A ram has two jobs. He has to get ALL the ewes pregnant, and then improve the next generation of the flock via his offspring.
Too often the rams are an afterthought! They stagger out from under the barberry hedge the day before mating starts, followed by a drove of blowflies, trying to walk on the only two feet that are free from foot rot, and with a scrotum like a small corduroy purse containing one and half rock-hard golf balls!
Rams should be "fit but not fat"! They spend the whole six weeks of mating "sniff-hunting" the ewes, so never rest or eat much. A ram's feet must be in perfect order with no foot rot or abscesses. His scrotum should be a "whopper" as scrotal size indicates sperm production and hence fertility. When you palpate the testicles inside the scrotum they should both feel large, firm and move freely. If there are adhesions then suspect trouble.
When rams are ready for mating the bare skin around their faces, belly and scrotum goes pink. They are "in the pink" of condition. They also should stink like a billy goat! The smell has an important function - it comes from the grease in the wool and contains a male pheromone that induces ovulation in the ewe. It's a real "switch-on" for ewes so welcome it, even if you're told to undress at the door!
Most rams you buy will be 2-tooths (14 months old) but you can readily use a well-grown ram lamb (8 months old) put to 50 ewes. A 2-tooth ram will mate 50-100 ewes with ease. Give a young inexperienced ram 30-50 old ewes to mate, and mate inexperienced young ewe lambs or 2-tooths with an old ram that knows the ropes! Don't run more than 2-3 rams in a group of ewes as they spend too much time fighting instead of mating.
To check that the ram is not "firing blanks", use a harness and crayon and check to see if any of the marked ewes come on heat again 17 days later. Change the colour after 17 days to show this.
The ram is "half the flock". This means that he is responsible for more offspring than any one female so it's important to go to a reliable breeder and pay good money for a ram. The ram’s offspring will be the next generation which should be better than their parents if the flock is improving.
Start thinking rams before Christmas, rather than at the last-minute ram sales in February. A $15-$20 ram will breed you rubbish and your ewes deserve better! If you have left it too late, then go to a breeder and see if you can lease an old ram for the season. The at least you are getting access to top genes.
Be careful of rams your neighbour is willing to lend you. Unless they pass a physical test and you can see some of their offspring - then decline the offer! If you're serious about your sheep, never try to save money on rams!