Having rams checked out to help ensure that they are in top notch shape in the lead up to tupping is a prudent decision and the cost to do it is far lower than the costs involved if the rams don't work!
Sperm production in the ram takes eight weeks therefore all sperm present at mating have developed prior to the mating period. Fever or stress (from any cause) can reduce sperm quality and/or quantity. For this reason ram body condition should be assessed and they should be checked for health problems and, if required, treated at least ten weeks prior to mating. Wounds, flystrike, genital health problems and foot problems are all common troubles. Two we often find are:
- Footrot (and/or other causes of lameness) can reduce feed intake and hence sperm production.
- Scrotal (chorioptic) mange can cause infertility by raising testicular temperatures due to skin thickening. Rams with moderate to severe scrotal mange can be considered temporarily to permanently unsound. Mild to moderate mange will need to be treated immediately. Those rams with severe lesions (active or inactive) may be permanently unsound and should be replaced.
Following ram palpations, those that are identified as "temporarily unsound" will need to be rechecked prior to introduction. Additionally, rams in full wool should be shorn around the scrotum and crutch to reduce scrotal temperature, however full shear should be avoided within eight weeks of tupping.
Brucella ovis is a disease that may also be identified when palpating rams and we still see outbreaks occurring in our region. Traditionally rams have always been checked just prior to mating but the problem with this is that, if an issue is identified, there is often insufficient time to test and cull rams and ensure a Brucella ovis free flock prior to mating. The disease can then spread like wildfire during tupping, which can have dramatic effects on scanning percentages causing an increase in dry ewes and a resultant protracted lambing season. The important things to remember are:
- Always purchase rams from a Brucella ovis free source.
- Avoid sharing or borrowing rams.
- The disease is not carried from season to season in the ewe flock, it is venereal disease spread by rams.
- There is no treatment so prevention is key.
Finally, if you plan to use teasers, ensure they are vasectomised early enough to allow them to rest, for ideally at least six weeks, prior to tupping to prevent any unwanted pregnancies.
Plan ahead and book in your rams to be checked in adequate time prior to mating - it's a wise investment and an excellent start point to help ensure a successful mating.