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Don’t neglect your rams after they finish working each autumn

The boys have done their work and it’s now time for a well-earned rest. But don’t simply put them all in a field together and forget about them! How many times do you see a ram that has plainly had fly strike or is in poor body condition? It often comes down to post-tupping neglect.

Examine all rams carefully on removing from the ewes and check for brisket sores, harness chafing and lameness, and make sure any infections are treated correctly with long acting antibiotics if necessary. An open sore of any kind can be an invitation to fly strike, so if you find any lesions make sure to top up fly protection, particularly if the autumn proves to be mild and wet. Any lesion that attracts flies leads to the animal trying to hide that part of its body from attack, which often leads to excessive irritation, sitting and limited grazing. The knock on effect is loss of even more body condition. Check rams regularly.

Check body condition too. A good fit ram going into tupping at body condition score 3.5-4 may well have lost more than one condition score (say 13kg of fat for a 100kg ram) depending on how many ewes he has mated – but excessive weight loss could well be an indication of an underlying health issue, such as fluke.

If fluke is a problem on the farm make sure rams are not missed when the rest of the flock is treated. This goes for most other vaccinations too, including clostridial and pasteurella vaccines. Remember that rams are twice as susceptible to worms as ewes, and bear in mind rams will need a significantly higher dose of wormer, given that many are more than 90kg in bodyweight. Follow SCOPS principles when worming all types of sheep.

Rams also need to be well fed after mating to regain body condition (score 3.0) to see them through the winter. This is particularly important for ram lambs and shearlings that are still growing. This could simply be well managed and high quality grazing (not a small nettle infested patch close to the buildings) but might equally mean feeding a small amount of concentrates, maybe 0.5 kg/head from November to March and ad-lib good quality hay or silage. Make sure to feed ‘ram’ concentrates since the mineral balance of ewe feeds is wrong (magnesium and phosphorus levels are too high) for males and can cause kidney stones.

Keeping rams healthy through the winter and spring will pay dividends in terms of remedial action next summer. Remember, the cost of the ram for each lamb sired reduces the longer a ram lives and works. At a time when we need to be reducing costs of production this is one area that often gets overlooked and can reduce costs significantly. A yearling ram costing £550 at purchase that only works for one season and mates with 40 ewes will cost £9.17 per lamb sired at 150% lambs reared, whereas a ram that works for four seasons and mates with 60 ewes a year will cost only £1.53 per lamb sired – see table.

Ram costs per lamb sired: Based on a £550 ram and 150% lambs reared (Source: AHDB Beef and Lamb: ‘Fit for Purpose Rams: A blueprint for breeders’)

Number of mating seasonsNumber of ewes per ram

This article, by independent sheep consultant Kate Phillips, first appeared in the October / November 2015 edition of Sheep Farmer.