Ask the Shepherd: What factors do I need to think about when purchasing a breeding ram?
I am often asked this question by folks wishing to start their own flock of sheep. The ram you select provides more than 50% of the genes in your flock. His genetics will carry over into the offspring of your ewes for years to come. By carefully evaluating your ram, you will have the ability to make improvements to your flock very quickly. We look at four different factors when inquiring about purchasing rams for our flock-confirmation, desired traits we want to improve within our flock, breeding record, and temperament.
Conformation refers to the body structure and soundness of the animal as it affects the overall health of the ram. It is important to understand the traits common in your flock’s breed when evaluating for proper conformation. Things to watch for and avoid in any breed would be: sway back, bowed legs, splay footed, poor jaw alignment, or unusually thin or overweight. Studies have also shown that scrotal size directly affects the fertility of the ram, so measuring scrotal circumference should be part of your soundness evaluation. With a little research, you can find our what are normal measurements for your particular breed. A study on Gotland rams (both mature and ram lambs), revealed normal scrotal circumferences of 26 cm for ram lambs more than 5 1/2 months of age weighing more than 110 pounds, and 28 cm for mature rams of any age or weight.
Traits for Improvement
Since our ram provides half of our genetics in our new lambs, we use our ram to improve the overall quality of our ewes. Each time we need a new ram, we evaluate our ewes for wool quality, size, and conformation. Whatever traits we would like enhanced in our flock, those are the characteristics we look for in our next ram. If we need to improve our wool quality, for example, for curl definition and luster, then we will look for a ram with those particular traits. Also, as we continue to build our flock of Gotland ewes, we need a Gotland ram of a higher percentage than our highest ewe.
I also want my rams to come from a maternal line exhibiting strong breeding qualities. Ideally, I would choose a ram who was a twin or triplet over one that was a single. I would also want to know breeding records from the ram’s dam, her lambing history, udder health, and overall soundness.
I manage our flock alone for the better part of the day, thus, I need a ram that I can trust. I prefer to be hands off with my rams. I do not make pets of my rams, but rather keep my distance when tending to them. I want my ram to back away from me and respect me when I enter his pasture, rather than come at me. In the past, we have had rams that have shown aggression towards us, and we did not keep them on our farm.
Though these four areas are important to us in our breeding program, however, each shepherd must decide what qualities are important for the overall health and management of their own flock. The internet is full of articles about how to choose breed specific rams, providing endless resources to consult.
Here are just a few resources: