FARMYARD animals may not be known for saving lives, but Alfie the sheep has done just that.

The five-year-old Cotswold sheep, who lives at Vowley Farm, in Wootton Bassett, is being hailed a hero after a moment of madness saw him injure his shepherd, Emma Turner, which led to the discovery of a potentially life-threatening tumour.

Archaeologist Emma, 41, who lives in Wroughton, saved Alfie’s life at birth when his mum died. He endured a number of illnesses and his condition was described as touch and go for the first 18 months of his life.

Emma devoted months of love and attention to him, helping to make him a firm favourite amongst visitors to Vowley Farm and now it seems that Alfie has returned the favour.

Back in October last year, Emma was carrying out some sheep medication when Alfie suddenly turned on her.

“Alfie is normally really well behaved but that particular day he went nuts and it took three of us to hold him down,” she said.

“He headbutted me repeatedly across the chest and I thought there must be something wrong with him, maybe I should take him to the vets.

“A few days later, a terrific bruise came up on my chest and I noticed in the middle of the bruise there was a lump.”

Emma went to the Great Western Hospital to have the lump checked and a biopsy revealed the devastating news that she was suffering the early stages of breast cancer.

“The doctors and nurses said that if Alfie hadn’t done what he did, when he did it, I wouldn’t have found the lump for a few years, by which time it would have spread,” she said.

“Everyone at the hospital is convinced that Alfie saved my life – he saved my life and I saved his.”

Following her diagnosis, Emma endured six cycles of chemotherapy over four months, which she finished in April.

“Chemo was pretty horrible but it is all doable. It is tiring but you have to stay positive,” she said.

“It’s very hard to describe what it’s like having cancer to somebody who has never had it – some people say it is like a battle, but it’s certainly something that means you need to keep your head down and be positive.

“I am feeling positive and the breast cancer nurses at the hospital don’t give you false hope but they talk very positively about the prognosis and when you start asking around, you are amazed at how many people have been affected, or know someone that has been affected by breast cancer.”

Emma will now undergo a mastectomy on Friday, which she asked her consultant to delay so she could appear with Alfie at the Vowley Farm Open Day yesterday.

“Alfie is such a character and the open day is his favourite day of the year,” she said.

“I didn’t want to miss it so I have delayed my mastectomy. I’m not feeling too great about it, but the thing with a mastectomy is you don’t know how you are going to feel until you wake up and my consultant has said it will give me a chance of living another 40 years.”

Following his heroic actions, Alfie has earned himself a legion of fans on Facebook.

Emma said: “I’m amazed at the number of people who now know about him through Facebook who I have never met. A lot of people think what he did was deliberate – it’s very odd because he has never done it since.

“Those who say sheep are stupid usually don’t know anything about sheep. Alfie is clever – he saved my life.”