AT some stage during the month of December most mid season lambing flocks will be pulling out the rams if they have not already done so.
In general a mating period of around six to seven weeks should be more than adequate in ensuring that the majority of ewes have had a good chance of going in lamb. Extending the mating period beyond this period will result in the lambing season being drawn out and more complications in managing lambs of different age groups for the coming year.
In addition, allowing the rams to run with the ewes for extended periods of time will also result in excessive body condition loss in the rams. Remember that over a six week mating period an active ram will loose up to 15% of his body weight. It is critical that the ram has a chance to recuperate and in particular where rams were at a body condition score less than the target of four at the onset of mating they may be pretty thin at this stage.
The average life span of a stock ram is often cited as being around three years on local lowland flocks. If this figure is true then ram costs on Irish farms are excessively high and farmers involved in the industry need to take a look at where the losses are occurring. From a financial point of view the differences in ram cost per lamb depending on how many years the ram works for. They currently range from £11 to £3 per lamb sold.
Rams that pack it in after the first year are a big and unsustainable cost on a sheep enterprise. And while it may not be possible to keep every sheep alive rams should receive priority care as they represent a big investment in every sheep enterprise.
Once mating is over rams need to be put on a high plane of nutrition to allow them to build themselves up for the winter. Grazed grass is much lower in energy this time of year when compared to spring or summer grass so in most cases some supplementary feeding will be required. Where rams are outdoors and have adequate grass, feeding about 0.5kg of a suitable concentrate feed per day should be adequate to help them regain condition. It will probably take about two months or so to reach a target condition score of around 3.5.
Where rams are of different age groups they should be split into groups according to age and body condition. Young rams (ram lambs and hogget rams) that are still growing should receive preferential treatment.
Where sufficient grass is not available don’t hesitate to house the rams and feed them indoors. When housing a ram flock it is important to ensure that their needs are met. This includes adequate floor (2m² or 22ft²per head) and trough space (0.6m or 2 feet for meal and 0.25m or 10 inches roughage) a clean lying area (preferably slatted), clean water supply and adequate ventilation are required. Ensuring that these conditions are met will maximise animal performance by ensuring comfort and reducing the risk of disease and bullying.
Once the nutritional and housing needs of the ram have been met, flockowners should not forget to give them a health check. Fluke is a big issue on sheep farms this year so don’t forget to drench for fluke and in the case of younger rams and thin rams a worm dose should also be considered. Remember that rams are a good bit heavier than ewes and this will have to be taken into account when setting the appropriate dose rate for the drenches. In addition it is important not to forget the clostridial booster vaccination which should be given annually after the initial course of two shots.
A stitch in time saves nine and getting the rams back up to peak condition after the mating season will pay dividends in terms of longevity and better health going forward.