The 4H Sheep Project
The Impact a 4-H Sheep Project Can Have on Your Kids
Deciding to take part in a 4-H sheep project is a big decision. Sheep, as well as other types of livestock, are a lot of work, and caring for them is a significant responsibility.
But with that responsibility often comes the satisfaction of knowing you have worked hard to be a successful young farmer. The value of this feeling (and the impact it can have on the trajectory of a young person’s life) can’t be underestimated. And this is one of the many reasons to commit to a 4-H sheep project.
I enrolled in my county’s 4H sheep club when I was 9 years old, and exhibited sheep at our local fair every year until I was 18 (and afterward as an adult).
I learned a lot about life’s hardships, overcoming adversity, and about myself during the time I was a member (and eventually President) of my local 4H sheep club. Today, I look back on that experience as one of the most valuable gifts my parents gave to me.
If you’re considering enrolling your child in 4H and want to raise sheep for your project, you’re in the right place.
On this page I’ll introduce you to the basics of getting involved in 4H with sheep. I’ll share some tips, best practices, and personal stories of things that I learned during my 4H sheep experience to help you get the most out of your project.
On this page I’ll cover:
- The Primary Types of 4H Sheep Projects
- The Importance (and value) of Record Keeping
- Equipment You’ll Need to Raise and Show Sheep
- Tips for Success (even in your first year), and
- My Most Popular Articles to Help with Every Step in the Process.
Let’s get started by choosing from the …
Types of 4H Sheep Projects
If you want to participate in a 4H Sheep project there are two primary ways to do this:
- A Market or Show Lamb Project, or
- Breeding Stock Project
The Market Lamb Project
My first 4H sheep club project was raising a market lamb for the local county fair. In this project you’ll visit a farm and buy a lamb in early spring, raising it to show at your local fair where it will be auctioned for sale as a meat animal.
One of the advantages of this project is that there is not a year-round commitment. You will buy a lamb in the spring, raise it during the summer when pasture is readily available, and then show and sell it in late summer or in the fall. You won’t have to manage the expense of wintering over sheep if you don’t want to.
Other benefits of this project include:
- Learn how to select and buy a sheep,
- Learn how to care for, feed, and train a sheep,
- Exhibit a sheep in the local fair, and
- Market your lamb to buyers which you invite to the auction.
The disadvantage of this project comes when it’s time to say goodbye at the end of the season. This can be difficult for a young child, but it offers an important teaching moment about the work and sacrifice it takes to be a farmer, and teaches children to appreciate where our food comes from.
Breeding Stock Project
In this 4H project you’ll do many of the same things, but you’ll be showing an animal against others of the same breed, raising a sheep to winter-over on your farm and to one day breed and produce lambs of your own.
Typically you’ll choose a breed of sheep to raise, visit a farm and select a ewe lamb, learn to care for and show that sheep, and winter it over on your farm to show again as a yearling the following year, and then breed her to have her first lambs as a two year old.
This project comes with its share of lessons as well. Your child will learn about the life cycle of sheep, and will get an up-close look at every stage of the process of raising sheep on a farm.
Once you have enrolled in the project, you need to begin your record keeping.
Some project leaders will provide you with a formal record keeping book for your project. Others will require you to put together a notebook for this purpose.
Either way, your project record keeping notebook is not only valuable to you as a producer, it can also be used to earn recognition at your county Achievement Day and in county and state level competitions.
As your flock of sheep grows, you can use your records to choose which lambs to keep for breeding stock, and which to sell.
4H Sheep Project Equipment List
For the sake of this article we will assume you are properly prepared to raise your animals by having adequate fencing, water and shelter resources and equipment.
If you aren’t sure where to start in stocking up on supplies for your 4H show lamb project, we’ve provided a basic equipment list to help you get started:
- Electric Sheep Shears (optional, but recommended)
- Orvus Paste Soap for Livestock
- Show Blankets for Sheep
- Grain Feeders and Hay Feeders
- Portable Electric Fence and Fence Charger (optional, but recommended)
- Sheep Minerals
By the way – if you’re shopping for equipment for your 4H sheep project, you may find some of these buying guides helpful:
My Tips for Success
We will assume you have researched sheep breeds and that you’ve selected sheep suitable for your project (market lambs, breeding stock for show or wool breeds for yarn production).
From here, let’s talk about how to successfully participate and complete your project.
- Be the producer. Do not expect to take on this project in name only; expecting your parents to do the work for you. Raising sheep is a year-round responsibility … it’s much more than simply showing up at the fair and leading your sheep into the show ring. Approaching your 4-H sheep project with anything less than a 100% commitment isn’t fair to either you or your parents. It is not fair to your parents because they did not sign on for the work. It is not fair to you because you are losing out on learning responsibility, the pride that comes from working hard and developing a strong work ethic, on learning about farming and livestock health and production and on the maturity that comes with seeing something through to the end. Leading your lamb into the show ring will mean a lot more if you’ve worked with your lamb every day since it was born.
- Participate. Attend all or nearly all of your project meetings. Your project leader is volunteering his/her time to help you. Be respectful and appreciative of their efforts.
- Keep records. We’ve talked about this already, but keeping records (especially financial and breeding records) is excellent practice for any future job and will be the proof of how well you did or did not do.
- Take initiative. Don’t just stop with project meetings and club meetings. Attend local and regional farm shows and other fairs to see what your peers are doing with their sheep. Visit sheep farms in your area and learn from those who have been through the challenges you’re facing.
- Consider this your job. It is always obvious which young people have spent time feeding, caring for and working with their sheep (or other animals) prior to entering the show ring at the fair. If you are not willing to work with you animals enough to gain their trust, you do not need to be there. Sheep are very much creatures of habit. They only trust what is familiar to them. So if you want them to trust you enough to lead them around the show ring, to the sale or even at home on the farm, they need to be familiar with who you are. Take pride in your work each day and the fair will be a fun experience for you and for your lamb.
Sheep are the choice of smart 4-H’ers everywhere and I wish you the best of luck with your 4H sheep project!
Please read these curated articles to learn more about the different stages of your first year in 4H:
Articles & Guides to Get Started with Your 4H Sheep Project
How to Buy a Lamb that Will Win! (ideal market lamb pick)
As you prepare for your 4H or FFA market lamb or show lamb project, one of the first things you will need to do is
How to Halter Break a Lamb
One of the first activities you and your child will be engaged with when you purchase your first 4-H or show lamb is learning how
How to Show Sheep (7 sheep showing tips for any level)
If you’re looking for a good guide with sheep showing tips, you aren’t alone. Whether you’re just getting started with sheep or are an experienced
Show Lamb Supplies (4H sheep showing equipment list)
There’s nothing more satisfying than to see your child complete the hard and rewarding work of a market lamb or show lamb project. But for
Washing Sheep for Show
If you are raising sheep to show at your local or regional fair, part of the process (unless you’re raising a wool breed) is washing
Don’t stop now, let’s keep learning! Next up, we’ll explore all about starting out with a new sheep farm.