How to Get Lambs Ready for the Show Ring

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Spring lamb jackpot shows are right around the corner. By now, most young people should have their lambs purchased and on a good nutrition program to ensure the lambs are healthy and growing. But what about getting them ready for their first show and each show after that? Charlie Hild, part owner of Hild Bros Show Stock at Webster City, Iowa, offers some advice to exhibitors getting lambs ready to show.

Charlie and his brother competed successfully for 20 consecutive years between the two of them, including raising and showing the grand champion market lamb at the 2013 Iowa State Fair. Now that Tanner has completed his show career, they have turned their focus on raising and selling show lamb prospects to young people across the country, including the Grand Champion Market Lamb at the 2018 National Western Stock Show, and want to help the next generation of lamb exhibitors succeed in the show ring.

Hild recommends starting to work with the lambs as soon as you get them home to your own barn from the breeder’s farm. Familiarize your lambs with you, the sounds you make and a routine schedule. Start getting them ready for their first trip to a show at least a month out by washing their legs, getting them used to a halter and accustomed to the lamb stand by blowing their legs out and clipping them.

“It’s best to get their baby wool sheared off at minimum three weeks out from your first show,” he said. “I recommend using 13-tooth or 20-tooth combs, as this leaves a little wool versus slick shearing with show blades. This enables them to “smooth” up a little, and not have such a harsh, rough look to them, as most sheep normally do the first time they are peeled off.”

Once you have slicked your lamb’s baby wool off that first time, Hild recommends putting a blanket back on the lamb for a few days to keep the skin moisturized since the lanolin is all kept in the wool. Ultimately, this will help your lamb be fresher appearing and less stale handling. He also recommends starting to care for leg wool and hair at the same time of the initial shear out. A simple wash and dry-out with a blower will make a big improvement he said, while at the same time familiarize the lamb with you, the lamb stand and the blower.

Hoof care is also an important aspect of getting your lamb ready to go to a show. Hild says he typically trims hooves at least a week before the first show in case the hooves are cut too short, so they will have time to heal. He typically trims the part that “curls” over the edge to get it flush with the base of the foot and says if you check and trim feet once a month, that is typically adequate.

Getting Ready to Go

Once your lamb is broke and ready to go to its first show, there is still preparation to be done, including bedding the trailer with clean bedding, packing the supplies and feed and knowing what time check-in at the show starts and ends.

“I recommend making a check list with all the supplies you need for a show, have it laminated or saved on your phone to go through before leaving. This prevents your family from getting stressed out or playing the blame game once arriving to the show on who forgot what,” Hild said.

Items on that list might include: health papers, soap, clippers, scissors, blower, extension cords, lamb stand, buckets, feed pan, feed, Vita Charge® Liquid Boost® to keep them drinking, and Vita Charge® Paste to stimulate their appetite. He also suggests a tent or tarp for shade if only outside stall/tie areas are available, so lambs won’t get “soft” in direct sunlight.

Hild also suggests making sure that your lambs are ultra-hydrated before leaving home since muscle is mostly comprised of water. If your lambs get dehydrated, they will lose their muscle shape.

Finally, don’t forget to load your lambs and secure your trailer doors.

“Make sure your trailer door is closed and locked before leaving. I’d be lying if I told you this was never an issue for us,” Hild said with a chuckle.

It’s Show Day

Be sure you know the schedule of the show before you arrive. Know what time weigh-in/check-in begins and ends, what time the show begins and what class(es) you will be in. Once you know all these things, watch one or two classes to check the pace of the judge so you know about when to start getting your lamb ready to show.

Hild said they typically shear the day prior to a show, and keep their lamb covered with a tube and blanket. However, on show morning he likes to wash again with a whitening soap like Bright Lights (read more) as close to show time as possible, while still allowing time for the lamb to get dried. Not only does that give the lamb its whitest, brightest look; it also helps keep the lamb cool and helps it tense up a bit for the show ring, which helps emphasize its muscling.

Once it is time for your class, not only are you showing your lamb, but you need to show respect as well. Get to your class on time. Respect your fellow exhibitors and respect the judge.

“As a breeder, I sometimes get frustrated with a judge, and certainly did when showing as well. Now after judging a few shows, it has enabled me to take a different perspective on things. I can promise you, no judge tries to do a bad job, so treat them with the respect they deserve, no matter where you place,” Hild said.

And never, get overly aggressive with your lamb while you are in the show ring.  Although it is normal for sheep to be uncooperative, especially at the first few shows, Hild reminds not to slap or mistreat animals in the ring.

“Almost every show there are people from the public in the stands that are not involved in the industry, and that show may be their only connection to livestock. Please make it a positive experience for them to watch, so they can tell others about the great stuff we’re doing in the show industry!”

Getting your lambs tamed down, on a proper diet, clipped properly and to the show are just a few of the basic steps to prepare for the final destination – the backdrop. Follow these key pieces of advice from Charlie Hild, who has years of experience, and you’ll be taking your first step to prep to win.

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