Can You Keep Rams With Ewes Year Round?

During breeding season your ram is, of course, with the ewes, but breeding season is actually a fairly short period of time, so what do you do with that ram the rest of the year?

Can your ram be in with the ewes all of the time or does there come a time when he need to be out and why?

Most sheep farmers do not keep the ram with the ewes year round. Instead, most farmers keep the ram with the ewes during a breeding season and remove the ram for the time period required to prevent lambs being born (and likely dying) in the colder parts of the year.

group of white faced breeding rams in pasture
These are our breeding rams. They are in a pasture by themselves and have been separate from the ewes for about half a year. They will get harnesses and be put in with the ewes on December 1st, since that is the lambing season appropriate for our area.

When To Put In Rams? goes into more detail on matching up your breeding season with your area and the needs of your flock.

Can you keep rams with ewes year round?

You can keep rams with your ewes year round. The question you should be asking is “should I keep the ram with my ewes year round?” That is the key point to focus on with your flock.

If keeping all the sheep together year round makes sense for your situation and your area, sure, but before you take the easy option here think a bit on the consequences.

Does the weather get extreme enough in your area to kill newborn lambs? In most parts of the country the answer here is yes, it does get cold enough to kill lambs born in the frigid temperatures.

What time of the year is that? In our area, any time after mid October and definitely by mid November any lambs born outside are at risk of death due to cold temperatures. This extends into mid April.

This means we do not want any lambs born from mid November until mid April in the main flock, these are the sheep that are kept outside and lamb on pasture.

Any ewes bred to lamb earlier than that will need to be kept in the barn to keep the lambs from chilling down.

With these dates in mind, no lambs born outside from mid November until late April, we take out the rams in late June or early July and keep them out until December 1st.

This means that the rams spend half the year with the ewes and the other half of the year in a guys only group.

chart showing when to turn in rams and take out rams for may 1st and march 1st lambing seasons
This is an example of when to put your rams in with the ewes for breeding. You’ll need to figure out the specific dates for your area. Our rams spend about half the year with the ewes and half the year in a guys only group.

You are responsible for care of lambs born in the cold

If you decide to keep the rams with the ewes year round you are now responsible for the extra care those lambs need during the more colder parts of the year.

This is the main reason why most farmers remove the rams, a little bit of work now saves you a lot of work later. Take the rams out!

In my area, Ohio, this means dealing with lambs in frigid weather.

This entails soon to lamb ewes being inside or brought inside from the pasture and one of us (me or my husband) making checks on the pen every few hours, around the clock. Not kidding.

When the lambs are born in the cold, they supplemental heat, which means they need put into lambing jugs (individual pens) with heat lamps. Those pens all need individually fed and watered.

If we aren’t willing to do this level of work for lambs born in cold weather, they’ll likely die and that would be our fault because our management, or lack of, had set up a situation that the sheep can not handle.

It will be the same situation for your flock. I’m not trying to be harsh or overly dramatic, but I do want you to think this over.

When should you put your rams in with ewes?

Plan to put rams in with your ewes 5 months before you want lambs.

Ewes that breed early in the season will lamb a bit sooner than this, maybe a week earlier, but 5 months is a good length to use for planning.

We put in rams December 1st to get the first lambs born about May 1st, more specifically late April. We are in Ohio, so if you are noticeably south or more mild than here, you can put rams in sooner.

Take some time and think through the your situation.

Consider a few things:

  • the last of winter weather in your area
  • do your have space for all ewes to lamb in the barn?
  • when is the ideal lambing time for your flock?
  • how much work you are willing to put into lambing time?

A popular time to turn in rams is October, since it is the highest fertility time for the ewes. But, that’s not all you need to consider, there’s a catch.

The catch is that this is too soon for our area, breeding in October gives us March lambs, which are fine if you have a barn, but a disaster, at least around this area, if you do not have them under roof.

We do not have the barn space for lambing inside so we do not turn rams in for October!

Sheep Gestation Table and Lambing Date Calculator at TVSP.org has a lambing chart and, if you scroll down, a calculator (my preferred choice) that you can use for finding specific dates to suit your flock.

rams looking at a ewe through the fence
This is an escaped ewe (on the right) coming to stand beside the ram fence. All of the other ewes are on the far side of the farm.

When to take your rams out

We leave the rams with the ewes for about half of the year, they stay with the ewes until late June or early July. This is so we do not get unexpected lambs in the bitterly cold parts of the year.

If you are in an area with better winter weather, you could leave the rams in with the ewes for longer, as long as you take into account the weather and figure up when he needs to come out of the group.

Grab a calendar and plan your ram removal date

Take a look at a calendar and think about the weather in your area. You need to mark out months that you do not want lambs.

This is simple and that is the problem, it’s easy to do so it is also easy to not do. Please take the time to work this stuff out for the sake of your sheep, not to mention your own levels of frustration!

Will the rams bother the lambs?

From what we have noticed, no, the rams do not tend to bother the lambs. This is because they have plenty of space on pasture.

If for some reason your can not behave himself in the lambing area, take him out.

If the rams are with the ewes and new lambs inside the barn, I would separate off the rams and pen them elsewhere. You don’t need extra bodies in the pen with new lambs, they get jostled around too easily.

new lamb born late in year
This is one of the lambs born late this year. These ewes would have been bred right before we pulled out the rams this summer.

Why not leave the ram in?

If you have acceptable weather year round or a nice lambing area inside, why do you need to keep your rams out? Wouldn’t it be easier to just keep the rams with the ewes all year?

It may be easier for now to keep them all together, but it will get more complicated as you go.

By keeping the ram in with ewes year round you are either making yourself a lot of extra work or leaving new lambs to fall behind and possibly die when they can not keep up with the rest of the group.

Lambs and lactating (milking) ewes need higher energy diets than the rest of your flock. A ewe with lamb should be on better feed than the rest of the flock and the lamb should be kept out of the way of the other ewes.

As soon as you have a ewe with lambs, you should keep her separate from the rest of the group and keep her with other new moms and babies. Any lambs born for the next few weeks can go in this pen, as well.

After that you are getting too much of an age difference between the lambs and the newest lambs will have a hard time keeping up with their much older peers. This means that you’ll need yet another pen.

You’ll keep needing to section off the new moms and their lambs as you get more an more groups of lambs spread out through out the year.

This gets to be a lot of work, when you could just remove the ram and put him in when you want lambs in 5 months.

Your ram options

Ideally, you will have a buddy for your ram to live with in the times of the year you need him to be out of the ewe flock.

If you do not have a wether (castrated male sheep) or another ram, put him with other grass or hay eaters, like a few steers.

As long as the fence will hold the ram, he has space to move away from the steers and he can have the feed that the rest of the group is eating, he should be okay here.

Word to the wise, sheep are sensitive to copper levels in feed, so if the other animals in the pen are getting any sort of mineral, grain mix or pellets, this arrangement will not work.

If they are getting grass or hay only, it should be fine, feed wise. Now, let’s consider behavior.

When you put the ram in this pen, stick around and see how they get along. Once you see everyone eating, things are probably fine.

The steers will be curious and investigate the newcomer, which is fine, but they can not be mean. If so, you’ll have to put the ram by himself.

Of course, the ram would prefer the company of another sheep, but being with non sheep buddies, while not ideal, is better than being alone.

Other sheep articles on this site that you may be interested in:

How Much Does A Ram Cost?

Raising Sheep For Profit

When Should You Put The Ram In With Your Ewes?

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