Riggmoor Reindeer at Little Givendale Farm, Ripon

PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 December 2016 | UPDATED: 18:10 07 August 2017

Becky Burniston knows that a reindeer is for life, not just for Christmas

Becky Burniston knows that a reindeer is for life, not just for Christmas


Skelton-on-Ure farmer Becky Burniston and Father Christmas have a lot in common

I grew up on my grandparents’ farm up in the Yorkshire Dales national park near Grassington – ‘proper sheep country’. Needless to say, I was a self-diagnosed sheep obsessive and still am.

My love of animals has always been strong and grew even more after I met my husband, who feels as strongly about them as I do. When our own menagerie developed, it was like being given a previously unknown freedom.

It all started out very innocently with a small flock of pedigree sheep. Having been brought up around Swaledales, I had begged for some blue-faced Leicesters for many years only to be told we already had a shovel. It’s common knowledge amongst farming families that blue-faced Leicesters like to find a quiet wall to rest against as they snuff it (hence the need for a shovel) so I set out to prove that they just need a little more TLC than the Swales.

This small triumph was closely followed by the arrival of a little herd of pygmy goats, miniature donkeys, alpaca, various poultry, water fowl and exotic birds. And then, from the darkest depth of my granite dome, out popped another thought – reindeer.

As a typical farmer’s wife, I know there isn’t much time to sneak holidays in between tupping, scanning, lambing, shearing, hay-making, spaining and harvesting. To be honest, you’ve barely caught your breath before you’re back round to tupping again. This means, of course, that my animals are literally my life so, when I set out to fulfil my ambition of introducing reindeer – yet more mouths to feed – to our already oversized menagerie, my husband, uncle and other family and friends seriously considered having me sized-up for a straitjacket.

Almost ten years down the line, however, even they have to admit that I was right. Between February and November, we (myself and some of my animals) have become regulars at schools and other educational locations across Yorkshire, giving children the chance to learn all about the different animals found on farms not just in the UK but across the world. We also visit care establishments with different animals as part of their ‘animals for therapy’ programmes.

Christmas is also a very busy time for us as we travel the county spreading festive cheer with our lovely herd of reindeer.

I do chuckle to myself every now and then when a cyclist stops dead in their tracks as they look over our hedge in amazement at a field of roaming reindeer. And there’s always the time every summer when an elderly couple bring a flask of tea and sit at the bottom of the lane to watch our animals for half an hour or so.

I tell you, simple pleasures are often the best.

Becky and Richard Burniston run Riggmoor Reindeer at Little Givendale Farm in Skelton-on-Ure, near Ripon. For details, visit riggmoorreindeer.co.uk

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