At a farm meeting, our head shepherd Christopher asked “should we keep our ram lambs intact”? We had already started raising a small group of Suffolk rams for our own breeding use, as we had difficulty locating high-quality rams that had been pasture-raised. Barn-raised rams are not sufficiently hardy for our farm.
We’re always seeking ways to increase feed efficiency and reduce costs so the discussion raised the following points, for and against:
Keeping testicles on ensures:
• Less stress for the males not being neuteured
• Better physical growth, as testosterone results in leaner meat; more rapid growth
• Better efficiency and lower costs – it takes less time, less grain to get the animal ‘market ready’ or ‘finished’.
• Not much added labour for chores as we’ve always kept a small number of intact males in the flock. Feeding 400 is not much more difficult than feeding 20.
• Less labour during the very busy lambing season, as care must be taken for each male ringed
However, there are downsides of keeping ram lambs intact:
• Unwanted pregnancies – (it is really hard to find the males with small balls. We’ve checked the entire lamb flock about 5 times)
• Our butcher at Pig and Olive won’t take them for private sales, wanting only females and neuteured males – just his preference.
• The need for much more secure fencing – difficult in a dry fall with electric fences and abundant pasture. The dry ground reduces connectivity; the abundant pastures lure them elsewhere.
• Our concern to avoid seldom successful mid-winter births.
• Feisty stubborn teenage male behavior when trying to move the ‘boys’ to other pasture.
Ian called Brian, the ringmaster at Ontario Stockyards who has firsthand knowledge of market demand. Brian said there would be no negative effect on prices with intact males; there just might be an increased price offered during Muslim high holidays or with other special cultural interest groups.
So we are experimenting this year.
From about 1350 lambs, we’ve kept about 400 ram lambs intact.
These include all the Border Cheviots from the ewe lambs (generally smaller animals) and the half or quarter Rideau lamb rams. We’ve ringed the faster-growing Suffolk Cross males for the freezer trade, except those we might keep on the farm.
So we are in the midst of one of those challenging experiences.
“May you live in interesting times”!