lbs 125-130 lbs
28 0 0 0 130-135 lbs 130-135 lbs
All weights shown are the minimum for heights and weights.
If weight is between amounts shown move to next lower weight - example: 55 lbs, use 50 lbs
Adjustments heavy muscle + 5 lbs, light muscle -5 lbs, poor condition +5 lbs, extra condition -5 lbs

On the left of the graph is the shoulder height measurement in inches. The top of the graph has the weight of the lamb in pounds. To find expected finish weight, intersect the height measurement with weight. If the weight is between amount shown, move to next lower weight; for example, 55 pounds, use 50 pounds. Adjust for heavy muscle, +5 pounds; Light muscle, -5 pounds; poor condition, +5 pounds; extra condition, -5 pounds.

To determine the estimated average daily gain to achieve the desired target weight, use the following formula:

Target Weight - Initial Weight = Total Gain

Total Gain / Days On Project = Estimated Average Daily Gain

An example would be a large framed lamb that weighs 65 pounds at the initial weigh-in. A desired final weight could be 124 pounds. To find the total gain that we have to achieve, subtract the initial weight from the desired target weight (124 - 65 = 59 pounds that must be gained by the final weigh-in). The 59 pound total gain is then divided by the number of days in feeding period (59 pounds / 65 days = .91 pounds that must be gained per day to reach the desired final weight). If your lamb is fed good to excellent quality feeds, having average daily gains of .75 to 1 pound is achievable.

Evaluating Conformation

Carefully evaluate the conformation of individual prospects. Look for a lamb with style, balance and one with adequate muscle, capacity and frame size to grow to a competitive market weight. A prospective lamb should also have adequate length and thickness, and a long level top line, which carries out to a level dock. Width down the lamb's top, width in the rear leg, and depth of muscle in the rear leg are good indicators for muscle. Examine how much width the lamb carries down into the lower leg muscle. The further the width carries down, the more thickness the lamb has. Also look for lambs that are structurally correct. Check to see that the lamb, when standing naturally, is not standing with its hind legs underneath it's body, and that the lamb's pasterns are straight and strong. Also check the lamb's mouth to see that it has a sound mouth and lamb's teeth. With a sound mouth the incisor teeth meet with the dental pad; and when checking for "lamb's teeth", the center teeth should not be missing, be loose, or the smaller teeth should not have been replaced with larger permanent teeth. Avoid lambs that are light muscled and lambs that are narrow and lack the capacity to grow. Avoid lambs with obvious faults such as crooked legs, an overshot or undershot mouth, uneven or broken top line, short body length, those that lack style and balance or those with unsound feet and legs. Answer these questions:

[ ] Does this lamb have style and balance?
[ ] Does the lamb possess adequate muscle, capacity, and frame size to grow to a competitive market weight? Are the lamb's feet and legs crooked or unsound?
[ ] Is the top line straight, long and level?
[ ] Is the lamb adequate in overall body length?
[ ] Does the lamb have a sound mouth and have lamb's teeth?

Making Your Decision

Once you have evaluated each market lamb and are satisfied with the performance, make your decision. Evaluating the future performance and conformation of a feeder lamb is not an easy task, and lambs carry no guarantees. The information outlined is meant to provide guidelines. Meeting each criteria will be very difficult. At the very least, find a lamb that is healthy and the right weight and age for your fair.

Remember that a market lamb is a living animal and will not achieve it's potential without proper care and management. Build from past experience. Learn more as you study and watch your lamb develop.

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How Much Should You Pay?

Determining the value of a project market lamb depends on several factors. Most quality project market lambs will be valued at a premium over a typical market price. There are several reasons why project market lambs command a higher price:

Some breeders sell many project market lambs. Often, they will spend several minutes to an hour showing lambs to numerous individual buyers. Time is valuable to the farmer.

Project market lamb purchasers tend to select the largest and best lambs in a group, which decreases the overall value of the remaining lambs.

Breeders sacrifice potential profits by selling project market lambs if they normally raise their feeder lambs to market weight.

Breeders often provide special care, medications, feed, or management advice for project market lambs and some breeders may provide limited guarantees.

There is a lot of competition for individual market lambs of extreme quality.

Be prepared to pay a premium for your market lamb, but also be prepared to thoroughly evaluate the prospects and get the best market lamb available for your money. In most cases, your 4-H/FFA market lamb will not be priced unfairly. Expect to pay from $50-$150 for a typical 55-75 pound project market lamb.

Caring For Your Project Market Lamb

A project market lamb is a major responsibility for a 4-H/FFA member and requires daily care and attention, without exception. A project market lamb will not perform to expectations if it is not cared for properly. Proper care and management includes adequate housing, nutrition and health maintenance.

Feeding Your Lamb

Project market lambs require an adequate amount of a properly balanced ration on a daily basis. Lambs will not perform to their maximum potential if they are not provided with adequate nutrition at all times. Monitor the growth performance and feed intake of your lambs often. If your lamb is not growing properly or is not eating enough feed on a daily basis, make adjustments well in advance of the fair to correct the problem. Most likely your lamb is not healthy, is not comfortable, does not have clean, cool water, or is not receiving adequate nutrition.

Make sure your feed is not stale, wet or dirty. Examine your feed for dirt, mold, or a stale musty odor and replace it if necessary. Clean your feeders often and provide adequate eating space for every lamb in the pen. Feed only properly balanced rations appropriate for your lamb's weight. Project market lambs always perform best on a properly balanced ration.

Lambs can be hand fed or can feed off a self-feeder. Hand feeding is when the lamb is fed a certain amount of feed twice daily and in the amount it can finish in 15 to 20 minutes. Feed an amount adequate to maintain maximum or desired performance, but do not over feed. Your lamb should be slightly hungry at each feeding.

There are pros and cons to hand feeding. The pro for hand feeding your market lamb is that you will learn more about your lamb because you will be with the lamb at least twice a day. The con to hand feeding is that it must be done every day, twice a day. Hand feeding does not work if you go away for a day or two and revert to self-feeding during that time. You cannot expect the market lamb to maintain high average daily gains if feeding practices are not constant.

Self-feeding is another way to feed your market lamb. This method allows the lamb to have all that it wants to eat at any given time. The key to self-feeding is to keep the feeders full with fresh, clean feed. Of course, this method of feeding is less labor intensive, but major consideration must be given to see that the feeder never goes empty. Should the feeder go empty, and the lamb gets hungry, when you do re-fill the feeder, there may be a tendency for your lamb to over eat. This could result in scours and/or acidosis (upset stomach), both of which could cause your lamb to go off feed or become very ill.

A project market lamb has daily requirements for each of the following nutrients: energy, protein, minerals, vitamins, and water.

Each of these must be provided in a properly balanced ration on a daily basis. For example, a ration containing only corn will contain plenty of energy, but will not contain enough protein, minerals or vitamins to provide an adequate level of required daily nutrients. Be sure that the ingredients in your feed are appropriate for sheep or lambs. Do not forget to provide adequate water for your lamb. Water must be cool and clean at all times. If your lamb does not drink, it will not eat. Water is an most important nutrient in your lamb's daily diet and is often overlooked.

Many 4-H/FFA members choose to feed a premixed ration, which is available at local feed stores. (A list of feed stores is provided for you). Project market lambs require proper nutrition to maximize lean gain and reach the fair at an acceptable weight. However, all market lambs are not created equal. A lamb's protein requirements decrease as it grows and matures; furthermore, lambs that grow quickly and are lean and heavy muscled have a larger protein and mineral requirement than lambs that are slower growing, less efficient and fatter. Therefore, commercial starter rations are higher in protein than finishing rations and high performance market lambs require high performance feed to maximize their genetic potential.

In general, commercial rations are balanced to meet the needs of an average lamb. Therefore, a lamb that is above average for lean and muscle content may perform best if fed the higher protein ration to market weight instead of a lower protein ration. Answer these questions:

[ ] Is my lamb on the proper ration for its weight and growth rate?
[ ] Is my lamb's weight monitored often, so adjustments can be made if necessary?
[ ] Is my feeder clean?
[ ] Does my lamb have cool, clean water at all times?

If you have questions about feeding or nutrition, ask your feed dealer, leader, advisor, or Extension agricultural agent.

Weight Problems

What can you do if your market lamb was started at a proper weight, but is not growing fast enough? Start by examining your day-to day care and management. Does your lamb have access to cool, clean water at all times? Lambs will not eat if they don't drink! Are you feeding an adequate amount of a balanced ration? Are you providing enough protection from the weather, both hot and cold? Is your lamb healthy and free of internal and external parasites? Most gain problems can be traced to one or more of these questions.

Individual market lambs vary in their genetic potential for rate of gain. Try to select animals with the genetic potential for fast lean gain. Use all available production records from the farm and select animals from a proven flock, whenever possible.

Sometimes your market lamb just will not grow fast enough even in the best conditions. Keep in mind that there are no magic rations or feeding programs; and radical ration changes could cause digestive problems and nutritional deficiencies. If your animal fails to perform well after doing the best you can, don't take this as a personal failure. Remember, you can't always control what is happening with your animal.

At the other extreme, you may find yourself with a market lamb that is getting too large for the fair. Most often this occurs because the market lamb was too heavy when started on feed and/or grew extremely fast. Every lamb is different, so when feeding take this into consideration. Be sure to manage your lamb accordingly, weigh your lamb often, and manage to your lamb's individual needs; keeping in mind the requirements of the fair.

Housing Your Lamb

Project market lambs require protection from heat and cold. You do not need fancy facilities, but you will need a clean, dry pen with a small shed of some kind. Locate your pen in a well drained area. Your pen size will be determined by the amount of space you have; a small pen may be used, but be sure your lamb gets plenty of exercise. Provide a shed with the open side to the south. Make sure there are no objects in the pen that may injure or scratch. Remove all protruding wires, nails, or bolts, etc. Protect your lambs from stray dogs or other animals that may cause harm.

Provide plenty of bedding if the weather is cool and wet or your lamb is small. In the late spring and summer, after the weather has warmed up, be sure to provide plenty of cool shade. Make sure that the sun does not excessively heat your lamb's water supply. Lambs that are hot and uncomfortable will eat less feed and grow more slowly than lambs that are kept cool. If your pens are extremely dry and dusty, they will need to be sprinkled daily to control dust. Excessive dust can create respiratory inflammation and may cause disease problems in your project lamb. Answer these questions.

[ ] Is my pen clean, dry and well drained?
[ ] Is my pen safe and well built?
[ ] Does my shed provide adequate protection from the cold and rain?
[ ] Does my pen have adequate shade for hot weather?

Keeping Your Market Lamb Healthy

Project market lambs are most susceptible to disease during periods of stress. The most critical time for your lamb is the first few days after it arrives. Keep your lamb warm and dry and allow it to rest and become accustomed to its new home. Make sure your lamb is properly vaccinated and free of all internal and external parasites before you bring it home. Watch for coughing, scours (diarrhea), or other signs of disease. With proper care, you will have few problems once your lamb is started on feed and comfortable in it's new home.

Plan to treat your market lamb for internal parasites and vaccinate at least once prior to the fair. Many counties have even started worming and vaccinating at the initial weigh-ins, for those lambs that were not treated prior to purchase. Remember to monitor withdrawal times on all drugs and medications. Answer these questions each time you care for your market lamb:

[ ] Is my lamb properly vaccinated?
[ ] Is my lamb free of internal and external parasites?
[ ] Is my lamb coughing persistently?
[ ] Does my lamb have scours?
[ ] Does my lamb act and feel healthy and vigorous?
[ ] Is my lamb eating and drinking consistently?
[ ] Is my lamb growing fast enough?

Answer each of these questions often and get medical attention as soon as possible as a problem arises. Examine your lamb closely every day. If you have questions about your lamb's health, ask your veterinarian, leader, advisor, or Extension agricultural agent for help.

Your Responsibility

Raising a 4-H/FFA project market lamb is a lot of fun, but involves daily responsibility. It is not sufficient to feed or check your market lambs today but not tomorrow. If you go away for a few days, find someone to check and care for your lambs daily. Make sure your market lamb is well cared for at all times. Proper care and daily attention virtually assure you of a successful project. Ask your parents, leader, or local Extension agricultural agent for help or answer to your questions. Good Luck with your market lamb project!

Provided By:
Becky Settlage

Washington County Extension
4-H/FFA Sheep Project
Selection and Management Checklist

Writer: Becky Settlage, 4-H Program Assistant
Reviewer: Scott Nash, Extension Educator

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