Older and Wiser

Older and Wiser

Dear Alfie,

I’d like to know how old sheep get, and are they wiser when they get older? Do you count as old and wise?

Jo, Stratford

Dear Jo,

This is an interesting question. I think I certainly count as wise – after all, am I not here on the Internet giving you humans the benefit of my advice? As a Cotswold sheep, I’m not really all that old (I’m 6). We are a long-lived breed; ewes can live to 15 or even older, although rams tend to burn out sooner. I’m a wether (I lost some rather important things at an early stage) and that has some advantages as to longevity, apparently. Without that pesky testosterone, I could live for quite a long time.

Other breeds of sheep aren’t quite so lucky. It’s all down, I’m afraid, to teeth. Our two Suffolks, Clarrie and Norah, are both younger than me, but are already losing their teeth – and Clarrie’s definitely looking a bit grey round the jowls. If you don’t have a good set of teeth, then you can’t graze properly; if you can’t graze properly, then in the normal way of things, you don’t do very well at all. Of course, any sheep in our flock with a few gnashers missing tend to get special treatment anyway (nice food that they can actually eat), but if you’re unfortunate enough to live in The Other Sort Of Flock (which we don’t really talk about) then this could be bad news for you. Generally speaking, a commercial sheep would be lucky to get to 8 years old – although there are exceptions!

Our oldest flock member is Magda, who is 9 years old on Saturday. She is the one remaining ewe from the 6 that my humans bought as shearlings all those years ago, and she is in excellent health. She even had twin lambs this year, although this will be the last year she actually has lambs (the humans say that they can’t stand the worry of putting her in lamb again anyway, as she is very precious to them). The humans work on the rather old-fashioned principle that all sheep, even the old ones, have a value in the flock, and have a job to do. The older sheep know the farm; we know where all the fields are, we know how to move between them, and we can teach the lambs this. And of course we can still grow decent fleeces, no matter how old we are.

Some humans do have this weird idea that we are stupid – I think that actually says more about humans than it does about sheep, but there we go. Usually it’s the humans who have never met a sheep and have no idea about what we’re like who think we are stupid; once they actually meet us and see us in action, they realise that we are actually vastly superior creatures which can outrun and outmanoeuvre any mere puny human. They soon respect us then. So there you are, Jo. The oldest sheep ever recorded as 28 years and 51 weeks old, but that’s exceptional. We have wisdom which often comes as a surprise to human beings, although you are starting to catch up on this now!


Posted on 09/05/2012 by Alfie Ask the Flock 0 595

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