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Everyone knows Dasher and Dancer and Donner and Blitzen ... but if you decide to start a reindeer farm, you will need to know a lot more about these animals. Reindeer farming is a labor of love, rather than a way to make a lot of money. If you decide to take the plunge, you must consider the everyday costs, as well as what you plan to do with your animals.
Before getting started, check out your state laws regarding herd and vaccination requirements. You will also need to register your premises with the United States Department of Agriculture. Find reindeer for sale through the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association. The ROBA recommends that new owners purchase young stock, as reindeer calves are easier to train than mature animals. Make sure any reindeer you purchase come from a certified tuberculosis-free herd. Expect to pay around $1,000 at the low end for a male reindeer, with prices rising for trained, female reindeer. With feed, veterinary and reindeer-related farm maintenance costs, expect each reindeer to cost about $2,000 annually in upkeep.
A friendly reindeer can make a nice addition to a petting zoo or a business that sells Christmas trees. If you have other livestock doing Christmas Nativity work -- donkeys, cattle or camels -- a reindeer can provide the commercial element. On a larger scale, you can grow a business sending teams of reindeer and handlers out with Santa, working independently or contracting with retailers.
If you want to train reindeer for commercial work, start with a young, castrated male or a doe. Females are usually easier to work with than castrated males. Look for the most willing youngster, one amenable to lead training and learning basic commands, such as "halt." Once preliminary training is down pat, you can teach your charges to pull a sleigh. Contact the ROBA for sources of reindeer harness and sleighs.
Reindeer Meat and Products
In addition to working as beasts of burden, reindeer have also been raised to provide milk and meat. Besides traditional cuts of meat, you can make and market reindeer jerky. Unlike other deer species, both male and female reindeer sport antlers. They shed these antlers each year, albeit at different times. Not only can you sell these antlers, you can use them to craft specialty sale items such as pens and jewelry.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.