Australian Livestock Scanning Services Group

The results and recommendations from 23 years of on-property R&D with commercial sheep and cattle producers. We specialise in precision scanning for pregnancy, twinning, and ageing of foetus in sheep and cattle and in helping to raise lamb survival and cow fertility in stud and commercial breeding enterprises.

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15. Get more of the better lambs with yard joining

Yard joining originated in southwest Queensland and was used to improve contact between ewes and rams when together in very large paddocks. As a mating strategy, it was very successful.

In recent years it has been used to increase the number of ewes that get pregnant to “superior” rams. The main purpose of yard joining is not to use fewer rams. However, when there are more ewes with each ram there is crowding with the greater numbers of sexually active ewes packing in around each ram and reducing his ability to serve the ewes. This problem can be eliminated by putting the rams with the ewes overnight. There are no fewer sexually active ewes, but, under the cover of darkness, the interaction between any one ewe and the ram is less visually obvious and there is no crowding.

Scanning plays an important role in association with yard joining, because by careful ageing of the pregnancies, the success of the program and all of the progeny of the elite rams will be identified.

Yard/paddock size

As the term suggests, yard mating is practiced in smallish areas. More ewes are served by each ram and as a consequence no time is available for the process of ram meeting ewe, nor can crowding be allowed.

The mating area may range in size from 20 m2 to a hectare. There should be water and shade available, however, there have been successful yard mating programs where there was water, but no shade. If the area is adjacent to a woolshed or a set of yards, it is helpful when drafting rams out for the day.

Running rams with ewes

Rams are run with ewes during the night and away from ewes during the day, 14 hours with ewes and 10 hours away from ewes. When removing the rams from the ewes, it is usually easier to cut a wing of ewes off with the rams then draft the rams off in the usual manner. Many programs involve getting the rams out at 7.00 to 8.00 am and running them back with the ewes at about 4.30 to 5.00 pm. Having the mating area close to a set of yards is obviously beneficial.

It is never hard to get rams back with the ewes in the evening because they are usually waiting at the gate. A bit more work involved in getting rams away from ewes in the morning, but this extra effort is the cost of getting more ewes to join with superior rams.

Length of joining

A paddock joining normally lasts 5 to 6 weeks, i.e. two 17 day cycles plus a few extra days (the extra days being needed to give ewes that have cycles longer than 17 days, two chances to get pregnant). The first 17 to 20 days of yard joining is with the “superior” rams and the remainder is in a larger area with additional rams added to the mob.

Number of ewes per ram

Successful yard joining programs have been conducted when average number of ewes per ram was 233 and ranged from 175 to 380. The lower end of this range tended to be single sire mobs whereas the higher end of the range featured ram syndicates where there were still 380 ewes per ram.

In a commercial flock, a syndicate of 2 rams could be joined to 500 ewes in a yard-joining program. Indeed a syndicate of 6 rams could be joined to 1400 ewes. In each of these situations, 50 to 60 percent of the ewes would be pregnant to the ram syndicate as a result of 22 days of joining. Pregnancy rates of over 90% are achieved by running more rams (e.g. the original 6 plus 6 more) with the ewes during the last 20 days of the joining.

Yard joining versus single sire joining

A single sire joining is normally one ram with about 100 to 120 ewes. If 175 ewes were joined to one ram in a single sire group where the ram and ewes remained together throughout joining, there might be 100 to 120 ewes pregnant after two cycles of joining. If the same ratio of ewes to rams was joined in a yard joining program there would be 150 to 160 ewes pregnant after two cycles. The difference is due to the lack of crowding in the yard joining.

Preparing the rams

During the night when the rams are with the ewes, there is little time available for anything other than mating. Because of this it is critically important to have the rams well prepared for the program by providing a high protein ration e.g. Lupins, high protein pellets, Lucerne hay, all fed at an ad-lib level.