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 sheep. Washing sheep for showing can be a fun learning experience for kids, and an excellent opportunity to bond with your little ones as you get ready to take your sheep or 4-H project lambs to the fairgrounds.
In this short guide, we will cover the basics about how to properly wash your lamb for the show ring, including:
- How to safely wash your lamb and prevent injury
- What products are best to use when washing your lamb
- How long before a show should you wash your sheep
How to Safely Wash Your Sheep
People wash their show flock in different ways, and the equipment that you have available to you will likely define which method works best for you. My advice no matter how you wash your lambs for show is to make sure they have limited mobility, to never leave your lamb unattended, and to keep at least one hand on your sheep at all times to steady it and keep it in position.
Never attempt to wash a sheep that is not restrained. A sheep halter tied to a sturdy eye bolt with a short lead can do the trick, but using a sheep fitting stand is best for two reasons. First, it raises the sheep to a comfortable height for you to work (this will save your back). Second, these stands are sturdy and are designed to be comfortable for you and the sheep.
Remember – the first time you wash your lamb for show, it will be a surprising experience for the sheep, so you should take steps to ensure the lamb doesn’t get scared by the water, and that it does not have the opportunity to hurt itself, or you.
Equipment You’ll Need to Wash Sheep for Showing
Many people ask “What should you wash your sheep with?” The basic equipment you’ll need to wash your sheep for show will include a hose, a fitting stand (if you have one), a spray attachment, livestock soap, a curry comb, a blow dryer (optional, but recommended if you wash a lot of sheep), and sheep blankets to keep your lambs clean until the show day once they’re washed.
Below I’ll share a few thoughts about the best products to use for washing your show lamb with links to those items on Amazon in case you’d like to read reviews, check the price, or learn more.
- Livestock Soap – My personal recommendation (and what I’ve always used) is Orvus Livestock Soap. One tub will last you a long time, and it’s a great product that hasn’t changed in many years, because it is the go-to livestock soap for most sheep farmers.
- Fitting Stand – The Weaver Leather sheep fitting stands are one of the most popular models because they’re stable, collapsible, and easy to transport to and from the fairgrounds. They’re also readily available to order online.
- Spray Attachment – A regular garden hose spray nozzle will work just fine for washing sheep, but a sprayer like this one (which comes in a kit with EZAll livestock soap), can be a great choice as it’s designed specifically for washing livestock. This can be used with Orvus soap as well, just warm the Orvus up prior to use.
- Blow Dryer – When I started showing more than one lamb, I found that it was worthwhile to invest in a heavy-duty blow dryer. This allowed me to dry the sheep thoroughly before putting the blanket on, which helped make my blankets stay cleaner and last longer. I found that in a week-long fair I used half the number of blankets when I blow-dryed my sheep’s wool instead of putting blankets on wet sheep. This one is a good model to try if you find yourself in a similar situation.
- Sheep Blankets – Once you’ve washed your show lambs, outfit them with a properly sized blanket to keep them clean as you wait for their big day in the show ring! You can buy spandex sheep tights (also called lamb tubes) for market lambs that are slick-sheared, fleece under-blankets, or standard blankets like the one pictured above.
- Curry Comb – While you will use your hands to wash your sheep, I recommend having a good-quality curry comb like this one on Amazon as well. Most curry combs are reversible, with longer teeth for working longer wool, and shorter teeth for working short wool fibers. This tool can help remove dirt and manure tags as you wash your lambs for show.
How Long Before a Show Should You Wash a Sheep?
When washing a sheep for showing it’s important to consider when you will show your sheep, how long you will need to trim your sheep after you wash them and before the show, and when you’re transporting your sheep to the fairgrounds. Washing sheep is also easier if they have less wool, so take that into account in your planning.
Market or club lambs, and breeds like Southdowns which will be slick-sheared, should receive a rough shearing on the farm about 3 weeks before the date of your show, then washing them 3 days before the show, which leaves time to do the final slick-shearing a day or so after they’re washed (so they’re completely clean and dry).
If you’re showing a meat breed like Hampshires, consider doing a rough cut-out job with some electric shears on the farm 3-4 weeks before the date of the show, which will leave less wool to wash. I recommend washing meat breeds like this 4-5 days before the show, which leaves you plenty of time to do fine blocking with both electric and hand shears, prior to entering the show ring.
Wool breeds like Romneys, Merinos, and others should not be washed with shampoo, because it will remove the natural luster of the wool, and can damage their crimp. If you are raising a wool breed which has an especially dirty fleece, you can give them a water-only rinse at least 30 days prior to the fair, at low pressure. This allows time for their wool to bounce-back from any damage it may receive during their wash.
Washing Sheep for a Show at the Fair Should be Fun
Remember that washing sheep for showing should be low-stress for you and the sheep. Give yourself enough time to wash all of the sheep you’re bringing to the fair, and pace yourself so you don’t get too tired. Wash your flock over the course of a couple of days if need be, or work in shifts with your family members so that one person doesn’t feel overwhelmed and develop a short fuse.
Finally, these two short videos from the PurinaMillsTV YouTube channel provide a good demonstration of how to wash (and dry) sheep for show: