There is something that has always confused me about buying rams and bulls. The one thing that consistently influences buying decisions is how “fat & shiny” an animal is. Studs have to work hard to make sure that rams are presented to the expectations of the purchasers. But what exactly are these expectations based on?
Most of the visual expectations that people have when it comes to selecting rams and bulls is born from the original show ring days. A time where bigger was better.
The reality is, however, that one of the most common causes of a ram or bull breaking down is feet/leg injury. The most common cause of feet and leg injury, particularly foot abscess, is excess size/weight of the animal, which the foot simply cannot sustain over time, particularly under wet conditions.
I won't focus on rams as the example here. A client of ours recently purchased some young rams with excellent ASBVs, but the rams are nowhere near as well grown as other rams they have at home. We have great faith in these breeding values, which indicate that the likely performance of these ram’s progeny will be excellent. We also sleep easier at night knowing that these rams are much less likely to experience the feet issues of other rams in their team.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still a stickler for good structure when selecting rams. But I also believe our industry is unnecessarily compromising rams by growing them out to a ridiculous size and fatness in order to meet the expectations of an old-school mentality. An expectation of visual appearance which has no correlation with actual performance.
We have a number of clients who purchase ram lambs annually. While these rams can present their own challenges with a higher propensity for summer pneumonia and other issues, they generally result in a smaller, lighter ram over their lifetime. This isn’t necessarily anything to do with their use as ram lambs, but more to do with the fact that they haven’t been fed up on stud rations after reaching maturity. This presents some advantage for avoiding foot abscess throughout their life.
There is another catch however. Buying ram lambs opens up the risk of structural issues developing after purchase, as the ram’s live weight continues to increase as he matures. These structural faults often simply can’t be identified by the stud prior to sale, as the issue is yet to present itself. Any responsible stud selling ram lambs offers a comprehensive replacement policy for these reasons, and so I see this as less risk than a lifetime of feet issues caused by a team of over-sized rams.
So, as you put your rams out this year, perhaps take a moment to consider what is really important to you. Big pretty rams, or moderate, fit rams with the genetic potential to perform over a number of years. We now have the tools to predict the performance of progeny bred from a ram, and should no longer be obsessed with how well a ram is “presented”. Make sure he is structurally sound, has the genetic potential to provide the performance you need, and the ability to actually deliver over a number of years.
Fit, not fat.
It is 2018. Buy (or sell) rams in a way that reflects that.