- Know your plan
When was the last time you considered not which ram you buy, but where you buy it from and why? And, do you know where your flock is at and where you want them to be in 5-10 years time? More importantly, what and where will your market be in 5-10 years time?
With the sale season coming up, take the time now to sit down and reflect on these things with your team. Build yourselves a genetic plan that will take your sheep and your business to where you want it to be.
We have a self directed course available at the neXtgen Agri Academy called “Your Genetic Plan” which goes more in depth into this process. The course walks you through the process of creating a tailored genetic plan which should make you question your breeding decisions a little and leave you feeling confident about your future.
Now you have a goal, you can go through and establish what traits you want to improve on and also ones you need to be cautious of. Genetics can be a balancing game, it is no good improving litter size unless you also work on improving lamb survival otherwise you just increase the number of dead lambs in the paddock.
On The Hub, you can find a curated selection of the traits from sheep genetics that neXtgen Agri think are most important to understand and benchmark against your flock for Merinos, Maternals, Maternal first cross, and Terminals.
The next step is to find the rams. There are websites and apps that will allow you to search stud breeders based on eBVS/location/breed etc.
New Zealand: www.sil.co.nz/tools/nprove
Be curious and keep ‘Breed’ open to see what options your search requirements shows up. Obviously don’t completely change breed at the drop of a hat, but this may be something you could consider with the right genetics advice.
Find a flock that has rams you like and investigate the breeders environment. You want to make sure your sheep will stand up well on arrival home and last long enough to have an impact. This includes health considerations, environment etc.
It is also important to take time to make sure the ram breeders breeding and business objectives align with your own. If you’re wanting to reduce dagging and crutching in the next 5 years, make sure you find a ram breeder who was already working towards that and has been actively scoring the trait and using breeding values to improve it.
You may have returned back to the original breeder you started with, but now you have a better understanding of where your genetics are heading so you can make the very best decision on the day.
- Prepping for sale-day
The next step after establishing your breeding objectives and finding a ram breeder that matches these, is to have a look at the sale team on paper. Ask the breeder for an excel spreadsheet of the sale team. This will make sorting through the rams far easier. If you can’t, the catalogue, a highlighter and a pen can work just as well.
Go through, highlight any rams that are within the thresholds of each trait you selected in your genetic plan. (This is where any nifty excel tricks you learnt at school can come in handy and make the job far quicker.) Eventually, you will find there are a few rams that tick multiple boxes. These are in your YES category.
Next, go through and cross out any that are way outside of your thresholds. These are in your NO category and, no matter how handsome the ram is, you are not allowed to buy it.
There will be a few that tick one or two boxes, which if assessed alongside its other data, can also go in your YES category.
By now you should have a handful of rams that really sparkle on paper, fingers crossed they sparkle on the day too. This process really simplifies the ram buying process from hundreds of numbers on a sheet, down to a few select rams of your choosing.
- What to look for on the day
You’ve arrived at the ram sale, printed spreadsheet or coloured in sale catalogue in hand; now is your time to pick the best of the best for you. With all of the number work done, it really is a case of spending the time visually assessing the sheep.
With all that extra time you have, (because remember we’re not even bothering with those in the NO category), really stand back and look at every part of the rams you’re interested in- the sausage rolls can wait until after.
We would hope that all ram breeders structurally assess their rams before sale day with the help of a trained professional. But, it is worth training your own eye to what a perfectly structurally sound sheep looks like.
We have almost finished developing a guide that will be available to members that assist with this and shows you how to score them. We will have this guide in your hands as soon as possible
Not all rams will be 100% perfect, but it is good to know which structural traits lead to what issues, so you know which ones you really want to avoid. This may also be something you are chasing. For example, on our farm, we have problems with low back pasterns so we are extremely tough on sale day when it comes to this trait.
Some rams may immediately not tick all of your visual criteria. You may find yourself looking at rams that are smaller in stature, and have all of the YES boxes ticked. Consider the rams environment and how genetically linked the flock is. If it meets the bill on paper, and is structurally perfect, you may have found a diamond in the rough
This is why following the figures is so important.
The next step is to make sure your bidding elbow is well greased because after all of this work, you don’t want to miss out on that game-changing ram you’ve found.
By following all of those steps, you should find yourself post-sale, beer in hand, happily thinking about how spectacular next years lamb crop will be.