Andrew Henderson talks us through the first meeting of the Peaks Beef & Sheep Discussion Group at LLM Bakewell on the 11th September.

It was great to get our first on farm meeting as LLM Derbyshire underway. The meeting was held at my farm, where I provided four rams for assessment. We began with a barbeque and drinks followed by a talk by vet Dan Stevenson focusing on the importance of a thorough pre-breeding ram fertility examination.

With tupping time nearly upon us Dan highlighted how preparation is often more focused on the ewes. Every ram we use needs to have the ability to produce the goods and deliver them and ideally we should be looking to assess them 6 – 8 weeks prior to use.

At the recent Kelso Ram sales prices averaged just under £700. Therefore, for many farms, buying a ram can be one of the most significant investments of the year. Current industry estimates suggest ram longevity is a concern. For a ram at this price running with 50 ewes achieving 140% reared, the difference between him lasting a year and 5 years could be up to £8.00 per lamb (See Table 1).

Table 1

Therefore, to optimise our ram spend we must ensure he can serve as many ewes as possible and live for longer. This will be especially important for flocks running single sire mobs, high ewe:ram ratios or utilising synchronisation.

The first stage was a general physical examination. Key areas of focus were body condition score (Target 3 – 4) to ensure rams are fit and not fat for service. Secondly, looking at conformation, evidence of lameness and the presence of brisket sores, which will impact both short and long term fertility and longevity. Thirdly, ensure both eyes appear sound to allow ewes in oestrus to be sought out, good teeth with alignment to the dental pad to allow effective eating and maintenance of BCS when at work and no evidence of lumps around the jaw/neck which could indicate infectious disease issues such as CLA.

We then turned the rams and assessed their scrotum, ensuring there were two descended testicles, a scrotum without too much wool or evidence of damage with no lumps, bumps or scars in the neck of the scrotum, testicles and epididymis (top and bottom). Testicles were checked for ability to move freely within the scrotum, evenness, firmness, resilience and then size. Dan identified a lump in the testicle of my Charollais ram, which has worked effectively for the last 3 years.

This clearly highlights the importance of reviewing rams on annual basis rather than at purchase alone.

Dan then demonstrated how to correctly measure the scrotal circumference at the widest point with consistent and gentle tension (See Table 2).

Table 2

We then checked the sheath/prepuce for any injuries, ulcers, deformities with Dan highlighting how to extrude the penis and check it was in working order. Following this Dan described how an electroejaculation could be performed to assess the quality of sperm produced, which can provide further supporting evidence of suitability for breeding.

A great way to remember the important elements of the night is to focus on the 5 Ts: toes, teeth, testicles, tone and treat (vaccinations, parasites and lameness). If you would like to assess your ram/s performance prior to use this autumn or discuss any other sheep related matters please get in touch with one of our vets.

Ram Fertility
Ram Fertility