TRAINING SHEEP FOR SHOW
Part 1 – Tips & Techniques for Setting the Foundation
Showmanship Theory & Mindset:
“Showmanship training, along with feed & health management all begin on day one. There isn’t a good management plan that starts somewhere ‘later on’.” Donna Martinez
“To develop any skill, one must take good information or instruction, spend time in study and make an effort to practice on a daily basis. This is the foundation of building any skill.
Sheep Showmanship is about building a relationship and trust. Sheep are mildly curious herd animals and want nothing more than to be with the herd…even if you are their new herd! Use this curiosity to develop showmanship skills.
Begin by spending time to get to know your new lamb. A good way to achieve this is by sitting on an overturned bucket in the middle of the pen for 10-15 minutes each feeding. During this quiet and watchful time, you will begin to see what’s normal for your lamb. It also gives your lamb a chance to check you out and get to know you. These are the first steps to trust. As your lamb gets close or walks by you, slowly reach out to touch the lamb. Soon they learn to accept and trust your touch and other movements. This leads to following your guidance and your lamb will become calm and confident in you.
Exploring Outside of the Pen
It’s always a cautious feeling the first time you let a lamb out of the pen! CAUTION: Be certain that the area is fenced for your lamb’s safety. I’ve had a few lambs bolt and run around the yard, but they quickly came back because they prefer to be in a herd. A good start is to let them wander outside of the pen while you are cleaning stalls and making up feed. They can casually check things out without being chased or controlled. This will develop a calm mindset that will be beneficial later on during your training. To get them back into the pen, use your freshly prepared feed bucket to lure them back to the pen. Expect them to check out everything! Have fun with it! Lambs can be fun! Always supervise your lamb when they are out of their pen, as their curiosity can get them into trouble!
Initial Handling Steps
Training Equipment – Phase 1
- Nylon Halter with 3-4’ lead
Hold their head or gently lead with the halter. The goal is to get them accustom to being restrained without fighting or resisting. Loading them up on the grooming stand is another way to tame them. They become familiar with us as we talk to them and give scratches so that they relax. They will be very wiggly and will resist you holding them.
Training Equipment – Phase 2
Work with your Lamb without a Halter on the Grooming Stand –
While holding the head or on the stand, run your hand down their sides and legs. This will lead to picking up and setting legs at the show. Expect them to be wiggly and almost ticklish to your touch. This will improve over time. To get them to relax, find the spot that they love to have scratched. Behind the ears or under the chin are good spots to try.
- Handle your lamb EVERY DAY. Even if you’re in a hurry, give yourself some time to touch and handle your lamb. Sheep purchased at an auction, we made a point to handle them every day, twice a day. The overall goal is to be able to get the lamb to relax and trust your touch. There is a “pet” quality to lambs and they can easily be won over with time and attention.
Initial Handling & Training Steps
Here are action shots of a handler showing a lamb in an auction. This young lamb is not trained and this is most likely what they will do with you in the beginning showmanship training phases.
Drop to their knees
Jump or Bolt forward
Wiggle in every direction
The trick is to stay calm and keep your actions firm and persistent. With daily practice and socialization, they will calm down and relax. It doesn’t happen overnight! Practice with and without the halter in a pen. This will help you catch your lamb when they break free!
Here you can see how this showman starts with setting up the hind legs and then she move to reposition the front of the lamb. Once the lamb relaxed and stands, she too relaxes her grip. She will repeat this process over and over until the lamb is trained and ready to cooperate!
Drive and Direction
Drive is moving your lamb in a forward, steady pace in the direction that you choose. This takes a lot of practice and exercising of your lamb because you will be moving them around the arena without a halter!
Lambs should walk freely and easily. They should not be trying to break away from your hands.
With the lamb happy to leave their head in your hand. It lets you make other adjustments such as head carriage and it allows the judge to see the lambs’ conformation and muscle and bone structure. He is also able to encourage forward movement by keeping the nose up
When lambs become tired of walking, they may become vocal and begin throwing little tantrums by stopping, pulling or jumping!
Lambs can be spooky and it will take time and practice to work them out of it. Just stay with them and keep training. If you have to lean forward to pull your lamb, keep practicing. Make time to work with an experienced showman. Ask for help!
Keys to Training for Drive & Direction
Pick a cool part of the day or early evening.
Daily Practice moving your lamb in a large circle or figure eight pattern (figure 8 patterns keep things fresh and changing for the lamb and perfect your transitions from hand to hand).
Stop at different points of your walk and stand for 2-3 minutes. This may feel like forever but will help develop patience in both you and the lamb! This will pay off later at the show where they are required to stand quietly for periods of time!
Lead your lamb forward for 5 minutes and gradually extend the time to 20 minutes. This will take some time to develop the stamina. Just keep moving forward at a steady pace.
Tip – To Lead a Stubborn Lamb– Take a little bit of sweet grain in your free hand and place it right in front of the lamb’s nose. This will encourage forward movement. If your lamb at the show is still putting on the brakes, rub your hand in some sweet feed. Your lamb will smell it on your hand and it will be a good distraction.
Figure Eight Tips
The main purpose of the figure eight pattern in practice is to demonstrate the ability to change sides of the lamb as you change directions. It’s a great training tool.
RULE: Always stay on the “rail side” of the lamb, as the judge will always be in the center of the ring. The lamb must always be between you and the eyes of the judge and switching sides smoothly will take practice. You will most likely never perform a figure eight pattern at a show because shows are generally a circle pattern. The class usually starts in a clockwise circle.
To perform this pattern:
Left Side: Driving the lamb to the left will require you to use your left hand under the chin and use your right at the back of the head and to make other adjustments and encourage forward movement as needed.
Center: as you pass the center point, smoothly cross in front of your lamb and switch to the right hand under the chin & the left hand at the back of the head.
Right Side: Driving the lamb to the right will require you to use your right hand under the chin and use your left hand at the back of the head and to make other adjustments and encourage forward movement as needed.
Forward from a Stop: To drive the lamb forward, using whichever hand is at the back of the head, with two or four fingers, tap the lambs back, hip or tail. This should help increase the pace.
Every day, practice these steps. Be patient and persistent! Things will start taking shape! Keep practicing forward movement until the show is over! It can never be enough!
Setting up your Lamb for Show
Setting up your lamb will require more patience and more daily practice. Lambs need to become acclimated to standing quietly at full attention and not move until you que them.
Goals: Showcase Your Lamb’s Best Physical Qualities
- Length of Body
- Width of hips
- The thickness of muscling and bone
- Your Showmanship and Presentation Skills
Here is a championship class with experienced showmen who have set their lambs to make it a hard choice for the judge! When you are in the ring, your goal is to set up your lamb quickly to be square on all four legs, back braced and head up. See how square, wide and thick this lamb is? You can bet that these showmen worked hard for months to develop her skills and train their lamb for this moment. A well-trained lamb will quickly set up and stay in this formation