HOW TO PICK OUT A MARKET LAMB
Picking out a market lamb can be a challenge. The first obstacle is that they appear to all look alike! Our goal is to show you how to look for specific qualities or problems to show which lamb is better than the next. When I evaluated lambs, I always found it easier to eliminate animals with obvious faults. The faults were easier to see.
When evaluating sheep, it’s daunting whether its 30 fuzzy lambs looking at you in a pasture or they are all lined up on a rack at the auction or if the breeder is holding an individual lamb. It’s a systematic selection process that needs to take place. There are two terms to understand; Conformation & Composition.
- Conformation: The shape or structure of something, especially an animal.
- Composition: Is muscle, condition, and freshness. Muscle is the most important quality in a market lamb.
The goal is to develop your skills of picking out certain conformation characteristics that will help you grow a nice market lamb. Be sure to put the best characteristics in order of importance as it relates to a market animal. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when beginning to evaluate sheep. Be sure to take notes!
Reviewing Lambs – Start from the ground up and rear forward. Your goal is to envision how the young and undeveloped lamb will grow and blossom at market time.
Open Pasture Evaluation – If you are viewing sheep in an open pasture or corral, the benefit will be that you can see the lamb at a distance and see the natural movement. Once you select a lamb to view, it will be important to ask the breeder to hold the lamb so that you can get a closer look and feel. Because they are young and untrained, they will wiggle and squirm around and it will be difficult to view…but keep working at it.
IN AN OPEN PASTURE THE LAMB SHOULD:
Walk with ease, smoothly and without limps or other noticeable problems in their gait.
Stand wide and square on thick boned legs, like a table.
Level – From the hips to the shoulders, they should look level, wide and long (like a board is under the skin).
Rectangle – From the side and top view, the lamb should look like a rectangle.
Rack or Stand Evaluation – Some breeders will use stands to setup their lambs that will make evaluation much easier. This is a good way to see the length, width and structure of the lamb and to compare them to one another. You can quickly see the longest, tallest, straightest, thickest, and deepest and any other “est” you can describe. It will be easy to see lambs that are more superior in their natural shape.
Never pull a lamb off a stand or out of a pen without permission of the owner. Most owners will have help in handling the lambs and will prefer that they move them around for you. Take notes and write down the sales number or ear tag number. Rate and rank them according to your notes and input from your adviser.
SHOW TIP: Take the time to read the show rules before you purchase your lamb. Ensure that the available lambs at the sale will be the correct age and weight for your show. A lamb too young and small or too old and large may put you in a position of not meeting the required show weight range. Once you have narrowed down your selection to your top six (6) lambs, rank them in order of their ability to grow into the composition terms below.
Muscle & Condition (Composition)
Withers or Top of Shoulder – wide and deep.
Back, Rack, & Loin; long and wide – The distance from the last rib back should be longer than the last rib forward. Run your flat hand down the back. After touching a few lambs, you should be able to feel the natural muscle development and width. Some lambs will feel mushy to the touch, while others will be firmer. Remember, since the loin of the lamb is the best cut of meat, it should be the highest priority in selection.
Length – The lamb should be the longest and the widest of the sheep available. The only drawback to reviewing lambs on a stand is that you will not see how they walk or what the chest looks like. Ask the owner to handle the lamb so that you can see all sides.
Forearm – should be thick and smooth – muscled
Leg – The legs should be muscled on both the inside & outside of the leg as seen from the rear view.
Freshness – The lamb should appear healthy and hydrated.
The lambs pictured below are finished and market ready; can you see how thick and full they look as compared to the lambs pictured above?
Summary – Picking out a show lamb is a skill that is developed over the years. Don’t feel frustrated! Try to apply as many of these traits to the sheep that you are evaluating. This is all part of the lesson! I recently heard an experienced showman say, “I love this wether! He has the combined qualities of 3 of my best wethers!” She said that this wether taught her to look for different body characteristics that were a new perspective for her. She went on to win her class and the Grand Championship. So keep working to improve your eye over your show career!