Lamb Day

10 05 2013

This weekend we traveled to Ingjaldssandur to help Betty at her farm. Today 17 lambs were born!

Lambing season usually begins in early May and lasts several weeks. The gestation period is five months, so the farmer determines lambing time by when she releases the rams into the ewes. We took shifts watching over the nearly 250 ewes and helping them give birth. Each ewe normally has between one and three lambs. Even as young as the age of one, ewes are ready to have lambs.  Usually the youngest ewes have the fewest lambs. 

The little lambs stay in the sheep-house until they are strong enough to brave the still cold spring. Then they will go up into the mountains with their mothers until the autumn.

The little lambs stay in the sheep-house until they are strong enough to brave the still cold spring. Then they will go up into the mountains with their mothers until the autumn.

When a sheep is ready to give birth she becomes restless and mucus shows at the end of her birth canal. The ewe starts licking her lips and pushing and one can see the hooves of the lamb appear at her rear. The lamb is supposed to come out with its front legs and head first. If not, then you have to push it back in and reach for the hooves or head. Or a big lamb or little ram already with horn stubs, can get stuck and you have to help the sheep by pulling the lamb out.

Even the newspaper has instructions for lambing!

Even the newspaper has instructions for lambing!

When the lamb comes out it looks like a slimy, bloody clump. Lying motionless on the floor it looks as if it is dead. Sometimes the farmer needs to help it breathe by grapping it by the hind legs and swinging it back and forth.Then the newborn’s mother takes over and licks her lamb clean. The ewe eats the slimy membrane to familiarize herself with her lamb’s smell so that she will always recognize it. After only a few minutes the lamb tries to stand up on shaky legs and after that, it looks for its mother’s teats. And then suddenly, the ewe can give birth to another lamb!

Astrid bottle feeding one of the orphan lambs. The little Pumba and Una followed us everywhere!

Sometimes the ewes reject their lambs. Another sheep may adopt the little lamb and take care of it. If not, the farmers have to feed the orphan lambs with a bottle. Because of this, the little lambs Pumba and Una ran around after us and tried suckle on our fingers.

Many problems can occur during lambing season. This season one lamb died when the mother lay down on top of it. It was in the night and the ewe didn’t realize what she was doing. Another few were born blind. The majority of the lambs are strong and healthy, and their mothers are good at taking care of them!

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