Animal trainers Sue and Derek Williams have a busy month ahead as they hire out their 6 reindeers for festive events. Derek, who was a dog handler in the Police Force explains, “I had wanted to keep reindeer for several years but they were difficult to get and to keep. The reindeers in Scotland had been around since the 50’s and there were one or two in zoos but there were no privately owned ones. There was difficulty in getting the right diet for them but we eventually managed to get ours about 7 years ago. They eat wheat straw and meadow hay which is available for them all the time and also Reindeer pellets which are only 12% protein. They need low protein, the same as they would in the wild in Scandinavia. We have to be really careful grazing them as a lot of vegetation is harmful to them; bracken would kill them. They’re not easy to look after and quite expensive and spend most of the year roaming around doing very little. But it’s important that they’re kept happy and healthy and they need to be in good condition at this time of the year as suddenly they’re very busy.”
Derek and his wife Sue also train their dogs and even llamas for team displays at summer Shows and Sue is famous for training her little pig Louie to tackle obstacle courses alongside their dogs. (Type ‘Louie the Pig’ into Google for great photos and more information). As animal behaviourists, they know how important it is to have well behaved and well mannered animals. “We take the reindeers into places like shopping centres and schools as well as on Town Parades and we encourage people to interact with them and stroke them. The reindeers love it. They are well handled all year and take the hustle and bustle in their stride. People are usually surprised how small they are, I think they confuse them with moose.” explains Derek. “Reindeers average about 3 and a half feet at the shoulder and weigh around 250-300lbs.”
“We like people to learn about the reindeers as well as interacting them, most people are fascinated by them. The males lose their antlers after Christmas and grow a complete new set between April and September. Female reindeers are the only breed of deer to lose their antlers and Nature lets them keep theirs for a little longer for added protection when they calve, usually about May.”
Whilst the rest of us were moaning about the snow last winter, Derek has fond memories of a white festive season. “It was brilliant. Everywhere we went we were surrounded by snow it was real picture postcard stuff and perfect for the reindeers. They also cope well with the hot sun, not that we get a lot here in Wales, and will just shelter from the rain. They don’t like getting wet but then neither do I,” he laughs.
Based in Porthmadog, in North Wales Derek, Sue and their reindeers travel to events all over the UK. “We are at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff in a week or two, for a private event for famous rugby players and their families. It’s always nice to be a bit nearer home.” He adds.