4-H youth learn valuable information about goats and lambs during clinic
Several western Nebraska youth found out there is more to the 4-H lamb and goat projects than the show ring. These youth took part in hands-on training during the Dawes County Sheep and Goat clinic in Chadron last week.
During the clinic, youth learned about selecting a prospect lamb or goat, proper nutrition, treating sick animals, and fitting and showing their animals. Georgia Younglove, one of the clinicians, summed up her take-home message. “You are the caretaker of the animal,” she told the 4-H youth. “It is your job to make sure your animal stays healthy. It is also your job to make sure you have the tools to do that. It is more important to keep your animal healthy than to show it.”
The first part of the clinic focused on selecting lamb and goat prospects. “The biggest lamb is not always the best lamb in the pen,” Younglove said. “You also need to look at the structure of the animal. A lamb that is 20 pounds lighter may be the better animal by fair if its more structurally correct and proportioned correctly.”
Feed also plays a tremendous role in the development of an animal. “You can have all the right pieces and parts of the animal, but how that animal is fed is really important,” she said. “Don’t spend a whole bunch of money on the animal and forget the feed. It is better to spend less on the animal and more on the feed. It is that important.”
The clinician tells the kids to select a feed that is readily available, because some feeds are not available in all parts of the country. Despite the bright, shiny bags, Younglove also encouraged the youth to look past that and focus on what it says on the feed tag. “When selecting a feed, make sure it can be fed to the animal you are feeding,” she said. “Don’t feed goat feed to lambs because the goats have different nutritional requirements. A lot of feed has copper in it, which is toxic to lambs. It is also important to select a feed that is complete, unless you intend to supplement them with what the feed is lacking.”
Youth also need to be aware of the Veterinary Feed Directive Requirements. “VFD is legislation that tells you what you can feed your animals,” she said to the children and their parents. “The feed ingredients you feed your animals have to be approved for that animal. Since the VFD was implemented, it has changed some of the ingredients used in feed.”
Younglove said lambs need protein to build muscle and grow, so she recommends selecting a feed with 17 to 18 percent protein. The lambs also need fat to build cover and finish out correctly. Ideally, the ration should contain 2½ to 5 percent fat content.
The feed should also be balanced for minerals. “If the feed is complete, it should provide everything the animal needs,” she said. “But even if it is a complete feed, there are individuals that need more mineral than what they are getting in the ration.” If the youth feed their animals salt or mineral, Younglove recommended providing it in the loose form so the kids know their animals are consuming it, and how much they are eating.
Younglove also explained the importance of water in the animal’s diet. “Salt increases water consumption,” she said. “Make sure your animal stays hydrated.”
Animals have a stronger sense of smell than humans, so when they are forced to drink city water at the county fair, they may refuse and become dehydrated. “If the lamb was raised on well water, they will notice the smell in city water,” she said.
Younglove offered some options. Youth can get some water from town, and start the animals on it ahead of time to get them used to it. Another option is to take water from home to the show, or to start adding electrolytes to the water a few weeks before the show to help mask the smell. Gatorade and Koolaid will also work, she said, but they also need to be added to the water a few weeks before the show.
She also outlined the importance of clean water by asking one of the children to take a drink from a new bottle of water. She then offered another child a drink from the same bottle, which she politely refused. Then she added some dirt and rocks to the bottle, and the child still refused a drink. Relating it to the lamb, Younglove explained: “If you won’t drink it, don’t expect your animal to drink it. They need clean, fresh water morning and night. It will make a huge difference in how they eat and grow.”
Younglove said hay should be limited. If show lambs consume a lot of hay, their bellies will expand, and even when the hay is cut back, they will never be where they started. However, since sheep are ruminants, they need at least a handful of hay to aid in digestion. Hay consumption can be monitored by observing the flank area. If the animal looks like it is cut high in the flank, it needs more hay. If it looks deep in the flank and is getting a belly, the hay may need to be cut back. “It is something that may need to be adjusted constantly,” Younglove said. ❖
— Clark is a freelance livestock journalist from western Nebraska. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.