Posted by: Glow-worm PJ17 DEC 2008
Children who leave out mince pies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer may be surprised to learn that the reindeer may prefer the mince pies to the carrots, according to the findings of researchers from the University of Queensland.
Since reindeer are rare in subtropical Australia, the researchers travelled to Norway to study animals grazing in summer on degraded pasture of abandoned sheep farms. Although the pasture’s temperate region grasses and herbs should be digestible to the reindeer, their growth was disappointing and it was found that the rate was affected by the soluble carbohydrate content of the grasses.
The reindeer responded positively to the addition of molasses to timothy hay silage.
Unusually for grazing animals, reindeer seem to need a feed that is low in fibre and high in soluble sugar. In their traditional grazing range they are fussy eaters, preferring sweet grasses and spongy mosses to hay and silage, which has a tendency to cause digestive disorders.
In light of all this, there may now be some confusion as to whether Santa eats the mince pies and the reindeer the carrots or vice versa.
During spring and autumn, when there is a marked differentiation between day and night, reindeer tend to graze in the early evening and spend the rest of the day resting. Their behaviour changes dramatically, however, as they adapt to the almost 24 hours of sunshine during the Arctic summer and 24 hours of twilight in winter.
It is thought that reindeer (and some other Arctic animals) have weak biological clocks and lose their diurnal rhythm during high summer and deep winter. Activity during these periods seems to be driven by their digestive systems rather than the rising and setting of the sun.
In summer they are more active, and the females stockpile energy, especially when pregnant, to survive the long Arctic winter. As winter approaches the animals slow down and feed whenever the weather permits.
Incidentally, there has long been speculation over how many of Santa’s reindeer are female, because the entire team, led by Rudolph, have fully grown antlers. Both male and female reindeer have antlers, but the males typically shed theirs by early December, long before Christmas Eve, whereas the cows keep their antlers for the entire year.