Meet the families welcoming baby rudolphs for Christmas

Christmas would not be the same without reindeer — or at least the magical thought of them prancing over the rooftops, with Rudolph leading the charge.

In reality, however, their numbers are dwindling. Native to near the North Pole and the colder areas of North America, Asia and northern Europe, the population of wild reindeer is said to have halved over the past 20 years due to hunting, disease and climate change.

Yet, thanks to diligent farmers and breeders, they’re thriving in the UK, with tens of baby Rudolphs now born each year.

Arriving in the spring, seven months after the autumn rutting season, come Christmas they are at their most cute and adorable. This year’s calves stand about 2.5 ft tall and are as loyal, cheeky and inquisitive as puppies.

Here, SADIE NICHOLAS speaks to three women whose mini Rudolphs are part of the family. And not just for Christmas …

WE HAVE ONE OF THE WORLD’S RAREST REINDEER

Sarah Sutton, 46, owns Somerset Reindeer Ranch near Yeovil, where she lives with her husband David, 48, and their daughters Heather, 14, and Ruby, 11.

Sarah Sutton, 46, owns Somerset Reindeer Ranch near Yeovil, where she lives with her husband David, 48, and their daughters Heather, 14, and Ruby, 11

Sarah Sutton, 46, owns Somerset Reindeer Ranch near Yeovil, where she lives with her husband David, 48, and their daughters Heather, 14, and Ruby, 11

Sarah Sutton, 46, owns Somerset Reindeer Ranch near Yeovil, where she lives with her husband David, 48, and their daughters Heather, 14, and Ruby, 11

What could be more magical than a baby reindeer at Christmas? Lucky for us, we have two. Within minutes of being born in May, Blitzen and Donner could stand, attempt a wobbly walk and suckle from their mums.

We have a family rule that whoever finds the baby reindeer when they’re born gets to name them, and in both cases — it was me.

I was cleaning out the barn one morning and noticed that one of my pregnant females, Twinkle, was missing. I found her in a shelter outside with newly born Donner already up on her feet.

A week later Blitzen was born in the time it took me to make a cup of tea while watching the herd on my night-vision cameras. She’s particularly special as she’s a very rare white calf, one of only 10,000 in the world.

We have a family rule that whoever finds the baby reindeer when they’re born gets to name them, and in both cases — it was me. Pictured: Sarah Sutton

We have a family rule that whoever finds the baby reindeer when they’re born gets to name them, and in both cases — it was me. Pictured: Sarah Sutton

We have a family rule that whoever finds the baby reindeer when they’re born gets to name them, and in both cases — it was me. Pictured: Sarah Sutton

Having started out breeding Spanish horses, I paid £2,500 for two reindeer from Finland to keep the grass down. They’re now local celebrities.

As well as their thick, woolly coats, they also have large hooves that spread apart as they walk on the snow and act like snowshoes.

Blitzen and Donner are hoping for a white first Christmas so they can try out their hooves. And just like toddlers, they’re prone to the odd tantrum, including kicking their legs and honking in disapproval while having their annual jabs.

Keeping a herd of reindeer isn’t cheap. On average, with feed, medication, bedding, treats and vet care, each one costs about £2,000 a year.

This month, we’re running a Covid-safe drive-through so that people can still bring their children to see Blitzen, Donner and the other reindeer. If they look closely, perhaps they’ll even spot a little nose glowing red among the herd.

SANTA HAS PERMISSION TO BORROW ONE OF OUR HERD

Steph Marshall, 43, and her partner Nick Dean, 60, own a farm near Oundle, Northamptonshire (woodbinereindeer.co.uk). They have two sons, Ben, eight and James, five.

My little boys told me if any of Santa’s reindeer feels poorly or tired on Christmas Eve, they won’t mind if he borrows one of ours — as long as it’s back on the farm by Christmas morning.

Steph Marshall, 43, (pictured) and her partner Nick Dean, 60, own a farm near Oundle, Northamptonshire

Steph Marshall, 43, (pictured) and her partner Nick Dean, 60, own a farm near Oundle, Northamptonshire

Steph Marshall, 43, (pictured) and her partner Nick Dean, 60, own a farm near Oundle, Northamptonshire

But our two gorgeous calves, boys called Jingle and Frosty, wouldn’t be strong enough for the job just yet. Now six months old, they’re steady on their feet and have cute little antlers, but it will be a couple of years before they grow to full size.

Nick bought the farm in 2010 and, after having our sons, I gave up my job in software to help out. We have emus, ostriches, camels and llamas, but our 16 reindeer are my favourites by far.

They are amazing animals and have two layers of fur; an ultra fine and dense undercoat and a long outer layer which moults in the spring.

A pleasure in life few people will ever experience is the feel of a baby reindeer’s nose. When they’re snuffling for food from your hand, it feels like thick velvet. There’s nothing like it.

Frosty is a darling who loves snuggles and head rubs. He’ll also give me a gentle headbutt if he wants my attention. Jingle’s docile and sweet.

Nick bought the farm in 2010 and, after having our sons, I gave up my job in software to help out. We have emus, ostriches, camels and llamas, but our 16 reindeer are my favourites by far. Pictured: Steff Marshall

Nick bought the farm in 2010 and, after having our sons, I gave up my job in software to help out. We have emus, ostriches, camels and llamas, but our 16 reindeer are my favourites by far. Pictured: Steff Marshall

Nick bought the farm in 2010 and, after having our sons, I gave up my job in software to help out. We have emus, ostriches, camels and llamas, but our 16 reindeer are my favourites by far. Pictured: Steff Marshall

Ben’s quite a Dr Doolittle with the calves because they were born during the first lockdown so he was with them every day.

We take the older reindeer out for walks and can see people’s jaws drop. I’m now getting Jingle and Frosty used to walking on leads.

Although they’re very much part of our family, reindeer should never be kept as pets. You need an in-depth understanding of them and, as with other livestock, they require a licence. We keep our babies for at least a year, then we might sell or swap them with other owners or keep them ourselves.

Owners often get calls from people wanting to buy a reindeer during the winter, but we’d never sell to them. Reindeer are for life, not just for Christmas.

I LEARNT FROM THE EXPERTS IN SWEDEN

Angela Nelson, 49, owns a farm (realreindeer.co.uk) in Market Harborough, where she lives with her two children, James, 21, and Jessica, 18.

Something few people get to witness is a baby reindeer having a mad five minutes. My three calves do this a couple of times a day and it’s an absolute delight to watch. They hurtle about the paddock as fast as they can, doing little leaps as they go before running out of steam and crashing.

Angela Nelson, 49, (right) owns a farm (realreindeer.co.uk) in Market Harborough, where she lives with her two children, James, 21, and Jessica, 18 (left)

Angela Nelson, 49, (right) owns a farm (realreindeer.co.uk) in Market Harborough, where she lives with her two children, James, 21, and Jessica, 18 (left)

Angela Nelson, 49, (right) owns a farm (realreindeer.co.uk) in Market Harborough, where she lives with her two children, James, 21, and Jessica, 18 (left)

Born in May to different mothers, all three calves are adorable, and now that Christmas is almost here their little personalities are starting to shine through.

Mikki, the only boy, has a beautiful dark coat and is the most mischievous reindeer I’ve had in 13 years — he’d definitely be on Santa’s naughty list!

He was only a week old when he disappeared from his mum’s side and I eventually found him sleeping behind a shelter in the paddock. On another occasion, he got wedged between two fences. His riskiest escapade was breaking into the paddock containing the main herd of big reindeer, some of whom weigh 150 kg, and easily could have trampled him. He was found in the nick of time.

Meanwhile, the female calf, Kiruna, is the brainbox of the herd. For example, if I move the feed around to make sure all the reindeer get their fair share, she’ll be first to lead the way to a new trough.

All my reindeer are thriving because they have the right environment and a good diet. My daughter, who’s going off to veterinary school, wants to become a leading expert in reindeer health. Pictured: Angie Nelson

All my reindeer are thriving because they have the right environment and a good diet. My daughter, who’s going off to veterinary school, wants to become a leading expert in reindeer health. Pictured: Angie Nelson

All my reindeer are thriving because they have the right environment and a good diet. My daughter, who’s going off to veterinary school, wants to become a leading expert in reindeer health. Pictured: Angie Nelson

I’ve had the farm for 13 years now, having been a business operations director in the City until I had my second child.

I started with ponies, then someone suggested I should have reindeer too. I knew little about them so went to Sweden and spent time with herders. In 2007, I bought two and a few years later started my own breeding programme. I also give lectures on reindeer husbandry.

All my reindeer are thriving because they have the right environment and a good diet. My daughter, who’s going off to veterinary school, wants to become a leading expert in reindeer health.

They’re fascinating creatures: if something’s not quite right, such as if they see a fox, they’ll let me know by ‘standing to attention’ and looking directly at what is troubling them. When the farm is still and quiet, I can hear the reindeer making a ‘clicking’ noise by rubbing a tendon over a bone in their foot, which they use in the wild to help track their herd in snow storms.

They also have a keen sense of smell and can detect other reindeer from up to three miles away — and the visiting vet when he gets out of his car — so they can make a run for it!

Link hienalouca.com

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