Choosing the right sized ram
Despite the temptation to buy the biggest rams you can find, these animals are rarely fit for purpose. Over feeding masks an animal’s natural performance as concentrate feed pushes growth rates and fleshing. If these rams are going to work in commercial systems with their lambs finished off grass, it is important to select a ram who has been reared in a similar system.
Rams which are fit are likely to be more fertile and willing to work than those that are fat; as a high fat content in the scrotum coupled with increased lying down time increases the number of abnormal sperm cells and reduces sperm numbers. Grass fed rams are more likely to hold condition through the tupping season and regain condition afterwards from grass, or more rapidly throughout concentrate feeding. With rams which are ‘forced’ through excessive feeding predisposing them to health issues e.g lameness, dental issues and kidney stones which may ultimately lead to death.
Checking for signs of illness in rams
When selecting rams from a group, firstly check for obvious signs of illness. Rams should be bright eyed, clean and sound mouthed/legged. A leg in every corner and a ram that walks well is crucial, as serving ewes requires good motility and hind leg strength. Testes size is a good indication of ram fertility, so evenness, freedom from lumps/adhesions is also important to maximise scanning numbers. A growing number of sellers are fertility testing rams prior to sale to enable purchasers to buy rams in confidence.
Besides buying rams which are in vaccination and worming programmes, buying rams from MV accredited flocks is a good starting point, with scrapie monitored and caseous lymphadenitis monitored rams attracting a premium from buyers.
Checking rams performance levels
Buyers may also be interested in performance recorded rams; rams have data figures for many traits including maternal index of daughters, time to slaughter, muscle depth etc. E.g Lambs sired by a tup who has high estimated breeding values for growth rates should grow faster than lambs sired by an unrecorded tup therefore this saves feed costs. Additionally, lambs are finished sooner which frees grazing up for the ewes and replacement gimmers. Breeds are categorised according to their index, so terminal sires such as the Texel being compared across a terminal index and maternal breeds being compared across a maternal index etc. Animals can also be compared across their breed within the ‘breed benchmark’ which gives an annual average score. Rams may be then categorised into top 25%, 10% etc.
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