The ram flock represents 50% of the genetics of every sheep farmers flock. The importance of managing these sheep for maximum performance and longevity plays a large role in the success and subsequent profitability of any sheep enterprise. Michael Gottstein, Head of Sheep gives some advice.
The ram flock represents 50% of the genetics of every sheep farmers flock. The importance of managing these sheep for maximum performance and longevity plays a large role in the success and subsequent profitability of any sheep enterprise.
A ram represents a relatively large investment, and on sheep farms the rams are usually the most valuable animals. The aim should be that the ram will pay for himself several times over by siring lambs that grow faster, are more efficient or in the case of maternal breeds make better flock ewes. The ram should also live for many years and be able to sire lambs year after year – something which does not happen as often as it should.
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. All rams should be subjected to a pre-breeding check prior to the breeding season annually.
Well managed, fit and health mature rams should be able to serve about 70 ewes (half that number of ram lambs), BUT in practice this is often not achieved and on most Irish farms the ratio is closer to 30:1.
Good Ram management should ensure that the ram is capable of mating many ewes but also is healthy and survives to retirement rather than dying as a teenager. Key points are:
This is the most essential part of ram management. Purchase new rams and bringing existing rams in for a complete check-up at least two months before the breeding season kicks off. The reason for this is so that there is sufficient time for rams to acclimatise to their new environment and feeding regime, It also allows the rams on the farm to get used to each other and where necessary put on condition and to allow any injuries / sore feet etc. time to heal.
All routine health care issues should be sorted prior to the beginning of the mating season. Vaccinations / dipping should all be done two months out from mating where possible. Try to avoid bringing “iceberg” diseases into your flock by doing a bit of research and questioning the breeders who are selling you rams about their flock health status. Remember that ram lambs will suffer from internal parasites and you will need to have effective parasite control programmes put in place to prevent ill thrift.
Rams need to be adequately fed not just in the run up to mating, but 365 days per year. It is not good enough to expect them to fend for themselves when mating has finished and expect them still to be knocking around the following August when you will need them again. In particular ram lambs will inevitably have been fed significant amounts of concentrate feed prior to sale. Expecting them to simply survive on a grass based diet will surely end in disappointment for both the farmer and the ram. A small amount of concentrate feed over the winter period will ensure ram lambs grow to their full potential and are still around in the spring time when the new grass will take over.
Michael Gottstein, Head of Sheep KT Programme