This month at Downe Vets we have been busy lambing! This means helping mummy sheep (ewes) give birth. You may not know this, but sheep, unlike people, generally have a season for giving birth. We call this “lambing season”. The idea is that the lambs are born at a time of year when the weather improves and there is more grass for them as they grow.
Our ancestors have been aware of lambing season since time immemorial. The Irish name for the beginning of this season is “Imbolg”. This literally translates as “in the tummy” and is a reference to the sheep being pregnant. The festival of Imbolg marks the start of lambing season – February 1st, also known as St Bridget’s Day in this part of the world. This is roughly halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It goes back a long time, and several passage tombs in Ireland are aligned with the sunrise on Imbolg. So our society has perhaps been shaped by lambing more than we know!
Of course, not all sheep need the vet’s help with lambing. Most of them, particularly the native breeds, can give birth perfectly well on their own. However, like with women, sometimes a bit of extra help is needed. Did you know that sheep can have caesarian sections, just like women? This is done when the lamb is perhaps too big for the ewe to give birth to naturally. Or perhaps there are triplets, and their legs get too tangled! C-sections in sheep are a little different to women. We make the incision in the side of the sheep – this means it heals better when they are in the field.
Lambing season generally lasts for a few months. Say February to April. There are a few flocks that lamb as early as January and others that go well into May. This brings me to an important point – during the spring there are pregnant ewes in the field, and young lambs too. They are vulnerable to predators. This includes family dogs. I have attended far too many incidents where family pets have attacked flocks and killed both sheep and lambs. These dogs are often not aggressive in a domestic environment, but a sheep flock seems to bring out the “wolf” in them. So please be careful when walking in the countryside, and keep your dogs on a lead! That way we can all enjoy the wonderful spectacle of lambs gambolling in the fields of Lecale spring after spring. Happy Imbolg!