Taking care of your stud rams, before, during and after the Breeding Season
by A.Richard Cobb
University of Illinois
Rams, from a care and management point of view are often the overlooked ingredient in a breeding program. To be successful, we need rams that are fertile most of the year and have high Libido, or desire to mate with ewes. Their capacity to produce semen is also very important as that allows them to breed more ewes. A ram can have high libido and not be fertile, the two do not have to go together.
Rams with above average size testicles will usually produce more semen than ones less endowed.
Try to buy all animals from people you trust. If possible, buy from your local area if you can find a ram that fills you needs as they will be already be acclimated to such things as the summer temperature and humidity of the area.
Be very careful not to buy diseased sheep. Foot Rot and Caseous Lymphadenitis are definitely two to avoid. Visit the farm you are buying from and observe the sheep in their natural condition. Talk with the producer about his or her program and what they feel is important. Ask if he/she has a return policy if you purchase is infertile or develops foot rot.
Quarantine all new animals for three weeks to a month before introduction into your flock. This is often easier to recommend than to do, but try doing so.
To relieve stress, put another animal with the new ram as they are flock animals and do better with companionship.
If they develop any communicable diseases, contact the person you bought them from and ask about a return policy.
Purchase long enough before the breeding season to be able to quarantine them.
Condition score the ram about a month before breeding to make sure he is in above average condition. If he is not, increase the amount of grain he is receiving to get him ready. Trim his feet a couple of weeks prior to turning with the ewes
Semen test the ram if possible. Your local vet may be able to do this, or you can usually take him to the state university. This will tell you if he has no mobile sperm or if he appears good or great under a microscope.
Dr. Mike Neary, Sheep Extension Specialist at Purdue has made the statement: "A good ewe has sex once a year." While this certainly is not based only on the ram, it is an ideal situation that all producers should strive for.
Observe the behavior of the ram when turned with the ewes. Young, inexperience rams will often chase and try to breed every ewe the first day. With experience they will learn to become more patient. We want him to be aggressive in searching for ewes in heat but he must learn not to "pace" himself, which usually happens over time.
Record the day you turn you ram/rams in to the ewe flock and have everything ready for lambing 140 days later
It is best to keep some type of marker on the ram to make sure he is breeding and if he is getting the ewes pregnant. This can be a ewe marking harness which will strap around his front shoulders and neck and hold a crayon between his front legs. When he breeds a ewe the crayon will leave a mark on the hip of the ewe. You can then record the day of breeding to know the approximate day of lambing. A producer can also take grease and mix paint with it and smear the breast of the ram. A third method, related to me recently by Walt Stubbs, a Southern Illinois producer is to spray Pam, used to coat frying pans for cooking, on the breast of the ram and then mix chalk from a carpenter's string holder with it. This works just like the grease method except Walt says it will wash out if you choose to do so.
At this point you are actually using the color markers to see if your ram is "working" at this point. After he has been with the ewes for 14 -15 days you are using the color to determine if he is fertile or not.
If using a ewe marking harness, be sure to check it often as if too tight it can cause discomfort to the ram and may even cut into the areas just behind the front legs or in the spine area. Make sure the crayon is positioned in the center of the rams from legs so you will get accurate marks on you ewes.
Check the crayon often as well. If a ram is breeding many ewes or one ewe many times, it could be worn down. It can also be covered with mud or manure and if so will not mark correctly or not at all.
Pam or Grease based colors will need to be replenished often as well
Change the color every 14 – 15 days. Start with a light color and follow it with progressively darker colors to be sure that a new mark can be seen over the previous color.
Once you have changed the color the first time, you are using it to see which ewes are bred but also to determine if the ram is actually impregnating the ewes.
Even rams that test well in semen examination may not fertilize ewes. If more than 10% of the ewes marked within the previous 15 days are marked again, you have to determine if your ram has a problem. Weather you replace this ram or not will depend on many factors.
Care during the breeding season is also about dealing with a ram that is excited and may be more aggressive than he is the rest of the year.
Never trust a ram. Identify where he is before entering his pasture or pen. Do not let him out of your sight. Much of the way he behaves during the breeding season will be determined by his genetics as well as his upbringing and relationship he has with you.
Never try to make a pet of any male animal. Never scratch or push the head of a male or tease one. Let them alone but be ready to respond to a challenge if they do attack you. Rams do not think the same way as we do. What is looked at as affection or "being a friend" is interpreted as a threat to the animal. If you are attacked, do not think:"he doesn't mean anything by it, he is just putting me in my place" Baloney, he is trying to hurt you and must be deal with or avoided. Both are possible to coordinate. If he becomes overly aggressive, he should be removed from the flock.
After the breeding season is when many rams are "forgotten". They are shuffled away someplace to wait till the next breeding season. Most are thin after the effort they put forth and really need to be able to rest and gain weight to be ready for the next time they are needed.
If you have more than one ram, reintroduce them by confining them is a small pen so they cannot back up to smash heads. If you do not have a small pen, throw a number of car or truck tires around their pen. This is done as when the rams back up to get ready to butt heads, they will back into a tire and turn around to see what is going on and will be less apt to be hurt or killed.
Feed the rams well and watch to see if any are not thriving. If some are not doing well, check them out your selves or have you vet do it.