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Start Planning For Breeding Season: How to Check Your Ram

07 August 2015


Sheep farmers should be thinking about assessing rams, evaluating eight different key areas, advises levy board Teagasc.

Number of Lambs Required for Your Flock

On large-scale lowland farms, there should be no problem in using one mature healthy ram for every 60 to 70 ewes, provided there are at least two to three other mature rams in any group, write experts at Ireland's Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc).

A well-grown ram lamb can mate around 40 mature ewes without any problems. When purchasing a ram, you should opt for a pedigree ram with a high star rating under the Sheep Ireland index system.

Dr Nóirín McHugh, Teagasc, suggests that the following are key reasons to go for a 5-Star ram:

  1. Less labour at lambing – on average, 5-Star rams experience less lambing difficulty relative to rams of lower star ratings;
  2. More lambs – 5-Star commercial ewes recorded in the Sheep Ireland system have been shown to have a higher number of lambs born;
  3. Greater growth rates – results from analysis of Sheep Ireland commercial data show that 5-Star lambs are on average 1.2kg heavier than 1-Star lambs at seven weeks of age; this resulted in heavier 5-Star lambs at weaning (33.61kg) relative to 1-Star lambs (32.42kg at weaning);
  4. More efficient ewes – commercial 5-Star ewes, on average, had a lighter mature weight (68kg) relative to 1-Star ewes (71kg). At similar levels of production this will result in the ability to increase the number of ewes in a given flock; and,
  5. Long-term gains – genetic improvement is permanent and cumulative, so breeding decisions that you make today will impact future generations of animals in your flock. For example, if you were to use animals with “good genes”, then the effects of these “good” genes will remain in the flock, but remember the reverse is also true.

Selecting a ram on stars alone is not recommended; it is important to look at the traits that the ram excels in but to also keep an eye on the stars where a ram may underperform! Accuracy values must also be viewed alongside the Euro values – the higher the accuracy, the greater the information that is known about the animal and the greater the confidence we have that their published index value reflects the true genetic potential of the ram. 

Proportion of Ewes to Breed to Maternal Sire

It is worth considering what ram breed you will use. This can have a significant impact on the flock output for the future. A maternal ram such as Belclare, Lleyn or one of the Leicester’s (bluefaced or border) is used to produce prolific replacements. A terminal ram is used to produce lambs for slaughter. The most

widely used terminal breeds include Suffolk, Charolais and Texel, with Vendeen and Beltex also being popular. The proportion of the flock that needs to be mated to a maternal sire breed to ensure that enough replacements are born depends on your flock weaning rate and is presented in Table 1.

The following are a number of simple checks to prepare the ram for mating:

1 Teeth – check incisors and molars. Avoid undershot or overshot jaws.

2 Eyes – signs of anaemia or infection.

3, 4 Head, neck and shoulders – check for signs of fighting and caseous lymphadentitis (CLA).

5 Body condition score – Plan for CS of 3.5-4 for mating.

6 Epididymis (sac at base of testicles) – should be good size, free of hard lumps, have a rubbery tone.

6 Testicles – should be firm, good size and free of lumps; each should move easily in scrotum.

6 Scrotum – heavy, soft, clean and infection free.

6 Inside of thighs – pink and become flushed in the weeks prior to breeding.

7 Penis and prepuce – check for injury or infection.

8 Feet and legs – check for footrot, scald, joint stiffness and infection.

9 Brisket – should be free from sores and ulcers. 

Flock Health

It is time to plan for pre-mating treatment.

  • Vaccination: – clostridia (initial two doses for replacements); and, – abortion vaccines if you deem this necessary.
  • Parasites – scab, fluke, lice.
  • Vitamin/mineral deficiencies if appropriate.
  • Where cobalt is deficient, you will need to dose every two to three weeks or use a long acting, slow release bolus.
  • Where animals are being purchased they should receive a quarantine treatment This includes quarantine doses for worms and fluke to prevent introduction of resistant worms onto your farm, footbathing, and scab and lice control.