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Lamb vs. Sheep: Do You Know the Difference?

A young lamb beside and adult sheep stand in a grassy field with more sheep in the background
Every lamb is a sheep but not every sheep is a lamb. Can you tell which you're looking at here? Photos by R A Kearton / Getty Images

In like a lion, out like a lamb. A wolf in sheep's clothing. Ruminants seem to have a hold on our collective imagination, but what exactly is the difference between them? Let's get to the bottom of lamb vs. sheep mysteries.

What Is a Lamb?

A lamb is simply a baby sheep (Ovis aries). Lambs nurse from their mothers until they are four or five months old, at which point their milk teeth fall out. Lambs sexually mature between 1 and 2 years of age, around which point their adult teeth form.

People generally use the word lamb to refer to sheep under 1 year old.

A young male sheep may be called a ram lamb, while a young female sheep may be called a ewe lamb.

What Is the Difference Between a Lamb and a Sheep?

A lamb and a sheep are the same species, just at different ages. Baby sheep are called lambs, and mature sheep are called sheep.

What Is a Sheep?

Domesticated sheep (Ovis aries) are ruminants (cud-chewing animals) which humans use for meat, milk and wool. Sheep were domesticated from wild sheep around 5000 BCE; sheep wool, milk and meat remain important products for humans.

Adult sheep go by several names:

  • An adult female sheep is called a ewe.

  • An adult male sheep is called a ram.

  • A castrated male sheep is called a wether.

At the Butcher Shop

Although a lamb and a sheep are the same animal, sheep meat tastes different depending on how old the animal was when it was slaughtered.

  • Lamb refers to meat from a young sheep, slaughtered at less than one year of age.

  • Meat from an adult sheep is called mutton. Mutton is known for having a more gamey flavor than lamb meat.

It's not uncommon for meat from the same species to have different names. For example, beef from a very young cow is known as veal. Meat from baby animals has a milder flavor and a more tender texture.

Original article: Lamb vs. Sheep: Do You Know the Difference?

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