Newly shorn rams sniffing each other
I had an amazing experience last week. I went to a talk by a vet on ram health and saw a ram have a vasectomy. Yes, like humans, some rams are vacestomised. I’ll explain why in a minute. The talk was by Maarten Boers from The Livestock Partnership. The sheep breeding season is coming up so now is apparently the time for checking your ram. Maarten gave a short presentation on what to check to make sure the ram is in ‘tip tup condition’. A tup is a ram and tupping time is the time when the rams are busy serving the ewes so I loved the pun. I’m not sure if my international readers will know the expression but here people say something is ‘tip top’ if it is in the best condition.
I knew about the three T’s: teeth, toes and testicles but it appears pre-tupping checks involve much more than making sure your ram doesn’t need dentures or has raging foot rot. Giving a ram an MOT (an MOT is a legally required annual check of a car to make sure it is road worthy) is mostly common sense however you do need to know what to look for. It’s obvious a lame ram wont spend his days running after ladies. Now I am not a vet so if you have landed on my blog looking for advice on ram care please check with a qualified vet. Maarten went through a checklist for the MOT, including checking the ram’s eyes. It made me chuckle when we got to checking the eyes are healthy as the ram needs his eyes in good working order to see where the ladies are!
After a short presentation, Maarten collected a semen sample from a ram, this is done by sticking an electric probe up the ram’s backside – ooh! Semen was caught in what looked like a giant condom on a stick. You can see a photo of the procedure and find out more on the Livestock Partnership’s website. It is a very quick procedure but not one the ram seemed to enjoy. The vet had a microscope in his van so fertility testing can be done on the farm. We all got to have a look at the semen sample under a microscope. Fortunately the ram turned out to be very fertile.
Apparently you can get a certificate confirming the results of the test so when the ram is sold the buyer knows he is a fertile ram. Buying rams, the sheep farmers assured me, is always a worry as you can’t be sure the ram will do his job but with these tests the buyer can have some peace of mind.
After the fertility testing, the vet performed a vasectomy on another ram. The ram was sedated first and given a local anaesthetic so he didn’t feel any pain. Rams that have been vasectomised are known as teaser rams. They are put in with the ewes before the fertile rams to bring the ewes into season. Using a teaser ram means all the ewes come into season at the same time. This makes for a shorter lambing time, no one wants to be up all night for six weeks or more with a spread out lambing. The vet explained it is better to use older rams as teasers because they are smellier and waft more hormones around than young inexperienced rams.
Another good idea was to use a ram which stands out in the flock, in this case the ram having the snip was a Black Welsh Mountain, a black sheep with big curly horns, he will be put into a flock of white sheep with no horns so it will be easy to tell which ram is the teaser. After all, it would be terrible to muddle up the fertile rams with the teaser, which is all too easily done if they all look alike.
The good news for this ram is he is now ensured a long and happy life, he has an important job to do on the farm for many years to come. Whereas if he was still fertile he would have to be sold and may have gone for meat because he cannot be bred to his own daughters kept on the farm. The ram will never know he’s had the snip, unless of course some insensitive soul whispers in his ear, he will feel just the same and will still be able to serve as many ewes as he fancies, he just wont get them pregnant. All in all, the life of a teaser ram is not a bad one.