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Ram Factors for the Breeding Season

When sourcing the ram it will pay to know as much as possible of the previous flock history. It only takes one animal to import numerous disease issues. Eamon Patten, Drystock Advisor, Teagasc Ballinrobe has a wealth of advice here on having a good ram for the breeding season

With the departure of the 2021 lamb crop from mid-season flocks thoughts are turning to the forthcoming breeding season. There is a good bit of optimism about the sheep business as observed from prices this year and the records being set at some recent breeding sales. Most commercial flocks will not be breaking records on ram prices but it is still a substantial investment and worthy of some serious thought. Note on average that the ram factor would be approx. 20% of overall replacement costs. So what should be the considerations?


Breeding and crossing is the flock owners own preference. Trait improvement requirements will mainly be coming from the rams selected as they represent 50% of the genetics of every sheep farmers flock. Rams may be the only new introductions to a flock in a given year.

When purchasing, buy replacement rams early. There will be a bigger selection to choose from and this allows more time for the ram to acclimatise and get used to his surroundings before the demands of the mating season are upon him. It also allows correct quarantine procedures to be followed.  All information suggests buying rams that have been performance recorded is the way to go. If the progeny is for slaughter select on the terminal index – also look at the sub index for lamb survival (need live lambs for sale!). If the Rams are being used to breed replacements, the main criteria should be the replacement index.  Also look at number of lambs born, daughter’s milk etc. depending on your flock needs.

Looks and Improving Luck

A good ram from a physical point of view is one who has a long body, reasonable at the shoulders, well sprung ribs, a deep body and a good back end. A long neck and relatively narrow head is thought to be associated with easy lambing. Gather all rams and give them a full health check. When assessing a rams fitness to breed the following should be checked:

  • Body condition score
  • Eyes
  • Teeth,
  • Feet and legs
  • Reproductive organs. 

Rams need to be in good condition prior to mating (BCS 4.0). The reason for this is that they eat very little during mating and tend to lose a lot of weight. Sperm production in the ram takes six to seven weeks. This means that a ram mating a ewe on October 1 will have started producing that sperm in the middle of August. Anything that interferes with sperm production in the run up to mating can have disastrous effects on the ram’s ability to impregnate ewes. Increases in body temperature (even for short periods) will almost certainly render a ram less fertile. Be aware of this fact if you have had to treat rams for pneumonia, etc., in the run up to mating.

For monitoring its essential to raddle the rams so that you assess on how mating is proceeding. Start with lighter colours (yellow → orange →green → red → blue → black) and change the colour every 14 days. If a lot of ewes start repeating, suspect that there is a ram problem.

Worth and Longevity

When sourcing the ram it will pay to know as much as possible of the previous flock history. It only takes one animal to import numerous disease issues. Rams need to be adequately fed not just in the run up to mating, but 365 days per year. Numerous rams are lost when mating has finished probably due to a weakened immune system. They need ‘minding’ especially ram lambs if they are still to be knocking around the following year when you will need them again. Well managed, fit and healthy mature rams should be able to serve up to 70 ewes (half that number for a ram lamb). On most Irish farms the figures would be substantially less and depending on what was paid for the ram the replacement costs a lot greater than needs be.

Assessing if the ram team is fit for purpose is an essential task at this point of the season. On a recent episode of OviCast, Ciarán Lynch is joined by drystock Advisor Edward Egan to discuss this in more detail. Listen to the podcast below.

The process of the ram health can be viewed here