Will your ram pass his annual ‘NCT’?

Farmers have been urged to check the condition and health status of their rams prior to the upcoming breeding season.

At a recent sheep breeding information evening, organised by Teagasc and the Belclare Sheep Society, Teagasc’s Michael Gottstein said: “The sperm that is used on the day of mating is produced eight weeks beforehand.

“If you look at your ram four weeks before you need him, you are four weeks too late. If the ram is in poor condition, lame or had a temperature the quality of his semen is reduced,” he said.

The Head of the Sheep Knowledge Transfer Programme advised farmers to carry out a ‘ram NCT‘ now to avoid having barren ewes next January due to the work of an infertile or sub-fertile ram.

Body condition

Gottstein said: “The first and most important thing is body condition. We want a ram that’s in good condition as his will to mate is linked to his condition score.

“Rams that are in poor condition will lie down and eat; they will not look for ewes that are in heat. Rams that are in good condition are rearing to go and will spend the day on their feet looking for ewes.”

The Teagasc representative also gave the 140 farmers in attendance food for though by saying: “An active ram will lose 15% of his body weight over a six-week breeding season.

“If he’s in poor condition starting off; he’s not going to do the job and if your ram is in poor condition now, it will take at least eight weeks to put on the condition he needs for the breeding season.”


For farmers in the market for a ram, Gottstein said that they need to check to see if the ram has been lame prior to purchase.

There is no pedigree breeder in the country going to bring a lame ram to the sale; they are going to make sure that he is going to be right on the day.

“You don’t need to turn the ram over to check if he has been lame previously. All you need to is feel under the ram’s brisket.

“If a ram has a sore there, it’s a sign that he has been periodically lame or had been lame for a long period of time; that’s something he is going to pass onto his offspring,” he said.

Dental checks

Ideally, Gottstein said, farmers should only choose rams that are correct and should avoid over or under shot rams. However, he said, it’s also important to check the ram’s molars and for signs of abscesses.

“If a ram has a tooth abscess it’s going to prevent him from eating, putting on condition and he will suffer,” he said.


According to Gottstein, it’s surprising the number of farmers who do not check a ram’s testicles prior to purchase.

“We want two evenly sized testicles. They should be able to move up and down inside the scrotum freely and they should feel like a clenched bicep – they shouldn’t be lumpy or spongy.”

Gottstein also advised farmers to examine the the appendage found at the bottom of each testicle.

That’s where the semen is stored and they should be the size of your thumb. If a ram is missing those, he is going to be infertile.

“If they are small, it means that the ram’s semen store is small. We want those appendages to be the size of a marble with a rubbery texture; they should also be free from lumps and bumps,” he concluded.