Rural Notes 05



Last month I was honoured with an invitation to a party celebrating the 101st birthday of a former client of the practice. I first met Barbara when she was a mere slip of an eighty year old, and I swear that she appears completely unchanged from that day to this.

Now living independently in the Borders and still singing in the church choir every week, she is a terrific advert for Scottish water, or whatever her secret is. We had a conversation about the longevity of various patients of mine, and it prompted me to spend some time with the Guinness Book of World Records to see how some of East Lothian’s elder statesmen of the animal world measured up.

Traditional farming is of course a commercial operation, and as such, ageing livestock tend to become a liability rather than asset as their productivity slows. Most cattle start encountering fertility issues in their mid teens, although only this week I reported positive pregnancy scans on two eighteen year old suckler cows. However, we have several herds which are kept purely for pleasure, and I can boast two Highland cattle, (a cow and a bullock) which are now 22 years of age. This is some way short of Big Bertha, a native Irish Droimeann who reached 48 years of age, and raised 39 calves in her life. That makes my oldest bovine less than half the age of the eldest, news which gave Barbara good heart when I told her so!

The gulf in the horse world is narrower. The record for the oldest living horse is held by Shane, an Irish Draft Cross of 51. I am guessing he is pretty large, which seems a little unusual, as we have several horses in their early forties, most of whom are smaller ponies. I think a life spent off the race track and hunting fields, being adored by successive generations of children must play a part in their achievements.

Sheep seem to outlast goats by some way, the former having a confirmed record entrant at 23, and a contender form Lewis with a claim to be 25 when she died this year following an accident. I don’t know of any sheep approaching this, but I have treated a 15 year old goat, which, had I treated it successfully, might have given the 16 year old in the Records Book a challenge.

Dogs and cats are perhaps easier to verify ages of, as they tend to have individual medical records form a very young age. It is not uncommon for us to see dogs in their early twenties- usually cross breeds, boasting ‘hybrid vigour’ with the best genes of their varied forebears being acquired. The oldest dog ever was Bluey, a 29 year old Australian Cattle Dog, but the oldest living dog appears to be 25. We currently have two dogs on our books, each aged 22, so perhaps East Lothian may soon take centre stage in the canine world. I am however confident that we are missing a feline champion. According to the Guiness Book of World records the oldest living cat is Pinky, a 23 year old American. We do not currently have any 23 year olds, but we have had several over the past few years and I am confident that some of the current crop of cats just a year or two younger which we do look after, are in such rude health that they will comfortably displace Pinky in due course. I’d be delighted for any readers with friends or relatives who have cats of this vintage to contact me and we can wrest the title back across the pond!


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Glen Watson
Partner at Links Vet Group