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Lesson Plan: Caring for Newborn Lambs

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In this lesson, students will watch and research animal husbandry practices for managing newborn lambs. The clips used in this lesson are from Sweetgrass, a film that compiles raw footage of ranchers caring for sheep and the now defunct practice of driving sheep to summer pasture in Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth mountains. (Please note that the filmmakers' version of Sweetgrass contains profanity. To avoid this issue, please use the video clips on this website or the broadcast version of the film.) For more information on sheep and their care, please see the Resources section of this lesson.

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By the end of this lesson, students will:

  • Identify gaps in their knowledge of how to care for newborn lambs.
  • Find, review and summarize information on docking, castration and how to feed orphan lambs and answer student-developed research questions.
  • React in writing to practices involved in the care of newborn lambs.
  • Explain which practices they would use in their own care of sheep.


Agricultural Education, Animal Science, Animal Husbandry


  • Internet access and equipment to show the class online video and conduct research.
  • Handout: Caring for Newborn Lambs (PDF)

One 50-minute class period

Video clips with filmmaker commentary:

Clip 1: "Feeding An Orphan Lamb" (length 1:04)
The clip begins at 18:09 with a man picking up a lamb. It ends at 19:13 with the statement "...at least it can get some milk in its stomach."

Clip 2: "Finding Mothers for Orphan Lambs" (length 4:36)
The clip begins at 19:43 with a man milking a sheep. It ends with the line "...so they take it off."

Clip 3: "Docking and Castrating Lambs" (length 1:08)
The clip begins at 24:48 with a shot of men cutting off the end of a lamb's ear. It ends at 25:56 with the statement "...be vectors of disease."

Raw footage:

Clip 4: "The Shearing of Sheep" (length 2:48)
The clip begins at 4:28 with the shearing of sheep. It ends at 7:16 with a shot of a sheep's head being held between a shearer's legs.

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1. Have students work with a partner to complete a KWL chart on the care of newborn lambs. They should first fill in the "K" column of the chart with what they already know about this topic. Pairs should then list questions for what they want to know in the "W" column. Students will select and research the answers to at least two of these questions during the lesson.

2. Give each pair a handout to complete together. Students should watch the video clips, review the related resources for each question and search for additional resources as needed. Each pair should also research two (or more, if time permits) questions from the "W" column of its KWL chart. Instruct students to list on their handouts any additional resources that they use in their investigation.

3. After students have completed their research, have them record the new information they learned in the "L" column of their charts, and then ask them to correct any pre-research misconceptions they entered in the "K" column.

4. Ask students to react individually in writing to the practices related to the care of newborn lambs and note which ones they currently use or would use in their own care of sheep.

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Track the path of wool from sheep to the creation of useful products. Begin by having the class watch this lesson's raw footage clip of sheep being sheared. Then show the class a wool sweater, carpet square, upholstery sample, a tennis ball covered with wool felt or another wool-based product. Once students have seen where wool starts and how it looks in its final form, challenge them to conduct research and trace the path wool follows. Students should then present their findings in a slideshow or another type of visual presentation (such as those made with free online tools like Capzles.com that includes images, text and video showing how wool is processed and transformed into useful products. Sample resources include those from Wool.com and the videos "How to Spin Wool" and "How It's Made: Carpets."

Create a glossary of terms related to sheep and their care. Ask each student to create a personal glossary on a sheet of paper or in an online document, or ask each student to contribute to a class glossary maintained on the board, online or on a large sheet of paper posted on the wall. As they come across unfamiliar terms in their research, students should look up the meanings of the words and add them to the glossary. Sheep101.info provides definitions for basic sheep terminology, information about tools used for docking and castrating and more.

Make a map of sheep farming in the United States and around the world. Ask students to use print maps or use Google's MyMap tool to represent geographically the data presented in Dollars and Sense and similar resources. Instruct students to include information on how many sheep there are in your state and whether they are primarily raised for meat, wool or milk.

Investigate efforts to rebuild the sheep inventory in the United States. Read about the American Sheep Industry Association's 2+2+2=Rebuild plan and POV's background information on U.S. Sheep Production Today. Discuss the social and market forces that have had an impact on the U.S. sheep population over time, as well as the current incentives to increase flock numbers. Have students then conduct a market analysis to determine whether there is demand to support this increase in supply and to make recommendations for how the economic goals of the American sheep industry can best be met.

Write a job description for a sheep rancher. Show students the video clips provided with this lesson and ask them to watch for specific skills and knowledge that a sheepherder would need in order to do his or her job effectively, including areas such as the behavioral characteristics of the animals, how to manage them, animal health issues, genetics and specifics of nutrition and breeding. Discuss how people might acquire such knowledge or learn such skills. Working together, students should then summarize their ideas in a job description.

Get first-hand experience in caring for sheep by raising one for a school, Future Farmers of America, 4-H or science fair project. For how-to information, see the 4-H Show Lamb Guide and the Virginia 4-H Market Lamb Project Guide.

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This site outlines the basics of raising and feeding sheep and provides an overview of the products sheep produce, sheep-related vocabulary, history and fun facts and more.

"Sheep201," Sheep101.info
This page provides more detailed information on raising sheep, including links to specifics about lambing, caring for newborn sheep, docking and castrating and shearing.

POV Background Information: U.S. Sheep Production Today
This article describes the market for sheep products and the history of the wool and sheep industry in the United States.

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These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)

Agricultural Education

Standard 3: Understands the essential elements of plant and animal care.

Language Arts

Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.

Language Arts

Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource website (now PBS Teachers) and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.