Preparing your Rams for Mating
Summary written by Neil Sargison BA Vet MB, DSHP, FRCVS
Taken from Moredun Foundation Newsheet Volume 4 No 19 (Aug 2008)
- Under natural mating conditions, achieving a satisfactory fertilisation rate depends on good ram management and breeding soundness. The use of unsound rams generally reduces the lambing percentage and may result in a protracted lambing period. Breeding rams require normal genital organs, normal libido, the physical ability to mount and mate ewes and an adequate number of normal spermatozoa in each ejaculate.
- The basic requirements of breeding rams are that they can confer positive physical characteristics however rams also need to be free from physical defects and production-limiting diseases, immune to any important diseases which are endemic in the flock and sound for breeding purposes.
- It is important that rams are in good body condition and free of disease for at least 2 months before mating, during which time sperm production occurs. Nutritional preparation for the mating season requires long term planning, so simply turning the rams away to a bare field out with the mating period is usually inadequate.
- In most UK lowland flocks a ratio of one ram per 30 to 50 ewes is commonly used. UK hill farms generally use a ratio of one ram per 80 to 100 ewes.
- Ram harnesses or keel can be used to provide reassurance that the rams are working. Keel or crayon marks can be used to aid future feeding management by enabling pregnant ewes to be separated into different groups on the basis of their predicted lambing dates. Ram harnesses should be comfortable fit and frequently checked and adjusted to avoid brisket sores.
- Replacement rams should be acquired at least 8 weeks before the start of the breeding season, to allow them to adapt to their new environment and diet. Ideally, introduced rams should be separated from the main flock for about 4 weeks, during which period they should receive standard quarantine treatments as detailed in your sheep health plan and be closely monitored for signs of disease.
- Ram sales are an integral part of sheep farming life. However, ram sales also provide an opportunity for the spread of diseases. The alternative strategy of selling rams directly from the farm of origin on the basis of their estimated breeding values for liveweight gain and wool growth overcomes some of these problems
- Rams should be checked for breeding soundness well in advance of the mating season to allow time for the purchase of replacements if necessary. In commercial flocks, rams are usually examined 6-8 weeks before the mating season, when they should be sexually active. Ram soundness investigations should include, a relevant history of each ram, a full clinical examination, a thorough genital examination and, if required a semen examination.
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