Sheep farmers are once again gearing themselves up for the busy months ahead. With mating season just around the corner, Louise Hartley speaks to Lesley Stubbings for some top tips on using teaser rams.
Teaser rams are becoming an increasingly popular method of tightening up the lambing period but their efficacy depends on a number of factors, says independent sheep consultant Lesley Stubbings.
Cross-bred rams make for the best teasers as they have hybrid vigour and are often more active than pure-bred rams, says Mrs Stubbings.
When sourcing a teaser ram she advises against choosing a breed which is very seasonal.
Mrs Stubbings explains: “Many people forget rams are seasonal in their breeding activity, just like ewes.
“The ram’s libido will naturally fall in the summer and pick up in the autumn, which you can see by looking at the inside of its back legs.
When testosterone levels start to rise, the skin turns purple and becomes waxy.
“Cross-bred rams based on breeds whose female equivalents come into season naturally early, such as Dorsets, Charollais or Suffolks, are particularly good for teaser rams because they will be eager and ready to work in the early autumn.”
One particularly good type of teaser ram is a Finn cross Dorset, says Mrs Stubbings, as they are very precocious and hardly affected at all by the season.
The presence of a teaser will cause ewes to cycle, bringing them into season at the same time and can advance the start of breeding by a couple of weeks if you want to lamb a bit earlier.
Entire rams will work in a more concentrated mating period and the eventual lambing season is tighter.
Teaser rams are often used with young sheep which are being mated with for the first time because they do not cycle quite so easily, says Mrs Stubbings.
Before using a teaser ram it is important to ensure you will be able to cope with the consequences at the other end of the breeding season.
Mrs Stubbings explains: “If done correctly, lambs will come thick and fast at lambing time, so consider separating ewes into batches to keep control of the process.”
However, the main factor to success when using teasers is ensuring the ewes have had no sight, sound or smell of rams for at least six weeks before the teasers go out.
The health and fitness of the teaser ram is also crucial, explains Mrs Stubbings.
She says: “Do not choose the older rams which are no-longer-needed. Teasers need to be fit and healthy, with good feet and legs - in fact they are often the fittest males in the flock.
“Teasers are expected to last a long while, so it makes sense to vasectomise a young ram which you can use again and again for a number of years.”
At this point in the year it is probably too late for most farmers to buy an entire ram and have him vasectomised because they need to be done at least eight weeks prior to use to ensure they are no longer fertile and the wound is fully healed,” says Mrs Stubbings.
“The best option now is to try to buy one but they may not be easy to source. An average price would be about £250 but it will vary,” she adds.
If borrowing or leasing a teaser ram be extremely careful about biosecurity, warns Mrs Stubbings. And make sure they go through a full quarantine routine on arrival - the Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep website (www.scops.org.uk) is very useful for this, she says.
However, if you are organised, there is an alternative to using a teaser ram.
Mrs Stubbings explains: “Two weeks before mating, bring the ewes downwind of some rams, (the smellier the better) making sure the ewes can smell them and, if possible, hear and see them.
“The fencing has to be good of course, but if you can manage this even for just two to three days it will elicit a response in ewes not already cycling.”
However, the teaser rams must be removed from the flock when the entire rams put are in for mating.
Mrs Stubbings explains: “The teaser rams are often strong and fit and will fight new rams off the ewes at all costs.
“It is also important to remember the ewes will cycle in a tight pattern, so the ram-to-ewe ratio will need to be increased by 25 per cent to ensure all the ewes are covered if a tight lambing period is to be achieved.”
A teaser ram is a normal ram which has been vasectomised.
Teaser rams work by inducing a hormonal response in the ewes from the sight, sound and smell of the ram, says Mrs Stubbings. This is known as the ‘ram effect’.
She says: “It only works if the ewes have not seen or smelt the rams for six weeks before the teaser is introduced.
“The first response is very quick and is known as a silent heat, because they do not show any signs, this is then followed by a normal cycle of 17 days, when the entire ram should be with them.
“Teaser rams do their job in the first two to three days of being put in with the ewes so, if managed correctly, they can be used very efficiently to bring many batches of ewes into season at the desired time.”
For easy management, Mrs Stubbings advises keeping the teaser rams in for about two weeks at a time - up to a maximum of 17 days.
She says: “Some people miss much of the benefit as they put teasers in for three weeks.
“This is too long and a lot of ewes will be missed and not tupped until their next cycle. One fit teaser ram should be enough for 100-150 ewes.
“Putting the teaser in on a Monday and removing it a fortnight later is simple and easy to remember.
“But if you have several batches, they can be put in for just one week,” she adds.