Article printed in the July-August Newsletter of Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association
by Cynthia Phillips, Reindeer Games
Erin, WI. The date is May 1, 2005. It’s snowing on our tulips, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since April 21, the evening Cupee was born and I’m grounded to the farm with bottle feeding — with all that in mind -I couldn’t be a happier reindeer farmer.
It’s our second calving season. So far we’ve been blessed with two healthy babies and are waiting on the third. Jeff and I started with our reindeer three years ago. Two years prior to that we researched, visited reindeer farms, planned fencing and saved money. Somewhere inbetween we moved to a cozy, farm in the scenic Kettle Moraine, Wisconsin. Once we chose our breeder, I was surprised to hear that we could bottle feed our two babies and could have them as early as two weeks old. I have to admit that my impatience made this decision – get them now or wait until August. As anxious as I was to start, of course, I would bottle feed.
We found soon after attending a few ROBA meetings, that bottle feeding has many pro’s and con’s. Some folks have strong opinions against it. So prior to calving we did more research and prepared Reindeer Games calving plan – Mom and baby’s health and contentment are first on our priority list. This past year, we had the opportunity to personally examine the attitude and social differences between a bottle fed vs. mom fed reindeer bull calf. After nine months of working with both reindeer, I am very surprised. I thought this was a good time to jot down some comparisons. Rudolph born here, spending the first two weeks of his life snuggled in our living room and Donner born in northern WI, living with his reindeer mom until August 18 when he joined our herd at Reindeer Games. Our goal for these two boys is sleigh pulling for 2005 season. Unfortunately for them, also in the plan was castration this past spring. Jeff and I wouldn’t use a bull for any Christmas exhibiting. Again, every breeder has our own opinions and procedures.
Rudolph, BD May 4, is remarkably calm around anyone. Most of our seven reindeer have been with us since two weeks old, Rudi was the only one born here. They all know their names, but only Rudi consistently comes running when he’s called – no treats involved. He has many of his father’s characteristics, one of which is dribbling a ball (or whatever you call it when antlers are involved). The best part is he is will actually tries to keep the ball from me. Here’s another example of his comfort level – tonight we sprayed the reindeer with citronella based repellent, one of our many fly control methods. I especially spray their legs to prevent scabby bites, their antlers and face. All but Rudi act very ‘put out’ after I cover their eyes to spray their antlers and then hold them still to get their legs. I get the rest of their body as they run out the barn door to escape. Not Rudi, he patiently cooperates and doesn’t leave when we are finished. His tolerant temperament has got me saddle training this spring. And who knows what will be next.
Donner, BD April 18, and I had a different beginning. He spent his first 4 months with his Mom with little interaction with people. (see photo) On August 8 last year, we stopped on our way home with him to pick up lumber. You can see he wanted nothing to do with me. Today, Donner trots over to us when we call him (if he’s rewarded with a graham cracker) He is halter trained and enjoys going for walks. However when we walk into the reindeer pen with halters to find two reindeer to walk, Donner likes to blend into the background. Others come forward, willing to come along. But once haltered, Donner love his walks, nibbling along the trails and let’s himself get silly really letting down his guard. I am proud of his progress and will continue with him more and more, however he does require more effort than working with Rudolph
Based on our experience, time involved with bottle feeding is time well spent. Our calving plan is an intense two weeks of spending twenty-four hours a day with the baby. We have found many reasons the reindeer are easier to handle and train. Genetics play a role here too. However, speaking as a bottle breeder, working with Donner for a couple of months, has reinforced that reindeer are lovable & trainable, no matter what.