Are your tups in good order?
By Rebecca Austin
FOR a ram to be at his best at tupping, flockmasters must prepare him two months before introducing ewes, because it takes six to eight weeks for sperm to develop in the testes.
Jon Hunton, Edinburgh Genetics, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian, warns: "Foot problems, over-fatness and heat stress all affect fertility in two months time." Rams shown at the sweltering Royal Welsh Show in July may not be able to work efficiently until they have recovered from the stress.
To ensure tups are in good working order at tupping, he advises mouths and legs are checked at least six weeks before matings.
"Check his feet and joints. Look for warmth in the limbs and note any soft or hard swellings," says Mr Hunton. "Check teeth and gums for wear and damage and the back of the mouth for lumps or impacted feed."
For those with the time, Edinburgh Genetics recommends rams be fed on a rising plane of nutrition up to tupping. A ram should be offered 45g a day of an 18% protein supplement, eight weeks before work starts. After seven days, supplementation must have reached 300g a day, and be increased from then on by 15% a day.
"A ram should be in above average body score, but not show fat," says Mr Hunton. "Any concentrate diet should avoid high levels of magnesium and calcium, and should contain 1% ammonium chloride to help prevent urinary calculi (stones in urinary tract). When there is a history of low copper and or zinc on the farm, rams should be supplemented."
Producers who run rams together during the quiet months should separate them from each other at least two weeks before mating. "This reduces inter-male aggression and homosexual behaviour – as well as allowing individual control of dietary needs," says Mr Hunton. But libido can be a problem for some rams. As is often the case for ram lambs with little experience, exposing them to oestrous females often does the trick. "If the ram is nervous or reluctant to mount, repeat exposure to the ewes until he is used to mounting in the presence of a human," says Mr Hunton.
But the ram will only be any use if his equipment is in good working order. "Have your vet show you how to check the rams penis and testes. There should be no visible sores around the prepuce or on the scrotum. Testes should be firm and free of soft or hard swellings," he says.
Finally, Edinburgh Genetics advises treating rams for internal and external parasites, trimming feet, shearing, supplying multivitamins – especially vitamin E, and selenium which is essential for good muscle development and semen quality, two months before they start on their busiest time of the year.
"Effort spent checking rams and preparing them now may save considerable time, heartache and money in the future," says Mr Hunton. *