Making a game plan for the off-season

When a billy or a ram is hard at work during the breeding season, his body condition and health may decline. That’s why the way producers care for their bucks and rams in the off-season plays a critical role in the overall health of those animals. Creating an off-season game plan will prepare billies and rams for the next breeding season.

First, industry leaders encourage producers to remove their billies from does, and rams from ewes, in order to maintain a predictable kidding and lambing schedule. 

“If you leave the ram in all the time there is potential ewes will lamb whenever they want to lamb, rather than when you want them to lamb,” Alan Culham, director of operations with Katahdin Hair Sheep International, said. 

Knowing the lambing date allows producers to establish a more effective nutritional routine for their animals. 

“The management of your flock is based on the lambing date. If you don’t know when they are going to lamb, you can’t manage your flock,” Culham explained.

Once the billy or ram is separated from the females, producers will want to evaluate the animal for nutritional and overall-health needs. 

“When rams are out there working, their number one priority is breeding ewes,” Culham stated. “They will lose condition because they aren’t as interested in eating while working.”

They may also lose condition while they are being fed with the ewes or does. A billy or ram typically outweighs the females. If the animals are all fed together, the billy or ram will be receiving less feed per body weight than the does and ewes in the same lot or pasture.

If the billy or ram has lost condition, they will need an increase in grain, forage and minerals. Experts advise assessing each animals’ individual needs while the animals are taking a break from breeding season. Rams and billies should be fed according to what their nutritional needs are for where they are in their production schedule for the year. Many will need more input daily in order to get their body condition back to normal.

In addition, take a look at their overall health. Deworm them if they need deworming. Trim their feet if needed. Work to return them to excellent health by providing forage, grains, supplements and minerals.

In the off-season there is another important production protocol that helps producers prepare their flocks and herds for the next breeding season. 

“I think the biggest thing producers forget to do is to get breeding soundness exams done, so that way we understand if he is actually fertile,” Chelsey Kimbrough, Ph.D., livestock specialist with the University of Arkansas System’s Division of Agriculture, said. “If for some reason he gets tested and he is not, then you have plenty of time to go find a new buck or ram before you are letting them out on your does or ewes.”

Industry leaders remind producers to remember one size does not fit all when it comes to maintaining animal health. Customizing protocols for the needs of the individual animal will generate the best results. For billies and rams the off-season is simply a time for the animal to recondition, recharge and rev-up for the next breeding season.


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