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Big bash for little donkey - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Big bash for little donkey

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SHELBURNE, Vt. -

He's a miniature donkey celebrating a huge birthday. A staple at Shelburne Farms, Dudley has been a fan favorite at the Children's Farmyard since it opened.

So how old is he? Put it this way, the year he was born "Billy Jean" was burning up the charts, "Flashdance" was the movie everyone was talking about and Chicken McNuggets were brand new. The year was 1983, making this Dudley the mini-donkey's 30th birthday.

For some perspective, Shelburne Farms says the average life expectancy for a Sicilian donkey is 30-35 years.

"He is an old donkey. He's hands-down the oldest animal on Shelburne Farms right now, so it's a big deal for us," said Rachel Cadwallader-Staub of Shelburne Farms.

And for his whole life his job has been to be an ambassador, greeting more than 140,000 visitors annually.

In his long life he's found love in his partner, Penelope. Together they've had three babies, including one with a name that Will and Kate should have considered for the royal baby-- Strawberry Sunshine.

During Dudley's decades on the farm he's seen a lot of changes as farms in a way go back in time-- or at the very least-- go back to basics.

Down the hill from Dudley towers J.D., a draft horse and new addition to the farm. In fact, farms all over the place are adding these kinds of work animals as farmers seek to become more sustainable.

"In Vermont there's a number of people who farm with horses, that log with horses. Some of them don't even own a tractor, they do everything with their draft horses," said Jean Cross of the Green Mountain Draft Horse Association.

Some see it as quixotic, others as bringing the farming of the past into the future to make it more affordable.

"I have five horses at home and one tractor, and my five horses all total cost about a quarter of what my husband paid for his tractor," Cross said.

Donkeys like Dudley can also be work animals. Dudley himself was a guard donkey for a time.

"He lived with the goats to keep them safe from predators," Cadwallader-Staub said.

Now, he's simply enjoying his retirement...

"His job is to be the face of the farmyard," Cadwallader-Staub said.

...In the place where farmhands say tons has changed, but the miniature donkey has remained a constant

"So, now we have people who are grown up who came and met Dudley when they were kids, and they're like, 'This is Dudley? Are you kidding me? Dudley's still here,'" Cadwallader-Staub said.

And as Dudley approaches this big birthday the staff says all he wants is visitors.

"The best treat would be some love... for sure, if people can bring their love, that's what he wants," Cadwallader-Staub said.

Though if he could talk we're pretty sure he'd say some carrots couldn't hurt either.

Shelburne Farms is having Dudley's big birthday bash Saturday as part their celebration of draft animals during Green Mountain Draft Horse Field Day. The staff says you can expect a carrot cake and a birthday hat on the mini-donkey... that is, if he doesn't eat it. Click here for more information.

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