Official publication of the Texas Junior Livestock Association

A to Z on Selecting Your Lamb Project

Adapted from Dr. Frank Craddock, by Paul Maulsby

It seems like we just wrapped the show season, and you may need to take a deep breath before you hit the road on the hunt for next years projects. For me, and most that have the show bug, it is the most exciting time of the year for an exhibitor. Its time to find your next champions!

Whether you are a beginner to showing or if you are a seasoned veteran it is always good to review the whats, whys and how comes in what ever arena you choose to be showing in. I have condensed some pertinent information which has been adapted from Dr. Frank Craddock who is no stranger to the sheep world and is like a walking information center when it comes to the details of lambs and goats.

The first step to the project is deciding that you want to feed and competitively show a market lamb for your 4-H or FFA club project. The lamb that you purchase will join more than 9,000 lambs in 4-H projects across the state of Texas that show this year. You will join other 4-H and FFA members in devoting many hours over several months to the proper care, feeding and management of a potentially award-winning lamb.

Lambs may be purchased by private treaty at a producer’s ranch or through sales. During the late spring and summer, there are usually one or more sales every week throughout the state. Information on lamb sales is available through many livestock magazines and online sale sites.

However, many of the decisions you make regarding the type of feeder lamb to purchase and raise, and how to exercise, feed and care for the lamb, will depend on the shows you plan to enter. Your first step, then, is to determine which shows to attend. Show schedules, rules and regulations may be obtained from your county Extension agent or directly from the shows.

It is your responsibility, as a potential exhibitor, to read the general rules and regulations, as well as special rules governing the shows you will attend. This information will tell you the number of lambs you may enter, the type of classification system used, weight limits, ownership dates and entry deadlines.

Show dates are extremely important. They determine the age and size or weight of the lambs to be entered and at what time of year the lambs should be purchased. Most shows require that lambs retain their milk teeth. Lambs generally hold their milk teeth until they are 12 to 14 months of age. Lambs without baby teeth are ineligible for show.

Lamb shows also have weight limit requirements that must be met. Under normal conditions, lambs will gain approximately 1/2 pound per day. Not all lambs can be fed to the same final weight because not all lambs have the same size of frame. Large frame lambs may be correctly finished at 140 pounds, while small frame lambs may be correctly finished at 100 pounds. You must learn to look at indicators of frame size (length of head, neck, cannon bone and body) and determine the weight at which a lamb will be correctly finished. If you know the approximate weight of a lamb at the time of purchase and the length of time until a show, you can calculate the feed requirements (light, moderate or heavy) needed to enable that lamb to enter the show at its proper show weight.

Remember that size does not make a good lamb. There are good little lambs and good big lambs. Your management program is the key.


The selection of a lamb for a project is one of the most important decisions you must make. The type of lamb you select will have a major influence on the project’s results. However, remember that a winning lamb is a combination of good selection, good nutritional management, a good exercise program and outstanding showmanship.

People differ in their ability to select animals. Some have a natural eye for selecting young animals of high caliber, while others may never develop this ability. Do not hesitate to ask for help from someone with these skills. It may be your county Extension agent, Future Farmers of America instructor, parent or another leader in your county. Also, many breeders are very willing to assist you in your selection.

When selecting a lamb, be aware of wool length and fat thickness. If possible, select your club lamb after shearing. Young lambs that are bloomy and fat always look good, while young lambs that are thin do not. Learn to look past fat and recognize muscle so that you pick a lamb that is genetically superior.

When purchasing a lamb, it is important to know something about the lamb producer. Do not hesitate to ask questions about the lamb’s bloodlines and the age of the lamb.

Consider the following when selecting a lamb: classification, muscle, structural correctness, style and balance, and growth potential.


Show lamb classification can vary from state to state and as per show rules, however, in general terms it relies not necessarily on the genetic makeup, but upon the animal’s physical characteristics. These include color markings, physical structure, skeletal shape, and feel (softness) of the pelt. Some genetic traits of a breed are not always the most dominant, and it may be difficult for a lamb show classifier to recognize these traits. When selecting a lamb for purchase, remember that you should be confident that the lamb will classify.

Classification guidelines are clearly established for county, district and state shows. A lamb must be typical for the class in which it is shown. There are four major breed classes shown in the state of Texas. They are finewools, finewool crosses, medium wools and Southdowns. The following standards may be helpful when purchasing lambs for showing the state of Texas.

I. Finewool Breed Characteristics 

Acceptable breed characteristics 

Rambouillet, Delaine, Debouillet, or a cross between these breeds

Silky, white face that is narrow and clean cut

Silky ears, medium to moderate in size

Soft pelt

White hooves and legs

Horns may be present or absent

Discriminatory breed characteristics 

Black or brown spots in the skin or wool on the body of the lamb

Freckles or pigmented areas of black or brown skin

Black pigmentation in the hooves

Black eyelashes

Absolute disqualifications

Coarse, chalky, white hair on the face, down the back of the hind legs, and in the flanks

Black or brown freckles above the hooves in the hairline

Solid black hooves

Harsh, coarse pelt

Black lambs

Surgical alterations other than redocking

Steep hip or tendency to show callipyge gene

II. Finewool Cross Breed Characteristics 

Acceptable breed characteristics 

Must be a cross with evidence of at least 50 percent finewool breeding. The other percentage should be predominantly Hampshire and/or Suffolk characteristics.

Soft pelt that is characteristic of 1/2 blood wool (60s, 62s spinning count)

Mottling and/or some spotting on face and ears

Mottling and/or spotting of legs below the knees and stifle joint

Soft and silky face and ears

Discriminatory breed characteristics 

Face, ears and legs should not be extremely dark or solid in color

Colored fiber (black or brown spots) in the wool

Absence of wool on the legs below the knees and/or hocks

Absolute disqualifications 

Coarse, chalky white hair on the face or ears or legs or in the flanks

Harsh, coarse pelt

Black lambs

Surgical alterations other than redocking

Steep hip or tendency to show callipyge gene

III. Southdown Breed Characteristics 

Acceptable breed characteristics 

Hair color on muzzle should be mouse colored, gray to brown

Nostril pigmentation may be black to purplish-gray

Muzzle should be broad, head of moderate length

Ears of moderate length, covered with short hair or wool

Black hoof color

Dark pigmentation on hide and/or birth marks are accept- able

Discriminatory breed characteristics 

Solid white color on muzzle

Dark chocolate color on muzzle

Coarse, chalky hair around eyes extending to and including the muzzle

Predominately pink nose with few black spots 5.

Long, narrow nose

Coloration on ears

Coarse hair in flank

Harsh, coarse pelt

Open poll on head

Striped hooves

Black fibers in wool

Absolute disqualifications 

Speckled face or legs

Horns or solid scurs

White hooves

Changing color of hair or pigmentation on head, legs, hooves or nose

Total pink pigmentation of nostrils

Black lambs

Surgical alterations other than redocking

Steep hip or tendency to show callipyge gene

IV. MediumWoolBreedCharacteristics: This class generally includes the Suffolk and Hampshire breeds, plus all lambs that do not fit in the finewool, finewool cross or Southdown breed classes.

V. Haired Sheep Characteristics 

Typically of the following breeds: Barbado, St. Croix, Dorper, White Dorper, Katahdin or a cross among these breeds.

Acceptable Characteristics 

No wool below the knees or hocks

No wool forward of the poll

Predominantly to all hair covering on the body

Discriminatory Characteristics 

Excessive wool coverings

Strong breed characteristic of breeds other than the five breeds listed above

Solid black lambs

Absolute Disqualifications Characteristic 

No evidence of hair on britch, belly, or forearm

Steep hip or tendency to show callipyge gene


Proper lamb selection also depends on muscling. Select a lamb that feels firm or hard muscled. The lamb should have a good expression of muscle from the shoulder to the rump. It should have a long, level, square rump with good width at the pin bones (dock). Other good indicators of muscling are the forearm and leg muscles. The widest part of the leg, when viewed from behind, should be through the middle of the leg or the stifle area. Also, a lamb that walks and stands wide is generally going to be more heavily muscled.

Structural correctness 

Structural correctness refers to the skeletal system or bone structure of an animal. A lamb should hold its head erect and the neck should extend out of the top of the shoulder. A lamb should travel and stand wide and straight on both its front and rear legs and the legs should be placed squarely under the body. A lamb should have a strong top and a long, level rump. It should be heavy boned and be strong on its pas- terns. Avoid open-shouldered, weak-topped, steep-rumped lambs.

Style and balance 

Style and balance refer to the way all body parts blend together, how the front end matches the rear end, and how “eye appealing” a lamb is. When viewed from the side, a lamb should have a clean front, smooth shoulder, level top, level rump, trim middle and straight legs. Because all club lambs are shorn smooth, it is absolutely necessary that a lamb have a tight hide and be free of wrinkles. A lamb should never be selected in the wool, if possible. A good, smooth, thin-hided lamb has eye appeal and will handle well when properly finished. A lamb that is balanced, smooth, pretty, and holds up its head is the first one you notice when you walk in the pen.



Growth potential 

The ability of an animal to grow rapidly is very important. Generally, larger framed lambs, as indicated by a long head, neck, cannon bone, and body, will grow faster, be larger, and be more competitive in the show ring. Lambs that are extremely long in the loin and rump will have an advantage over others.

It is an exciting time of year when you are selecting your new projects for the upcoming show season. Although there are several aspects to the success of this or any livestock project, selecting an animal that has all of the right parts is the platform for a good start.

Good luck to all as they are out looking and always never hesitate to ask questions of your county agent, ag teacher, mentor, breeder or those that you know that are successful at showing and management of show animals.