My grandmother lived to 106 years of age; her brother and two sisters into their late 90s. It was a question of good genetics and healthy natural living, I suppose, but it really isn’t that common for the boundaries of life expectancy to be pushed to the limit. And it’s the same with animals.
Most animals have an approximated life expectancy based on what animal they are and even what breed and they pretty much stick to it, give or take a few years. Here at Diamond Forest Farm Stay we have three such animals that are breaking all the rules, pushing the boundaries and out living their fellow animals and we’d like to think that the love, care and- dare I say lifestyle- that we give our animals may have just a little bit to do with that.
Grandpa Bart is our resident oldest sheep. He was a bottle raised lamb that grew up to be one of our fattest and most personable sheep. Given that he spent the first few precious weeks of his life in our house he has absolutely no fear of people or dogs. He also thinks he’s a person not a sheep and the boundaries of fences have little or no meaning for him. If there was better feed in another paddock then that was the paddock that he wanted to be in.
Despite his impressive girth, when he was younger, he managed to get down on his knees and wiggle his way under the fences, belly dragging on the ground, until he got into the paddock that he wanted to be in. Sometimes that paddock would be where we were with a wheelbarrow full of feed and he would follow us all around pinching bits of food much to our young guests’ delight.
But he is no longer that young and agile and he hasn’t wiggled under a fence in quite some time. Arthritis gives him trouble, especially in the winter, and he has lost all his teeth now. We were almost certain we were going to lose him last winter.
Sheep live to approximately 12 years of age, providing they don’t go off to the butchers. Grandpa Bart is 16 years old.
Flyby the ex racehorse is one of the original animals here on the farm. After a shoulder injury and a lacklustre racing career he was bound for the knackery when his owner offered him to Mark for the same price as the knackery was planning to pay:- $100. Mark paid the $100 and Flyby has never looked back. In 2006 Mark and Flyby came to Diamond Forest Farm Stay and Flyby’s life of hard work, training and racing eased and became a life of being friendly, looking good and eating food:- not a bad life for a horse.
As one of our most popular animals he has become a fixture on the farm but we know that we won’t have him forever. Just recently we found out that he has a grade 5 heart murmur which is seriously affecting his muscle tone and energy levels (that and old age). Despite a special diet and lots of extra feed, love and attention at 26 years of age (when 25 is a large horse’s average life expectancy) he is on borrowed time but until then he gets the best paddock, the best horse rug, the best feed bowl and as much attention as he desires.
In his paddock, as company for each other, is Katie the Shetland Pony. As old ladies go she is ancient. Shetland ponies live to 35- 40 years of age. This year Katie will be 41! Katie is another original that came to the farm in 2006. She came from a pony stud with her best friend Ernie. They were inseparable until, sadly, Ernie passed away from cancer four years ago. For several months Katie was despondent and we were worried that we might lose Katie too.
With the arrival of Sally, another pony looking for a forever home, Katie immediately perked up. Katie quickly established that she was the boss- she certainly had age on her side- and Sally didn’t mind. They were happy together and as inseparable as Katie and Ernie had been. Now, however, Katie is looking old. She has relinquished dominance of the paddock to Sally and she is needing extra feed (something she has never needed until now) to maintain her condition.
To ensure she gets all the extra feed and attention she needs we have moved her in with Flyby and despite the height difference (she is 8 hands high and he is 17 hands high) they get along well. Perhaps they both understand the complaints of old age- sore muscles, aching bones and a desire for quiet company. Sally has moved in with more energetic mini ponies, Pablo and Fudge, and everyone seems happy.
We’d like to think that it is the good life, quality feed, love and attention that we have provided for our animals that has extended their lives beyond the norm and has them pushing boundaries with maybe a little bit of genetic luck to help them along. Even so, having had these animals for so long it is going to be especially difficult when time finally catches up with them, as it does with all of us.
We know we can’t keep them forever but we’d like to hang onto them for as long as we can provided they are happy, as healthy as age permits and pain free so we will keep on giving them all the care we can until their time is up.