So you have decided to take a lamb as a 4-H project!
Personally, I love lambs any way you take them so I think it's a great decision!
I am going to address a few things that you need to consider when you purchase your lamb.
What shots has the lamb been given?
If it is a male is it castrated & when was this done?
Has the tail been removed and what is the length of the remaining tail?
At what age is the lamb when you are taking it home?
How much weight will a lamb gain per day & what is your lamb weight when you take it home?
What kind of feed do I need to be feeding?
If this is your first time taking a lamb don't let these questions overwhelming you. If you need more information/help just send me an email - I love helping with sheep!
Fair date/birth date. The reason you need to know these dates is to determine how many days between the birth date and the fair. This lets you know how many days you have to put weight on your lamb. So just count them up. You will need the birth date for you book.
What shots has the lamb been given? The lamb should have had 2 CD/T vaccination shots. The reason for the 2 shots is that the initial vaccination is given and then 21 days later the booster is given.
The vaccination is for Clostridium perfringens Types C and D & tetanus. You might need the name of the vaccine for you workbook - so check on that!
Clostridial diseases are endemic to all sheep and goat operations. They are caused by specific bacteria that commonly live in the gut and manure of sheep and goats and, under specific conditions, can affect both sheep and goats.
I could go more in-depth on this vaccine but that is not what this article is about so please - just make sure it has the vaccination well before you take the lamb home!
If it is a male - is it castrated & when was this done? There are different was to castrate the lamb - banding or cutting. This really should be done within the first 3 days after birth but some people wait longer. The main point is that it should be done well before you take the animal home. You are stressing this animal by removing it from the farm to another environment (you taking it home) and if it is already stressed from just getting banded or cut that day or the day before, you really aren't helping your lamb start at it's best - or making your job any easier.
Has the tail been removed and what is the length of the remaining tail? This goes along with the castrating - you don't want to add unneeded stress! It needs to be done well in advance and the tail should already be off by the time you get the lamb. Now - the length of the remaining tail - make sure you know the guidelines for your fair! You don't want to get there and they kick your animal out because the tail is too short!
At what age is the lamb when you are taking it home? Why does this matter? The lamb needs to be at least 60 days of age before weaning off of Momma. If they're younger than that you really must know how to give them the very best start away from Momma during a high stress time of weaning it and moving it to it's new home. The lamb really should be weaned at the farm it was born on a good 3 weeks before you take it home.
How much weight will a lamb gain per day & what is your lamb weight when you take it home? Why is this important? This goes along with the reason that you need to know how many days from birth to fair. Now you may read that a lamb will gain 1+ pounds a day. The way I like to figure things is - half a pound a day. As your lamb gets older and heavier it will not gain as quickly as when it was younger. Also, you are probably going to be dealing with the heat of the summer and the lamb may not want to eat. Honestly, you just don't know what might happen, so if you figure on a lower gain it helps you have the peace of mind that your lamb will make the required fair weight.
Bring home date to fair date = ____number of days x .5# of gain/day = _____ weight gained.
Bring home weight + __ wt gained = weight at fair date.
It very well could be heavier, but you will know the lowest weight that you should hit. If you think it might be too heavy, just refigure using 1 pound of gain a day and see if that weight would be too heavy for the required fair weights.
What kind of feed do I need to be feeding? When you bring you animal home it is best to keep it on the same feed as the breeder was using. If you don't have that - ask the breeder if you can purchase enough feed from them so you can gradually switch your lamb to the feed that you like. It is best to spend a week gradually adding the new feed to the one the lamb is used to. This helps not to mess up the gut system of the lamb, especially during a high stress time.
There are many different lamb feeds on the market. The best thing to do is talk to the breeder if they finish lambs to get their opinion. Another great thing is to go to a feed store and talk to someone knowledgeable about sheep feed. DO NOT GET A MULTISPECIES FEED! There are many show lamb feeds out there. You just need to educate yourself about what is needed for the age & weight of your lamb now. You might even change the protein % as your lamb grows. You can learn this by talking to a feed representative for your local feed store.
What about feeding hay? Your lamb needs very little hay actually. They can have some but the majority of the feed needs to be a well balanced ration to make them gain weight.
What about grass? Personally I think they do well on grass but you must remember - their grain ration will put weight on the fastest! If they are in a small paddock they can eat the grass there but don't give them a big field. Keep their grain as their main feed source.
Water! Always have clean water available to them. If they don't drink, they don't eat!
These are just a few things to help you get started with your project!
I hope you remember to enjoy your time spent with your animal - it really is fun!