The British Reindeer Herders Association was formed in 2014 by Mr Stephen Swinnerton, the Chairman of the Association. Steve is the proud owner of the UK's largest working reindeer herd outside Scandinavia and George Richardson Vice Chairman owner of the largest herd in The North of England.
The Association is dedicated to provide knowledge of:
- The advancement of public awareness of Reindeer
- Conservation of Reindeer
- Education and research regarding Reindeer
- Development and maintenance of healthy herds and good husbandry practice
- Assisting members to embark on Reindeer business operations
- Providing links with the Sami Reindeer Association in Scandinavia and other international Reindeer associations to foster better understanding with all international Reindeer communities
- Maintaining a breed register to provide statistics and data regarding the national herd
- We are dedicated to the welfare of the reindeer herds throughout Europe and promoting public awareness of these wonderful animals. Membership offers knowledge, networking and support to help you protect your reindeer to achieve members aims and aspirations.
- Member Benefits - Help Line - Guidance on Welfare and Care of Reindeer. Guidance on various legal issues concerning reindeer. Reindeer News and updates on DEFRA and important health issues.
- Training Course available by the Herders Association; Disease Control, Reindeer Management, Husbandry & Foot Trimming, Breaking & Walking, Animal Welfare with Antler Management, Halter Training and Health & Safety. Sleigh Training.
- Reindeer are the only species of deer where both males and females grow antlers; even the babies grow antlers shortly after birth. Reindeer use the same nomenclature as cattle so a male is a Bull, female is a cow and a baby is a calf.
- Reindeer antler is vast bone growth which grows at a rapid rate; initially it is soft, delicate and rubbery with a large amount of blood vessels and a substantial blood supply; at this stage it is protected by a velvety coat. Reindeer will protect their antlers at all cost as damage when the antlers are covered in velvet is painful if damaged and can lead to the death of the animal due to the vast blood supply, extensive damage will cause an excessive amount of blood loss. As the antler ages and grows over weeks and months it hardens and eventually the blood supply is cut off, which in turn causes the velvet to die, split and is rubbed off by the deer as it becomes itchy.
- Around August the antler is now hard bone and can finally be used for sexual prowess, mating, fighting and herd status by the males, and used as defence and protection for the females. Once the Rut (October and November) is over the males will lose their antlers. Females then have more power and status in the herd to make sure that they get food during the long winter months; they should all be pregnant during this stage of the season. Females will usually keep their antlers till shortly after giving birth in the spring.
- Gestation is about 224 days, with Reindeer usually giving birth to one calf. Birthing in a large wild roaming herd will usually take place over a 2 week period. This is a response to predators as this technique overwhelms them giving the herd a higher success rate than if they calved over a longer period.
- In small captive herds where predators are not a problem, birthing can take place between April and June. Reindeer calf's are on their feet in a matter of hours and will be drinking the mother's milk; which contains colostrum, which is high in anti-bodies; this will allow for the calf to begin building an immune system of their own from the catalyst of the mothers anti-bodies, then within a week the calf will begin to eat solids.
- Reindeer calves put on rapid weight and growth, as this allows them to be able to survive the extreme winters.
- Mainland Europe and the Artic in the summer have long days, leading to a warmer summer climate. Reindeer have adapted to this by losing the long winter warm coat and getting a very short cool summer coat. The UK although not as cold in the winter has a similar summer climate and so Reindeer are very adapted to our climate.
- As Reindeer range in the Northern hemisphere there is an assumption that reindeer need large areas to roam in the UK. This is predominantly due to food sources in the wild. With modern Reindeer food, farming techniques and education, keeping reindeer in the UK can be on the smaller scale.
- Reindeer, as a herd animal must be kept in groups of the same species and away from other farmed animals, particular sheep and wild deer, (Sheep and wild deer pose a significant health risk to Reindeer).
- As with all draft animals it's the larger males, usually castrated (because of temperament and body weight) that pull sleighs, traditional Sami houses, families themselves and all of their belongings to and from summer and winter grazing areas and are used as transport for the Sami. This is still the same today in many northern countries. In the UK at Christmas this can be seen with large male Reindeer pulling sleighs (usually on wheels) with Santa and his helpers.
- The principal of using the right size animal for the job applies to the Reindeer being used as draft, as Female Reindeer are either pregnant over winter then with calf over summer and therefore cannot be used as draft when pregnant and cannot be worked when in calf or with a calf.
- Reindeer live for about 8-10 years in the wild on average but can live a lot longer in captivity on average 14-18 years. This is due mainly to the feeding, care and attention they get coupled with the ability to treat simple ailments that would lead to death in the wild. A major factor affecting reindeer in the wild is teeth ware, which leads to reindeer being unable to eat and gain sufficient weight to survive the winter period. In captivity with supplementary feeding and extra vitamins and minerals this extends the Reindeers life even with teeth wearing.
- Reindeer are believed to be one of the first domesticated animals in the world, with written reference to Reindeer herding and husbandry in a 9th century letter from Norway's King Ottar to Alfred the Great, in which he mentions his herd of Reindeer. There are also numerous primitive cave drawings in the Northern Hemisphere showing Reindeer being herded and used to pull sleighs and move goods by man.
- Domesticated Reindeer look a lot like wild Caribou from North America as it is believed they only split as a species when the continents separated thousands of years ago. In the Northern parts of Europe and Russia they were domesticated but not in Northern America. Caribou are also slightly taller by about 8- 10inchs. Reindeer vary in height from country to country as well but are overall shorter than Caribou.
- Reindeer have been used over the centuries for meat, milk, fur, as a form of currency and as well for transporting goods as draft animals. Meat and fur are still a major use of reindeer in the Northern Hemisphere with milking now not as common. All parts on a reindeer are used with very little wastage.
Sami Reindeer Herders
- The Sami have been reindeer herding since the 17th century. Reindeer herding is a way of life. Time is measured in the passing of the seasons and home is where the Iavvu is set up on the migration trails. Their life style did not impact on the environment.
- The reindeer are a valuable resource for the Sami. The Sami used the reindeer for food, clothing, trade (reindeer as a form of money), and for labour. Even before reindeer herding began the Sami lived on wild reindeer. The needs of these people were simple and they only took what they needed from nature. They would complete their diet with hunting of birds and fish and with gathering of berries during the summer.
- The Sami's way of life underwent major changes during the 17th century as a result of nation building among the four regions they occupied: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Each nation was fighting for territory and wanted to include the Sami as part of their population to help build the nation. The Sami were therefore taxed by at least one nation and in some cases by several governments. The Sami did not have monetary money and so they paid the taxes in the form of reindeer hides and meat. The Sami needed additional reindeer to pay taxes. This was the beginning of reindeer herding.
- Those Sami who did not migrate to the coastal areas remained reindeer herding. Reindeer herding provided not only for their personal needs but also a form of wealth to pay taxes. The Sami were forced to provide reindeer as draft animals to move materials from the interior to the coast and back.
- Small proportions of Sami are still reindeer herders and lived a migration lifestyle.
Reindeer belong to the family classification of cervidae - deer and the genus Ranqifer- Reindeer and Caribou and species tarandus (Reindeer)