BY: JAMES HOBAN
Ram breeders are notorious for having diverse opinions and philosophies. It is common industry advice that selecting a ram breeder is a more important decision than choosing the right rams. There is a big range in approaches, knowledge and interest shown by ram clients. The following are areas that are worth considering when dealing with ram breeders.
Has the breeder got robust objectives for their flock? Can they articulate these clearly? The most important thing is that those objectives are aligned with the commercial farmer’s own plans. If the breeder is moving in a different direction then that needs to be considered. Various traits can be counterproductive to each other, so it is important to know the priorities for a commercial system and work with a ram breeder who is focused on the same things. These will vary between individuals, properties and farm systems.
WHAT IS BEING RECORDED, HOW AND WHY?
There is massive variation in how breeders approach performance recording. This ranges from breeders selling rams without any figures and, at times, a firm belief that Sheep Improvement Ltd (SIL) can ruin good flocks, right through to people who push indexes as the most important consideration when selecting rams.
The key is balance. If the right ram breeder has been selected then their recording will align with the priorities of the client. If a client wants indexes and a particular range of estimated breeding values they can always go to a ram breeder who provides them. If they don’t want that level of information and they are happy with the breeder’s rationale, the ram’s performance and past experience, then it is ignorant to say they are wrong.
SIL is one of the most debated topics among ram breeders. Industry promotion of ram selection through NZ maternal worth and NZ terminal worth indexes has appeared to simplify what breeders would argue is a science and an art. This has suited index focused breeders and breeds at the expense of, often, more traditional breeders and breeds who might not have indexes or high indexes but might very well have good sheep. Indexes are most relevant for an inter-flock comparison when those flocks are well linked genetically.
When presented with ram rankings it is important to look at what index they are based on and whether it is a within-flock or across-flock evaluation. Breeders use and present a range of reports and figures. Breeds with strong linkage between breeders can make better comparison across flocks than those where breeders are not well linked. Also, it seems that breeds with relatively poor linkage struggle to present rams with huge indexes. This is a challenge for smaller breeds and breed groups where achieving strong linkage through reciprocal ram use is not always straightforward to achieve.
ADVICE SELECTING RAMS
Breeders know the sheep they have available and are used to looking closely at rams. While some people are reluctant to ask for help making selections it is a good way to get feedback from someone who knows the differences in the sheep. Some clients are more experienced and capable of selecting the best rams than others.
Some clients take time to look at a breeder’s ewe flock and quiz them on ewe performance and management. The level of challenge to ewes varies widely among breeders and is something for the client to consider. Do the ewes run in similar conditions to the commercial flock the rams will be working with?
When buying rams privately, only one client can be at the front of the queue.
This is inevitable but what is, at times, a grey area is working out whereabouts in the queue the client is. It is reasonable to know how many rams the breeder has sold already or is holding back from viewing. There is nothing wrong with being further back in the queue and it doesn’t mean those sheep are not worth buying, but it is important to know so that comparison can be made with other breeders or purchasing options.
Some breeders are more transparent about their client pecking order than others.
What percentage of rams born are making it into the sale team? This varies among breeders. A high culling percentage is reassuring that only quality rams are making the grade to be presented to clients. Some clients rely heavily on breeders to eliminate sheep with structural faults such as low pasterns. Breeders with tougher culling policies are less likely to present rams with unacceptable faults.
DRENCH RESISTANCE STATUS
There are breeders in New Zealand with triple drench resistance. Buying a ram without knowing this and appropriately quarantine drenching is a risk to the client’s drench resistance status.
Ram breeders who know their status and have sensible policies in place to manage this part of their business are more likely to engender confidence.