IT was a happy baaarthday to Sophie the sheep when the farm animal celebrated its 20th year at its home in Elmley Castle.

The pet, which is in fact a male sheep, celebrated his birthday shortly before Christmas on December 21.

Sophie the sheep was given her name by his owner, John Eaton, who has cared for the animal since just after it was born in 1993 when it contracted a disease known as maggots.

Mr Eaton named the pet after his grand-daughter Sophie, who was born on the same day as the sheep.

"It was born on the same day as my grand-daughter," said the 83-year-old. "So it was given the same name, Sophie. It answers to that name.

"That's how we know its age, there is no argument about it.

"When it was first born it had a diseases so I nursed the lamb. I have looked after it now for 20 years.

"I am a builder by trade but I have come from farming stock and I have always had animals about.

"The sheep is still in good health now. I keep asking people if they know of another one so old."

Sophie has a few years to go before she qualifies as the world's oldest sheep - a title officially held by an Australian sheep called Lucky which died during a heat wave in 2009 - but he is still considered to be quite old., a website dedicated to information about sheep, states that the life expectancy of most sheep is between 10 to 12 years, however many would be culled before that time.

Mr Eaton added: "I keep him in my two acre garden, with another one which is 10 years old. They help me mow the lawn.

"But he hasn't had any special treatment at all. He has been fed normal food for sheep, grass, and a little bit of wheat once a day the last few years to keep it's strength up, so there is no secret.

"I think it is quite unique."