Technical – Feeding for the best performance from your rams!

July 15, 2019

Ram Nutrition – Feeding for Best Performance

Rams are some of the most important animals on any sheep farm whether it be a pedigree, commercial, hill or lowland flock. They are crucial for ensuring next years flock of lambs are successful and often help build the reputation of the farm itself to the market place through show and sale of the best animals bred. We are now well into the show season and with ram sales fast approaching it is time to start considering the finishing rations to best prepare them for their big day. It is important to make sure rams are looked after ensuring nutrition provided promotes fertility and longevity while ensuring rams are in top condition for show and sale and are ready to perform when returning to their new home.

According to Lorna Shaw, Sales Nutritionist at Davidsons Animal Feeds a good feeding programme should start within the first weeks of life by providing a high quality creep feed alongside milk and plentiful forage predominately fresh grass. This is essential in order to promote rumen development and early growth of rams stimulating feed efficiency. An early creep feed should ideally provide a good source of energy to the growing lamb and contain high quality protein sources such as soya or distillers grains. “Soya is a good source of bypass protein which is readily available promoting early growth of frame and stimulating rumen development.” says Miss Shaw. Promoting early growth of frame will also ensure rams can work as lambs and continue to be sold as a shearling without growth being stunted.

It is crucial when choosing a feed source for rams to also consider the mineral content of the feed with zinc, selenium and vitamin E all shown to be important for fertility. Furthermore, intact males are also particularly susceptible to urinary calculi or “gravel” as it is commonly known which can impact growth, performance and ultimately lead to death. Added ammonium chloride in the diet is essential in order to prevent urinary calculi which can impact growth and performance. It is recommended that rations fed to rams have an inclusion of 5000mg/kg units of Ammonium Chloride along with a clean plentiful water source being provided. A salt inclusion in the diet can also help to promote water intake to mitigate the risk of urinary calculi.

It is important when choosing a feed to also consider whether a blend or a compound nut is the best choice for your system. A blend is favoured by many as all ingredients are visible making a blend very aesthetically pleasing to feed and often contains high quality feeds such as flaked maize, peas, beans and lupins but the nature of a blend can promote sorting of the diet with dominant animals picking the most palatable part of the ration first and leaving the least palatable part for those following on. A compound nut although not as pleasing to the eye can still be of the same nutritional quality as a blended feed and will reduce any issues with sorting as every nut is the same allowing every animal to have access to feed of the same nutritional quality. Feeding nuts can also promote feed intake while promoting daily live weight gain.

The last eight to ten weeks before show or sale is about the right time to start reducing the protein level of the diet and promote starch intake in order to bulk rams and promote condition and bloom ready for show or sale. Ideally a starch based finishing feed should include a mix of the three main starches – maize, barley and wheat. Including a mix of the three main starches is kinder on the rumen and promotes production of volatile fatty acids, maximising rumen efficiency. This is important during this stage in order to ensure rams aren’t gaining too much fat meaning rams are in prime condition to continue to breed post show and sale. Providing maize as the main source of starch provides a good source of bypass starch which is also kinder on the rumen than traditional barley or wheat based diets. Rams should ideally be finished for sale to a condition score of between 3-4 for best performance. Anything above 4 indicates a high fat deposition which can also inhibit fertility as fat can be deposited around the testes which can increase the temperature of the scrotum inhibiting motility.

A good source of fibre from forage such as fresh grass or hay should also be provided alongside concentrate to rams in order to slow down rumen passage and prevent any rumen acidosis while feeding a high starch based diet. Splitting the daily feed intake across 2/3 feeds can also be useful in order to help promote intakes while preventing any potential issues with acidosis.

When considering how much to feed it is important to consider both forage and concentrate intake to maximise dry matter intake. For example, a 120kg ram would require around 3kg DM/day. Ideally this intake should be split 50:50 between forage and concentrate. On a hay based diet a good finishing ration should aim for around 2-3kg Hay with between 1-2kg concentrate per day. In order to not over feed rams it is important to consider breed, genetics, average weight and end goal when determining a feeding programme for best results.

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