Market Lamb Selection

Last week, we talked about where to start when selecting a breeder to purchase your lamb from. Hopefully, you’ve started a list of barns you want to check out, and you’re ready to start evaluating animals. That’s where we’re going next: how to evaluate lambs based on industry qualities.

Before we dive in too far, it’s always helpful to have a general understanding of the parts of a lamb. This diagram should help.

Now, I’ll admit, evaluating a 60 pound lamb for its potential finish is a bit challenging. There are a lot of variables that could impact its growth and finish between now and the show. However, there are some general principles that can guide your decisions.

If possible, the first thing to do is to have someone set up the lamb you are considering for you. It’s always better to start with a view from a distance before putting your hands on the animal. From a distance, if the animal is set up, you should be able to determine if the animal meets these criteria:

  • Level across the dock
  • Extension (how long-bodied the animal is)
  • Straight topped
  • Good confirmation (how its legs are positioned)
  • Depth of muscle (especially in the rear quarter)

Once you have a feel for these qualities, then you can start handling the animal. According to this judging resource, here’s what you should look for:

Determining the muscle on your market lamb:

When you are handling the lamb to determine the amount of muscle, give the most attention to the hindsaddle – that’s the loin, rump and leg. This area of the lamb produces the most valuable cuts of meat. Stand behind the lambs. They should be structurally correct, wide and well muscled but not over-fat.

Indications of muscling are:
• thickness and firmness through the leg
• natural thickness over the top
• thickness in the forearm and over the stifle


Best case scenario, you’ll have several lambs to pick from as you look to select your project. There is no such thing as a perfect lamb. You’ll need to keep track of which of the lambs you are considering meets the most ticks. While there are ways you can improve a lamb through feeding and exercise, you need to start with the most complete lamb you can, so you can work to make it stronger.

Hopefully you’ve decided where you’re going to look for lambs and you have a better idea of how you’re going to select them. It’s time to get started on your project: hit the road and choose this year’s market lamb!

-Rose