OLDS, Alta. — Too few sheep owners test their rams for breeding soundness.
“It is not commonly done, but the risks you expose yourself to are very high,” said sheep veterinarian Kathy Parker of Three Hills, Alta.
There will be no lambs the following year if the ram fails in the breeding pasture.
Every aspect of a ram from its teeth to testicles should be evaluated, she said during a recent Alberta Sheep Breeders Association seminar in Olds.
Teeth should not be misaligned because the animal cannot graze properly. Thin animals cannot breed well.
Body condition is categorized as either very thin, thin, average, fat or very fat rather than following a number system like the beef industry uses, in which one means emaciated and nine is extremely fat. Feet and legs need to be strong and sound.
“He better be able to walk and he better be able to walk a long time and be able to spend most of his time on his hind legs,” Parker said.
The penis and prepuce should be checked. The ram cannot properly breed females if the penis does not extend far enough.
“You have to watch him to make sure he is getting the job done,” she said.
Adequate scrotal circumference is an indicator of fertility and relates to proper ovarian function in the ram’s daughters.
Scrotal circumference should increase as ram lambs mature. Most can be measured at around eight months. Satisfactory scrotal circumference for rams aged eight to 14 months should be 30 to 36 centimetres, while excellent is more than 36 cm. Rams older than 14 months are satisfactory at 32 to 40 cm and excellent is greater than 40 cm.
Parker said a scrotal tape measure is an indispensable tool, and no one should go to a ram sale without one.
Semen tests should be done every year.