Lamb Vs Sheep, Differences, And What Mutton Is Best

When you are getting into homesteading or backyard farming all of the lingo can feel pretty confusing. 

Especially when you are thinking of lambs as these cute little fluffy animals and you go to fair and see lambs that have already reached market weight still being called a lamb…..

But hang on as I go through and explain the differences between lambs and sheep.

lamb vs sheep header image

What Is A Lamb?

A lamb is a young sheep that is less than one year of age.

When comparing lamb vs sheep, one notable difference is their size. Lambs are young sheep, less than one-year-old. They are much smaller in size compared to fully-grown adult sheep.

  • A newborn lamb typically weighs between 5 to 10 pounds. They are tiny and delicate, needing extra care and protection. — It is a good idea to have your female sheep in a barn when the lambing season is close because labs are an easy target for predators. 
  • A market lamb weighs about 120 pounds and like any animal you lose almost half the live weight after harvested. 
  • A fully-grown sheep, on the other hand, can weigh around 350 pounds on average depending on the breed.

It is important to note that certain breeds of sheep, like the argali sheep, can reach exceptional sizes. The argali sheep can grow up to 4 feet tall and weigh up to an impressive 700 pounds.

So if you plan to raise lamb’s meat make sure you check into the breed size before you get started.

young white lamb

When Does a Lamb Become a Sheep?

A lamb becomes a sheep once it exceeds twelve months of age. However if you are keeping them for a breeding sheep they will continue to mature and grow larger until they are almost two years old.

Is a Lamb a Goat or a Sheep?

A lamb is a baby sheep. A baby goat is called a kid.

While lambs, goats, and sheep share some similarities, there are crucial physical differences that set them apart.

The most noticeable distinction lies in their fur coat. Sheep are most commonly associated with wool, which is thick, curly, and provides excellent insulation.

On the other hand, goats have a coat made of coarse hair, which is not as effective at regulating body temperature.

Lambs, being young sheep, have a fluffy down coat that is soft and warm.

Dietary preferences also differ among these animals. Sheep are primarily grazers and thrive on a diet consisting mainly of grass. They have specially adapted teeth that allow them to efficiently extract nutrients from tough grasses.

In contrast, goats are browsers and are more opportunistic eaters, known to devour leaves, shrubs, and even tree bark.

Difference Between Lamb Coat vs Sheep Wool

A significant difference between a lamb’s coat and sheep’s wool lies in their texture and quality. A lamb’s coat, especially from newborn lambs, is incredibly soft and delicate. It feels luxurious to touch and is often sought after for its exceptional softness.

On the other hand, wool produced by adult sheep tends to be coarser and stronger. While still valuable, it lacks the delicate touch and luxurious feel of a lamb’s wool.

Because of its softness, lamb’s wool is commonly used in the production of cozy blankets and warm sweaters. The delicate nature of the wool makes it perfect for items meant for direct contact with the skin, providing comfort and warmth.

In contrast, sheep’s wool is utilized for various purposes. It can be used in the production of clothing, home furnishings, insulation, and even industrial applications. Its strength and durability make it suitable for a wide range of uses.

white lamb on a hillside

What Does A Lamb Eat

A lamb’s diet primarily consists of milk from its mother. As newborns, they rely solely on their mother’s milk for the first few weeks of their lives. The milk provides essential nutrients for their growth and development. Lambs feed frequently, usually every few hours, to ensure they receive an adequate supply of milk.

As they grow older, lambs gradually transition from a milk diet to consuming solid food. This process usually begins when they are around a month old. At this point, they start to nibble on grass and pasture vegetation, gradually increasing their intake of solid food while still relying on their mother’s milk.

Lambs have a natural grazing preference and will graze on a variety of grasses. They are picky grazers, preferring tender and young vegetation. They are not like goats and will eat anything with green on it. 

Lamb vs Sheep: Meat

Eating lamb is not supper common in the united states as much as it used to be. Largely (in my opinion) because it’s pretty costly to buy as a consumer and on top of that sheep are not super easy to raise as a sheep farmer. When it comes to meat production it’s all about speed and cost of getting the animal to harvest. Either way, leg of lamb is one of my favorite meals and is something we have special at Christmas time with my family.

Lamb and sheep meat, commonly known as mutton tends to be a you either love it or hate it kind of meat. Some people don’t like the taste of lamb so definitely try it before you spend too much money on a whole lamb or trying to raise it yourself.  

It definitely has some key differences like a taste that is all on its own terms of flavor, tenderness, and fat content.

The main difference between the two is in the age of the sheep when the meat is harvested. It is packed with protein and nutrients, making it a popular choice among meat lovers.

Lamb meat is harvested from young sheep that are less than one year old. — The flavor of lamb meat is stronger in an older lamb compared to a younger lamb under 12 months of age.  

The meat of lambs is generally light pink in color and has a relatively low-fat content compared to sheep meat. This makes lamb an ideal choice for those looking for a leaner meat option.

Meat from older sheep (over one-year-old) has a stronger flavor and a richer texture. It contains connective tissues such as collagen and elastin, which contribute to its slightly gamey flavor.

young lamb

Lamb Meat Cuts Types Of Meat

When it comes to the quality of meat, lambs are widely regarded as superior to sheep. The main differentiating factors between lamb meat and mutton meat are tenderness, flavor, and fat content.

Lamb meat is known for its delicate texture and tenderness. This is because lambs are younger at the time of slaughter, usually between 3 to 12 months of age, and therefore their muscles are more tender compared to the mature muscles of sheep.

You may see there are different types of lamb meat available in the market. 

Milk-fed lamb, also known as “sucker lamb,” is obtained from young lambs that have only consumed their mother’s milk. This type of lamb meat is prized for its tender and delicate taste and tends to be a lighter pink color. They tend to be harvested around 3 months of age and are sold at a much higher price due to the smaller size,

Spring lamb: refers to lambs that are raised during the early spring season, providing a milder flavor. Yearling mutton, as the name implies, is the meat of a sheep that is right around its first year. It offers a balance between the tenderness of lamb and the stronger flavor of mature sheep.

Different Cut Of Lamb Meat

There are various cuts of lamb meat that offer different flavors and cooking possibilities.

  • Lamb chops, for example, are tender and juicy with a delicate taste. They are often grilled or pan-fried to perfection.
  • Other cuts like lamb shank, shoulder, and leg offer stronger flavors and are best suited for slow cooking methods such as roasting or braising.

If you are thinking of eating or raising lambs don’t let the soft cute name make you feel squeamish. A baby lamb grows into a stubborn and pig-headed domestic sheep real quick. 

In all my years in 4-H the people with market lamb projects were the most ready to see their projects head to the meat trucks. 

Check into the different breeds and make sure you are ready to handle sheep. They are a great option for people who don’t have a ton of room on their homestead for cattle but still want to raise enough meet to support their family. Next to hogs, sheep are going to have the best turnaround as far as livestock animals go.

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