Busby the Texel-Romney cross wether, looking fine and fit at age 24. PHOTOS/rnz.co.nz

Fruit, bread on Busby’s menu

TRACY NEAL

What is believed to be New Zealand’s oldest sheep was born in Wairarapa, though his genetic roots lie in the blustery North Sea island of Texel.

In Nelson, however, Busby the Texel-Romney cross wether has thrived on a more gentle lifestyle.

Busby’s owners, Barry and Lynley Bird.

He is estimated by owners Lynley and Barry Bird to be 24 years old, measured against the ages of their now-adult children who rescued him as a lamb.

Busby was born on the Wairarapa farm Lynley grew up on in Pongaroa, at that time being farmed by her brother, Bruce Stuart. He was brought to the Bird’s Nelson lifestyle block with his twin, bundled in with the luggage in the family car after a holiday visit.

The Birds’ daughter Olivia, now 28, was four when Busby arrived.

The Birds say the secret to Busby’s longevity was a diet of fresh fruit, sunshine, and plenty of love and attention.

Stuart, now retired in Tauranga, got a laugh out of hearing news of Busby’s longevity on national radio.

“To be honest, I don’t remember them taking the lambs … I guess I’ll have to take her word for it.”

The lambs would have been orphans, he said, but as a male lamb, Busby was always destined to leave the property.

“He would have been sold, so I don’t know where he would have ended up.”

Suffice to say, Busby appears to have landed on his feet.

Barry Bird, a former police dog handler, admits to having a soft spot for animals. He said they helped Busby outgrow a troubled youth.

“He was a really wild sheep in his day. In fact, he was an absolute nightmare to try and catch when we had to shear him.”

Busby, at left, with friend No Name enjoying a fruit snack.

When Busby’s twin died a while back another companion sheep was brought in. Lynley Bird said Busby grieved a lot when that one died too, but the introduction last year of a new friend, called No Name, had perked him up.

“He got very upset and he was ‘baaaing’ all the time so we had to go and borrow one of our neighbour’s sheep to keep him company and now they’re best friends.”

In fact, it had gone further than that, and despite the age difference the pair now seemed quite in love, Lynley said.

The Birds reckoned Busby’s love of food – fresh fruit in particular, was a secret to his good health.

“They do live on really good fruit, such as persimmons and feijoas. Busby even loves grapefruit.

“He goes to all the neighbours and they throw out stuff – he’ll go to anybody,” Lynley Bird said.

Barry Bird said Busby especially liked this time of year, because the persimmons were ripe and dropping off the trees that grew in the orchard where he and No Name lived.

“People would cry if they saw sheep eating those.”

And a slice of bread was often on the menu. Barry said it was like delivering the Royal Mail – every time they went down their driveway, they rolled down the window and tossed out some slices of bread.

“He’s always chasing us along the fenceline. He doesn’t like not being fed.”

While Busby might well be New Zealand’s oldest sheep right now, he’s still a couple of years short of the all-time record.

That belonged to a ewe named Twiggy, who sadly, fell off a cliff in 2012 – just a month before she was to turn 26.

But 24 was still a massive milestone for a sheep.

Greg Burgess from the Sheep Breeders Association said the Texel strain was known to be hardy.

He agreed a high fruit diet might well be the secret to Busby’s long life and said that had got him thinking.

“Texel sheep do very well in mint-lamb competitions because of their flavour, so yeah – add a little bit of feijoa to the meat and who knows? We could be on to something.”

The Birds said Busby would always be safe from the Christmas dinner menu.

– rnz.co.nz