9 months ago

Sheep Matters_Aug-Sept 17 (redesigned)

Sample copy of new publication aimed at the progressive farmer and professional in the UK sheep industry. For further information and to register your interest go to

The ram MOT Neck, head

The ram MOT Neck, head and shoulders to check for wounds or CLA abscesses. “Photograph courtesy of Riverhall Livestock” Teeth and mouth to check for potential feeding problems. Overall body condition. BCS should be between 3 and 3.5. Brisket to check for sores caused by mating mark harnesses. Legs and feet to check for lameness and infection. Penis to check for infection and extraction. Testes and epididymis to check testicular size and firmness or identify lumps or hardness. Is your ram up to the job? Rams are expensive to buy so you want them to last and do a good job. A healthy ram should be able to work for at least 3 or 4 breeding seasons and should produce vigorous lambs that survive well to express desired traits. Using unsound rams will reduce your lambing percentage and is likely to result in a protracted lambing period. The ram MOT A breeding ram needs healthy genital organs, a normal libido, the physical ability to mount and mate, adequate sperm quantity and quality and immunity from diseases that may be endemic in your flock. ‘carry out a ram MOT at least ten weeks before tupping to help you identify and treat potential breeding problems in good time’ Disease in rams A ram’s fertility and/or ability to mate are particularly affected by infestations of parasitic worms and liver fluke, and by lameness. Other diseases to look out for include caseous lymphadenitis (CLA) which can be caused by bacterial infection of fighting wounds on the head, ovine pulmonary adenocarcinoma (OPA/ Jaagsiekte), which is increasing in incidence among rams and is usually fatal (2). Of special note are bacterial diseases of the feet (scald, footrot and CODD). They not only cause pain and lameness affecting grazing and mounting ability, but also reduce fertility due to increased body temperature. Early identification and prompt treatment are important to ensure your ram is fit for breeding (2). Treatments include the use of long-acting oxytetracycline along with topical applications of anti-bacterial sprays. Pain can be reduced by anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Trimming/paring of the hoof is not generally recommended as this can delay healing (3,4). Q Hoof trimming costs! Labour costs - somebody has to do it. Lost opportunity costs - you could be doing something else instead. Delayed recovery - hoof trimming can delay healing and extend the period of lameness. Treatment costs - trimming can make things worse which then requires the use of further medical treatments. Lost growth - trimming causes stress to the animals and while they are being treated they are not eating! 8 AUGUST & SEPTEMBER 2017

The importance of body condition scoring (BCS) BCS is an easy and accurate method of estimating the condition and nutritional well-being of an animal. It requires the assessment of the amount of muscle and fat covering the backbone and short ribs to give a picture of the ram’s store of energy. BCS can influence semen volume and sperm motility as well as hormone levels. For example, testosterone concentration which affects sexual behaviour has been found to be significantly higher in rams with an optimum BCS of 3-3.5 (5). It is recommended that a ram’s BCS should be around 3.5 prior to breeding. If body condition is low a high protein diet can be administered 10 weeks prior to breeding. However, it is important not to over-feed a ram before tupping as this can lead to poor mating ability and reduced fertility (1). Q Score 3 Vertical processes are smooth and rounded; the bone is felt under pressure. Horizontal processes are smooth and well covered, and the ends are felt under hard pressure. The loin muscle is full with a moderate covering of fat (Source: AHDB). It’s a private matter! It takes 7 weeks to produce sperm so it is important to examine your ram’s penis and testicles with plenty of time prior to mating (6). Measure scrotal circumference because sperm production is directly correlated to testicular width. If an adult ram’s scrotum is less than 32 cm in circumference (about the size of a large grapefruit!) it is preferable not to use it. Sperm production can be improved by up to 100% with suitable nutritional intake 8-10 weeks prior to mating, although overfeeding can also result in infertility (6). ‘Is your ram cooking his testicles?’ Hot weather in July and August can cause testicular degeneration (the testes will feel soft rather than firm and springy). The scrotum is rich in sweat glands. These help to cool the testicles when they are able to hang freely. But, in hot weather rams will lie down to stay cool. By lying on their testicles the ram will literally ‘cook’ them! To help avoid this ensure rams are shorn and have adequate shade and plenty of water (1). Examination of the penis and sheath is important. Damage or infection that leads to irritation or ulceration will obviously affect the mating ability of your ram. If you are in doubt about the fertility of your ram, a professional evaluation of semen will measure sperm motility, morphology and white blood cell counts which may indicate the presence of disease. “Photograph courtesy of” Want to know more? 2017 AUGUST & SEPTEMBER 9

Sheep Matters - August/ September 2017