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Check your rams

Hanna Thomas, District Veterinarian LLS (Condobolin)

The importance of good ram management is often underestimated. Even if you're satisfied with your lambing percentages we still recommended you get in the habit of examining your rams.

Ideally every sheep producer should be examining their rams for breeding soundness at least eight weeks prior to joining.

This time frame is important as if problems are detected that can be treated it takes this length of time for a ram to start producing viable semen again. It also allows time to source replacement rams if necessary.

Apart from checking your rams are in good general health and condition the areas to focus on are the four Ts - Teeth, toes, testicles and tossle.

Teeth and toes

Teeth and toes are two things that most producers will generally already examine in their rams, but are important not to overlook.

Nutrition has a profound effect on fertility, if rams have poor dentition it may lead to nutritional stress and subsequent poor fertility.

Gait, conformation and joints should be assessed as these factors can interfere with the ram's ability to serve ewes.

Testicles and tossle

Examining the last two Ts is a vital part of assessing ram reproductive ability.

The prepuce and penis should be checked for inflammation and damage. The spermatic cord and the entire testicle should be palpated from top to base.

The testicles should be freely movable within the scrotum, symmetrical, smooth and firm but elastic. Some common abnormalities include testicles that are:

  • asymmetrical
  • painful
  • soft
  • hard and lumpy. 

The scrotum should also be examined for thickening of the skin, abscesses and infection.

One reason for abnormalities in the testicles is ovine brucellosis. Ovine brucellosis is a production disease found in many NSW sheep flocks and is caused by a bacteria called brucella ovis which infects part of the reproductive tract of rams resulting in infertility and even sterility.

The effects of ovine brucellosis are often unrecognized due to marked fluctuation in fertility occurring for other reasons. Where ovine brucellosis is a problem in a flock the major signs are the lambing period is extended, the lamb marking percentage is reduced and ram wastage is high (high ram turnover).

Find out more

If you have any concerns over your sheep flocks fertility or any further questions please contact the District Veterinarian at your Local Land Services office.

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