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Selecting the Right Ram for the Job

8 July 2024

Rams are responsible for 50% of the genetic pool in any sheep flock and therefore have a large influence on the overall performance of the flock. Selecting the right ram for your system is imperative to ensure that any lamb born into the flock fit the system and breeding goals required. Making a good choice here will significantly help optimise your time spent managing the flock and increasing overall profitability.

This document is intended as a starting point to help you make the right choice for your system.

Maternal vs terminal - Important factors to consider

The traits we look for in a ram will be differ depending on what we need that ram to achieve, whether to breed future breeding stock or to produce meat, milk or wool.

Maternal

The main aim of a maternal ram is to breed ewe replacements meaning we are looking for a ram that will produce ewes that have good breeding traits making the focus further on the maternal line of breeding compared to the rams growth and muscling. Such traits may include

  • Prolificacy (litter size).
  • Lambing ease.
  • Lamb survival.
  • Milking ability.
  • Mature size of the ewe.

It is important to remember also that a maternal rams genetics will stay in the flock for a number of years held by his daughters

Estimated breeding values or EBVs are a good tool to assess the merit of a maternal rams breeding ability.

Terminal

A terminal ram’s aim is to produce a lamb that is suitable for producing lambs with good growth traits to produce lambs for meat production. This will put a greater focus on growth and carcass traits in the ram you are buying. Some factors to look out for in a good maternal ram include:

  • A positive 8-week weight.
  • Positive scan weight.
  • Positive muscle traits.
  • Efficient at converting feed/forage to muscle (feed conversion ratio if available).
Suffolk Terminal Sire Ram. Credit: Lorna Shaw
Suffolk Terminal Sire Ram. Credit: Lorna Shaw

Key questions

These eight questions are a great place to start when assessing whether a ram is right for your flock.

  1. Is the ram in sound working order: condition, teeth, testicles, locomotion?
  2. Has the ram been fertility tested or used previously as a tup hogg?
  3. Has the ram been born or reared as a single, twin or triplet?
  4. How has the ram been fed previous to sale? If yes, was it grass-based or concentrate feed?
  5. Do the rams breeding values fit your goals? (refer back to maternal vs terminal above)
  6. Is the breeder part of any health schemes or vaccination systems?
  7. Do the conditions that the ram has been reared in fit your system?
  8. Has the ram got any EBVs or performance figures available?

Health status

When buying in any sheep into the flock health is of the upmost of important. Buying in will always come with a risk of buying in disease or other external challenges that the flock are otherwise immune to. Diseases and health risks to consider include:

  • Maedi Visna (MV) Status
  • Ovine Pulmonary adenocarcinoma (OPA)
  • Worming procedures – have the rams been faecal egg counted, worm status and any wormer resistance in flock?
  • Johnes
  • Caseous Lymohadenitis (CLA)
  • Border disease
  • Scab
  • Clostridial Vaccines
  • Feet – have rams been on the foot vax system?
Aberfield Maternal Rams. Credit: Daniel Stout
Aberfield Maternal Rams. Credit: Daniel Stout

Fitting the ram to your system

If not already bred on the farm, a ram coming into any system must fit the systems it is entering and be able to withstand the conditions it will come up against. Several system related factors to consider when selecting a ram include:

  • Feeding systems: has the ram been reared in a grass based system or concentrate fed?
  • Topography: How high above sea level has the ram been raised?
  • Weather: Is the ram acclimatised to particularly harsh or kind weather systems? A good gage of this could be the average rainfall at the farm.

Body condition: how does the ram hold his condition under difficult circumstances?

Lorna Shaw, SAC Consulting

and

Mary Young, SAC Consulting

If you have further questions, you can contact the FAS advice line for free at

advice@fas.scot or 0300 323 0161.

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