Last update: April 10, 2012 12:11:26 PM E-mail Print


Classing and Valuation of Rams

F. J. Labuscagne 


ANYONE making a thorough study of the classing of rams into the various grades of excellence at our ram sales and for on our stud farms will come to the conclusion that this work undoubtedly leaves considerable scope for improvement. It would appear that this aspect of the matter is not receiving due attention and that there is no fixed standard or guide according to which this work can be carried out.

Rams of a low standard or grade are sometimes found in the top classes and vice versa. Very often we find that rams which, at best would have been undesirable hamels, are offered for sale and the question immediately arises whether such indiscriminate classing is done purposely or whether it is merely due to ignorance.

Our stud farmers and ram breeders generally are undoubtedly aware of the responsibility resting on them as regards the progress or retrogression of our sheep and wool industry. If they allow the sale of uncastrated culls to fellow farmers they are assisting in bringing about retrogression. Such culls can undoubtedly not be used advantageously in any flock and in these circumstances it is the duty of every stud farmer who has the interests of the industry at heart and who wishes to uphold his own reputation as well as that of his stud, to discourage the breeding and sale of undesirable rams.

In classing rams the main aim of the breeder should be to cull all animals showing disqualifications as regards conformation and/or wool and especially those having poor constitution or undesirable skin folds and producing short wool or wool of poor quality. Such rams should be castrated, slaughtered or sent to one of our large abattoirs for slaughter.

If the standard or quality of the stud permits rams, which are approved or are serviceable, can be divided into two classes, viz. flock rams and stud rams.


Flock Rams

Rams, which are used in ordinary flock for the production of hamels and flock ewes, should not only be of reasonable quality but also of a suitable type. In the main, a flock ram should be plain-bodied and of a reasonably large and strong build and carry a reasonable quantity of wool of good length and quality.

In the past, flock rams were divided into two grades, special or selected flock rams and ordinary flock rams. Since all flock rams are employed for the same purpose, there is no justification for this division. Flock rams should be classed only in grades on a price or value basis according to quality and standard of excellence.

Although it is almost impossible to give a definite description of each class it may be stated that the division into various grades is mainly based: on the quantity of wool in which staple length and, fleece density occur in a desirable proportion. Body size and symmetry and some outstanding character or other in wool, such as particular length or high quality or a good combination of the various characters, will always be taken into account.

Moreover, it is also important to the breeder or seller as well as to the person availing himself of the services of the rams to take into account not only the grading and valuation or rams judged by outward characteristics but also the fact that a sound relationship between the value or price of the ram and the purpose for which and the class of ewe on which it is used. In the case of flock rams the price basis thus has to be in relation to that flock of sheep. The price of, the latter usually varies between about £1 and, £2 each.

If it is borne in mind that the average price of £1.5s. each for good flock sheep is seldom exceeded and that such sheep seldom produce more wool than an average of 8 or 10 lb. per sheep over a period of 12 months the question naturally arises whether a price in excess of £15 each for flock rams will be profitable. As a reasonable price basis for flock rams £3 to £15 each, depending on the quality of the sheep, is recommended.

We often hear of farmers acquiring rams at between £30 and £40 each for hamel production. Such transactions can by no means be regarded as economic, if the value of flock sheep at the above prices are taken into account and, in addition, other factors such as infertility and losses due to mortality are considered.

In practice it is also noticed that the wool production of flock sheep under veld conditions in various parts of our country remains fairly constant at the average yield per sheep for the particular area. The use of rams, which produce considerably more wool than is expected from flock rams but are, nevertheless, bought at uneconomic prices, usually cannot be justified since the improvement obtained is not commensurate to the capital invested. Flock rams yielding between about 16 to 20 lb. per ram under natural conditions may be regarded as suitable for producing the ideal average weight of wool under ordinary veld conditions.


Stud Rams

Stud rams should be of such high standard of excellence that their male progeny can be used for breeding, provided they have not some defect or other. Consequently, desirable characters of conformation, such as constitution, size, symmetry, etc., and of wool, such as length, quality, staple formation, density etc., should be present in stud animals in a high degree.

Although, as a rule, stud rams are used for the same purpose, it is nevertheless recommended that they should be classed not solely on a price basis but also into two groups, namely as “ordinary" and "special" stud rams.

Justification for this classification is to be found in the method of stud breeding, which is recommended and which corresponds more or less to a system which has been observed in some of the large studs in Australia.

In the main, studs consist of two divisions, namely an ordinary or general and a special or top stud.

The ordinary stud is commenced with a view to breeding flock rams. Although the stud rams and ewes composing this stud are of a higher standard than flock sheep, especially as regards wool production, they do not reveal any perceptible difference in type. The ewes are classed with a view to obtaining as far as possible uniformity, and a uniform set of ordinary stud rams suited to them is used. Individual mating is not regarded as essential.

The price basis of these ordinary stud rams, thus, should bear a sound relationship to the value of the majority of their progeny, namely stud ewes and stud rams, a price basis of between £25 and £75 being recommended. Classing into intermediate grades at various prices may be carried out according to merit as suggested for flock rams.

The special or top stud consists of ewes of the same type as the ordinary stud, which generally have the best combination of conformation and wool characters and, in addition, are higher wool producers.

The criterion for wool production per sheep is determined by density of fleece, length of staple, size of skin area and not by density alone. Excessive wool production chiefly due to an unnecessarily high degree of density, usually is out of proportion to the level of the grazing conditions under which stud sheep are kept and can, therefore, only be properly maintained under stall conditions.

The method of individual mating is mostly applied with a view to obtaining a pedigree record of each ram and ewe and especially to facilitating selective breeding for perpetuating desirable characters and/or strains. In those cases where more than one ram is mated to the same group of ewes and the method of hand servicing or individual mating is not applied, it will be advisable, however, to employ, if possible, rams which are closely related or belong to the same strain and thus largely preclude the possibility of variation as a result of foreign strains in the sires.

Since ordinary and special stud rams and ewes are bred from this stud exclusively, it is essential to employ the best special stud rams available. As the name denotes special stud rams are of a higher standard of excellence than all other grades and classes of rams. In order to fix a reasonable price basis for special stud rams which will be in relation to their actual value and to that of common stud rams and which will also allow for the considerable percentage of lower grade rams and ewes which usually also appear in such a stud, prices ranging between £100 and £200 and a subdivision into grades according to value are recommended.

In consequence of the higher standard requirements, the classing into the various grades will have to be based on a larger number of and more detailed particulars than in the case of flock or even ordinary stud rams. The higher the standard of the rams the more their outstanding characters are appreciated and for this reason the wider range in price basis is recommended.

It is possible, of course that isolated cases may occur in which rams of outstanding quality are produced, particularly in the special stud. Such rams may then be valued at special prices according to merit. Similarly .the lower grade rams from the special stud are placed in the appropriate classes.

The average price basis of about £10, £50 and £150 for flock rams, ordinary stud rams and special stud rams respectively should be regarded as reasonable, if the purpose for which each class of ram is used is taken into account. But for a few exceptional cases there actually appears to be no justification for higher maximum prices than those recommended.

Our stud- and flock sheep farmers should not lose sight of the keen competition from other sheep breeds, cross-bred sheep and artificial wool with which our merino sheep industry has to contend. In their own interests they should not demand or pay fancy prices for rams since such prices partly account for the injudicious cross-breeding of merino with mutton breeds and also for the over-capitalization of our flocks which, as a result of the high production costs, exercise, a hampering influence on the competitive value of wool.

If the above hints and the proposed price basis are considered in relation to each group, they should not only serve as a guide for the classing and valuation of rams but also contribute towards the improvement and maintenance of the standard of our flocks on a more economical basis and so bring about some reduction in the production costs of wool.

Most farmers today realize the necessity and value of standardization in our wool industry and will undoubtedly, welcome the application of standardization in our breeding- industry in as far as it is practicable. Such a scheme can, however, only be successfully carried put, if it has the whole-hearted support of our stud and flock farmers.

Nevertheless, a serious effort should be made to secure a certain degree of uniformity in the classing into grades and in the valuation of rams not only in respect of the three main groups but also as regards the sub-division of each group into intermediate grades.



Farming in South Africa 19