Who's Providing Your Income?
The ram you purchase, be it a purebred or crossbred, registered or not, is going to be the basis of half your lamb crop. The ewes in your flock provide ½ the genetic information for each lamb but the ram provides ½ the genetic information for your entire lamb crop.
Each year as the weather starts to head for winter norms, I get a call from at least one fellow shepherd about a problem with his/her new breeding ram. The call always goes like this...
"I was wondering if you could help me with some advice. I bought this new ram (between 1 week and 2 months) ago. and it is having this problem (usually a bowel/unary problem) and I tried to treat it with (all manner of different treatments of drugs on hand) ... but I can't seem to sort it out."
"Well, where did you get this ram and what had it been given before you purchased it?"
"I got it at the auction and paid over $200 for it but don't know who was selling it, or where it came from, [or how old, what breeding, why it was being sold]."
I used to try to assist these friends with possible solutions, but recently I have begun to just ask why? Why didn't you buy from a flock you could look at and see what is happening there? We are purebred breeders and do believe that if you get a good ram you are miles ahead of the pack, but in saying that there are many good crossbred rams out there as well. If you go to any seminar they will always tell you to buy the best ram/bull/stud you can afford for your operation, which is always good advice. Unfortunately many people think that means that they have to have a papered ram and they would be too expensive for small operations. Not all papered rams are equal either, only the cream of the crop should be offered for breeding rams.
The real issue here now is how you choose the basis of what you want for that ½ of the genetic make-up of your lamb crop. Do you just go to the auction and wait for a ram to pass through the ring that bids low enough to fit a dollar amount you think is reasonable, or do you do some home work and think about the strengths of your ewes and look for a breed or style of ram to compliment what the ewes have to offer? With a little time and effort you can change your bottom line considerably. Even going to the back of the sale barn and talking to the other shepherds bringing in animals can provide you with better information about prospective animals. If you really like something you see at the auction ask the seller why it is at the auction, what he has at home, is he a reasonable distance from you for visiting to view related animals that would be of a breeding standard. Make some phone calls and go look at other shepherd's animals to know what is available. There are many good flocks in Manitoba, but all too often we see people not bother to do a little shopping. The best time to shop for a ram is about 4 months prior to when you want to introduce him to the ewes which allows you to vaccinate and worm with a proper period for drug withdrawal before introduction to the ewes. Make a shopping list and compare several, just as you would for any other significant purchase:
What is the best breed- "qualities" to match my flock strengths?
What traits would improve or enhance the quality or traits of my flock?
How many ewes does this ram have to service?
How many years can I use the same ram? Do I have enough genetic diversity to use him for two or more breeding seasons? Do I retain replacement ewe lambs?
Is my flock in the early building stages? What is the main purpose of my lamb crop?
What kind of history is available on his bloodlines and maternal lambing history? Has his sire been used enough to show a significant view of what the genetics will produce?
And the very last question should be the price. Realistically it should be equal to the return on 2 to 3 lambs from your operation.
Consequently, you will find with a better quality ram the return on those lambs will increase as well. Always, always, always try to buy a step up from where you were last year and with a little pre-planning and investigative work you will see a great increase in both your bottom line and the pleasure you get from seeing those quality lambs in your barnyard at lambing time.
Lorna and Pete Wall raise Dorper Sheep and Border Collies in Poplarfield, MB www.wall2wallsheep.com