Tips provided for keeping rams sound and healthy throughout the year
The importance of healthy, productive rams is well-known as a foundation of successful sheep flocks. Keeping rams in good condition throughout the year can help improve breeders’ success.
Ryan Mahoney, a sheep breeder from northern California, joined the Sheep Stuff Ewe Should Know podcast on Aug. 11 to share more about his experience in keeping rams in shape at different points of the year.
At Mahoney’s operation in northern California, breeding season ends in June. According to Mahoney, after breeding is a critical time to examine ram health.
“When we pull rams out, we evaluate them and we basically conduct a soundness exam,” Mahoney says.
Explaining his thought process behind this practice, Mahoney shares, “We do soundness exams at the end of the breeding season to detect issues which may have developed during the mating season.”
Ideally, by noticing problems at the beginning of the off-season, there is less time and money invested into bringing rams back into breeding condition.
In addition, Mahoney adds, evaluating rams following a breeding season helps to make herd management and culling decisions, noting, “We sell some rams after breeding so we are not maintaining the ram for an entire year just to have him come up bad before the next season.”
Another reason Mahoney conducts a soundness exam after breeding season is to evaluate the productivity of the ram. Breeding season can be strenuous on a productive ram, so this evaluation requires advanced sheep knowledge.
Mahoney shares, some of the most productive rams will be in the poorest condition following breeding season, especially if working through a drought or in rough terrain.
During a standard breeding soundness exam, Mahoney examines lymph nodes on the ram’s underline and jaws as well as preforms breeding palpations. While the sheep breeder stresses the importance of exams after breeding season, he suggests conducting exams multiple times throughout the year.
“Producers handle rams three or four times a year, and every time the rams are handled, they should receive a soundness exam because issues develop over time,” Mahoney shares. “The more often a breeder can give a thorough look the better because rams are the working force behind a herd.”
Mahoney continues, “Herds have to have a healthy ram in a healthy position in order to breed sheep.”
Throughout the year, rams require different levels of nutrition to keep healthy and maintain body condition. Once rams are pulled from ewes, it is essential to get them back in shape.
“To get rams back up to ideal condition it is important to make sure they are on decent feed,” says Mahoney.
“When the ram comes out of the herd, producers need to make sure they have quality feed to recover,” he continues. “Once recovered – after about 30 days on feed – the rams don’t require high-end nutrition.”
After rams recover, it is important to maintain their nutritional intake, Mahoney shares.
“We don’t necessarily need to keep them on the best feed, but producers do need to make sure rams are taken care of,” Mahoney says.
For his flock, Mahoney maintains his rams’ condition with pasture grass.
“We tend to run rams separate from ewes on another hill pasture,” notes Mahoney. “The stocking density for rams is roughly one-third less than our other pastures because we do not want to rotate.”
With the right combination of breeding soundness and quality nutrition, rams should stay in the flock for multiple generations. However, despite the effort to keep rams in ideal shape, longevity ultimately depends on the genetics of sheep.
Noting longevity is a complex trait, Mahoney shares, “We value longevity as a trait, but it is incredibly hard to measure and incredibly hard to keep track of.”
“Ninety-five percent of producers are not equipped to manage 10 years of longevity,” says Mahoney, explaining the challenge of keeping rams in the flock for a long time. “Electronic identification (EID) tags give producers the potential to keep long-term records more easily, but it is still really hard to do.”
Mahoney’s best advice to keeping good rams around for generations is to select rams from long-producing ewes.
Savannah Peterson is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.