Careful management is necessary to ensure the reproductive success in any small ruminant farm and to maximise the productive longevity of rams and bucks. Rams and bucks are frequently overlooked outside of the breeding period, but year-round attention to nutrition, parasite control and general disease control is important in keeping them healthy and sound for breeding. Pre-mating soundness examinations are an inexpensive and relatively easy way to assess the potential ability of a ram or buck to perform during the breeding period and should be incorporated annually into the management of any flock. During the breeding period, careful thought should be given to the appropriate use of males, and the effectiveness of mating should be monitored.
Good quality hay, silage or pasture usually provides sufficient protein and energy to get the job done. Supplement with grain if poor quality roughage or straw makes up more than one third of the total ration. Rations should be balanced to ensure that vitamin, mineral and trace mineral requirements are met. Remember that ram lambs need higher levels of energy and protein in order to reach their potential mature weight and size. Don’t forget that rams need salt and minerals too. Clean fresh water is critical for ram health. Over feeding resulting in rams getting too fat should be avoided at all times.
The adverse effects of excessive fatness include:
- reduced fertility from overheating of the testicles;
- poor mating performance – lack of aerobic fitness and mating especially a concern when breeding ewe lambs or small ewes;
- lameness – due to cartilage damage during rapid growth or laminitis (founder);
- increased susceptibility to heat stress;unnecessary feed costs.
Be sure to include rams in your general flock health discussion with a veterinarian. Normally rams and bucks should be vaccinated against the same diseases as the ewe/does flock. Parasite management practices, treatment protocol for specific diseases recommended for ewes/does should be applied to the rams and does as well. Check or observe your rams and bucks regularly for any signs of illness or disease. Feeding time or when you gather them to the kraal provides a good opportunity to detect any abnormal behaviour that may be related to illness. Routine foot trimming and shearing should be practised.
Ratio of Ewes per Ram or Does per Buck:
- Ram lambs and buck kids (approx. 8-10 months of age): 15 to 30 ewes or does per 1 ram lamb or buck kid.
- Yearlings (approx. 12-16 months of age): 25 to 50 ewes or does per 1 yearling ram or buck.
- Mature rams and bucks: a general rule is 100 ewes or does per 2.5 to 3 rams or bucks.
There are 5 ways of utilizing a ram or buck during the breeding season:
- Continuous Service: This is where the rams/bucks are simply turned in with the females at all times during the breeding season. This is mostly common in our Setswana traditional Moraka setting.
- Intermittent Service: The rams/bucks are turned in for only a portion of the time, usually at night. This is an excellent way to use ram lambs and yearlings who will have a tendency to overwork themselves. This also makes it easier to supplement the ram(s) and buck(s). When the male is not with the females, leave a bred female or wether in with the ram/buck for company.
- Rotational Service: This is a method of using different rams/bucks at different times during the season. Use of the rotational plan is recommended when young males constitute a portion of the ram/buck battery. Rotational servicing helps to prevent the younger males from overworking themselves.
- The 1/2 and 1/2 system – turn-out 1/2 of the rams/bucks for about 3 weeks and then bring them in. Turn out the other 1/2 of the ram/buck battery for the remaining time.
- Another method is to use 1/3 of the rams/bucks for the first two weeks, then remove them. At that time, introduce the other 2/3rds of the ram/buck battery for the next 2 weeks. After the 2 weeks, then add the initial 1/3rd of the rams/bucks so that all males are in for a final 2 weeks.
- Hand Coupling/Hand Mating Service: This involves taking the ewes or does as they come into heat to the flock ram/buck for servicing. This can be good for purebred breeding in order to extend the service of an old or infirm ram/buck. However because of the necessity for heat detection, it requires the use of additional heat detection methods such as a teaser ram/buck and apron. Failure of adequate heat detection is the primary reason this method may be unsuccessful.
- Artificial Insemination Service: This system requires that efficient heat detection methods be utilized. Currently this method is not being used to any great extent in large commercial sheep production systems because of the extensive labor and management issues that are involved. However many of the small and mid-sized goat and sheep producers successfully utilize this method for genetic improvement in the flock/herd. Both frozen and fresh semen are commonly used for breeding.