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PM Ranch Rams

28 February 2019

Rams have some pretty amazing "equipment". Somehow this came up a couple of days ago when we were speaking with friends. So we pulled up a couple of internet photos, which were actually far more ... dramatic ... than these. Anyway, we realized this would make an interesting page on the website, so we asked Padula for some material. Bob took the photos below, and explained that the frigid Minnesota winter causes the ram's body to bring his "jewels" up close to his body to prevent freezing. Reminiscent of that famous episode of Seinfeld. As Padula wrote, "It was really cold, so his testicles were tightly held up to his body to keep warm. In the summer – totally different."

Here is some information from Padula about why rams are built this way.

Young Ram at PM Ranch in Minnesota, a primary supplier and Advisor to WeatherWool


Young Ram at PM Ranch in Minnesota, a primary supplier and Advisor to WeatherWool

I know you were being light-hearted about the photo of the ram testicles, and as you mentioned, this might be of interest to some of the people that read the WeatherWool page and I am going to turn it into a learning event. I’m a jokester too, so I’m going to have a little fun with this – but keep it clean and serious. I don’t mean to offend anyone. If readers want to play AC/DC while they read this – that’s up to them……

After yesterday’s birth announcement, and the ram that got in by mistake, I’m sending you these pictures showing the size of ram testicles and my concern for doing “damage” to more than one ewe.

Ram testicles and scrotum are large on a mature ram. VERY LARGE. In my flock, a 16 month old ram will have a scrotal circumference of 38 to 42 centimeters. I have not measured this ram recently, but being mature, I’m sure it is more than that. Service capacity, number of matings per ram, is influenced by testicle and scrotal size. It isn’t the only thing, but think of it this way, the bigger the factory --- the greater the output.

These pictures do not really do the ram justice. It was cold out this morning when I took this photo (Snow on the ground and on the ram himself). The Seinfeld episode where George proclaims “Thermo-Regulation” ... we’ll just leave it at that. In the summer this ram's scrotum and testicles nearly touch the ground. We call this ram “Reno” – his Chinese name is “One-Hung-Low”. It is actually a problem, because last summer, his back hooves actually damaged the scrotum as he walked. He gets scrapes and cuts from his hooves, bruises, open wounds that attract flies – there can be problems with infections ….. In addition to physical damage, heat stress in the summer can cause sterility. It takes about 8 weeks to recover from injuries and get the ram “back into shape”. Joking aside – this is serious business here. (We won’t get into his kidney stone story….)

A ram can mate and breed many sheep in a 24 hour period. How many? Well, it is more than people think. The sheep estrus cycle is 17 days and if conception is not achieved, they recycle again.

In college 30+ years ago, part of my research work was to use real-time ultrasound to determine pregnancy and fetal counting in sheep. This is similar to what is commonly done now in humans. I synchronized 60 ewes to be cycling on the same day and split the group into 2 pens of 30, introduced a single ram to each pen and the next day 27 were marked as being mated in each pen. My research work was to look at when you can first tell pregnancy and accuracy of determining fetal numbers – so having a bunch of sheep bred on the same day was important. I was first able to start detecting pregnancy at day 37 in some sheep and by day 42 (a week later) I could tell pregnancy with about 98% accuracy (based on a successful lambing). Of the 27 marked ewes in each pen, 24 were pregnant by this first time mating. Were the other 3 marked ewes bred? "Maybe" is the answer, the ewes could have lost those fetus or the rams could have “ran out” of viable sperm by the time those ewes were serviced. The ram might have found one ewe and mated with her 2 or 3 times. It wasn’t just the rams that were “active” --- the females were just as aggressive. My college advisor asked me the next day how it went and I told him I spent over an hour picking up all the cigarette butts in the pen ….

In theory, based on Artificial Insemination requirements and volume, a ram can produce enough viable sperm to impregnate 50+ ewes in a 24 hour period.
Herein lies the problems and issues we as sheep producers face. If you have 1000 ewes and based on a 17 day cycle – that means 58 to 60 of them are cycling on the same day ….. You check your sheep and find your neighbor's ram in your flock, talk about panic, how long was he in there …..
Or like my 'early lambing' episode, the ram jumped the fence and if we didn’t get him out, there could have been 5 or 6 of them bred instead of the one.
So, I could have had the vet come out 45 days later (and pay $) to ultrasound all the ewes to find out for sure if there was a pregnant one (remember, the ram could have been temporarily sterile from the summer) or just deal with it. It was easy to remember to check and see if you can find/see any pregnant ones around Valentine’s day ---- it’s all good….

These ewes were also going to be used for a nutritional project of mine studying nutrition during mid-gestation (pregnancy) so having them all at the same 45 days later 24 of the and then ready for mating

It is always a shock for people to [first see the way rams are built].  You should hear the comments at fairs and exhibitions from the public, lots of jokes and that kind of thing goes on.  Both the males and the females cracking jokes.    

This ram had kidney stones stuck in part of his urinary tract several years ago, the flagellum portion of his urethral process.  Poor guy could not pass them as it tapers off so small and he could not urinate. I had to surgically deal with the ram or his bladder would rupture and he would have died.  I told my vet where the stones were located and she says “Ah, he doesn’t need that anyway, it’s not like he is waving that little part around, spraying semen all over the inside of her uterus.  Snip it off and he’ll be fine.  I’m not coming down there just for that and unless you want me to charge you $300 for 10 seconds of work.”