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Breeding Sheep: Starting With Your Ram

24 September 2015

US - Changing sheep breeds has got Colorado grazier Andrew Schafer thinking about the subject of rams as autumn breeding kicks in.

As rams are being turned out for winter and spring lambing, many things must be considered to assess the fertility and condition of your ram, writes Andrew, who switched from Rambouillet to Navajo Churro earlier this summer.

Breeding rams should be considered the most important aspect of the breeding program, this emphasis is necessary since he will cover a large number of ewes, versus the individual ewe who can only produce one to two lambs.

Rams should be treated like athletes, writes Colorado sheep farmer, Andrew Schafer

Rams should be treated like athletes, great measure needs to be taken to ensure their success in the breeding season. There are several aspects of ram breeding soundness that should be evaluated. The best time to look over your rams is at least one month prior to joining the rams with the ewes.

Physical Inspection

The first step in this process is the physical evaluation. The ram should be closely inspected to ensure his eyes and teeth are in adequate health. Feet and leg soundness is hugely important, a ram that will be breeding lots of ewes in a larger paddock will need to be very mobile.

Any long hooves or foot rot should be trimmed and treated. Larger issues such as arthritis or injury’s from the year should also be noted. When rams play they can often hurt one another. Generally these types of injuries are nothing serious, however, an injured leg may require the acquisition of a replacement ram. If the ram has quality feet, legs, eyes and teeth the next phases can be evaluated.

How Fertile is He?

Ram semen fertility is an evaluation that should be completed with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will use either an artificial vagina or electro-ejaculator to collect the semen sample.

Upon collecting the sample your vet will closely examine the live sample to see the motility or the motion of the sperm cells. Once that is done, the sample is stained or killed to stop the motion of the sperm cells to evaluate morphology or the shape of the individual sperm cells.

"There is nothing more devastating than to select or raise a superior animal that lacks the desire to breed ewes"

To be considered satisfactory the sample will need to be greater than 30 per cent motile and greater than 70 per cent for morphology. To obtain excellent fertility status motility needs to be better than 50 per cent and morphology needs to be better than 90 per cent. While your vet is collecting the semen sample, a scrotal circumference should be measured. Any ram exhibiting over 30 cm scrotal circumference is considered adequate in size.

Libido: Does He Chase Ewes?

Ram libido or breeding vigor is quite possibly the most important aspect of a superior stud ram. There is nothing more devastating than to select or raise a superior animal that lacks the desire to breed ewes.

The best test to evaluate your ram, is visual observing behavior with ewes. A ram with superior breeding vigor will chase ewes from the moment he is placed in the paddock. A ram that doesn’t show interest in the ewes should be disconcerting.

A tool that is often utilized to more accurately see what ewes are being bred is a marking harness with a crayon or raddle paint on the rams brisket. Having either will mark ewes upon the ram mounting them. Although this does not guarantee conception it will show what ewes have been mounted.

Swap Your Sires

The best insurance policy for a successful lamb crop is the use of multiple sires. In some cases this could be a multi-sire group or swapping rams on a single sire group after the first 18-21 days of the breeding season. In a multi-sire group it should be noted that some rams will be bullied.

A proper ram to ewe ratio of 1:20 is recommended. In regards to ram swapping, this technique ensures that every ewe had the chance to breed under the cover of two separate rams. This is the most practical method in a scenario where know what sire bred what ewes.

With either strategy any ewe that does not conceive should be marked as infertile and culled from the breeding flock.

With these evaluation practices in place a successful breeding season can be achieved. Both fertility and ram condition should be monitored leading up to turning rams in with ewes. This is the ground work for having an exciting spring full of quality lambs.