Farm Ireland

Monday 24 October 2016

Rams need thorough 'NCT' ahead of breeding season

Frank Hynes

Published 22/07/2015 | 02:30

Countdown: Checks should take place on rams at least ten weeks before the breeding season
Countdown: Checks should take place on rams at least ten weeks before the breeding season

Whether purchasing a new ram or planning to use an existing ram, you should always carry out a number of physical checks before the action gets under way this autumn.

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Ideally, these checks should take place at least 10 weeks pre-mating. This will allow enough time to fix any body condition or health issues. And where the problems cannot be solved, you still have time to buy a replacement and allow them acclimatise to their new surroundings and conditions. Sores on areas such as feet and legs, brisket, penis or prepuce will discourage a ram from mating.

Infections elsewhere in a ram can also cause problems, since sperm are very sensitive to increases in body temperature. The semen used to inseminate a ewe has been produced six to eight weeks previously.

Any increase in temperature can render the ram infertile for this length of time. So a really thorough examination is required. In turn, this should allow you to rely on fewer rams, have less repeats, and achieve a more compact lambing. These examinations should be repeated much closer to breeding as a final precaution to ensure nothing has gone wrong in the meantime.

When satisfied with the exterior of ram, don't forget about what is going on inside in relation to disease.

Vaccination for clostridia and pneumonia, doses for liver fluke, scab and lice, and vitamin and mineral supplements, if deficiencies are detected, should all be considered.

Ram Exams:  Five essential checks for sires

1 Timing

Carry out the check 10 weeks in advance of breeding.

2 Teeth

• The animal's health and well-being are closely related to its teeth;

• Avoid breeding rams with overshot and undershot jaws;

• Incisors should close firmly on dental pad;

• Ram may not put on or maintain condition if teeth are lost or long and thin;

Condition of molars particularly important for older rams.

3 Tone and Torso

An all-over body check, since poor body condition reduces fertility and performance;

15pc of bodyweight can be lost during a six week breeding season so rams should have a body condition score of 3.5 to 4 at the start;

Check eyes for infection or defects;

Check for any fighting injuries, brisket sores, ulcers or lesions.

4 Toes

• Good feet vital to maintaining condition and working ability;

• Check for footrot, scald, stiffness and infection or other foot problems;

• Treat immediately and footbath to avoid problems later;

• Check joints for arthritis particularly in older rams.

5 Testicles and sex organs


-Sperm quality and quantity related to testicle size - large, firm testicles mean that less will be rams needed;

-Testicles should be firm, not soft or hard and free from lumps;

-Improve testicle size and condition by feeding a good quality protein for six to eight weeks.


-The epididymis is the sac at the base of the testicle which stores semen. It should be free of hard lumps and have a rubbery tone.


-The testicles should move freely in the scrotum - any restriction may indicate infection or injury;

-The scrotum should be heavy and soft.

-Needs to be clean with no signs of injury/infection

Maternal vs terminal

Now is the crunch time for sheep farmers to decide on what ram to use on their flocks - a decision that will have a big impact on the  profitability of your flock.

Maternal sire

If you are breeding your own replacements, a maternal ram should be used. The key breeds in this regard are Belclare, Lleyn or one of the Leicesters (Bluefaced or Border) because they produce prolific ewes.

This means that you will produce ewes with an ability to consistently deliver high weaning rates ranging from 1.6 to 1.8 lambs reared per ewe mated.

The Teagasc Profit Monitor and National Farm Survey figures prove that weaning rate is one of the key drivers of profitability.

The proportion of the flock that needs to be mated to a maternal sire to ensure enough replacements are born depends on your existing flock weaning rate.

This should allow enough female lambs along with some scope to discard individual ewe lambs that are not suitable.

The higher the weaning rate the lower the proportion of the flock that needs be mated to a maternal sire for replacements.

Terminal sire

A terminal sire is the breed of ram used to produce lambs for slaughter.

The vast majority of lambs produced on Irish farms are slaughtered for meat.

Rams used should be capable of delivering lambs that are fast growing and with good quality carcasses.

This will ensure that lambs reach slaughter weights as quickly as possible and carcase quality will meet the specifications required at the export abattoirs. Ewes not needed to produce flock replacements should be mated to a terminal sire.

There are several terminal sire breeds available. Research at Teagasc, Athenry has shown that the progeny of Suffolk rams are quickest to reach slaughter weight, followed by Charollais and Texel. Other popular breeds include Vendeen and Beltex.

The breed of your ewe flock will partly determine which sire breed to choose.

If your ewes have a high proportion of one breed such as Suffolk, using another ram breed will bring the advantage of hybrid vigor in the subsequent lambs produced.

When purchasing a ram, you should purchase a pedigree ram with a high star rating under the Sheep Ireland index system.

Frank Hynes is a Teagasc sheep specialist based in Athenry, Co Galway

Indo Farming


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