Friday, November 4, 2016

Buying rams, who from and which ones?

For those who don’t know me, I am a ram breeder; breeding Romneys, Southdowns, South suffolks and Lincolns.

I recently visited a number of studs with a view to buying a good outside sire and quite frankly: while I saw the odd good line up, I have seen a more bloody awful lines of rams that are just not sound sheep which should not be sold: this is not a judgement on type, this about what I consider basic fundamentals such as pasterns, legs, colour etc.

The following is a prioritised order of what to consider when deciding who to buy from firstly and then actually buying the rams:

1.     Do you trust the breeder?  This is the most important, because in this day and age, there is so much marketing that sounds good, but in reality doesn’t add value or isn’t reflective of what they are doing, it’s just marketing crap.  DNA parentage for example is so expensive and realistically adds little value to the rams you buy, it’s more often than not a marketing gimmick.   How do you determine if trust the breeder: you read as much as you can about them, ask them a lot of questions, and any response that sounds like crap, you don’t go there; and

2.     Once you have established trust, you need to satisfy yourself that this breeder is focusing on the core things you are looking for.  If its fertility or survival for example, this must be part of what they focus on.  Obviously the breeder may be doing a lot of things, but if you are looking for some key traits, then this must be at least part of their breeding programme; and

3.    Then you need to see the breeders flock: satisfy yourself that the type of sheep they are breeding are what you want.  If you are unsure of this, which is quite likely, then don’t buy all your rams off them in the first instance, buy a few and see how they go (not one ram as that’s not a big enough sample size); and

4.     Then when selecting your rams, don’t worry about the figures in the first instance.  If your breeder is doing his job properly, there should be no real poor figured sheep being offered for sale.   You initially select on type and basic fundamentals (this includes pasterns, how they walk, shoulders, colour, teeth, eyes etc.).   These basic fundamentals may be difficult to find; but hopefully you will have selected a breeder that does focus on this.  Don’t be sucked in to believing that these basics are not important, there are breeders who will tell you it’s all about figures and performance!  In the short term you might get away with such an approach, particularly if you do have a good flock of ewes, but in the long term 5 to 10 years plus you will go backwards dramatically if you don’t maintain the basics.

5.     If you want say 5 rams, then once you have selected on type, hopefully 10 to 15 rams you like the look of: then get stuck into the figures.   Firstly kick out anything that is poor on the core traits that are important to you.    Then after that don’t over analyse things too much, as there are many traits which makes it difficult to trade one off against the other.  If you still have more rams than you want, then with SIL, focus on the overall DPO, i.e. take the highest ones left.  When looking at the figures ask the breeder to explain them if you don’t know, as some SIl Figures are a complete waste of time and can be wrong.  If the breeder doesn’t seem to understand them (there are some), then perhaps you shouldn’t be buying rams there.

One last point, as I have seen a lot of rams recently that are quite simply unsound rams that should not be sold, but nevertheless there are hundreds of these rams being sold.  This leads me to believe there are number of farmers who either are being convinced to buy on figures alone or don’t have the ability to buy sound rams.  If this is you, then ask around for someone who does know and take them with you to help select the rams.  It is certainly not something to be embarrassed about as it’s no different to getting an agronomist to give you advice on grasses pastures etc., or a lawyer for legal advice.  In my view one of the keys to being successful is knowing when you don’t know and therefore seeking the appropriate advice.