Picking the right ram this season

Picking the right ram this season

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With a good season across most of NSW and terrific sheep prices being paid, it is timely to consider certain criteria when selecting your replacement rams.

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Merino and Poll Merino rams penned for classing prior to ram sale. Photo: George Henderson

Merino and Poll Merino rams penned for classing prior to ram sale. Photo: George Henderson

Moving into the best spring many sheep breeders have experienced for many years, it is timely to consider the various selection criteria producers have in mind when filling their annual draft of replacement rams.

'Picking the right ram this season', was the theme of the Sheep Connect webinar held last week during which Luke Stephen, a technical specialist in sheep breeding for the NSW Department of Primary Industries clarified points producers should consider when making their purchases.

"Every one is unique, they have their own plans, their own breeding objectives so we will not all pick the same ram," he said.

"It is about finding the ram which is right for you."

NSW Department of Primary Industries agriculture, technical specialist sheep breeding, Luke Stephen. Photo: Luke Stephen

NSW Department of Primary Industries agriculture, technical specialist sheep breeding, Luke Stephen. Photo: Luke Stephen

Mr Stephen said a producer's preference for a particular ram source or breed is not really the issue. It is the variation within studs and between seed stock producers which is the point.

"There is a significant range between ram sources and there is significant range with a ram source," he said.

"So when you are looking at your ram purchasing decisions it is not always the case of 'is one stud better for me than another one'."

Producers should be focused upon buying the right rams out of those available for selection, and Mr Stephen said it is important to note how to make genetic progress in their flocks through very smart selection decisions based on the information available.

"Smart selection decisions are aligned to your objective," he said.

Mr Stephen said producers need need to be able to justify their selections and articulate clearly the information they assessed to make the decision one ram was better than another.

"If you are parting with your money the rams have to be structurally sound," he said.

"You cannot afford to burn money buying lemons in this environment."

Mr Stephen said ram buyers should be preparing for their replacement selections long before they have even left the farm and he advised a starting point is revisiting your breeding objectives.

Re-classing your rams is a good place to start.

"Put them under the microscope, are they still relevant in the current market and do they fit with your lifestyle?" he asked.

"I think it is really important that you have an idea from your existing rams which ones are still able to structurally service your ewes, what is the current performance base of those animals because if they are based on ASBV's they are a fluid number and they change with information."

Mr Stephen said things like RamSelect will enable you to look at the updated information on the average of those animals.

"Do those animals still match your breeding objective or has your breeding objective changed?" he asked.

"Once you have done that and worked out the number of ewes to be joined, you are then able to identify the number of rams needed."

Then you identify your ram source and you need to identify within the catalogue those rams which fit your breeding objectives.

Mr Stephen pointed out the SMART plan - specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time framed - as the basis for selection criteria for rams.

"You identify traits which are relevant to your objective, to the things you get paid for or some cases the things which you spending money and then you can make a certain decision," he said.

"It all ties in with selection indexes where you have one number you can choose."

Ram selection ultimately depends on what you are trying to do with market restraints.

"If we are focusing on the lamb and mutton side, a move from mutton to lamb might mean a greater focus on growth in your ram selection," he said.

"Obviously if we are looking at terminal sires it might be different carcass attributes based on the ewe base you are joining them to."

Once producers have used the objective information to rank their animals, it is important that the same approach is used with visual selections.

"If you are parting with your money the rams have to be structurally sound, any animal that is structurally unfit to your object regardless of how good it is objectively" he said.

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