Beginning Sheep Farmer’s Guide for Selecting a Ram

The selection of the ram or rams for any sheep farmer is a major decision. The ram is a major genetic influence in the lamb crop. For illustration, a ram breeds 25 ewes, each ewe produces twins for a total of 50 lambs. Each individual ewe has genetically influence two lambs. The ram has genetically influence all 50 lambs. The selection of the ram is very important due to the influence in the lamb crop.

The ram is a major purchase. A ram will generally cost more than a ewe. The better quality the ram, the higher the purchase price. It is best to purchase the best quality of ram the sheep farmer’s budget will allow.

First step for the beginning sheep farmer is to decide what type of lambs to produce on the sheep farm. I breed for registered Dorper sheep as well as commercial lambs for market. I select the ram matching the Dorper breed standard ram that my budget will afford. Some commercial lamb raisers choose one breed of sheep for the ewes and a different breed of sheep for the ram. After the sheep farmer decides what type of lambs to produce, next step is determining which ram or rams to purchase.

The sheep farmer needs to be very critical of the ram selected taking a close look for conformation faults. Be familiar with the breed standard for the ram you are selecting. A ram needs good legs and pasterns and hooves to follow ewes, check ewes and breed ewes. A ram travels more than the ewes as he goes back and forth among the ewes checking to see which ewe is ready for breeding. The ram’s job on a sheep farm is to breed the ewes, if he is not able to move around and breed ewes there will be a poor lamb crop or no lamb crop.

The ram needs to be healthy but also breeding healthy. I suggest a ram be tested for genetic diseases associated the ram’s breed. There is no need to bring a genetic disease into the lamb crop.

The ram needs to have a semen analysis done. I purchased a yearling ram from a Dorper breeder, thinking this ram is young and would be able to do the job of getting my ewes pregnant. The first covering of the ewes only 40 – 45% of the ewes were pregnant and most had singles. I attributed the low pregnancy rate to the inexperience of the ram. The second covering of the ewes the pregnancy rate was the same. The ram was not producing semen to get the ewes pregnant. Having a veterinarian doing a semen analysis and breeding soundness exam will insure the ram purchased will put the lambs on the ground.

Look at the disposition of the ram. An aggressive ram is a dangerous to the sheep farmer. The sheep farmer needs to be able to move the ram to put with ewes and remove the ram when breeding is done. The sheep farmer also needs to be able to feed, trim hooves, vaccinate, deworm as needed and shear the ram. There is no need to put the health of the sheep farmer in danger by having an aggressive ram. Rams get aggressive as they get older. A ram stays on my place for two years. First reason I change rams is I raise my own replacement ewes, so after two years I have too many young ewes that are his daughters. The second reason, is as rams age they get aggressive. A young ram that is aggressive will only get more aggressive as he gets older.

The best place to purchase a ram is from another sheep farm that raises breeding stock. Deal with a sheep farmer that has a guarantee that the rams he sells are breeding sound. Sometimes breed auctions are a good place to find a ram. The Dorper Breeders Association in the United States has show and sales. Every ram and ewe is first shown and placed, then an auction is conducted on the sheep shown. This is beneficial for the beginning sheep farmer as a certified judge for the breed has placed the animals in the order of best to worst. The rams at this auction are guaranteed breeding sound. If a buyer has a ram checked by a veterinarian and the ram is not breeding sound, the buyer is refunded the purchase price of the ram. Breed association shows are a good place to see sheep and get hands on learning of the breed standard and selecting rams and ewes of that breed. The breed shows are good opportunity to “window shop” for sheep, meeting the sheep farmers with their stock they raise in order to learn what sheep farms you may want to purchase your ewes and rams from.

A first time mistake is to be in a rush to purchase a ram and or ewes to hurry and get a lamb crop on the ground. Taking time to explore the breed and look for good ewes and rams will be more beneficial and save money in the first year of raising sheep. Being patient and putting a good flock together will yield a better lamb crop, better replacement ewes and more money for the lambs produced. The most expensive part of starting to raise sheep is getting the flock. The feed cost is the same for a bad sheep as it does a good sheep. The difference is being able to produce the lambs necessary to provide the money to feed the sheep and the profit for the sheep farmer. Good sheep produce more profit, take the time to find and purchase good sheep.


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