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Focus on ram costs to increase profitability

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – According to Clean Kimberling of Optimal Livestock Services, LLC, sheep producers need to work through and evaluate what a ram really costs their operation.
Kimberling spoke at the 2009 Profitability Conference held in conjunction with the Wyoming Stock Growers and Wyoming Wool Growers annual meeting in Casper.
He added that ram evaluation includes recognizing which input factors can be controlled or influenced. Although the lamb and wool market can’t be influenced at all, he said ram selection is 100 percent.
“Figuring out which characteristics are important to you is the priority,” he said. Those could include wool characteristics, meat quality, scrotal circumference or being a twin from a twin-bearing ewe.
Once priorities have been identified, Kimberling said producers will know where their cash flow is coming from. Following that, he said to calculate what it costs to put each lamb on the ground.
He noted ram costs include not only purchase cost, but also feed and maintenance, health costs and maybe genetic tests. “Those may not be large costs, but they’re still costs,” he reminded. “They’re charges that need to be assigned to ram costs.”
Kimberling estimated ram costs equal $250 to $300 each year for maintenance, plus initial purchase price. Although those are fixed costs, he said it’s possible to manipulate the system to reduce cost per lamb.
“If you have one ram and you’re breeding him to 30 ewes, if you have singles it’ll cost more than $10 to put each lamb on the ground,” he explained. “If you put one ram on 100 ewes, at singles that’ll cost you $3.50 per lamb.”
Kimberling said he recognizes that one ram to 100 ewes is more than the traditional rate. “But every producer I’ve talked to over the years have had a mis-mate situation, where a ram gets out and how many does he get in one night?” he asked. “One producer in Colorado had a ram get into his flock of 300-some ewes and he wanted to preg check before turning them out on the desert. That ram was in there not more than eight hours, and 64 of those ewes were pregnant. You get a good ram and they’ll do you one to 100 without any problem whatsoever, and you just reduced your cost from $10 to $3 with singles. If you go to twins, you cut that in half.”
“The greatest predator in the sheep industry,” said Kimberling, “is tradition. We’ve always run one ram to every 30 or 50 ewes. The reason we do that is because the first thing we look at when the lamb crop starts to drop is buying more rams, but you’ve got dominant rams in there that aren’t fertile and they’re running off the good rams. It’s a snowball effect.”
Regarding a ram’s genetic influence on a flock, Kimberling said it’s between 60 and 80 percent, which is important if a producer keeps their own replacements. “If you don’t keep replacements it’s insignificant, and if you’re going to improve your flock genetically you want to concentrate on what the ram does with the ewes you’ve selected,” said Kimberling.
“Scrotal circumference, or capacity, is 35 percent heritable, while the 120-day weight for market lambs is 30 percent heritable,” he explained. “You can change that trait in about three generations. Retail cuts – where we get our money – are 45 percent heritable, and you can change the composition of retail cuts in a couple years if you do your selection right.”
To keep track of traits, health and behavior, Kimberling said he advocates identification. “You can’t measure progress if you can’t identify your rams,” he said, adding that electronic identification tags are the cheapest form of identification when accuracy and labor are taken into account. “You can also remove the tags, reusing them and assigning them to next year’s crop.”
“That’s why you really want to pay attention to the scrotal circumference and the capacity of a good ram. It’s important you concentrate on your rams and what they’re doing,” he said, noting that the best way to observe accurately is to watch ram behavior when they’re at rest.
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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