Couple’s all-year round love for reindeers
- Credit: Nick Butcher
When people think of reindeer they often picture Rudolph and his friends pulling Santa's sleigh flying around on Christmas Eve.
But for Trevor and Deborah Lay of Mettingham, near Bungay, who have been buying and selling reindeer for 18 years, there is so much more to these magical animals than we see on festive films.
Four-year-old Aero and seven-month-old Dasher are just two of the thousands of reindeer that the couple have bought and sold over the years as part of Waveney Wildlife - the wildlife centre they built together 40 years ago.
The business started as a wildfowl breeding centre on 12 acres of land in Kirby Cane in 1976, and is now run from his home where they keep wallabies, muntjacs, tamarins and 55 different breeds of ornamental poultry.
The couple started buying, selling and breeding reindeer in 1995.
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Mr Lay, 62, said: 'I've always loved reindeer and I wanted to have my own herd of white ones. But because we live down on the marshes it is not suitable living conditions for them. They like drier land and need a field shelter so we decided to keep them at a friend's in Horsford.
'Initially we would go over to Sweden, select about 85 calves, have them vetted and tested and then bring them home. But now we also buy from breeders in the UK. There only used to be one firm in Scotland but now there are more and more which is wonderful.'
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Brothers Aero and Dasher, who are forest reindeer, were special guests at Maisebrooke Farm in Shipmeadow, near Beccles, on Monday and Tuesday, greeting families as they collected their Christmas turkeys.
The farm is run by the couple's son David Lay and his wife Jo.
Mr Lay said: 'People just love to see reindeer because they are not an animal you see every day.
'People usually only get to see them in Christmas films so it's wonderful to see families getting pleasure out of seeing them.
'They are actually a lot smaller in real life. They always look huge on the TV but it is just their antlers that are big.'
Although Mr Lay appreciates the magical excitement that surrounds reindeer, his main concern is looking after his animals and making sure they go to a good home.
He said: 'I don't want to dress up as Father Christmas and we are too busy to take them around places ourselves so I prefer to sell them to people so they can rent them out at Christmas.
'I'm more interested in the animals, managing them and the advising the clients rather than showing them off, but it is lovely when we take them somewhere like Maisebrooke and you see how excited the children get.'
Reindeer are the only mammals that grow a new set of antlers annually. The males usually lose their antlers in December, while the females can lose theirs as late as March. Reindeers are expected to live between 12 and 15 years.
Mr Lay said: 'A rutting bull can be as quiet as a mouse or he can want to kill you. But when they are not rutting they are tame and friendly. They almost want to be domesticated.
'The females are very good to work with. They are the only female deer that have antlers and they grow very nicely.'
Mr Lay feeds his reindeer barley straw and reindeer pellets and said they must have clean water regularly.
However it is not just at Christmas that Mr Lay's reindeer are popular. He supplies them all year round across the country for weddings and special occasions and has supplied them to zoos and wildlife parks across the globe, the closest being at Melsop Farm Park in Scoulton, near Norwich.
Mr Lay said: 'I get attached to our breeding reindeer but the saleable stock has to be saleable unless you see a particularly fine one that you want to pick out and keep.
'I've never actually named any of my reindeer because we have too many but they seem to get named by other people.
'We make sure we deliver them all. We don't let people come and collect them unless we know the facility they are going to is suitable. It's not good for the animals and it's not good for us if there is a problem.'
Male calves are available for £1,000 while the females cost £1,250.
Although Mr Lay could not confirm that his reindeer can fly or that their noses glow red, he was able to confirm, for all those who like to leave a little something out on Christmas Eve, that they do love carrots.