by Richard Cobb
As day length increases and temperatures warm, a sheep producer's interest turns to ram selection! Why not, it is the most critical factor in successful lamb production! Breeding season is just around the corner and so it makes sense that you should be concerned if you have the right ram power to do the job.
As producers you should have already culled your ewe flock. The bad bags, the ewes with attitudes, the poor mothers, the nervous mother, etc., all the things that help to make lambing season stressful. True, the ewe weren't worth much on the market, but they are worth even less to you if you have to pay special attention to or fight them every year. Lambing season should be a time of hope and enthusiasm, not stress and cussing to yourself about things you should have done last year.
If you were happy with the lambs that you produced this year and if you still own the ram or rams that sired them and they are healthy and sound then you are fortunate. If, however, you are not happy with your lambs or your ram is old and has foot problems or has been sick then you need to ask the following questions.
- What type or kind of lamb do you want to produce? Whether you are a purebred or commercial breeder, you should have in mind just what you want to produce.
- What about your ewe flock? In order to produce what you want you must consider your ewe flock. Are they the type of ewes that can produce the product that you want? Ideally they are alike in their breeding and type so that they can produce a uniform product. If your ewe flock is uniform in breeding and type then your ram selection process will be easier than if you have one ewe of every type and size.
- A valuable ram is one that will produce what you want. Realize, however, that he can't do it all himself! To be successful he has to have your ewe flock and you helping him. A valuable ram needs to compliment or contrast your ewes, depending on what they are and the desired end product. And, your ram needs a commitment from you to do your best to raise and manage his lambs to their maximum potential!
Once you have determined what type of ram you need then consider the following:
If production and rate of gain are what you need then attend the Illinois Performance Tested Ram sale. It will supple information on rate of gain and production of the ram's dam.
If you need a ram to produce show sheep there are a number of sales across the country in the summer of the year.
You can visit with producers in your area to see what they have to offer. By buying close to home you will be buying a ram acclimated to your area's climatic conditions and therefore on that shouldn't have any problems adjusting.
Good rams are available in all price ranges. To protect yourself determine what you can pay for a ram then stick to it!
If you feel that you need protection data then visit with people who feel the same as you. Many producers don't keep production data, if you have a problem with that then don't buy a ram from them.
Buy a ram that is healthy and sound. Check to see that his teeth are strong and in the right place and that his feet and legs are strong and that he can move freely. Remember to check his testicles and make sure he satisfies you in that department.
If you are purchasing a commercial ram remember that he doesn't have to look like a show winner. He doesn't have to be perfectly level rumped and he doesn't have to have the most perfect head in the world. These are factors that determine show ring placings but actually have little value in the real world.
If a ram is healthy and sound structurally without being perfect he should sire good lambs.
Be extremely careful that you are not buying foot rot! If you visit a flock to purchase a ram, look at the flock. If sheep are limping then you ask the producer why they are. If you don't get a satisfactory answer, don't buy any sheep! Look at the feet on any ram you are considering buying. Smell the feet; if they have foot rot you will know form the odor!
Plan on buying your ram far enough before breeding season so that you can isolate the ram when you him home. Actually, you should develop the practice of isolating any purchase for a month if possible. This will allow you to observe your ram for foot rot and other communicable diseases and allow him to acclimate with a minimum of stress.