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Working Aiden's 4-H Sheep

This year we took on a whole new adventure and got 4 lambs for Aiden to raise and take to the county fair to show.  From 4th grade through 12th grade I was in 4-H but I never took any livestock to the fair, just 'indoor' projects.  This has been quite the learning experience for our whole family.  And really, raising livestock for the fair is a FAMILY PROJECT, not just a project for the kid.

Back in April went to my parent's farm and picked out 2 sheep. We had no idea what we were looking for as far as overall structure of the lamb goes.  We ended up picking a ewe (female) and wether (male).  Andy talked to Aiden's 4-H leader who raises show lambs and ended up agreeing to getting 2 lambs from him as well.  All of a sudden we were raising four lambs!!!

May 7th was the official weigh in day for all lambs going to our county fair which is also the day we picked up our new 'pets'.  Let me clarify that statement by saying these lambs ARE NOT PETS.  If you let yourself think that way it'll be so much harder getting rid of them on auction day at the fair.  We have reiterated this to Aiden over and over and over again.  I really didn't want him naming his sheep, because that makes them pets, right?  But of course he didn't agree and I let him have it this year. We'll see how things go at the auction (tears?) and maybe next year we'll just number them.

Immediately we started haltering the lambs and getting them used to the feeling of having that on them and being more contained.  They are wild little buggers to begin with, and although you don't want them to be 100% tame it's nice to have them more comfortable with you so they don't constantly try pulling away while you are walking them.  As for why you don't want them tame?  If they are so comfortable with you they will be relaxed, but in the show ring while you have them set up you need them to brace against you a little to show off their muscles therefore not wanting them 100% tame.

Once we had them used to the halter it was time to start walking them.  Initially we walked them around the circle driveway at the farm we were pasturing our lambs.  Once they weren't digging in their hooves anymore we ventured out to the gravel road.  At the most I'd say we walked each lamb about a half mile per day.  You need to work them up to a distance because otherwise you'll exhaust them and that could cause them harm.  There were a lot of days they'd be panting when we finished walking them.  This is okay, we just made sure they had plenty of water and shade to cool down in.

Time for the last step in the process of breaking them -- walking them without a halter just by guiding them by their heads.  Sheep are herd animals so we always walked them with a friend.  There was a lot of pushing and prodding them from behind in the beginning, and we always had the halter on them still just in case we needed to quick grab it if they jumped/bucked and tried to get away. The entire process can be very frustrating but you just need to stick with it and keep going!

Once they are broken you then start to 'set them up'.  This is how you show off your animal in the ring.  To set up your lamb you put your left arm under their head to hold it up and use your right hand to set the legs where you need them.  You want the head and front legs to line up vertically when all's said and done.  You want the back to legs to be 'shoulder width apart'.  Last you check to make sure the lamb isn't pushing their back up, you want their back to be flat.

In the show ring you could stand there with your sheep for more than 20 minutes so you want to practice standing there with your sheep for 5, 10 minutes at a time to get used to that feeling.  It can be quite exhausting for the 4-Her and for the lamb.

A few things we've learned this year:

  1. Feed the sheep before working them. This will help with their stamina and keep them from wanting to run back to the pen the whole time because they know that's where the food is
  2. Feed the sheep individually in their own 'pens' so you know how much feed each lamb is getting
  3. Work your sheep every single day and DON'T GIVE UP!  Payoff doesn't come until fair week so it can be discouraging to be out there day in and day out and not get to show off your hard work.
  4. Touch their legs earlier on and get them used to you moving them to set them up.
That's just the tip of the iceberg on all we've learned.  We'll feed them differently next year, set their pen up differently, work them differently... I'm already excited for next year's lambs!  And we are only getting 2 lambs - 4 was too many to start off with and Aiden is talking about raising a bucket bottle calf next year, also.  

One week from today Aiden shows his sheep.  We are excited and ready for the big day and can't wait to see how these sheep compare to the others at the fair!


  1. I have found this whole process so interesting to read about. I get so excited every time I see a post about your sheep. I can't wait to hear how he does. I would get attached though!!!

  2. This reminds me of all the summers I spent helping my best friend get her sheep ready for fair! I was also so proud of her when she'd come away from the fair with Grand Champion and Pen of 3 titles! And, come to think of it, I don't think she ever named her sheep. Meanwhile, I was like, "Let's keep them all!"

  3. Phew... I don't know if I want sheep. I have said it before, I don't know if I am ready for animals at all. I did have a cousin tell Carter if he got into steers he would give him his steer to get him started. AHHH- I am definitely not ready for steer.

  4. So this was pretty cool - I feel like I learned something! What an amazing experience for Aiden to get to start and finish this process and learn tips and tricks! Love those life skills! And I'd have a hard time not naming them too!