There is a secret behind a lucrative business of ram breeding. Most of us enjoy lamb (meat of domestic sheep). And we thrive on clothes made from wool. Yet we know very little, of the hard work involved in producing these commodities.
Dr Puleng Matebesi-Ranthimo, a lecturer and head of Department in the Department of Animal Science at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) has made it her mission to reveal the secret.
“First and foremost, I always tell farmers whom I train that if they want to make it in this business, they must be prepared to work hard,” Dr Matebesi-Ranthimo said. “This business is not for the faint-hearted. That is the first secret.”
Dr Matebesi-Ranthimo then revealed that the business of growing rams in Lesotho is one of the most lucrative. Yet, as usual, many Basotho are not aware of it. “As Basotho, we have become so accustomed to buying rams for breeding in South Africa, we can hardly see that we can produce our own,” she said. “And we pay a hefty price for such ignorance.”
What price? In her recent research, she found out that Basotho spend about M14 million a year purchasing rams for breeding from South Africa! Even worse, in times when there are diseases in South Africa, all South African animals are prohibited from crossing the border into Lesotho. Thus local farmers in sheep breeding all but forgo the mating season, with dire consequences. Yet if the farmers are trained to breed, the money can be spent right here in Lesotho. Further, there won’t be worries of missing mating seasons.
That is why Dr Matebesi-Ranthimo is dedicated to the business of training prospective ram breeders in Lesotho. Over years, she has trained up to 30 farmers in this area. “In Lesotho we have two types of businessmen in this industry,” she said. “First we have seed-stock breeders. Just as you buy seedling for trees from nurseries, you buy seed-stock from these breeders. This group of farmers focuses on producing rams with the best traits that the second group of farmers can buy.”
This second group is called commercial producers. They make a majority of farmers undertaking sheep breeding in Lesotho. Their main aim is to produce sheep mainly for wool and sell them for meat. In order to produce sheep of the desired traits, they make sure that they buy rams of desired qualities to pass the traits to their life-stock. The rams mate with their female sheep.
What traits are needed in a sheep? Take an example of the recently held NUL Fundraising Gala Dinner, in which a sheep with the name Thuto (Education) was the most popular among the attendees! Its popularity got it auctioned for a whooping M15,000! This is because the attendees were left thunderstruck as they listened to Dr Marake detailed a host of incredible traits that the sheep was said to have. The message was clear; the traits were important to the buyers.
“If judges in a beauty contest carefully examine a host of traits: looks, charisma and confidence of the contesting models, we sheep breeders are no less meticulous when examining ram traits.” Dr Matebesi-Ranthimo continued.
“Many people confuse male sheep with rams, just as they confuse wearing a pair of trousers with being a man. Just because a sheep is a male does not mean it is a ram, good enough for breeding. First, Rams should be able to pass their traits to the lamps. This is the first pre-requisite. A male sheep which is not able to pass its traits to its lamps is like an extremely educated teacher who doesn’t know how to pass his knowledge to the students. He can be frustrating.”
Then a ram must have very good traits to start with. “It doesn’t help that a male sheep is able to pass its traits when those traits are not good,” she added.
These traits are many. However, in general, a ram must have a very good body shape (body conformation). “But we scholars go beyond physical appearance. We know that in Sesotho “Matlo a ka ba matle liotloana.” (Houses can look good on the outside only). So we dig deeper and examine the genetic makeup of the ram. If both the physique and the genetics are satisfactory then we know a sheep is good for breeding.”
That is not all. In countries such as Lesotho where wool production is paramount, a ram with good wool is often a must. However, the focus is not only the rams in breeding. The breeders must also have good ewes (female sheep). They too, are examined for the traits mentioned above. Does a ewe have mothering abilities, or will it leave that hard job to the farmers? With the right rams and ewes, one is now ready to start a breeding stud farm, as they call it (a farm for sheep breeding).
Is ram breeding worth all the effort? Yes! Consider that an average ram bought from South Africa will cost you a minimum M10, 000 and can go as high as M40,000. In South Africa, some rams have sold for as much as a whopping M 250,000!
Nonetheless, local farmers in sheep breeding face the challenge of poorly fed rams and ewes in the breeding stud farm. Dr Matebesi-Ranthimo advises those in sheep breeding to grow their own food for the animals instead of depending on the ever declining local rangelands. That is where hard work comes in. Still, it will finally pay off!
This blog post was originally written by NUL Research and Innovations