Managing young males
Homosexual behaviour is sometimes seen in rams. It is thought that mounting other males helps rams learn the correct mounting technique and is important in establishing dominance.
Work from the USA suggests that the proportion of rams that continue to have a preference for males when exposed to females is around 8%. Early exposure to females will not normally change their preference. These individuals need to be identified.
Weaning can encourage homosexual or sexually inactive behaviour. Housing young ram lambs in all male groups may encourage homosexual behaviour. Try to keep ram lambs and mature lambs separately, as the older rams may bully the younger ones.
Managing mature rams
If rams have been used for mating, they should be assessed for condition loss. If good quality grass is not available, it may be necessary for them to be fed up to 0.5kg (1lb) of ram feed with good quality hay or silage.
Extra supplementation can stop when BCS 3 is reached, as long as grass is available. They should be monitored during the winter to ensure they maintain weight and should be at least BCS 2 in the spring. Depending on forage quality this can be achieved by feeding up to 0.5kg concentrates per day.
If fully out-wintered, provided they have recovered bodyweight lost over mating, rams can be fed on grass, with access to hay or silage during bad weather and monitored for minerals and vitamin requirements.
Once grown, mature rams do not have high energy and protein needs, requiring about 25% less than a crossbred ewe at lambing.
Spring grass meets their full requirements for energy and protein. However, as the grazing season progresses, grass quality can fall and rams may lose condition.
Low stocking rates, commonly seen in ram paddocks, result in stemmy pasture of low digestibility. Frequent mowing where possible will help maintain pasture quality into July/August, when moderate concentrate feeding can be used if needed.
Marketing ‘Fit for Purpose’ rams
Breeding ‘Fit for Purpose’ rams may alter the way the flock is marketed. For example, there may be a need for on-farm sales or auctions, as it may be difficult to compete with over-fed rams in a sale ring.
Other ways to promote the flock are:
- Communicating directly with existing and potential customers.
- Having Open days and evenings.
- Advertising in printed publications and on the internet.
An article that featured on That’s Farming recently by Catherina explained some further tips on keeping your rams in tip-top condition. Here’s an excerpt that you might find helpful:
“Some tips to follow for breeding season:
- Prior the breeding season, approximately 6-8 weeks, farmers should ensure that all tasks including dosing, shearing and foot trimming are performed and vaccinations are administered. If necessary, rams should be treated for internal parasites.
- Rams should now be placed on a higher plane of nutrition, as research has shown that rams can lose up to 15% of their bodyweight during the breeding season. They also ideally should have a BCS of 4.0, so increased feed consumption should increase their BCS. Rams on a low plane of nutrition may not reach puberty until they are 12 months of age. However, this is identified as only one contributing factor. If rams or ewes for that matter do not have the correct BCS, they can become infertile, either being too fat or too thin. In the case of rams, incorrect BCS can cause infertility as already mentioned, but also affect semen quality and reduce libido.
- Access the health of the ram. The body temperature should be monitored if the ram appears to be suffering from an infection. Temperatures ideally should not pass 40 Degrees Celsius, however if this occurs semen cells can rapidly die off. Rams should also be checked for lameness, foot-rot, or foot scald, as all of these conditions affect their mobility.
- As part of the nutritional requirements of rams, Zinc is required for testicular development and to prevent deficiency diseases. A mineral drench should be administered six weeks prior to the breeding season."