Photo used with permission: source
Tomorrow night, Santa and his flying reindeer will take to the skies to deliver presents to boys and girls around the world. Did you know that reindeer are born and raised on family farms in Minnesota, just like my friend Yvonne’s? Yvonne and her husband, Daryl, are part of Santa’s special crew that prepare the reindeer for the North Pole and flying. I recently asked Yvonne about their family farm and their special reindeer.
Yvonne and one of Santa’s reindeer
Used with permission: source
Me: How big are baby reindeer?
Yvonne: Reindeer are between 14 – 20 lbs when born. About 16″ tall and long.
Me: How old are reindeer when they are fully grown and able to pull Santa’s sleigh?
Yvonne: They are fully grown at about 1 1/2 yrs. Only able to pull Santa’s sleigh when they grow the big antlers. That takes place about 3 years old. That’s when they go into training to see if they have the ability to fly.
Me: What do reindeer eat? What special treats could the kids leave for them?
Yvonne:They eat sweetened horse feed that has the vitamins and minerals needed to grow the antlers, dried sugarbeet pulp (the closest that we can get to the lichen and moss that they would eat on the tundra for nutrients and texture), dairy quality alfalfa (3rd or 4th cutting so the stems are very thin and with leaves that don’t fall off). The reindeer eat the leaves mostly. Plants on the tundra are very small so the reindeer can’t eat and digest the coarser alfalfa of earlier cuttings.) We top dress the feed in the morning with extruded soybean meal and in the evening steam rolled oats (oatmeal) This last ingredient is the special treat that you asked about children leaving out on the doorstep Christmas eve for a snack for them.
Me: uhh, so no more carrots for the reindeer. Just oatmeal
Me: How old do reindeer get?
Yvonne: Reindeer live between 15 – 18 years (unless they are the magic reindeer selected to pull Santa’s sleigh – then it is around 900 years old.)
Me: That is just a little more than our our dairy cows.
Me: If a reindeer isn’t chosen to be Santa’s helper what else do they do?
Yvonne: If not selected to pull Santa’s sleigh, they raise the babies and help the elves deposit gifts on mountain tops so that Santa can refill the sleigh as he journeys around the world Christmas eve. We use the antlers to make jewelry, zipper pulls, buttons, knives, letter openers etc. When it is still in velvet, it can be ground up and used for a nutrient supplement like glucosamine. Very helpful for joints.
Me: Where do wild reindeer live?
Yvonee: There are no such thing as “wild reindeer”. There are reindeer that live “free range” on the tundra, but that is due to permafrost in the soil so fencing is very difficult. Reindeer have been documented to have been domesticated since 600 AD and it is believed that it occurred before that. As such, all reindeer in the world are “owned” by somebody and have ear notches to determine who belongs to who when gathered for health reasons and shots etc. They are native to Siberia, Mongolia, Northern Sweden, Finland and Norway (Lapland). The “natives” travel with the herds much like our Native Americans traveled with the buffalo. The same goes as to how the reindeer are used for everything from milk, cheese, yogurt to meat , clothing and utensils. There are herds in Alaska, but they are not native to there. 100+ years ago white men brought them over from Siberia for the Eskimos and Inuits to have as a “livestock” to take care of like our beef. They have thrived as the environment is the same as Siberia.
Me: Wow! I didn’t know that! Thank Yvonne! You can learn more about their farm and reindeer here (the baby reindeer pictures are super cute)
Yvonne, Daryl and their farm partner Bev were recently interviewed by American Profile. Check out the article (and more cute reindeer photos here)
More reindeer learning activities:
First School: R is for Reindeer writing sheets
Reading of The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Janet Brett
Homeschool Share: Downloadable (free) worksheets: math, writing, graphing, geography and more
If you missed it, here is a collection of activities for Christmas trees.
Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas!