Examine all rams thoroughly at purchase and remove affected individuals

Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

Ideally, all rams should be examined at least 6-8 weeks before joining or at purchase, so that remedial action can be taken with problem cases.

There may be problems in relation to conformation, condition, infections, mouth or reproductive disorders etc.

Even if no problems are diagnosed at this initial examination, rams should be observed to ensure that they are working properly (have high libido and are actually inseminating the ewes).

Early identification of problems and the removal of affected individuals can make all the difference.

When it comes to selection of rams there are pros and cons for every breed and I am not going to get into recommending one breed over another.

However, regardless of which breed you select, there are numerous items which need to be considered and just a few of these are discussed below.


The condition of overshot or undershot mouth refers to the lower jaw.

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An undershot mouth means that the lower jaw is shorter then the upper jaw, the condition commonly referred to as a hogmouth.

Both conditions are highly heritable and can interfere with grazing performance and should be discriminated against.


Watch out for lame rams, as this condition can put rams off their work very readily. Footrot, scald, limb/joint stiffness or infection are particularly important.

Guard against post-dipping lameness. The footrot vaccine may have a place with rams. Do not over-trim feet within a few weeks of joining as any wounds need time to heal. A ram should stand and walk well.


Brisket sores are common in rams and need to be treated well in advance of the breeding season. An improperly fitted ram harness is often to blame.

A very sore brisket affects mating behaviour.


The inside of the thighs should have a pink colour and they get progressively more flushed in the weeks prior to breeding. This is indicative of increased hormonal activity, which is necessary at this time.

The scrotum should be heavy, soft and not excessively covered with wool. The testicles should be firm (not hard or spongy) and free moving within the scrotum.

There should be no indication of raised temperature.

Inflammation of the testicles (orchitis) or epididymus (epididymitis) will often lead to some degree of infertility or sub-optimal fertility or may even cause sterility.

Recommendations from Britain state that ideally ram lambs should go into their first season with a body condition score of 3.5-4 and a scrotal circumference of more than 34cm. Wherever necessary, scrotal size and tone are best boosted by supplementation with around 500g per day of an 18pc protein feed over an eight-week period.

The table below shows the measurements for scrotal circumference can be taken as a general guide.

Check the scrotum for 'rigs' (one or both testicles not descended) testicular hypoplasia (small testicles) as these conditions are also highly heritable.

Occasionally, scrotal hernia (loop of the bowel descending down along with the testicle) has been reported. The Blackface Mountain breed is often mentioned in relation to this condition, especially after rams have been fighting.


Physical fitness during the weeks of mating is an important parameter for rams, so that the number of ewes effectively mated can be maximised.

Unfortunately, about 70pc of a ram's appearance is due to environmental factors. All too frequently high-priced rams are pumped with concentrates and excessively over fat.

These rams will look very different after they have spent a few months with a ewe flock and especially after they have been shorn. Rams should be selected on a common sense combination of performance figures, type and correctness.

It is not a good idea to purchase these big, powerful rams and let them out with a cycling ewe flock immediately.

Ideally, rams should be many weeks on the farm before they are used. In New Zealand it is common for farmers to purchase rams over the phone based on personal relationships and this is commendable. Rams will then be delivered many weeks in advance of use.

The idea of exercising strong/ overfleshed/lazy rams each day for a few weeks prior to mating is a good idea. Some of the larger flock owners in Britain are known to give a brisk walk to their rams each day.

Raddling rams is an invaluable management tool on any sheep farm. There are a number of options available of varying cost, but the benefits are unquestionable. Raddling rams will allow you to accurately predict lambing date, identify ewes which are repeating, and provide for better management of the flock pre-mating.

Changing the raddle from a light to a dark colour each week throughout the breeding season will allow you to record when ewes were mated, and hence when they are expected to lamb.

This will aid with supplementary feeding in late pregnancy and ewe supervision at lambing time. For a relatively low cost and labour input it is a significant management aid.

Irish Independent

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