Ram Management Considerations – Part Two
Ewes might do most of the work on a sheep enterprise, but rams have a greater impact on improving flock genetics.
Much of the success we expect from rams is a result of our decision-making and ram management plans, both pre- and post-breeding season.
Mature ewes in estrus, or heat, form groups around rams and actively seek the ram’s attention.
In contrast, ewes, lambs and yearling ewes do not congregate in these groups and readily attract rams, which, when run in mixed-age ewe groups with lower ram power, can reduce their chances of getting bred.
Separating yearling, or maiden, ewes into separate breeding groups from older ewes in smaller breeding pastures can ensure more efficient coverage.
Determining ram-to-ewe ratios depends largely on the age of breeding rams and the breeding location. Normally, running rams in minimum groups of two to three will ensure coverage in cases of suboptimal libido and/or physical injury. Two mature rams per 100 ewes or three mature rams per 250 ewes are generally acceptable within a 40-day breeding period.
Mature ram carrying capacity can be increased up to 150 ewes per ram, but the percentage ewes bred on the first 14 days decreases as more breeding pressure is placed on the ram.
Ram lambs should not exceed a ratio of one ram to 30 ewes and generally should not be placed with inexperienced ewe lambs.
Breeding ratios should be adjusted for the size of the breeding pasture, as well.
Large rangeland breeding pastures might require more rams due to greater travel demands. In contrast, when breeding in pens or smaller pastures, fewer rams might be required.
The sole criterion for post-breeding management of rams often is out of sight and out of mind. Although warranted, due to the disposition of the rams, what is done post-breeding ultimately determines ram longevity.
Consider the ram’s weight loss, often five to 10 percent of body weight over the course of the breeding season, in addition to the task of thermoregulation from January to May. In many instances, we need to feed our rams better.
A quick, hands-on body condition score should guide the degree of feeding. Take, for example, a 275-pound ram in poor body condition that is only a two on the one-to-five scale post-breeding. Assuming a medium quality meadow hay with eight percent crude protein and corn are the only available ingredients available on the ranch, the ram will require approximately five pounds of hay to maintain current condition.
With an additional 1.5 pounds of energy dense feed, which may include corn, barley, oats or peas, in addition to the five pounds of hay, said ram will regain one-half a body condition score within 67 days.
Also consider that black-faced breeds will likely require more feed post-breeding than white-faced breeds and, where possible, might be separated the first couple months post-breeding.
If longevity of your terminal sires – the black-faced rams – has been an issue, your post-breeding feeding program is the easiest management alteration.
Considering current corn prices are about five to 10 cents, it’s likely feeding six dollars’ worth of corn for 60 days to ensure an additional year of use is much more economical than $600 to $1,000 to replace a ram every year.
This is part two of a two-part article on ram evaluation prior to breeding. Part one can be found in the Oct. 14 Roundup. For additional information or specific ram feeding strategies for your operation, call 307-766-5374 or e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.