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Ensuring optimum fertility in rams

SheepSteph Patel BVet Med MRCVS

This may not seem the time to start thinking about tupping, but for those wishing to lamb earlier in the year, now is the time to check rams, making sure they are fit for purpose. Any problems found can be addressed, as it could subsequently affect the fertility 7 weeks onwards from when the problem has occurred.

The ratio of rams:ewes is an important factor to consider, especially if breeding out of season as they will not be able to mate with as many ewes. In breeding season, one ram should be able to manage 30/40 ewes. If you plan on running several rams together, 1 or 3 is better than two as they will fight. If there are too many ewes, then the ram will not get round them in enough time and may miss some cycles, prolonging your lambing period. Using raddles on rams can help to determine which have been served and also used as a tool to monitor their progress. The chalk should be changed every 9-10 days.

In order to make sure that all areas are focused on, an easy way to do a ram MOT is to remember the 4 T’s:

Teeth: Incisors should be meeting the dental pad and not be over shot or broken. Also check the molars and feel along the jawline for any obvious hard lumps associated with tooth roots.

Toes: They should be free of any signs of lameness, check for foot rot and other infections as this can reduce fertility due to the raised body temperature. This can be evident 7 weeks later as this is the required time for sperm to be produced and matured.

Tone: Aim for a body condition score of 4 pre-tupping as they will lose weight over the breeding period. Any more and they will struggle to serve all the ewes, rams need to be fit and not fat for purpose.

Testicles: Circumference for smaller breeds should be 34- 36cm and larger breeds 36-38cm. Testes should feel firm, even in size and free moving within the scrotum. Ensure there are no lumps or adhesions.

In addition to the above, whilst conducting your examination, the sheath should be checked to see if it is clear of infection and with no signs of shearing damage and also whether the penis can be extracted.

If there is any doubt in the performance of a ram and nothing unusual is detected during his physical examination, electro ejaculation can be used as a way to examine sperm motility and morphology. This will determine whether he is sub-fertile or not and also a good test to conduct prior to buying in an unproven ram.


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