How do I know when my lambs are correctly finished?

Answer: Harvesting your animals at exactly the right time is very important. Lambs that are over- or under-finished will produce meat that is less desirable to consumers. Mastering the ability to determine when your lambs are correctly finished at 0.20 to 0.25 inch of back fat can result in a superior product in the marketplace, one that surpasses your competitors and creates demand among consumers.Even if you’re just raising lambs for your own consumption, using this technique will create a premium meat and thus a superior dining experience. As an added bonus, you can also reduce unnecessary finishing costs.Feeling for Twenty HundredsAs a lamb matures, it builds muscle first and puts on fat later. The spinal and lumbar regions are two places where it is easy to gauge the amount of fat on the animal. These areas are also where the highest-quality cuts ? the rack and the loin chops ? are located.During the final two months of finishing, fat is deposited along the sides and top of the spine (racks), filling in the sharp recesses. Simultaneously, fat is being deposited along the sides of the lumbar processes (loin chops) ? the bony protuberances ? smoothing out the ridges.As luck would have it, we all have a convenient, built-in “gauge” for determining how much back fat is present on the animal?our hands. Make a tight fist with your right hand and then run your fingers over the set of knuckles that your fingers are attached to. It feels like the Rocky Mountains. That is what the backbone, or spine, of an unfinished lamb feels like. Now, extend the fingers of your right hand and feel across those same knuckles. Quite a difference. You have just simulated the top of a finished lamb. In a properly finished lamb, the spinal processes are covered with a layer of fat that is about 0.20 inch thick. That is a skinny quarter inch. As your finished lamb stands in the race (the chute that serves to restrain them) alongside of you, run your fingers up and down the backbone, visualizing in your mind that skinny quarter inch of fat. Does the lamb show it?Does the Fat Slip?When the lamb has 0.20 inch of back fat, you will also be able to feel the fat slide across the backbone in such a way that it seems to “slip” as you move your fingers over the backbone. This is characteristic of 0.20 inch of back fat. Fat covers of less than 0.20 inch will not slip, while covers of 0.30 inch or more will tend to “roll” over the spinal processes instead of slipping. Additionally, a 0.30 inch or greater thickness of back fat seems to move as one whole layer, producing a “jiggling” effect as your hand moves it rapidly.Guard against over-finished lambs?process them before they become too fat. If you can consistently produce lamb that is properly finished, you will achieve one of your primary goals: a differentiated product. As such, your lamb will rise above others in the marketplace for its quality.Want to see this technique in action? Check out the ATTRA video Putting a Hand on Them?How to Tell When Your Lamb is Finished, available at Also see our fact sheet by the same name at