Sheep management: Time to check if your ram is fit for purpose

Since the beginning of August, a host of ram sales have taken place and will continue to do so for the rest of this month and into September.

Many farmers will be on the lookout for a ram for the upcoming breeding season, while others will be relying on rams that they already have on the farm.

In either case, any ram that is going to be turned out this breeding season needs to be given a ‘full NCT’ to ensure that he is in good working order.

Furthermore, this needs to be done as early as possible, preferably eight-to-10 weeks before the ram is turned out.

Also Read: 'Achieving high performance will be difficult without the right genetics'

By checking your ram early in the season, it will allow farmers to: build the body condition of their rams; sort out any health problems; buy in replacement rams; and quarantine them for a period of time.

By not assessing a ram to see if he is fit for purpose, farmers are taking a huge risk which could result in ewes not going in lamb.

A few key areas to assess to see if a ram is fit for purpose are listed (below).

These include: 

  • Body condition;
  • Feet;
  • Testicles;
  • Teeth.

Body condition

A ram needs to be healthy and in good condition when being turned out for the breeding period. A target body condition score (BCS) of 4 at the start of breeding should be the aim.

According to Teagasc, a ram can lose up to 15% of its body condition during a six-week mating season. Therefore, if a ram is not in good condition then the likelihood is that he won’t perform.

If rams are thin now then they should be given preferential treatment to get them up to scratch. It takes time for rams to gain condition, so it’s best to start putting plans in place now rather than the week before they are due to be turned out.

Feet

A lame ram is of no use. If farmers are in the market for a ram it is best if they can buy one from a known source.

When checking a ram for signs of lameness, the first place to examine is the brisket for any signs of sores. Each foot should also be checked for any signs of sores. Farmers should examine between the toes for any signs of scald.

Also, take a step back and watch to see if the ram is walking correctly. If there any problems, make sure to examine and find out what the problem is before making any decisions.

If you notice that a ram is keen to lie down this could be a sign of a lameness issue.

A ram should be checked thoroughly for any signs of lameness

Testicles

It’s very important that farmers check the reproductive area of a ram and the area around it for excessive staining, blood or infections.

Check for any signs of injuries. Rams should have two large evenly-sized testicles that are firm and free of hard lumps.

It is also recommended to check the appendage at the bottom of each testicle to ensure that it is free from lumps. The skin in this area should be clean and free from infection.

Teeth

It is vital that farmers carry out a dental check on any rams that are going to be used for the upcoming breeding season.

It is recommended to check the incisor teeth. It is advised to run your thumb over the incisors. They (incisors) should close firmly on the dental pad. Overshot incisors will drift forward and become ‘gappy’, loose and eventually fall out.

It is also important to check the molars by feeling along the jaw. It should feel smooth. Farmers will know if a ram has a problem if there are lumps in this area.

Rams that are missing teeth are going to find it more difficult to graze grass. This, in turn, will result in a reduction in performance and, as a result, will affect the ram’s ability to perform.

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