Purchasing a new ram is both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. You want to be able to improve your flock as well as ensuring they meet all health and biosecurity requirements that you require. The first factor to consider when buying a ram is to identify what your flock needs to improve, this may be their meat yield, structure, wool type ect and selecting a ram based on these requirements. Once you have decided on what your flock needs you can research for registered breeders in your area and discuss with the breeder what your ideal ram looks like, ensure that the breeder has all relevant health accreditations with the most important being tested free of ovine brucellosis. Other animal health programs that are to be considered are drench programs, vaccination history, lice treatments as well as their Johnes disease status.

Ellie MacDonald - HOPEA Suffolk Stud

Once you have chosen a breeder, the next step is to select a ram. Critical selection must take place when choosing a ram as he will need to be physically capable of doing his job. Work your way through each sheep and ensure he meets the criteria you are after. Look for faults and make sure they walk well on their feet, ensure their teeth meet evenly on the pad, have an even set of testicles with no lumps and bumps as well as having smooth and neat shoulders. If you are unsure of what to look for most breeds will have a breed standard that explains what a typical animal should look like. The price of most rams will also influence their quality, as they say ‘you pay for what you get’ and with that if you buy quality you will breed quality, some rams are a substantial financial outlay but the influence that he will have on your flock for the years to come will make those extra dollars to buy him worth it.

When you bring the ram home make sure you have an adequate quarantine area for him to reside for the next 10-14 days. If possible, walk him through a footbath or spray his feet with a disinfectant as soon as you arrive home to eliminate any possibility of disease transmission. To avoid bringing any unwanted weed seeds as well as worms onto your farm it is highly recommended to give the ram a quarantine drench which has low to no resistance such as Zolvix or Startect, and placing them in a quarantine area for the above period and watch for any ill health. By doing this you will avoid any biosecurity risk to your existing animals and your pastures. Movement from one property to another can be a very stressful period for the animals and they can be more prone to infection and worm burden at this time. In an ideal situation the ram should be on his own in quarantine but if you find the animal is distressed or trying to jump the fence another sheep can be placed with him to allow him to remain calm as they are a flock animal and do need company.

Once the ram comes out of quarantine he can be placed with other rams although they must be introduced in a small set of yards to avoid any injury to each other. Once they are familiar with one another they can be let out together. As stated above, the stress of movement and unfamiliar environments can impact the health of animals but the most important in rams is their semen. Both the quality and quantity can be affected which can result in low fertility especially when they are placed with the ewes straight away. To avoid this, make sure you purchase the rams a long time before you intend on joining him, preferably 10-12 weeks beforehand. This gives him ample time to get over the stress and allow his semen quality to return to normal. Rams can be supplemented before joining with lupins to flush their system and make the semen quality even better meaning more ewes in lamb earlier.

Joining time can vary between operations but the most recommended is 4-6 weeks with the ewes. The industry recommendation of joining ratio is 50 ewes to one ram. If you are only using one ram it is highly recommended to put a backup ram out two weeks after the first ram is taken out of the ewes. Unfortunately there can be subfertility or infertility in rams and although all precautions can be taken the first ram may be firing blanks and if he is the only ram with the ewes it will leave them empty and leave you with no lambs. A backup ram is preferably one that has sired lambs previously and as the name suggests they backup the first rams job, some ewes may fail to get in lamb in the first joining period and this allows them the opportunity to get in lamb. By placing a backup ram in you avoid the possibility of low numbers of lambs or none at all which can be a big financial hit. On the other hand if you have more then one ram with the ewes the need for a backup ram is highly reduced as they compensate for each other, if one ram isn’t working the others will take his place.

When the joining period has ceased it is important to look after the rams and not just put them back in the ram paddock and forget about them. This could involve feeding them grain and hay to bring their condition score back up as they tend to lose a lot of weight at joining and making sure they are up to date on all drenches and vaccinations. As the next joining period draws closer its important to go through your ram flock and check their 3 T’s, which is their teeth, testes and toes. If there are any problems or abnormalities with any of these it is recommended to cull them and purchase some new rams.

Overall buying rams can be a rewarding experience and if you look after them and ensure they stay in good health they will reward you with lambs for plenty of years.

Ellie MacDonald
HOPEA Suffolk Stud