Sheep producers should stop buying rams based on looks and size and start making ram selection based on figures, reducing ram cost by £2 a lamb, according to SAC sheep specialist John Vipond.

Ram breeding methods were a big issue for the industry, Dr Vipond said, urging producers to base selection on proven genetics based on EBVs.

“Many rams are born indoors in intensive lambing situations and are assisted to suck.

They are then fed concentrates and buyers make purchase decisions based on size and looks.

When rams are not pushed so hard they will mate with 100 ewes rather than 40 and last for four years rather than two and that reduces the cost per lamb by 2. Definitely worth going for.”

Pointing out that rams are almost invariably the worst group of sheep on a farm, he said the new breeding objectives for rams should be lamb viability, ability to turn grass into meat, rather than concentrate into meat, and lower vet bills.

Lack of availability of rams with genuine easier care traits could hold up progress, but he urged farmers to act now for long-term improvement.

Female replacements should also be selected for easier care traits, with strict culling policies adopted for those failing to make the grade.

“You will find it is the same ewes over and over again that are causing the problems – one-third of the flock is causing most of the work.

Three traits – lambing ease, mothering ability and lamb vigour – make up the easier-care selection toolbox,” he said.