Focus on ram management for out-of-season breeding success

In order for Canada to best meet the domestic demand for lamb, sheep farmers have to manage the sheep flock to lamb out-of-season. It’s very possible with careful management of ewes, certainly, but many farmers may be surprised to learn that ram management can have a significant impact on out-of-season success.

For those aiming for spring and summer breeding, much attention is paid to the ewes — choosing breeds suited to the task, ensuring a flushing ration, and perhaps using a lighting program to simulate short fall days, but Dr. Richard Ehrhardt, ruminant animal extension specialist with Michigan State University, says rams need just as much attention.

Ehrhardt spoke recently at the Ontario Sheep Convention, and stressed the importance of ram nutrition, a basic breeding soundness exam, and, perhaps, also using a light program on rams to fool them into thinking it’s the optimal time of year for breeding.

When it comes to nutrition, Ehrhardt cautions against feeding too much protein, focusing instead on ensuring ample energy in the diet. Before rams are introduced to the ewes, farmers should be doing a basic health check that includes a look at the testicles and scrotum. While it’s not a full breeding soundness exam, a quick check for lumps, bumps, and firmness could alert farmers to a potential breeding issue.

Ehrhardt himself has not done the research into using lights on rams, but research does suggest that a 120 day lighting protocol (to mimic shortening day length) may be an effective way to keep rams’ libido up for up to four months after. He also suggests farmers increase the ram-to-ewe ratio when breeding out of season — and even more so if breeding ewe lambs — when breeding out of season.

Hear the entire interview with Dr. Richard Ehrhardt, below: 

More of a visual learner? Check out Sandi Brock’s vlog featuring this interview, here:

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