As we enter peak breeding season, it is important to make sure your rams are in top condition, as an infertile or unsound ram can have a severely negative effect on fertility and scanning percentages within the flock.

A ram’s fertility is determined by his ability to mate, libido, sperm production and the viability and fertilising potential of his sperm.

Season and day length are less important than with ewes, but can still have an effect on the release of testosterone, and therefore sperm production and libido.

When choosing rams, it is important to consider breeding soundness and genetics.

Rams should be assessed by the five Ts – toes, teeth, testicles, tone and treatment.

  • Toes: Poor locomotion, weak pasterns and incorrect feet can affect a ram’s ability to mate and limit their longevity within the flock.
  • Teeth: An incorrect mouth or broken mouth can limit nutrition, which will have a knock-on effect on condition and fertility.
  • Testicles: These should be measured, examined for conformation and checked for any lumps. Those with a small scrotal circumference (<30cm in ram lambs and <32cm in mature rams) should not be used. There is some evidence to suggest that the larger the testicles, the more prolific the ewes sired will be. Cryptorchid or ‘one-ball-wonders’ should be avoided, as it can be an inherited defect.
  • Tone: This refers to body condition scoring, which should be 3.5 to 4. It is important to note that over-feeding rams can be as detrimental to their fertility as those in poor condition.
  • Treatment: In advance of the breeding season, it is vital to make sure rams are up-to-date with Clostridial and Pasteurella vaccination and treated if necessary for parasites.
  • If you would like to understand more about ram fertility, breeding soundness and body condition scoring, we are running a practical workshop on Thursday 28 September at 7:30pm – call 07791146060 for more details.

    Christa McMordie is a veterinary surgeon at Lisnafillan farm vets in Ballymena.

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