What's the Difference Between a Lamb and a Sheep?
Farming | Livestock

What’s the Difference Between a Lamb and a Sheep?

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If you would like to know which is the difference between lamb and a sheep, then you have come to the right place, because in this article, we will tell you everything you need about it.

Age is the primary difference between a lamb and a sheep. A sheep is over one year of age whereas a lamb is below the age of one year.

In this article we will show you the differences between a lamb and a sheep, when does a lamb become sheep, what is the difference in its meat as well as meat prices, and how to determine the age of the sheep, so keep reading to find out more.

What is a Lamb?

A lamb is a young sheep that is below the age of one year. It is best known for its demand for tender meat. The demand for lamb’s meat has greatly increased in the recent past. An increase in demand has been associated with its meat being tendered compared to the meat from most of the other animals.

 Whereas most people use the word sheep and lamb interchangeably, the two are quite different. A lamb heavily relies on the mother’s milk (the sheep). As such, lambs do not eat as much grass as needed by the sheep. Simply put, a lamb is a young sheep in its first year. 

Other than the demand for its meat, a lamb does not have much of a significant contribution to livestock production. It produces lower quantities of meat and wool. A lamb does not produce milk at all.

The growth rate of a lamb is dependent on what they feed on. Lambs that only feed on grass will finish out slower as compared to lambs that have access to creep feed. It, therefore, means lambs eating grass only will take a much longer time to reach the market weight. If your available pasture is limited, consider creep feeding the lambs. Especially if you are already rotating pasture using a high stocking rate. It means you have a rather high number of lambs per acre. Creep-feeding your lambs means giving them access to supplemental feed. It will also make the pasture you have available last longer. Forage feeding, the only known traditional way of feeding ruminants, will have your lambs at finishing weight at about 8 months of age. 

The genetics of the flock, mainly that of the male lamb, significantly influences the lambs’ growth rate. Meat bred lambs will grow faster as compared to lambs bred for wool. A hybrid lamb, which is a crossbred one, will grow faster and be more active in most cases as compared to a purebred lamb.

A lamb stops suckling and solely depending on the mother’s milk at about age four to five months. At this stage, a lamb starts grazing on soft grasses and plants. 

What is a Sheep?

A sheep is a ruminant mammal that is more than one year old. It is chiefly grown for livestock purposes. Mainly, sheep produce a great deal of meat and milk across the global livestock industry. Sheep are also kept for wool production. 

A female sheep is called a “ewe” and an uncastrated male sheep is known as a “ram”. A castrated male sheep is called a “wether”. A group of sheep forms a flock. They are grazed in most parts of the world. 

After being a lamb and a hog, a sheep becomes a shearling or gimmer at about two years of age. At this point, the woolen fleece is shaved off. It is sold and used for different purposes such as clothing. Finally, shearling gives birth. It is only after the gimmer has given birth to two sets of lambs that she becomes a ewe.  

A sheep regurgitates its food and chews the cud. It makes it possible for its four separate stomach compartments to thoroughly digest the grass and herbs it feeds on. A sheep prefers grazing on grass and legume vegetation. It prefers feeds that are short and fine. From time to time, a sheep will feed on high, coarse, or bushy plants as well.

Sheep graze closer to the roots as compared to other animals such as cattle. They, therefore, require to be taken care of not to overgraze in a given range. Unlike a lamb, the meat of a sheep is tough and often requires to be skewed first to tenderize it.

Sheep tend to be timid animals. They prefer grazing in flocks and in most cases totally lack protection from predators. After reaching the one year age maturity, a sheep breeds at around one and a half years. So a female sheep gives birth to her first set of lambs at around age two. The term ewe is in most cases taken to mean a 3-year-old female sheep

Most births from sheep are single but a sheep could give birth to twins occasionally.  In some instances, a sheep produces too many lambs at a time. Such occurrences label the sheep a blackbelly or a bum. If the sheep gives birth to a set of three, the farmer is faced with new responsibility. The mother sheep kicks one of the three lambs away. The farmer then has to take care of one of the lambs. Sometimes it means raising a baby lamb on a bottle. It is a time-demanding and engaging task but one that yields amazing rewards. The human involvement in offering help in the process results in the survival of all the lambs.  

Domestic sheep are different from their wild progenitors. They also differ among themselves in conformation, color, size, milk production as well as the quality and quantity of fleece. Whereas most breeds of domesticated sheep produce wool with only a few producing hairs, wild sheep grow a combination of both wool and hair.

Numerous types of different breeds of sheep have been developed to meet certain environmental conditions. These conditions are influenced by altitudes and latitudes as well as satisfying the human needs for food and clothing. Breeds of sheep with excellent wool are mainly raised for wool production. On the other hand, breeds with medium or long wool or just hair are primarily raised for meat production. Certain crossbreeds have been developed over time that yields both wool and meat in high quality. 

What’s the Difference Between a Lamb and a Sheep?

Age is the primary difference between a lamb and a sheep. A sheep is over one year of age whereas a lamb is below the age of one year. Both lambs and sheep are slaughtered for meat but there is a significant difference in their meat prices. Lamb meat costs a much higher price than sheep meat that is commonly known as mutton.  

The difference in the meat prices of a sheep and a lamb is based on their meat’s tenderness. Since a lamb gives tender meat, it is highly desirable and this increases its demand. The increased demand results in increased prices.

In appearances, a lamb has less wool as compared to a sheep. The wool of a lamb is softer and less coarse as compared to the wool of an adult sheep. It is in effect baby wool since it has never been shorn. Lambs, whether domesticated or wild, do not have any horns at all. A sheep will have usually produced offspring. On the contrary, a lamb will not have produced any offspring yet. 

It is important to note that the word lamb could also be used to refer to the meat of a sheep less than one-year-old. For it to be considered lamb meat, the animal has to be slaughtered between age four and 12 months. The meat of a sheep is commonly known as mutton. It refers to the meat obtained from older animals. 

Mature sheep have a full set of teeth. Their bodies are more filled out and taller as compared to the lambs of the same breed. Whereas young lambs tend to look as if they are out of proportion, mature sheep have a more balanced look to their body as a whole. Lambs appear to be mostly gangly and all legs. 

The job of a mature sheep whether male or female is production. A mature sheep is kept to produce the lamb ‘crop’ for the next year. In mature sheep, ewes have a full body but do not contain fat. If they are nursing lambs at the moment they have an udder. Mature rams tend to be a bit larger than their counterparts ewes. They have a wider forehead and a more masculine appearance to their features. A scrotum, easily visible when the sheep is viewed from behind, completes the stature of a mature male sheep. 

On the other hand, there are minimal conspicuous differences between a female and a male lamb. It is hard to spot the scrotum sack of a lamb, especially at a distance. It gets easier with time to spot it as the lamb matures. Also, the udder of a female lamb is hardly a fist-seized. So it does not stand out in the abdominal area and telling the gender is not obvious. It is not until just before birthing that a breeding female sheep develops an udder.

Mature sheep flock exemplary well. Some breeds even better at flocking than others. A sheep will mostly want to stay with the others in a group. On the contrary, lambs are rather jumpy. They do not flock very well. It, therefore, becomes easier to move and tend a group of mature sheep as compared to the trouble of moving the uncoordinated and lanky lambs.

Lambs are quick and spunky. They do not flock up well like the adult sheep. It is therefore a difficult task to move a group of weaned lambs. Lambs behave very differently from the sheep. Moving them, in a group of young lambs, like when the mother-sheep go to new pasture is involving. A few baby lambs will mostly get left behind. Going to find them and at times having to carry them is difficult. It is a frustrating experience, to say the least.

At What Point does a Lamb become a Sheep?

Lambs are sheep up to one year of age. Lambs are referred to as sheep when they are over one year of age. While lambs are young, they tend to be gentle and easy to tend. At this stage, they do not mind being led by a shepherd. 

As a lamb grows, it soon turns into a hog. A hog refers to a lamb that has been weaned from its mother’s milk. To speed up this time, farmers separate the lambs from their mothers. It usually takes about two months for a lamb to wean from its mother’s milk and turn into a hog. 

Lambs stay together in a flock when they are very young. They are very vulnerable to danger because of their innocent behavior and innocent nature. Unless there is a shepherd to protect them, lambs are easy prey. A farmer could also choose to set up safeguards around the lambs. 

Most lambs will reach the market weight at 6 months of age. This is when they have been raised for meat production. The weight is dependent on the lamb’s breed and the feeding conditions in the farming system. Anywhere from 80 to 110 pounds of live weight, a lamb is considered ready for the market. This is also greatly influenced by a lamb’s breed and its environmental conditions.

As lambs reach maturity, they have a filled-out frame and bone structure that is covered in a good amount of muscle and fat covering their bodies. Some breeds tend to finish out early and at a smaller size like Cheviots. They look alert and spunky with a chunky body despite their smaller size with a weight of 50-60 pounds. Other breeds like wool breeds and the bigger framed meat breeds finish at higher weights. Such breeds put on the frame first and take longer to put on the muscling and fill out the frame. In effect, they are larger lambs when they reach the finished body condition. 

An animal one year of age remains a lamb right up to the point when it is introduced to the opposite sex for mating. It is from this point that a lamb is considered to have become an adult sheep. 

What’s the Difference Between Meat Obtained from a Sheep and Meat Obtained from a Lamb?

Lamb meat is obtained from lambs less than one year of age. It is also referred to as a lamb. It is a bit confusing since the word for the live animal and its meat is the same. In most cases, animals have a different name from their meat such as beef from cattle. 

Lambs kept for meat production are raised to between 6 and 12 months. The period is dependent on the lamb’s genetics as well as the farming system employed. In some farms, the best market weight for their lambs is sooner so that the animal is younger. Younger lambs could be sold in the 50-pound weight range. Such lambs are perfect for a roasting size for special occasions such as for a family dinner.  

Lamb meat is not from infant baby lambs. When people see lamb chops in the store, they assume that since the lamb chops are small in size, they must come from really young lambs. Especially since lamb chops are smaller compared to other meat chops such as pork chops. It is not the case.

Lamb chops in particular are from older and larger lambs since these would give a large piece of meat and in higher quantities. Lambs have just retained their traditional body size and shape. Unlike in the current breeding practices that have been drastically warped by the modern bigger and faster rearing, lambs’ growth rate has not been interfered with artificially.

The modern breeding practices leave out health and longevity or make up for poor health by using medications. Whereas a traditional bred chicken would take up to 6 months to reach maturity, a broiler (which is the most common meat chicken available in stores) takes only 47 days to reach maturity. Gladly, lambs are still produced using traditional genetics. Thankfully, there are versions of broiler chicken for lambs.

Not to mean that a lamb that is well grown and healthy cannot be bigger. It simply means it is doing better than a peer that is not performing as well and is smaller in the same environmental conditions. It is a normal variant performance in a group. You will always have some really great growers and others that are just as great growers. However, no weird genetics have been used to achieve this. It is natural genetic variability. 

Meat from mature sheep is called mutton. When a ewe or ram gets past the productive age, it goes into the food chain. For some traditional eaters, meat from these older animals is considered to have more flavors. They prefer it to lamb especially if the lamb was grain-fed. To them, mutton tastes like the full-flavored meat that they grew up eating back at home.

A sheep will yield a much higher quantity of meat as compared to a lamb. Mutton gets you more meat if you are buying animals by the head. When it comes to meat yield per animal, muttons gets you a higher quantity. Keeping sheep for meat production makes the best use for the animal itself. It reproduces then yields well for meat.

Lamb meat appears to have a pink to a pale red color. Mutton has an intense red color. Lamb has little or no fat and its flavor is quite mild. Mutton on the other hand contains a considerable amount of fat and comes with a very strong flavor.

How to Tell the Age of a Sheep?

When sheep are sold, their age really matters. A lamb, which is under 12 months of age, will be sold differently from a sheep that is more than one year old.  You would need to know the age of a sheep to determine the selling or buying price that determines the value of the animal. 

It is pretty simple. To determine, the age, you just need to know the number of teeth in a sheep.

When born, the lamb has no teeth. A week after birth, the lamb’s milk or temporary teeth appear in the front lower jaw. By the time the lamb is 2 months; all the 8 milk teeth erupt.

 The temporary teeth are replaced by permanent incisors. They appear in pairs. A sheep gets two teeth by the time they are one year of age. These are the two central teeth that are later on followed by one on either side at intervals.

 In the following three years, until the sheep is four, it gets two teeth each year. It, therefore, means a ewe has a total of 8 teeth by the time she is four years old. It is by this time that all the 8 milk teeth are replaced by permanent teeth. 

During the period within which teeth are growing, sheep are referred to as by the number of permanent incisors teeth present. At this stage, a sheep could be a two-tooth, four-tooth, six-tooth, or eight-tooth. Beyond this point sheep have all their teeth grown and are referred to as a full mouth.

To determine the age of a sheep, you need to look in its mouth.  You also need to consider whether a sheep’s breed matures early or late. For instance, British breeds are known to mature at a faster rate as compared to Merino. 

The condition of the teeth is dependent on the type of feed a sheep is grazed on. If a sheep eats long soft feed, the teeth grow long from lack of wear. In this case, the teeth remain in a good condition. On instances where a sheep eats short feed and close grazing is necessary, the teeth wear down. It is especially the case if the soil the short feeds are grown on is gravelly or sandy.

After the appearance of the eight permanent incisors and the sheep has a full mouth, a broken mouth is a stage that follows. In this phase, the sheep’s teeth experience progressive deterioration. The rate at which the teeth deteriorate is dependent on the conditions in which the sheep were grown.

Estimating the age of a sheep at this point becomes harder. During this stage, the sheep’s teeth become longer gradually. They develop wider spaces and eventually fall out. The teeth could also wear down after which they become too loose and fall out.

After the teeth fall out, the sheep is referred to as a gummer. Teeth problems comprise the major reasons for the removal of ewes from a flock. It takes around 10 years of age for a sheep to be with no teeth. A gummer uses its molar for survival after the loss of all of its 8 incisors.

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