The working lives of rams in commercial flocks would be improved if farmers gave them the attention they deserve, according to independent sheep consultant Kate Phillips, one of the authors of a new report looking at the longevity and welfare of rams revealed at the event and funded by the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation.
The study collected information from almost 600 UK sheep flocks, mainly through focus group discussions and an online survey.
Ms Phillips said: “Health status was identified by commercial sheep farmers as the highest selection priority when buying rams, yet knowledge of health and feeding before purchase was generally low.
“Routine vaccination of rams is also not widespread on the new farms. Respiratory diseases and poor body condition as a consequence of lameness, are high on the list of causes of ram deaths, yet both can be tackled with a sound health plan.
“In terms of feeding, rams on study farms, were losing on average 9 per cent of bodyweight whilst working – with the worst losses up to 20 per cent. There is a clear need for accurate guidance on ram feeding.”
Further recommendations in the report include adapting the five-point plan for lameness in rams and involving vets – who are allowed to break open vaccine packs and dispense small quantities, so rams can be treated at a different time to the ewes.
The report also suggests development of a ‘Clean Bill of Health’ document, which vendors would complete and purchasers could use as a guide for future treatments and feeding.
“Rams face considerable challenges at the start of their working lives, often moving from the relative luxury of a pedigree flock to the rigours of working on their new farm,” said Ms. Phillips.
“While farmers who completed the online survey were generally satisfied with how long their rams are lasting, their expectations are not matched with reality.
“They are wanting them to work for four to five years, but in practice they are lasting for around a year less. There is no doubt that if farmers can improve ram health and nutrition, the life of rams will increase, which will reduce their cost per lamb sold.”
88% felt scope to increase ram life
96% wanted to know more about ram’s previous management
80% did not know enough about ram nutrition
78% agreed need to improve ram health-planning
98% thought significant scope to reduce ram costs