May is the lambing season for Icelandic sheep – it is the most exciting time for farmers who have to stay up for hours to look after lambs and ewes at birth. Even in the weeks before birth it is important to be aware of the signs of approaching lambing and to take appropriate precautions.
In sheep that are giving birth for the first time, the udder begins to develop about four weeks before birth. In older animals, this process does not begin until a day or two before birth.
Preparations for lambing
It is best to start preparing for the birth a few days in advance. The farmers have to stock up with the necessary utensils or prepare them accordingly. These include soap, a bucket, birth ropes, soap, a pair of gloves, lubricant, disinfectant and an extensive stall pharmacy.
If possible, utensils such as birth ropes should be boiled to sterilise them and thus prevent the ewe from catching infections at birth from germs on the tools used. In general, hygiene at birth is particularly important for all concerned.
The process of birth
When the time has finally come, an obstetrician should be on hand to observe the animal and intervene in case of complications. Intervention is also necessary if the birth takes too long. A normal birth in sheep lasts about one hour. For animals giving birth for the first time, or when more than one lamb is born, the process may take longer.
The time runs from the moment the ewe’s amniotic sac bursts. If the birth process needs to be intervened, care must be taken not to injure the animal.
It should always be remembered that the birth canal’s mucous membranes are a very sensitive area of the body, where mechanical injuries can occur relatively quickly.
Even after birth, the lamb and its mother should not be left to fend for themselves.
Approximately two to three hours after the actual birth, the mother should still give birth. In many cases, this can no longer be found, as the sheep like to eat it too. However, it should not be automatically assumed that this happens. If the placenta remains in the body, this can have serious health consequences for the sheep.
The animal should therefore be monitored very closely in the first few days after birth, and a veterinarian should be consulted if it shows symptoms of illness such as fever or loss of appetite.
The lamb should be rubbed dry with straw after birth. Care should also be taken to ensure that the nostrils are freed of mucus so that the animal can breathe easily. Disinfection of the navel of the newborn is also recommended.