Using a ram marking harness, also referred to as a sheep harness or sheep breeding harness, is an excellent way to identify how efficiently your ram is breeding your ewes. A ram harness fits snugly around the chest and shoulders of a ram, and has a slot for a replaceable marking crayon. When your ram mounts and breeds your ewes there will be a clear mark left above their hips.
For many years shepherds have been using a sheep harness to help determine the lambing due date by using a sheep gestation calculator or table.
A breeding harness can also help shepherds identify fertility problems with their rams or ewes if their flock is consistently marked and re-marked by their ram.
Why Use a Sheep Harness During Breeding Season?
Since we know the average gestation period for ewes, using a ram marking harness during breeding season allows shepherds to plan their lambing resources. If your first ewes are delivering in mid-March, you can avoid extra trips to the barn in February.
Additionally, a ram harness in the fall will make it clear if there is an issue with conception.
If a single ewe is marked and re-marked, it’s an indication that there may be something wrong with her since she is unable to conceive.
If all of your ewes are getting marked repeatedly, that’s a sign that your ram may have a fertility issue. You may need to switch to a different ram to ensure that you’ll have a robust crop of lambs the following spring.
What Are The Best Ram Marking Harnesses?
There are two popular styles of sheep breeding harnesses. These include 100% nylon ram harnesses, and sheep harnesses which are leather, or a combination of leather and nylon.
I’ve had success using both styles of ram marking harness, so it’s really a matter of personal preference. But if I were to offer advice, I’d probably recommend staying away from an all-leather harness. Mine always seemed to crack and break, and in my experience they don’t last quite as long.
Here are examples of each style that I recommend from Weaver Leather, which can be purchased on Amazon:
Leather Ram Marking Harness
This leather harness tends to stay in position better on your ram, which is an important quality if you’ve never used a marking harness before. It can be frustrating to have to catch your ram and adjust the harness every day.
Nylon Ram Marking Harness
The nylon harness tends to last longer in my experience. Leather can crack and deteriorate faster if your ram is active and has a lot of ewes to service. The nylon harness is therefore the better value since it costs a bit less and lasts longer.
About Marking Crayons for Your Ram Breeding Harness
After you snugly secure your ram marking harness to your sheep, attach a colorful marking crayon to the provided clip (located just below the ram’s brisket. These crayons attach easily with a provided pin).
I recommend that you purchase at least three different colors for your breeding season, and purchase 2 crayons of each color. You can buy these on Amazon if they aren’t available locally.
Make a note of when you attach each new color to your ram marking harness. Try to change color every 16-17 days (the average ovulation cycle of ewes). This way you’ll clearly see if your ewes are getting re-marked. I also recommend starting with the lightest color crayon you have, and then changing to darker colors progressively (it’s much easier to see a blue mark covering a yellow mark than the other way around).
More Tips & Information About Sheep Breeding Harnesses for Your Rams
It’s normal for a brand new sheep marking harness crayon to become worn and dirty. Don’t be concerned about that … these crayons come with extra colored material on purpose, and even a dirty harness will leave a prominent mark when your ram successfully breeds a ewe. With that said – if it is especially hot in your climate, or if your ram is with a very large number of ewes, you may find that you need to use two crayons per 17 day cycle.
You also may find that you have extra length for the straps when attaching a ram harness. Some shepherds will cut the excess, but I recommend that you simply tuck and tie the extra nylon or leather so that your harness can be used again for larger rams or rams in heavier fleece.
How Tight Should My Ram Harness Be?
While it may be tempting to keep your ram’s marking harness slightly loose and comfortable, I recommend that you keep the straps as snug as possible without restricting movement or risking the development of sores. An active ram will make his harness loosen as it is worn. It’s better to go a bit snug than a bit loose, or you risk having the harness fall off.
If you have a decent-sized flock of ewes to be bred, it might be a good idea to keep an extra harness on hand. This way you can replace your harness if the one your ram is using breaks. This way you won’t miss out on important data about breeding dates while waiting for your new ram harness.
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