Did you know that Dolly, the famous sheep, is now over 100 years old? She was born on April 6, 1914 in Surrey, England and will celebrate her centennial this year. Dolly’s longevity is quite a feat since most sheep only live for around ten to twelve years. She was the first in a long line of famous sheep that bear her name.
In honor of this extraordinary animal, let’s take a look at her interesting life story:
A Life of Longevity
Dolly lived an incredibly long life. She made her first public appearance at the age of 18 months and started breeding at the age of three. Since most sheep only live for around ten to twelve years, this made her a real shewolf of the animal world. It took scientists a while to figure out why Dolly had such a long life. They finally discovered that she was heterozygous for an insertion in the p53 gene. This gene codes for a protein that helps protect cells from damage. Without this protein, cells could accumulate damage over time which might explain why most animals only live for such a short time. Fortunately, scientists were able to breed this protein into other animals which enabled them to extend their lifespans. Hopefully, one day humans will be able to do the same. Until then, we will have to be content to observe the amazing life of Dolly on video or in person. It’s always fun to meet and interact with such a unique animal. You can find out more information about her on the English Sheep Society’s website.
A Renaissance Woman
Dolly was bred to improve wool quality and quantity. She was the first bigamous sheep pairing which means that she was the result of two different mating events. Her father was a Dorset Horn ram which means that he came from the northern part of England. The Dorset Horn ram’s main purpose in life was to serve as a sire for other sheep. When Dolly was born, her father was seven years old and was already a father to five daughters. He died when Dolly was only three years old but her mother raised her as a single parent. It was not until after World War I that she got a break and a sheep farmer named Alfred Stephens hired her. In 1933, at the age of eleven, she was sent to the Norfolk Rambles to work for a couple of months as a shearer’s helper. In the late 1930s, she met another sheep farmer named Albert Ruspold who had similar intentions for her. They quickly fell in love and got married. The following year, 1939, saw the start of World War II. This put a stop to their plans to breed and start a family. In 1940, Albert joined the British Army and was sent to fight in the war. While he was away, Dolly was given full control of the Ruspold’s Norfolk flock. In 1944, Albert Ruspold was released from the Army and the couple finally got the opportunity to start a family. That same year, Dolly gave birth to her first child, a boy named Peter. Luckily, the birth of this child was not a mistake since Dolly had decided in advance that she wanted a grandson named after her favorite painter. Peter Ruspold went on to become a well-known sheep breeder and geneticist. He took after his grandmother and great-grandmother who were both called Dolly and loved to paint. In 1946, the couple went on to have twin girls named Tamara and Alison. In 1952, Albert Ruspold died. Since Dolly did not have any more children, her great-granddaughter, Tamara, became the matriarch of the family. In 2014, at the age of 102, Tamara died leaving Alison as the last living member of the Ruspold family. Since then, Dolly has been living by herself in the Norfolk countryside. In her later years, she has gotten quite a bit of attention from animal lovers around the world. This has been mainly due to her longevity and the fact that she is such a unique animal. It’s amazing to think that a hundred years later, we are still discovering new things about this remarkable sheep. Hopefully, we will continue to learn more about her incredible life in the coming years.