Show sheep require regular grooming to keep them in tip-top shape for competition. A sheep's specific grooming needs depend on whether you're showing a market lamb or a breeding sheep. Grooming is also time-sensitive, as you want to clip or shear your animal a certain number of weeks before a show so the wool achieves the appropriate look.
To keep your show sheep in top shape, you'll need various grooming supplies. Basics include a good clipper and a shearer, with blades for each and blade wash. You'll also need hoof trimmers, hand shears, curry comb, wool cards, bathing items -- livestock soap, sponges and towels/rags -- and blankets. You'll also need a halter and lead rope, teaching your lamb or sheep to lead. For best results, buy or make a grooming stand and teach your animal to stand on it. Never leave a lamb or sheep on the stand unattended.
Fitting is shaping your lamb or sheep's wool for the right body shape. Ideally, the animal looks muscular, not fat. It's important to find out the rules for your particular shows, as some require recent shearing or in-fleece, meaning the animal has not been shorn in a month or more. Whatever standards apply, your sheep should not have any cuts, nicks or ridges.
Before shearing your lamb, you'll need to give her a good washing. Not washing the animal beforehand leaves a lot of dirt in the fleece, which can clog your clippers. Wash her thoroughly with livestock soap, making sure to rinse well with a hose. Dry her off with a towel or hair dryer. If you have a special livestock blower, use that. Once she's dry, put her on the grooming stand for shearing.
Shear your lamb slowly and carefully. While professional shearers go pretty fast, they're not concerned with appearances. Once your lamb is sheared, put a blanket on her to keep her clean until she goes to the show.
If you're showing breeding sheep, you block their wool rather than shear them. That means you card and then trim her so the wool appears uniform. This is quite time-consuming, as you must card her entire body. First, wash and dry her. After putting her on the grooming stand, push the card's teeth right into the wool, then lift up and forward. Once you're done, take the hand shears to form nice, even lines of wool. The exact way you hand shear your sheep depends on her breed and its show standards.
Trimming your lamb or sheep's feet regularly gets them used to the process long before showing season. Trim the feet at least a week or two prior to the show, in case you accidentally cut a little too close. That way, the hoof will grow out in time. You want to present an animal with neatly trimmed hooves, not one that's limping. Trim the hoof's perimeters and try not to remove large pieces at once. If you see pink in the hoof, stop trimming -- you're getting close to the foot's blood supply.
- University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension: The 4-H Sheep Project -- An Introduction
- Washington State University Cooperative Extension: Training, Grooming and Showing Market Lambs
- Purdue University: Showing Sheep as a 4-H Project
- Kolbet Club Lambs and Sheep Shearing: Fitting and Grooming
- Clemson University: Showing and Fitting Your First 4-H Lamb
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.