Consider the role of genetics and the environment when buying rams

A ram that has been bred and grown in a mild environment or on good quality pastures will nearly always perform better than an animal that has been reared under drier and harsher conditions. However, this may not be a true reflection of the relative genetic merits of the different animals. Genetically, they could be very much the same as they appear, or differ greatly. Genetic and environmental factors are measured by these classifications:

  • Genotype (or genetic make-up) - fixed at the moment of conception. Once a sheep receives its genes, which are the direct link between parent and offspring, those are its genes for life. Different sets of genes are switched on and off under different environments.
  • Phenotype (or physical appearance) - a combination of its genotype and the influence of the environment in which it is reared and lives.

Influence of the environment

A ram grown under easy nutritional conditions may carry the best genes for appetite. However, a ram raised under challenging conditions may have the best genotype for feed conversion efficiency.

Buying rams from outside your environment

If you buy rams that are bred in a different environment to yours, (particularly if their original environment is less harsh), their phenotype will alter as they become acclimatised to their new home. For example, fleece and body weights may become lighter. More importantly, the ram and their progeny may bear very little resemblance to their parents. This deviation will depend on the difference between the environment in which the ram was bred and the new home environment.

When considering the purchase of southern bred rams it's important to have a good estimate of how these rams and their progeny will perform in your own environment, in terms of lambing percentages, fibre diameter, fleece weight and body weight.

Some studs attempt to offer this information to their clients by participating in bloodline comparisons and central test sire evaluations in various environments. You can also do on-property trials, or find information from other producers to check the performance of the stud in their environment. An animal's phenotype can be very misleading so you should use objective, reliable data sources when choosing sires.

The environment and your breeding objective

You should always keep your breeding objective in mind and be prepared to make periodic assessments of the progress of your own flock. You can enter sheep in bloodline comparisons, or use on-farm trials to ensure that you are heading in the desired direction.

The safest option is to buy rams from as near to your farm as possible. You should also buy rams from a stud that raises rams under near-commercial conditions.

Also consider...