Planning for your 4-H sheep project animal: Preparations

First article in series featuring tips and tricks as you prepare for and select your 4-H market lamb.

Preparing for a sheep project starts before the lamb arrives. Photo: Grant Reiff.
Preparing for a sheep project starts before the lamb arrives. Photo: Grant Reiff.

As spring weather approaches, many youth across Michigan begin looking for their 4-H market lamb. Caring for a lamb requires forward thinking and creating a plan designed to see your project through to the end. In addition to the requirement of selecting the animal, there is also the financial burden of caring for an animal throughout the duration of your project. This three-part series from Michigan State University Extension will review important sheep project content and address three main topics: preparations for your market lamb, estimating costs of care and lamb selection. These tips and tricks will help you be more prepared for your 4-H sheep project experience.

Let’s start at the beginning: preparations. As you make plans to raise and care for a lamb, think through all of the needs of your project. These details will help make the process of caring for lambs easier. Here are a few examples of the needs for your project:

  • Financial burden. Raising and caring for lambs requires an input of funds to purchase and provide feed for the animal. Learn how to be better prepared for the costs through the Estimating Costs article.
  • Fences. Lambs may surprise you with how agile they can be. To ensure lambs stay in their pen, fences should be secure and well laid out to allow for human access to the pen and containment of lambs that may try to jump over top. Wire mesh panels make a good fence and should be supported as needed every 4 to 6 feet. Lambs also find ways of rubbing on things where they can easily cut themselves. To reduce possible injury, check the inside perimeter frequently and remove any sharp edges.
  • Feed storage. Store feed indoors where it is dry and safe from rodents. If moisture is a concern, pallets are a great way to keep feed bags off the ground.
  • Bedding. Keeping your project well bedded provides them a dry location for lying down and can help keep your animals healthy. Animals use energy to stay warm or cool, so using bedding to keep your animal warm or cool reduces the energy used and will help your lamb project grow quicker. Have bedding ready before your animal arrives and a plan to maintain a clean area for the animal. Lambs can be particularly sensitive to dust, which can cause prolonged coughing and lead to additional health complications. To reduce dust around your lambs, avoid using extremely fine particle for bedding such as finely ground sawdust.
  • Water supply. Water is the single most important nutrient for animals. Clean, fresh water is needed on a daily basis for a successful sheep project. When you get a lamb home, show it where the water is.
  • Animal companionship. Many animals do not like to be alone. Sheep are a herding species that especially need companionship, most easily found from another sheep. Try raising your lamb in a small group, having at least one animal within a visible distance from your project animal.
  • Animal selection. Finding the right lamb for your fair or exhibition can sometimes be difficult. Lambs need to weigh within certain weight requirements to be exhibited at some events, which adds an additional obstacle when planning for the future. Reviewing some of the tips in the Lamb Selection article prior to selection could be useful.

Although there are many challenges to raising and caring for animals, it can also be very rewarding to raise sheep. Resources like the 4-H Sheep Project Snapshot can help provide recommendations for content learning and discovery of new opportunities.

Other articles in series

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