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Caring for rams post mating


Rams are the most costly/valuable animals on most sheep farms. For most flocks, the quickest way to immediately reduce ram costs is to focus on ram longevity. Michael Gottstein, Head of Sheep KT Programme, outlines the main areas that should be concentrated on in order to achieve this.

Industry estimates regarding average ram lifespan vary but some data suggests it could be between 1.5 and 3 seasons. If we divide the ram cost (purchase and keep) over his lifespan and divide it by the number of lambs that a particular ram will sire, then ram costs often come in to between three to five Euro per lamb sired. Reducing this significant cost can be achieved by 1) Increasing ewe to ram ratio, 2) Increasing ewe litter size and 3) Increasing ram longevity.
For most flocks the quickest way to immediately reduce ram costs is to focus on ram longevity. The following are areas that should be concentrated on;

Fighting

Injuries sustained during fighting can frequently result in death or debilitating injuries resulting in rams being lost or having to be culled prematurely.

Tips to reduce fighting;

  • Ensure your team of rams is assembled well in advance of the breeding season and have all rams acclimatised to one another for a number of weeks prior to mating.
  • When introducing / regrouping rams confine them in a tight space for a period of hours. (Small pen, livestock trailer etc.)
  • Increase mating group sizes so that there are always a number of ewes in heat that will distract rams from fighting in the early stages of mating.
  • If necessary fit rams with face shields which prevent forward vision and reduces the rams inclination to charge at other rams.
  • When mating concludes confine the rams that have been gathered up in a tight space for a period of hours. Turn rams into a fresh field of grass in the evening time when hungry so that they are more inclined to eat and generally will not fight in the dark.

Health issues

Maximising ram longevity means ensuring that the animal health needs of the rams are met. In practice this will require rams to be checked at least once every day so that sick sheep are identified and treated promptly. The following are a few key areas that should be kept in mind.

  • Lameness, at the end of the mating season rams should have their feet checked and any lameness issues resolved.
  • Stomach worms; ram lambs are particularly susceptible to stomach worms during the mating period. Treat ram lambs with an effective wormer to clear out stomach worms.
  • Liver fluke; in areas where liver fluke is prevalent treat rams at the end of the mating with a product that is effective against immature fluke.
  • Clostridial disease; include the rams in the annual closdridial / pasteurella booster programme when vaccinating the ewes pre lambing. Purchased rams will need a two shot primary course to ensure they are immune for a 12month period.
  • Check rams for damage to the brisket or other injuries sustained during the mating period and treat appropriately
  • Iceberg diseases; most farmers will be buying in their rams. This represents a big risk in terms of purchasing in diseases such as CLA, Johnes, OPA, MV etc. Be vigilant for signs of ill thrift, lumps around the head and neck regions and signs of pneumonia that do not respond to usual treatments. Talk to your vet if you have concerns. Affected / suspect rams should be culled to reduce the risk of spread to other sheep.

Nutrition

All rams should be on a high plane of nutrition prior to mating. During an active mating season rams will have lost significant body condition and this needs to be regained. The following are some guidelines regarding ram nutrition post mating  

  • Ram lambs are still growing and need much higher levels of nutrition to sustain rebuilding body condition and for growth.
  • Feed ram lambs and thin older rams feed 0.5kg per head per day of a suitable lamb / ram concentrate feed (must contain ammonium chloride) until body condition lost during mating has been regained.
  • Autumn / winter grass is low in energy, often in short supply and intake is further reduced during wet weather. Often winter grass is maintenance only so will not put condition / weight on rams.
  • Where grass supply is not sufficient to meet the grazing needs of the rams they must be either housed and fed hay/silage or supplemented with forage outdoors.
  • Where rams are out wintered the provision of a dry lie and shelter will greatly increase animal comfort, health, performance and welfare.

If you liked this article you might also be interested in Sheep Newsletter - November 2021.
The Teagasc Sheep Specialists and Researchers issue an article on a topic of interest to sheep farmers on Tuesdays here on Teagasc Daily. Find more on Teagasc Sheep here.
For any further information or assistance contact your local Teagasc Office here: Advisory Regions.