Before sending a ram out for the breeding season, he must be given a check-up to make sure he is in full working order, according to Darryl Boyd from the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland.

Carrying out a check-up on a ram 10 weeks before mating begins will leave enough time for any necessary treatments or replacement rams to be sourced.

Boyd, a beef and sheep adviser, said there are five key things to watch out for when carrying out the check-up on the ram.

  1. Toes – inspect all feet for problems and check locomotion along with signs of arthritis.
  2. Teeth – check for under/over shot teeth, gaps and molar abscesses.
  3. Testicles – measure and check firmness, similar to a flexed bicep with no lumps or bumps.
  4. Tone – aim for a body condition score of 3.5-4 (spine well covered).
  5. Treat – vaccinate against clostridial diseases, parasites and any other problems.

Rams will benefit from a high quality, high protein (18-20%) ration for six to eight weeks prior to mating if they are not on target to reach a body condition score of between 3.5 - 4, according to Boyd.

"Feeding may also be useful when the body condition score is on target, but testicle tone or size is not yet sufficient," Boyd said.

Boyd advised farmers to get their vet to give the ram a thorough inspection prior to letting him out to a large group of ewes or where he is the only ram in the flock.

"If rams are mating ewes that have been synchronised, are in single sire groups or in with more than 60 ewes, it may be worthwhile asking the vet to perform a semen evaluation as poor fertility performance can have significant impact," Boyd said.

If farmers are forced to buy a replacement ram then Boyd advises to keep him in quarantine for a few days before entering the flock, to reduce the risk of him carrying in and spreading disease.