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Rams deserve better attention

The working lives of rams in commercial flocks could be improved if farmers gave them the attention they deserve in terms of health and nutritional needs.

sheep

The working lives of rams in commercial flocks could be improved if farmers gave them the attention they deserve in terms of health and nutritional needs.

This is the conclusion of a new report looking at the longevity and welfare of rams, launched at the Sheep Breeders’ Round Table event in Nottingham this weekend (Sunday 19 November). The study was funded by the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation and supported by the National Sheep Association (NSA).

Report authors Lesley Stubbings and Kate Phillips, both independent sheep consultants, gathered information from almost 600 UK sheep flocks, mainly through focus group discussions and an online survey.

“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,” said Kate Phillips.

“Routine vaccination of rams is also not widespread and respiratory diseases and poor body condition as a consequence of lameness, are high on the list of causes of ram deaths – both of which can be tackled with a sound health plan.

“In terms of feeding, rams are on average losing 9% of bodyweight whilst working – with the worst losses up to 20%. There is a clear need for more accurate guidance on ram feeding throughout the year.”

Further recommendations in the report on health issues include adapting the five-point plan for lameness in rams, involving vets – who are allowed to break open product packs and dispense small quantities of vaccinations, and looking to develop a ‘Clean Bill of Health’ document.

Vendors would complete this and purchasers could use it as a guide for future treatments and nutrition.
“Rams face considerable challenges, often moving from the relative luxury of a pedigree flock to the rigours of working life on their new farm, with little or no transitional period and patchy preventative health care,” said Ms. Phillips.

“While the farmers surveyed online were generally satisfied with how long their rams are lasting, their expectations are not matched with reality.

“On average they wanted them to work for four to five years, but in practice they are lasting for 3.8 years. There is no doubt that if they can improve ram health and nutrition, they can improve the life of working rams and reduce their cost per lamb sold.”

The ‘Improving the Welfare and Longevity of Rams in Commercial Sheep Flocks’ can be viewed on the NSA website at www.nationalsheep.org.uk.

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