Lamb vs Sheep: What is the Difference?

Are you often confused between lamb and sheep? Has anyone ever told you they belong to the same family? Most people use Lamb and Sheep almost interchangeably, and many fail to differentiate one from the other. Sheep are the domesticated mammals that have been around since 10,000 BC, which is believed by historians.

The words lamb and sheep are not two different animals. They are the same animal but with just age difference.

There are often misconceptions about the meat that each animal yields and the kind of diet and maintenance each kind of needs.

In this article, we have consolidated all our findings after a lot of research. You will find out the differences that prominently separate lambs from sheep and how they can be easily identified. Although before jumping into that, let us find out a few more details about lambs and sheep individually.

What is Lamb?

In simple terms, a lamb is a sheep that is less than one year of age. It is famous for its tempting, juicy, and quality of meat. People worldwide often get confused and believe lamb and sheep to be the same animal with similar characteristics. But they do have different features and easily identifiable differences.

The most evident difference is sheep have more wool than lamb. Another apparent feature is neither domestic nor wild lambs have horns. The animal is called lamb until then when it depends on the mother’s milk for food and do not have healthy teeth to graze in the open.

They also have a thin layer of hair, which eventually grows to be wool, but not within a year. Domestic lambs have different color shades like chocolate brown, white, spotted, and piebald.

Characteristics of Lamb

Lambs are usually lean and clumsy. While they grow, they tend to gain more muscles in their legs, and their coordination stabilizes. They grow very swiftly and reach their desired market weight very soon if they are fed well.

The lambs which eat only grass tend to grow slower than those who feed on legumes, forbs, grains, and pasture plants. The lambs tend to nurse on mother’s milk for up to 6 months if given the opportunity.

Those who have a small pasture land, but many animals can choose to feed the lambs. Creep is nothing but additional supplements that are given to the goat as a replacement to pasture. However, they do not eat grass or feed so much, as, in the growing years, they depend heavily on their mother’s milk.

Lambs are active, cute, and friendly, but are very difficult to manage. They do not like to flock up, unlike the adults. When you try to take them to a new pasture alongside their mothers, they often tend to fall, find, and bringing them together looks like a tough job.

Uses of Lamb

The most common use of lamb is its lips smacking, high-quality meat, which is also popularly called mutton. The meat has gained importance over any other meat of other animals in the past few years’ meats. Besides that, lambs do not have any other particular use.

Lambs do not provide a considerable quantity of meat. Hence they do not make a good livestock option. They cannot produce wool and definitely cannot produce milk. The meat the baby lambs, aged just 5-6 months, is also called baby lamb or spring lamb. Lambs are ready to get butchered after six months of their birth, and they gain almost 80-110 pounds weight.

However, that also depends on the breed they belong to and the environmental conditions. You can identify a lamb gaining maturing and becoming a sheep when the lamb gains strong muscles and an excellent fat layer on its body.

What is Sheep?

Scientifically known as Ovis Aries, is perhaps one of the first domesticated animals since will10,000 BC. They live for 10-12 years on average, but for a few breeds, sheep can live as long as 20 years. They are ruminant, herbivorous animals that have contributed mainly to the livestock industry.

Its teeth arrangement can identify the age of a sheep. When the animal is almost four years old, it will have full-grown teeth of 8. There are numerous breeds of sheep found across the globe.

Sheep are peace-loving, intelligent, friendly, and very low maintenance animals, like to stay in a flock and can be easily domesticated. Sheep, on average, grows between 4-6 feet in length and 2-4 feet when standing tall.

Like most other cattle animals like goat, camels, antelopes have hooves. Many sheep breeds can sustain extreme weather climates like mountain terrains and desserts. The hooves provide them with a balance and make them walk easily on rough terrains.

Interesting Fact: People in the British Isles, New Zealand, Australia, central and southern parts of South America practice sheep husbandry.

Characteristics of Sheep

When the sheep are mature after almost a year, it can be on three types- males or rams, females or ewes, and wethers or sheep castrated. To identify its age and maturity, you will have to look into its mouth to determine the number of teeth present and its alignment. Matured sheep have strong leg muscles and an overall more robust structure in comparison to lamb. The sheep at this age are mature enough to reproduce and take care of their babies. They often produce twins and even triplets.

The mother’s milk is high in fat and is nutrient-dense. Hence it can be available for both the babies and also for livestock. Sheep are very kind and nursing mothers. They will have a prominent udder if they are feeding their lambs.

Sheep has more than one stomach, which means they are ruminants. Sheep develop teeth with age and like to graze on open grasslands and legumes. They often graze plants right from the root, so it is advisable not to let them feed for longer durations in a particular land. Sheep chew the food enough to be able to mix moisture and swallow the food. Once the food is partially digested, they bring the food up to the mouth to chew again.

Structurally, the male sheep are larger than a female with a bigger and broader forehead. Another feature that can be seen is the scrotum. The male sheep do not have beards like their relative, which is a goat.

Mature sheep are very docile and easily be tamed and usually tend to stay in a flock. They are timid and will need your protection to keep them safe from predators. Grazing them and moving them from one place to another is not a difficult task.

Also Read: 11 Best Dairy Sheep Breeds for Milk Production

Uses of Sheep

Wild sheep differ from the domestic ones in multiple ways like the color, quantity, quality of milk produced, wool, and characteristics. While a few domestic breeds have just hair while others produce good quality wool. Wild sheep produce an overcoat of hair and an undercoat of good quality of wool. Over the years, more than 200 breeds have been bred for meat and wool production.

Sheep have been a significant source of milk, meat, and wool across the globe for quite some time now. The skin of sheep is soft, which can also be used to make clothing items and goods. The milk from the sheep can make multiple varieties of cheese like feta, ricotta, etc.

The meat of sheep, which is above 2-3 years, is called mutton. However, in most western countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, meat from sheep is called a lamb, irrespective of age. The meat of goat is called mutton in a few countries. When the sheep is older, the mutton grows tougher and has a peculiar taste and is comparatively less desirable.

The wool from a sheep is collected by a process called sheep shearing. The wool is collected once every year from a mature sheep. Female sheep are sheared before they give birth to the lamb and during summers. The wool keeps the sheep protected from cold in winters. Hence shearing does not take place in the cold months. The wool is primarily used in clothing, rugs, insulation, blankets, etc.

Major Differences

Listing down the significant differences between lamb and sheep-

  1. Ram is usually called for young male sheep. At the same time, ram lamb is named after a young male lamb.
  2. Ewe is known for both females of young sheep as well as a young lamb.
  3. When the lamb grows up to become sheep, it provides milk for the lamb, hence do not consume the milk. But lambs need mother’s milk when they are young.
  4. When we call a group of lamb, it’s known as a flock, whereas in a group of sheep besides flock, we call mobs or bands.
  5. Meat quality and tenderness in much better for lamb than in sheep. Therefore there is a massive demand for lamb meat over sheep meat.
  6. The meat is paler in sheep than in lamb. Lamb is reddish, whereas sheep meat is pinkish.
  7. The meat in lambs has a pleasant taste and is multifaceted compared to sheep meat. Sheep grows up with good fat content in the meat, whereas lamb meat is lean.
  8. The meat hardens with age, so lamb meat is tender, but sheep meat has to be tenderized by stewing.
  9. Lamb meat is also known as hogget, whereas sheep meat is known as mutton and hogget both.
  10. When it comes to their diet, they are quite different. Lambs like to depend on a high-fat diet, mostly mother’s milk, grains, legumes, etc. during the growing years. Sheep, on the other hand, eats mostly grass and pasture plants.
  11. Young lambs do not grow much wool, but sheep produce an outer coat of hair and under that lies fine wool.
  12. One identifiable feature between lamb and sheep is that lambs have a long tail, but sheep have short.
  13. Have an enormous contribution to the livestock industry; sheep are one of the leading producers of milk and wool. In contrast, lambs can provide just meat.
  14. Due to the meat, lambs are butchers early within 12 months of their age. But sheep get butchered after they have reached maturity, which is often after one year.
  15. Lamb does not grow healthier teeth as they depend mostly on the mother’s milk. Sheep, on the other hand, has strong incisors for them to chew the cud.
  16. Lambs do not form any horns, whereas sheep form either lateral or spiral horns.

Final Thoughts

We have discussed almost all the vital differences between a lamb and a sheep. The idea can be confusing initially, but once you start to observe your animal closely, you will be able to understand the difference yourself. Next time, when you are thinking of bringing home a lamb/sheep, make sure you know what you are choosing. And if not, you can always refer to our article.

We look forward to your experience in raising a sheep right from birth.