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'There is no real guide': What it's like raising reindeer in Ontario

Reindeer are rather elusive creatures in Ontario. But for the Linker family, they've become family.

The Linker family has a trio of reindeer on their farm in Strathroy, Ont.

The Linker family has a trio of reindeer at their tree farm in Strathroy, near London. Their names are Olive, Sven and Little Svensson. Corinne Linker says the Sven name comes from the movie Frozen. 'I love that movie.' (Haydn Watters/CBC)

For the Linker family, it's Christmas 365 days of the year. That's thanks to Sven, Olive and Little Svensson — their trio of reindeer.

Reindeer are rather elusive creatures in Ontario. The Linkers have one of the province's few reindeer farms at their home and tree farm in Strathroy, west of London.

But it took the Linkers awhile to get the farm up and running. They looked for three years to find someone in the province willing to sell them a reindeer. First came Olive, then Sven and now Little Svensson. Along the way, the family has learned to care for the animals.

"There is no real guide," said Corinne Linker. "There is not too many of us. We're pretty unique."

Corinne Linker poses with her reindeer. Their newest reindeer, Little Svensson, was born on their farm in May. She said they pass the day by entertaining each other. 'They run away, they play reindeer games.' (Haydn Watters/CBC)

The Internet had some suggestions. A nearby vet has also been a big help, agreeing to check up and care for the reindeer when the animals get sick.

"We have learned so much."

Rut season means rowdy reindeer

One of the main learnings was antler etiquette. Some male deer have antlers but reindeer are unique in that females have them too.

They fall off every year. Sven's current pair are already loosening up and are about to fall off soon.

Corinne Linker has a collection of antlers. She's still deciding what to do with all of them, but she may make an antler Christmas tree she saw on Pintrest. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

"They start disintegrating at the root just like a tooth does and then they rub them against the trees and they fall off," said Linker. "Once they fall off, right underneath there is a black little nub and they start all over again."

Corrine has a big collection of old antlers tucked away in her basement, to keep it away from the dogs.

The antlers are also very sharp and can do damage. That's why no visitors are allowed in the animal's pen. The Linkers try to stay out of the space during the mating season, known as the rut, which runs September to January.

During rut season, the Linkers stay out of the reindeer pen. She said the reindeer movements can be 'aggressive and unpredictable' during this time. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

"During the rut season, his antlers would get you down, but his hooves will finish you off."

They've also discovered that you can train a reindeer. Corinne's husband, Brian, said that takes time and patience.

"It's just like a horse. You have to spend time with them or they are not going to respond."

Rent a reindeer

There are a handful owners in Ontario who take their reindeer on the road to earn some money at events.

One unique reindeer feature is their clicking tendons. If you listen close enough, you can hear clicks with each reindeer step. It's thought they have this so they can find each other in bad weather conditions. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

You might see reindeer at fairs, office parties, car dealerships or parades.

Last month, there was a mishap with one of these rental reindeer at a Christmas event in Collingwood. A reindeer got loose and ran around the town before it was tranquilized​.

The Linkers don't have to worry about that happening. Their animals never leave the farm.

"I wouldn't know what it would take to get them in a harness," said Brian.

Part of the family

Reindeer are creatures of habit. They spend the day grazing and usually take a nap in the early afternoon. At around 5 p.m., they start grunting for their supper.

But the Linkers don't mind.

Corinne says Sven, Olive and Little Svensson have become an integral part of the already-large family. The couple have four daughters.

The reindeer eat a mix of molasses mixed with grains and cracked corn. Visitors can feed it to them through the fence. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

As Christmas approaches, Brian jokes that the reindeer might tick off the neighbours late at night by "running around on their roof." 

"Our whole community has embraced it," Corinne shoots back. "Regardless of what my husband says."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Haydn Watters is a roving reporter for Ontario, primarily serving the province's local radio shows. He has worked for CBC News and CBC Radio in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and the entertainment unit. He also ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont.

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