Feeding Show Lambs: Basic Show Lamb Nutrition

May 22, 2019

Feeding Show Lambs: Basic Show Lamb Nutrition

Feeding show lambs involves some basic principles of nutrition. 

Whether lambs are fed commercially for market, or fed diets intended to produce specific physical responses, we must remember that lambs are ruminants.

Maintaining rumen health in lambs

It is of upmost importance that we maintain rumen health and function. Feeding grain-based diets without providing sufficient roughage in the lamb’s diet can lead to unintended consequences.
Simplified, the rumen is where it’s at when we talk show lamb nutrition. If rumen function is impaired, the lamb is usually on a roller coaster ride of feed intake. Growth and subsequent physical performance suffers, and the lamb cannot express its full genetic potential.

Feeding show lambs quality forage 

At minimum, each lamb should receive a double handful, or about ¼ lbs. (4 ounces) of a good-quality alfalfa hay per day. Progressive judges are selecting lambs with more base width, rib shape, and deeper fore rib, therefore feeding quality roughage is a must. 
Poor-quality forage passes slowly through the digestive tract of the lamb. So, feeding a low- or moderate-quality roughage source tends to put some middle or a “belly” on lambs. The higher quality alfalfa passes through much faster, maintaining the “tubular” appearance of the lamb, yet meeting the lamb’s fiber requirement.

Fiber length is important for lambs

It is also important to feed a quality alfalfa with a minimum 1 ½ to 2 inches of fiber length. Feeding alfalfa pellets or ground hay does not have the effective neutral detergent fiber (NDF) needed for rumen health.
You may also notice wool chewing or wool pulling in lambs. The leading cause of this activity in sheep is inadequate fiber length, resulting in insufficient effective NDF. It is important here to note that feeding a roughage source with 1 ½ to 2 inches of fiber length helps address wool biting, chewing or pulling. However, once a lamb begins to pull wool, it usually will not stop.  It quickly becomes a habit, and you will need to keep the lambs covered or separated to stop this activity.

Water intake in lambs

Water is also extremely important. Water is directly related to feed intake. The water source needs to be clean, fresh, abundant, and not too hot or cold at all times to ensure proper feed intake and growth performance. Keeping the lamb hydrated will also help prevent the occurrence of urinary calculi. A good show lamb feed will contain ammonium chloride for the prevention of this condition. However, if the lamb is not drinking sufficient water, or you do not hydrate the lamb properly at or after a show, the lamb is at elevated risk of developing urinary calculi.

Show lamb feeds

Show lamb feeds come in various forms and protein content. You might think about feeding a show lamb feed with about 18 percent crude protein, such as HONOR® Show Chow® Showlamb Grower DX, at least for the initial 45 to 60 days of the feeding period. Show lamb feeds are usually high in crude protein because we are limit-feeding very muscular lambs that have much higher daily nutrient requirements.
However, energy is still very important. Energy provides the fuel for growth and every metabolic process. A low-energy feed will usually result in poor growth performance and an unsatisfactory outcome to your show lamb project. 

High-protein supplements for lambs

High-protein supplements such as HIGH OCTANE® Champion Drive™ are sometimes useful in either trimming body condition, or increasing the muscling of the lamb. The amount to be fed will depend upon the product, and again what is needed to be accomplished in the lamb. HIGH OCTANE® Fitter 35 is used to help support muscle, leanness, and help harden muscle when fed at 4 to 12 ounces per day along with regular feed.
The daily feed amount will again depend upon the lamb, its size, age, and the nutrient content of the feed. However, feeding HONOR® Show Chow® Showlamb Grower DX at 3 to 4 percent of the lamb’s body weight is sufficient.

Medicated feed for lambs

It is always a good idea to feed a medicated feed to lambs. Coccidiosis is usually the lamb’s biggest immune challenge. All HONOR® Show Chow® Showlamb feeds are medicated with Deccox® to prevent and control coccidiosis.

What quality show lamb feeds can, and cannot, accomplish 

It is important to note what a good show lamb feed will and will not do.

A quality show lamb feed should:

  • Maintain a consistent feed intake (as long as water and roughage are not an issue)
  • Result in adequate growth and development of the lamb
  • Result in a good physical appearance of the lamb (skin, hair, and wool)
  • Result in proper conditioning of the lamb
  • Result in the lamb expressing its genetic potential
  • Contain ammonium chloride to address urinary calculi
A good show lamb feed will not:
  • Create more bone
  • Make the lamb longer
  • Increase the lamb’s base width
  • Increase the length of the lamb’s neck
  • Increase the length of the lamb’s loin
  • Increase the length of the lamb’s hindsaddle
  • Strengthen a weak-topped lamb (broken behind the shoulders)
In other words, you will need to select a quality lamb with the genetic potential to respond to good nutrition; genetic potential that results in a fairly heavily muscled lamb. After all, we are feeding and showing market lambs. A market animal needs to exhibit muscle. A poorly muscled lamb will normally find its way to the bottom of most classes. If you select a lamb that has inferior muscling, the greatest feed money can buy is not going to result in producing adequate muscle.
Build a relationship with the breeder of your choice. They will be more than happy to assist you. You can be assured they want their lambs to perform their best for you.

Feed more than one lamb

It is a good idea to feed more than one lamb. Sheep are herding- or flocking-type creatures, and two lambs do much better than one by itself. Lambs eat and perform much better when a companion or pen mate is present. A consistent exercise program is essential to the success of your show lamb project and to obtain the maximum response between the interaction between nutrition and genetic potential. The extent and duration of the exercise will depend on what is required to accomplish in the lamb. However, exercising the lamb three to four times per week should be sufficient.
Good luck with your show lamb project. If you need help, do not be afraid to ask. Breeders and more experienced exhibitors are an excellent source of information and knowledge.
---- Purina Animal Nutrition

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