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Choosing a ram

Many studs offer rams for sale based on a quality grade which divides animals into categories. The stud's classer will categorise animals on the basis of visual assessment, objective measurement or a combination of both. The higher the grade of ram, the higher the price tag will be.

Be careful when choosing a ram, as a higher price does not always equate to better genetics and a higher progeny performance in your flock. In some cases, cheaper rams might be more suited to your breeding objective.

Objective grading of rams

Studs that use objective measurements such as fleece weight, fibre diameter and body weight as selection tools are in a better position to correctly separate rams into performance grades.

Using a selection index

Use a selection index to reduce the risk of accidentally culling some of the superior animals.

Visual grading of rams

Use visual grading to identify obvious faults. Most studs class their rams visually when they are about 6 months old to remove obvious conformation and wool faults. After the first adult shearing, an objective and visual assessment is commonly used to further class the rams to remove any culls.

Where selection is based solely on visual grading, the accuracy of the grading depends on the classers' ability, experience, personal likes and dislikes. Irrespective of how competent a classer is, there are certain economically important wool traits, such as fibre diameter, that cannot be reliably assessed visually.

Genetic gain and lag

If you have been with the same stud for some time your flock should make average genetic gains at the same rate as the stud.

However, the lower the grade of ram you purchase, the greater the 'lag' period in reaching a specified genetic level. On average, this lag is about 2 generations between stud and commercial breeders.

Deciding on how much to pay for rams

Many sheep farmers buy lower grade rams because they can't see the value in paying an extra $50-$100 per ram. If you purchase 20 or more rams per year, obviously this can represent a substantial cost saving. However, the effect that lower grade rams have on genetic lag should not be under-estimated as this can lead to lost income.

You will need to weigh up the initial savings against the lower performance of progeny of cheaper rams. It may still be good business to buy lower performing rams if the price difference is large; however, where rams are not classed objectively, there may be little difference in progeny performance between expensive and cheaper rams.

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