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Redden: Stockmen have more to consider when selecting a maternal sire ram

Although the sheep industry is not as far advanced as the cattle industry with record keeping and determining EPDs, they are making strides toward helping stockmen determine which rams can add the most value to their flocks. 

Reid Redden, a sheep specialist at North Dakota State University, recently discussed selecting a maternal sire ram during a recent webinar, “How much is the ram worth?”

Maternal traits

Redden shared some of the important traits stockmen should be selecting for when choosing a maternal sire. 

Reproductive traits like pregnancy rate, lambing rate and maternal instinct, which is the number of lambs born compared to the number of lambs weaned and lamb vigor at birth, are all important, he said. 

Milk production, especially the first 30 to 45 days, and out of season breeding should also be considered. 

Other factors are growth traits, like weaning weight, post weaning weight and yearling weight; resistance to diseases like scrapie, opp, parasites and foot rot; and carcass traits like yield, ribeye area and backfat. 

In wool breeds like the Rambouillet, Columbia and Targhee, staple length, fiber diameter and fleece weight should be considered, as well as skin color and wool type, discounts for pelt pigmentation and fees for hair pelt disposal. Some producers may also need to look at breed phenotype considerations like horns, wool character and color.

Considerations

“What is important to remember, is that you will never find a ram that is genetically superior in all of these traits,” Redden said. “That is why it is difficult to be a maternal seedstock producer.” 

Maternal sires also have a faster turnover in the flock, because of inbreeding concerns. 

“When looking at which maternal sire should be purchased, look at the offspring, and the offspring’s offspring to determine how productive that ram is,” he said. “By accessing the rams available and doing your homework to find good genetics, there is a potential to produce $2,400 in additional income by selecting the right ram.”

Predicting improvements

Redden shared different ways producers can predict improvements from genetically superior maternal sires. The best genetic predictor of how productive a ram will become is its estimated breeding value, he said. Other methods are farm testing, which he said was nearly impossible to do, flock performance records and disease resistance records.

“I would recommend buying rams from people who do genetic testing or keep very good production records,” he said. “They should be able to prove to you those rams could produce animals in your flock that are very productive.”

When selecting a maternal sire, Redden said producers should evaluate their flock performance goals and in which areas they are the most deficient. 

“I would identify the breeders that excel in these areas and select rams that are above average for these traits within their contemporary group. I would avoid focusing on a single trait. It is better to buy average rams with data, than rams without data,” he said. 

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..