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How to Show a Lamb: A Simple Guide to Basic Showmanship

Updated on February 11, 2014

Lambs for Sale: the first step to learning how to show a lamb.

There are many reputable breeders who offer lambs for sale.
There are many reputable breeders who offer lambs for sale. | Source

How to Show a Lamb at the Pennsylvania Farm Show: Market lamb competition

Show Ring Prep for How to Show a Lamb

Getting Your Lamb Ready to Show: How to Show a Lamb

Sheep Selection from a Professional Judge and Breeder on How to Show a Lamb

How to show a lamb at your local or regional fair, livestock show or rodeo - and take home a ribbon.

If you have decided to purchase and prepare a market lamb for a local 4H or school agricultural organization then you will need to learn the basics of not only raising and presenting a market lamb to judges but also develop a keen and sharp sense of showmanship. This guide to showmanship is designed to help those who are new to market lambs or may be inexperienced in basic showmanship skills.

A lamb showman takes on the responsibility of presenting a lamb that shows off the animal's strong points while also deflecting attention form it's weaker areas. I cannot count the number of times that a lesser lamb was awarded a ribbon simply because the animal was presented in such a way that the showmanship simply made the lamb look better to the judges. Take the time and make the effort to learn and practice the basic fundamentals of market lamb showmanship.

When it's all said and done, and you have honed your skills in presenting your market lamb, take some time to pass on what you have learned to those who are less experienced than you. Take responsibility for a few others, work closely with them and teach them the basic fundamentals of showmanship that you have learned. When you help others improve, it is a direct reflection of your own character and success. Help someone else to be better than you and you will feel like a true winner.

So, with that being said, let's take a look at the process of how to show a lamb.

Lambs for Sale

One of the most important decisions you will make is one of the first decisions you will make. When you are looking at lambs for sale, you want to work only with a reputable breeder. If you don't know any, ask your local FFA representative, contact the local agricultural extension office or talk to your sponsor at school. What kind of lambs are the best to purchase for this type of project? This is always a tough question to consider but there are a few guidelines you can use when shopping for a market lamb.

First of all, look for a black-faced lamb which tend to place higher and do better in the competitions. Yes, there are beautiful lambs in all breeds but black-faced lambs are more likely to place higher. Typically rams will be ineligible to be shown in market classes and ewes in open breeding classes will be ineligible to show in market classes.

When considering lambs for sale, look for a lamb that is healthy, lively, large framed and growthy, is thick and well-muscled down its top, loin and leg. Look for a lamb that is compete, smooth and balanced in pattern and is appealing to look at from front to back. Do not buy a lamb that is not yet weaned from its mother and eating well on its own. Look out for lambs that may be pinched behind the shoulder, are narrow at the heart girth, short in their loin muscle or that lack thickness in their legs. Market lambs need to be between 110 and 125 pounds by the time the show or fair begins so buy a lamb that can make that weight range in time. Most market lambs can be expected to gain between one-half and a full pound every day.

Lambs are typically slaughtered when they reach a weight between 105 and 130 pounds and have not less than .10 inches and no more than .20 inches of total external body fat. Healthy sheep will have minimal amounts of excess fat trim. Different breeds of sheep will attain different final weights based on initial frame size and nutrition but the range of fat trim ensures an adequate amount of fat for most sheep and lambs

Look for "well-rounded" or "compete" type lambs. You do not want to select a lamb that has a particularly strong or weak single trait. Look for a lamb that will have an adequate frame size, is structurally correct, shows above average muscling and will be able to finish at a weight level acceptable to the market. Keep in mind that a young lamb is born with all the muscle fibers it will ever have and no amount of exercise or feeding is going to make that much difference when it comes to market.
LINK: For more details on how to select the perfect market lamb, click here. (insert Hub link for article #2 here)

The Real Work of Showmanship Begins

There is so much to know about how to show a lamb because a lamb show is just that - a show. Showmanship counts in this game so you have to do all you can to learn and practice exceptional showmanship. Preparation is one of the primary keys in successful showmanship. You must prepare and practice your ability to show lambs in competition because this is one area where the judges will be looking carefully. Work daily with your lamb and have someone else handle your lamb as a judge would when you are at the show. This allows you to practice your showmanship and allows the lamb to get used to the idea of being handled.

Dress Appropriately

Make sure your hair is cleaned, teeth brushed, and you practice good personal hygiene. Dress neatly with clean, crisp clothing, iron your shirt and jeans or slacks if needed. Wear a clean and pressed sport shirt or button-down casual dress shirt that is tucked in. Make sure you have a nice belt, not too flashy, but understated. DO NOT wear a T-shirt or cap and less jewelry is better.

Lamb Tube is Appropriate Dress for your Lamb

One of the most important things you can do for your lamb before the big show is to dress it in a proper lamb tube. A lamb tube is a sort of tightly fitting covering that can be placed over the lamb to help maintain the cleanliness of the coat and keep your lamb warm if necessary. A lamb tube is not worn during the competition but are worn before the show. A typical lamb tube is available in many different styles, sizes and colors so you should be able to easily find one that works for your lamb. Because they can get snagged, soiled or even torn rather easily, be sure to order several lamb tubes if you think you will need them before your big show.


Some products that may help you learn more about how to show a lamb

It's Lamb Show Time

If you have the opportunity, walk around the show arena and look for any low spots. You want to have your lamb stop facing in an uphill position if you get stopped on or near one of these low areas. The lamb will appear to have more extension through the front-end if it stands facing uphill. When it's time for your class to enter the show ring, lead the lamb from the left-hand side with your left hand under the chin and your right hand behind the ears. Always keep the ears in a forward, alert position when moving through the show ring. If you're too small to handle the sheep in this manner, some shows will allow the use of a halter so be sure and check with your local show staff or officials to find out what is allowed before the actual show.

In the side-by-side line-up, position the lamb straight, with all four feet squared and the rear legs slightly back. Do not get down on your knees to position or set the lamb, rather lift the front-end with your leg to move it into the proper position. If you're a small exhibitor, you may be able to use your foot or knee to position the lamb's legs. Use your knee to push or bump the lamb's breastplate to move the rear legs back first, then set the front legs. Once set, be sure to hold the lamb's head up high. Remember to never place your hands on the lambs back or the base of it's neck.

Here Comes the Judge

Always know where the judges are inside the show arena. As the judges approach, stay at the front of your lamb as the judge views the lamb's backside. Be sure to push into the lamb so that its muscling will really show up in the rear legs for the judge.When the judge moves to the right side of your lamb, gently move to the front of your lamb, standing slightly off to the left. This allows the judge to get a complete, unobstructed view of your lamb. When the judge moves to the front of your lamb, move completely to the left side of the lamb and face the judge while holding the lamb's head high, in line with its body and ears erect and forward facing. This gives the judge a good view of the entire animal.

The judge will want to handle your lamb so you must train the animal to brace or push against your leg while the judge inspects it. This is known as "driving the lamb" and there is a good reason the best showmanship people do it. When a lamb is trained to push against your leg, it's muscles tighten up, feel firmer and have a more pronounced appearance for the inspecting judge. Take a look at the illustration below to see the proper way to hold a lamb when it is pushing against you.

You will notice the head is held securely with the lamb's nose tilted slightly upward. You must train your lamb to push against you when you push into it's breast and shoulder area with the inside of your leg. Be sure to that all four feet remain on the ground while doing this. The key here is to make sure the lamb has a firm top when driving. If you cannot produce a firm top, you will likely place lower in the competition. Judges will expect you to make sure you are able to drive and maintain the position of your lamb. If you have practiced these moves with your lamb, you should have no problems when you and you lamb are in the spotlight.

The Final Moments

After the judges have inspected and handled all the lambs, they will want to see you walk your lamb. It is critical that your lamb remain under your control when walking in front of the judge or judges. Be prepared to stop and set the lamb like before so the judge can get a side view of your lamb. Stand in front and to the left in this profile position, head in line with the body, ears erect while driving the lamb with your leg to get and maintain a level top.

Be ready for the judge to possibly handle the lamb again or ask you to move to another line. The show, or class, is not over until the judge starts giving reasons. No matter what happens, be gracious, humble and maintain good showmanship and handling as long as you and your lamb are in the arena. Be sure to offer congratulations to the winners and encourage those below you in line. This is a learning experience for you and all your fellow exhibitors so learn form others mistakes, and improve your skills by watching those above you. Good luck!


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    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Wow this brought back some memories! I grew up with a backyard full of sheep. I showed as a 4-H member for a number of years. It was great fun and I met some wonderful people over the years. I learned a lot as well. Thanks for the memory :)


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