15 September 2000

Spoilt for quality tup choice

The NSA Builth Wells annual

ram sale is in its 23rd year

and next week over 9000

rams will go under the

hammer. So why is it so

popular with sellers and

buyers alike? James Garner

asks two sale regulars

RAMS aplenty – so many in fact that the prospect of trying to find a suitable tup for your flock may become a daunting task.

If you have never been to Builth Wells to buy rams before, the sheer scale of the event may be overwhelming. On Sept 17 and 18, 9000 rams from 34 breeds will go on sale to commercial and pedigree buyers from throughout the country. It is the NSAs biggest ram sale – in fact it is the biggest ram sale in the world, says NSA Wales and Borders regions ram sale co-ordinator Jane Smith.

Breeders taking rams to sell at Builth Wells every year depend on it being a good sale. Judy Hiam from Lower Rowley, Preisteigne, Powys, has been taking tups to this sale for over 20 years.

This year she will be taking 18 ram lambs from her Suffolk sire reference scheme flock, which involves hard work getting them ready. Throughout summer, armed with a pressure washer she begins the task of cleaning ram lambs, born in January in her 60 ewe flock.

"I probably wash and dip them two or three times during summer and then spend the week before the sale getting them ready."

All her tup lambs will be tidied up and trimmed, so they look at their best. "I am trying to sell them in peak condition," adds Mrs Hiam, who founded the flock in 1973.

She also recognises how important it is to have nutrition right before sale, so rams, particularly ram lambs, are in good body condition before being bought.

"I want my ram lambs to be in the right condition so that they can work the next day. Unless well fed ram lambs will just not stand up to the rigours of tupping," she adds.

"As lambs, if they are reared on grass they simply will not be big enough to tup ewes that year. They need to be fed well to fitness and not fatness."

Any tups not in good enough condition to sell will be pulled out by the pre-sale inspection that takes place on the first morning of the sale. According to Mrs Hiam it is the hardest pre-sale inspection there is. "It is a top quality sale and the inspection is extremely tough. A few rams will fail and are not allowed to be sold," she adds.

The pre-sale inspectors are looking for perfect mouths – no rams can be sold with over or undershot jaws. Likewise testicles; these must be even and well formed. Feet, too, must be in good condition, as must be the animals general well being.

Mrs Hiam, whose flock is scrapie genotyped and maedi visna accredited, takes no chances and does not want to face the ignominy of having rams thrown out, so she has her vet pre-test every ram before going to Builth Wells.

"I do not want the embarrassment of having a purple stripe on the back of a ram that has failed the sale inspection. It also spoils the pen," she says.

Having ensured that her rams get to the sale in prime condition and are passed fit to be sold, Mrs Hiam says it then comes down to offering your buyer something extra. "There is so much choice that you have to offer added value. By selling SRS performance recorded rams your customer has an idea whats under the wool as well. We try to produce quality stock and home in on performance recording to give buyers better value."

At Builth Wells a unique blue star system enables buyers to identify recorded rams. Each recorded ram has blue stars on its back corresponding to how high its index is.

One blue star is given for rams in the top 50% of either sire reference scheme or within flock recording. Two blue stars account for the top 25%, respectively, and three stars means the tup is in the top 10% of breed reference scheme or within flock indexes.

It is safe to assume, points out Mrs Hiam, that three star sheep are higher quality and there is no doubt that they sell better, she adds.

Although the market determines price, Mrs Hiam does not stop at recording as a means of adding value. She also scrapie genotypes stock, and all her ram lambs for sale at Builth are scrapie resistant.

"I take rams there to sell, so there is no reserve on them and they are not coming back home."

Last year Mrs Hiams ram lamb sales averaged £336, highlighting the quality of her stock and their EBVs.

BUILTH WELLS

&#8226 All rams inspected.

&#8226 Recorded rams available.

&#8226 Wide choice of breeds.