Performing a ram check ten weeks pre-tupping will ensure any health or condition problems are detected in good time. This will allow for treatment to be administered or replacements to be sourced.
If rams aren’t in the best condition for tupping, they won’t be working to their full potential, so the productivity and profitability of your flock could be negatively impacted.
Perform a ram MOT
Use the four T’s rule when checking over rams.
Teeth – Rams with mouth problems could be prevented from reaching their ideal body condition score pre-tupping or lose more condition than is normal during tupping. To prevent this, check for:
- Spikey or missing teeth
- Under and overshot jaws (the teeth should touch the dental pad at the top)
- Abscesses along the jawline
Consider replacement rams if grazing is affected by these issues or in the case of infection, consult your vet.
Toes – Painful foot problems could reduce grazing time and prevent rams from serving ewes. What’s more, infection may raise the body temperature of the ram which could reduce fertility as sperm production may be hindered. It’s therefore important to:
- Check each foot for growths, scald, footrot, CODD, long toes or swellings
- Check between their front legs for brisket sore as this may reduce their willingness to mount ewes and may be made worse by a raddle harness
Antibiotic injection, topical antibiotic spray and early detection of footrot is more effective than foot paring. Consult your vet or visit your local agricultural supplier for advice or products if needed.
Testicles – Tup testicles obviously need to be in good working order to promote sperm function or production. Establish the condition ram testicles are in by:
- Checking for abnormalities or lumps in the testicles and scrotum that could affect sperm or semen function
- Checking the hard nobbles at the bottom of each testicle (the epididymis) are normal, equal in size and smooth
- Checking for scabs or thickened skin on the scrotum as this could be a sign of mange
- Ensuring the testicles should be firm and spongy but not hard, heavy, evenly matched and freely mobile within the scrotum
It’s important to measure the circumference of the testicles as this directly correlates to ram fertility. Correct feeding can increase testicle size and rams with larger testicles are known to produce ewe lambs that breed earlier. The general guide for scrotum size at the widest point is as follows:
Lowland breeds: 36 – 38 cm
Hill breeds: 34 – 36 cm
Lowland breeds: 32 – 34 cm
Hill breeds: 30 – 32 cm
Lowland breeds: 30 cm
Hill breeds: 28 cm
(Source: Farm Advisory Service)
Tone – Tups will often lose around 15% of their original body weight over the six-week tupping period, so it’s important they are in the right condition prior to mating. This will ensure they have enough energy for testicular growth and semen production. It will also mean they have the stamina to serve the required number of ewes.
Aim for a body condition score (BCS) of between 3.5 and 4 eight weeks before introducing rams to ewes, as this affects sperm quality so may in turn result in repeat higher lambing rates and increase the likelihood of twins.
A less than optimum BCS can reduce their interest in ewes as well as hinder fertility, while excess weight can reduce libido.
If rams are struggling to meet achieve the correct BCS six weeks before mating, consider supplementing their diets with a suitable compound as this should help with testicular growth and sperm production. Make sure any feed given contains ammonium chloride and ammonium sulphate to prevent stones forming in the bladder and that they don’t consume high levels of magnesium.
Consider providing mineral blocks to ensure trace element requirements are met (selenium may help with improved sperm production), and ensure tups are wormed and vaccinated to prevent health issues.