Purchasing rams early

This week’s sheep feature discusses the importance of a good quarantine protocol for purchased sheep. Along with providing ample time to implement a good quarantine period, purchasing animals in advance of the breeding season also allows animals to acclimatise to their new environment.

This is particularly important for a significant number of breeding rams. It is a bad indictment of feeding practices in a segment of the pedigree sector, but the reality is there are a sizeable number of rams that will require an acclimatisation period to transition from an intensive concentrate-based or intensive concentrate and forage crop diet to a grass-based diet.

Speaking with the owner of the rams, if possible, about previous management will allow you to implement the optimum health regime and also influence post-sale management. Given the size of the investment, adopting such an approach will help underpin performance and prevent issues which may occur from a sharp change in diet.

Once feeding levels are cut back, many farmers offer a low level of concentrates in the region of 0.3kg to 0.5kg in the run up to breeding to ensure rams are in prime condition at mating. A tip some farmers use is to place the bucket or feeder inside a temporary pen made up from sheep hurdles, with rams becoming accustomed to this and easier caught to reapply raddle during breeding. A practice which is often carried out post-purchase is to keep new rams in a small garden used for lambing.

Once the ram has settled, it should ideally be transferred to a paddock or field that will promote movement and improve fitness. Don’t forget to also check the condition of existing rams on the farm.

Optimising tag retention

I was at a number of sales in recent weeks where the topic of tag application was raised on several occassions. Incorrectly applied tags can lead to poor tag retention rates and also increase the risk of ear infections. It is especially important to take care when applying tags to ewe lambs with breeding potential, to optimise their attractiveness to buyers.

Button tags should be applied midway in the height of the ear, taking care to avoid cartilage (which can be seen on the underside of the ear) and at a distance of about one-third of the way along the animal’s ear, measuring from the head out. For breeds with thicker ears, this may need to be altered to leave some room for the tag to rotate and air to circulate.

For wraparound tags, manufacturers advise leaving 4mm to 5mm room between the edge of the ear and the tag for ear growth. This is to ensure tags do not become too tight as animals age.

In terms of location, the advice is to apply wraparound tags at the top of the ear and, similar to a button tag, about a third of the distance out from the head, taking care not to pierce cartilage.

With all tags, the male part which pierces the ear should be applied on the outer part, leaving less risk for tags to get caught. It is also important to tag animals when dry and in hygienic conditions. Some farmers who experience infection issues find spraying a simple disinfectant on the tag and ear helps to prevent issues.