Ram breeders are under attack from many sides at the moment, with many commercial farmers and consultants suggesting they have forgotten the end market and claiming ram prices are over-inflated.
But ram buyers need to appreciate the work and expense which goes into producing rams suitable to serve large volumes of ewes and leave quality lambs.
Admittedly some breeders don’t help themselves by failing to market their stock appropriately and sell poor quality rams much too cheaply, reckons Cambridgeshire Charollais breeder John Maxwell.
“Breeders need to recognise just how much it costs to produce a ram and then sell them accordingly. Letting rams go too cheaply only undermines the market and leaves everyone fighting for trade. Vendors should set realistic reserve prices and stick to them,” he says.
In 2000 Mr Maxwell reckoned it cost at least 325 to produce a shearling ram to the point of sale, costs which have spiralled since then.
“Fuel, fertiliser, vet medicines and labour costs have all seen significant increases in the last six years and while we’re all trying to be more efficient, prices have to be sensible.”
This year he believes shearling rams need to average at least 365 and probably nearer 400 for his 200-ewe flock to leave any profit, particularly when many rams have to be transported significant distances to sale venues.
“We regularly take rams to Builth Wells ram sale, some 200 miles from home. Including diesel, accommodation, entry fees and vehicle running costs we’re looking at about 42 a ram before we’ve even got to the sale ring. Add on another 6% commission and the costs really start to stack up.”
Ram buyers need to analyse what they’re paying for tups and aim to buy the best possible sheep they can with the money they’ve got, reckons Texel breeder Chris Lewis.
“The old rule of 10 prime lambs paying for the ram still applies, meaning that in a year like this with prime lambs averaging more than 44, rams should be making 440.”
Mr Lewis says more buyers are now willing to pay for quality rams, but vendors also need to ensure they include all their costs.
“It costs in the region of 100-125 to take a sheep from a ram lamb to a shearling, in some cases it can cost more, but it’s rarely any less than that.”
Some breeders could produce rams more cheaply than they currently are by not pushing them as hard as ram lambs and allowing them to develop more naturally, reckons independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings.
For those producing ram lambs the costs are likely to be about 300 a ram, believes Charollais breeder Carroll Barber. “Every breeder’s costs will be different,, but they need to know them. Transport is a big hidden cost which can often be forgotten about.”