Ram Preparation is vital

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Stock Journal Technical Column, October 2022

Author: Dr Sean McGrath, Millicent Vet Clinic

As the joining period approaches, now is the time to get rams ready for joining.  A lot of focus goes into the ewes to get them ready for joining, but the other half of the equation is often forgotten about.  If you want maximise the investment you have made in your ram genetics then good ram preparation is an important management practice.  Ensuring the ram team is fit for work will help to get the most years out your rams, allow you to use lower joining percentages and hopefully maximise conception rates, all of which can either allow you to spend more on genetics or decrease your cost per lamb.

Ram preparation revolves around checking your rams for the four T’s

  • Teeth
  • Toes
  • Testes
  • Tackle

Ensuring these structures are normal and have no abnormalities, means that the ram is fit and ready for work.  To do this a physical exam is obviously required, which with the increase in sheep handlers being used, means this is not an onerous task.   Checking the teeth for soundness and toes for good structure means the ram can eat to fuel the engine and get around to do his job.  The tackle can be difficult to check, however if any abnormalities are noted this may impede his ability to do his job.

Probably most important out of these are the testes.  These are the sperm factory of the ram and any abnormalities here will mean that sperm production or quality can be affected.  Abnormalities here can be due to a number of reasons, such as trauma, injuries and infections from bacteria.  The most important bacteria that can cause problems around the testes is Brucella ovis, better known as Ovine Brucellosis. If lumps are found then blood tests should be done to check for Brucellosis infection, from here it can then be managed before joining.

Timing of all your husbandry procedures on rams is important.  The time it takes for sperm to be produced and mature, ready for fertilisation is 6-8 weeks.  Any stress, rise in body temperature or adverse health event during this time can affect the quality of the sperm.  Anything that affects the health of the ram affects the sperm factory and therefore the sperm quality.

So the first step is to identify your joining start date and working back 8-10 weeks from here.  This is then the best time to get things done to the rams.  Shearing is most important to do early, this is a stressful event for a sheep, especially when we use sedatives in hot weather to get the job done.  Any preventative health measures such as drenching, fly and lice treatment should be done here also.  Drenching is a super important thing to remember given the way rams are usually kept.  Rams are usually kept in the same paddock, often in high stocking density, for 10 months of the year.