What is a baby sheep called?

So, you are wondering what is a baby sheep called? Or do you really want to know a few interesting facts about baby sheep? You came to the right place. I find young sheep most fascinating in the animal kingdom, so in the next few paragraphs, I’ll try to share their uniqueness with you as well.

What is a baby sheep called? The most used words for young sheep are lamb and lambkin. Young female sheep is called ewe lamb, and young male sheep is called ram lamb. There are many other names that we are using to describe baby sheep today, such as weaner or shearling. Read further ahead to find out more details on lamb life.

There is no need to say “baby lamb”. It’s redundant. A lamb is, by definition, a baby. The extra word “baby” is superfluous. It’s like saying “baby baby.”

Before we continue with other names for baby sheep and all other fascinating lamb facts, let’s tackle a lamb definition first. We now know that young sheep are called lambs, but until what age are they still considered lambs, and not ewes or rams. Let’s find out. There are three most common ways of defining lamb:

  • baby sheep under 1 year of age. In some literature, they mention 0.5-1.5 years.
  • young sheep that have not had lambs themselves yet
  • young sheep that have only been fed their mother’s milk

All of the explanations listed above are correct in some way. You’ll find shepherds in different parts of the globe using one of these definitions or even a combination of them. The only thing we can be sure of is that the sheep meat industry definitely wants young sheep to be considered lambs as long as possible. The only reason for that is that lamb meat sounds much better to customers’ ears than mutton or hogget meat does and for that, lamb meat gets a much better price.

Where does the word lamb come from?

The word lamb comes from the German word lambiz (or lambaz).


Lamb growing up

When the lambs are put together with older sheep for the first time for mating or tupping (the act of fertilization), they are, by pretty much everyone, no longer considered lambs. They are then adult sheep. Adult female sheep is called a ewe and adult male sheep is called a ram (or occasionally a tup). Wether is a name for castrated male sheep.

When they are still young and they haven’t been shorn (wool cut) yet, baby sheep have finer, downier baby wool. As they grow older you can notice and feel the difference in wool.

In the first few years of life, you can guess the age of sheep from their front incisor teeth. First, their pairs of milk incisor teeth are replaced by larger adult teeth. They get eight adult front teeth when they reach about four years. In total, mature sheep have 32 teeth. As they get older, they lose their front teeth, and it gets harder for them to eat. For this reason, sheep on normal pasture live to around 10 to 12 years, though some may live as long as 20 years.

Basic information about lamb meat

To be completely correct, the term lamb itself is mostly used to describe the baby animal’s meat. Lamb is baby sheep meat and it’s tender, mild in flavor, and usually eaten medium-rare. When it’s cooked it looks almost white. Once a lamb starts to eat grass, its cooked flesh starts to look darker and there is more flavor to the meat. The meat doesn’t melt in your mouth as much. Lambs that are fed only milk are thus more expensive.

Mutton is adult sheep meat and has a strong, gamey flavor and is usually tough, less tender, so it’s usually cooked, for a long time and slowly, in a stew or soup. Mutton has an intense red color and you may have to acquire a taste before enjoying mutton. Much of the mutton is sent off to be made into pet food.

Similar to how we don’t say we’re having a pig for dinner – we’re having “pork”. Or we’re not eating a cow, we’re eating “beef”. In the same manner, we’re eating “lamb” or “mutton” and not sheep. But, funnily enough, we do eat chicken.

Here is an interesting list of lamb meat naming conventions:

  • Milk-fed lamb: unweaned (only consumes mother’s milk) lamb
  • Young lamb: a milk-fed lamb between six and eight weeks old
  • Spring lamb: a milk-fed lamb, usually three to five months old, born in late winter or spring.
  • Sucker lambs: a term used in Australia. It includes young milk-fed lambs
  • Yearling lamb: lamb between 12 and 24 months old
  • Salt marsh lamb: French lamb grazing on salt marshes
  • Saltgrass lamb: Australian (Tasmanian) lamb from salty pastures

Customer be aware of fake lamb meat

In modern times, some people say that the meat called lamb is just a clever marketing ploy. So, reading this far into this article, we have learned that there are a few different definitions of the term lamb. Sometimes lamb means sheep younger than 1 year of age, sometimes it means sheep that have not had lambs themselves yet, sometimes lambs are young sheep that have only been fed their mother’s milk. Some salespeople are really using this confusion in a bad way.

The older the sheep is when sent to be processed the larger it will be. That makes it more profitable per animal as long as the price per kilogram (or per pound) doesn’t reduce with age. So the age at which an animal is still a lamb just keeps being extended.

Today, it’s evident that most of the lamb meat that’s sold in the supermarkets or butcher’s shops comes from sheep that have already been weaned off their ewes or were old enough that they could have been. Unfortunately, some of the lamb chops I’ve seen in the supermarkets either came from some alien giant sheep breed or somebody forgot to relabel the animal as it got older.  Always look at the color and size of chops when hunting for lamb in your favorite meat stores.

Many other baby sheep names

So, let’s conclude our article with many other baby sheep names, as promised. Lamb is the proper name since it’s mostly used, but true shepherds use many other, quite specific or local names, for example, slinker, weaner, yearling, gimmer, teg, lambkin, or shearling.