Skip to Content

Sheep and Lamb Difference – the Ultimate Sheep vs. Lamb Guide!

Sheep and lamb difference – Sheep and lambs are domesticated animals that get kept for their wool, meat, or milk. However, there is a big difference between these animals. While they are the same species, the sheep and lamb differences are vital because the terms refer to the animals at various stages of growth.

But – what are the differences between sheep and lambs? And what do they mean for homesteaders who want to raise them? 

Let’s find out!

What Is the Difference Between Sheep and Lamb?

While sheep is an overarching term used to describe the entire sheep species, lamb is a specific subset of the population. Lamb is a term used to describe a sheep younger than one year of age that has not yet produced offspring. Lamb can also refer to the type of meat from an animal of this age.

Though they get used interchangeably, there is a difference between a sheep and a lamb. A lamb is a baby sheep, while a sheep is an adult. 

Sheep are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Sheep came to Australia and New Zealand via European settlers in the 19th century. Today, there are over one billion sheep in the world.

Lambs are born without fully developed intestines. And they rely on their mother’s milk for nourishment. After a few weeks, they begin to develop their digestive system and can start to eat solid food. At the same time, their coat starts to change from a soft, downy fuzz to more adult-like wool. 

Lambs grow steadily during their first year, gaining weight and getting taller. By adulthood, lambs will have a set of adult teeth and can mate. Every lamb matures at its own pace. However, these are some of the signs indicating that a lamb is developing into an adult sheep.

Though they share many similarities, the differences between sheep and lambs are distinct.

Let’s take a closer look at how they differ. 

The most prominent sheep and lamb difference is their age! Lambs are sheep that haven’t exceeded one year. You can also classify sheep meat by age. Mutton is meat from mature sheep, while lamb meat is from a sheep of less than one year. There’s also hogget meat! Hogget meat is from sheep not old enough to be mutton – but still older than one year. Usually, after two years – sheep meat classifies as mutton.

Is Lamb the Same as Sheep?

Lamb and sheep are the same animals, but there is a difference in their age. 

Lamb is also a term used to refer to the meat of a young sheep less than a year old. 

Lamb also gets sold as mutton. Mutton is the meat of an adult sheep. Sheep meat is classified by age, with lamb being the youngest and mutton being the oldest. The age of the animal also affects the flavor of the sheep meat. 

Lamb is more tender and flavorful than mutton. Mutton has a more gamey flavor that some homesteaders find to be unpleasant. It is also chewier than lamb and requires longer cooking times to tenderize. 

When choosing lamb or mutton, consider that lamb will be more expensive than mutton because it is a more desirable meat cut. Mutton can also be difficult to find in some areas. 

Whether you choose lamb or mutton, ensure that you cook it properly to enjoy the best flavor.

(And have plenty of mint jelly and mashed potatoes on hand!)

Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep | Paula Simmons
$24.95 $23.14

Want to raise American lamb on your homestead? Or maybe you want plenty of milk-fed lamb meat for your table? Then start here! Storey's Guide to Raising sheep by Paula Simmons is arguably the best resource for homesteaders raising sheep. The book contains 368 pages of insights for prospective sheep farmers.

Get More Info
We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
08/12/2022 03:46 pm GMT

Why Do They Call It Lamb Instead of Sheep?

Lamb is the name for the meat of a young sheep. The term lamb can also refer to a young goat, but this is less common. 

The word sheep generally refers to an adult animal. Although it also gets used to describe a lamb. 

(This is why distinguishing between a sheep and a lamb is so confusing!)

Lamb is (usually) more delicate and mild-flavored meat than sheep, which is why it often gets used in high-end restaurants.

For these reasons, lamb is often the preferred choice for those looking for a healthier alternative to beef or pork. 

Look at this adorable lamb! They are too cute to turn into lamb chops. I think they’re hungry – they’re looking for lunch! Luckily – lambs and sheep are famously easy to feed. They aren’t picky eaters – and we read that forage can make up a considerable part of their diet. Or, in some cases, their entire diet! We also read that pregnant ewes and developing lambs may need additional supplements from concentrated feeds or grains.

Does a Lamb Become a Sheep?

The word sheep generally refers to the domesticated species of ovine animals kept by humans for their milk, meat, and wool. 

However, the term can also refer to certain wild species of sheep, such as the bighorn sheep. 

So, what is the difference between lamb and a sheep?

A lamb is a young sheep that has not yet reached adulthood, while a sheep is an adult ovine animal.

Lambs are typically born in the springtime and begin to grow their adult wool coats after about six months. 

Once a lamb reaches adulthood, it gets referred to as a sheep. So, in answer to the question, does a lamb become a sheep? Yes, a lamb does become a sheep and is considered mature at around one year of age.

Read More – Raising Sheep vs. Goats. Which is Best for Profits? And Fun?

Is a Lamb a Goat or a Sheep? 

Let’s take a closer look at lamb vs. sheep vs. goat.

Though all three animals are closely related, there are crucial differences between sheep, goats, and lambs.

Both sheep and goats are members of the Bovidae family, which includes even-toed ungulates such as cows and antelope. Lambs, on the other hand, are baby sheep. To add to the confusion? Male goats get called bucks. While female sheep are ewes and male lambs are rams.

Though all three animals have fur coats, the type of fur differs among the species. Sheep have wool while goats have coarse hair. But – some goats have fine and more delicate hair, like Angoras. Lambs, like sheep, have wool coats. But it is not as coarse as that of an adult sheep. It is more like a fluffy down.

Another way to tell these animals apart is by their diets. Sheep primarily eat grass, while goats are browsers and prefer to eat leaves, twigs, and other forage snacks

Lambs will eat whatever their mother ewes eat. In many cases, they are primarily milk-fed, nursed by their mothers until they are three to five months old.

Given these differences, it is clear that lambs are more closely related to sheep than goats. 

It’s easy to notice sheep and lamb differences once you get to know them. Young lambs less than a year old are almost always adorable, cute, and friendly. But the older sheep are cute too! Look at this charming sheep sticking their tongue out at us as evidence! We haven’t seen a sheep with this much character since we reviewed 11 sheep with black faces. And – since there were well over 5.17 million sheep in the USA in 2021, you’re bound to find some unique personalities!

Is a Ram a Lamb?

The word lamb often refers to young animals of various species, but it is also the name of a specific sheep. So, what is the difference between a lamb and a ram? A lamb is a baby sheep less than one year old, while a ram is an adult male sheep. 

Young rams, or ram lambs, are often called wethers. But only if castrated.

Rams can be aggressive animals. They are also gentle and loving fathers. When a lamb grows up to be a ram, it will develop thick horns on its head that it will use for fighting other rams. In addition, rams tend to be larger and heavier than lambs. 

So, while a lamb and a ram are members of the same species, they have many distinct characteristics.

And what about the difference between a lamb vs. sheep vs. ewe?

The ewe is a female sheep. Ewes typically have softer and more extensive wool coats than rams (male sheep). And they may also have horns. Rams (usually) have thicker and coarser wool coats than ewes. And denser skull bones. 

In addition, rams usually have more impressive horns than ewes in most cases.

A young female lamb is called a ewe lamb. You may also hear the word yow used to describe a ewe, but this is merely a slang term.

Read More – 10 Best Goat Breeds for Beginners! Dairy and Meat Breeds!

Conclusion

With this new knowledge in hand? You can be a more informed farmer and decide what to put on your table and what kinds of animals to raise.

Again, a lamb is always a sheep – but a sheep isn’t necessarily a lamb. A lamb is a sheep younger than one year old. A sheep is an older animal that has produced offspring (in most cases).

We hope these tips have helped shed some light on an often confusing topic. What other questions do you still have about sheep and lamb?

Or – maybe you have a few lambs vs. sheep nuances you care to share?

Please let us know!

And – thanks again for reading.

Have a great day!

Read More – 11 Adorable Sheep With Black Faces [Cutest Sheep Contest!]

Author

  • Rebekah Pierce started a small farm with her husband in 2016 in upstate New York, near her native Adirondack Mountains. With a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in special education, she has been writing professionally since 2017, but only recently left the world of teaching to pursue writing and farming full time. She now writes full-time in the education, business, finance, and of course, homesteading and farming niches.