In addition to our research activities on the Seward Peninsula, the Reindeer Research Program maintains a captive herd on the UAF campus, at the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station farm located next to the Georgeson Botanical Garden. The purpose of this herd is to augment our work with free-ranging herds by developing management strategies for captive herds. It also provides an opportunity to address issues that are difficult to study under field conditions.
Our herd currently has 61 total animals and our goal is to maintain about 50 reproductive females. Currently, we have 31 breeding females, ranging in age from 2 to 8 years. In order to maintain a bull:cow ratio of 1:15-20, we currently use 3 bulls during the breeding season and castrate most other males as yearlings (possibly keeping one or two intact as future breeding bulls). In addition to our brood stock, we have a number of young animals that are used for various nutrition and meat research projects, and who may eventually end up as breeders.
We have had few favorite deer, most notably the animals that in the past were used for educational presentations. Elsa was our first four legged reindeer outreach representative. She came to Fairbanks in 1997 with our original shipment of animals from the Seward Peninsula and became very well known to countless local children as a result of her appearance in classrooms over the years. Elsa retired from classroom visits and eventually passed away at the age of 14 in 2011. Rip became our second reindeer outreach representative sporting antlers shortly after his birth in 2003. Rip was abandoned by his mother and bottle raised by RRP staff members. He began working in classrooms almost immediately and became a minor celebrity at the farm. He was used one year as a breeding bull due to the passing of Tundra Joe (our herds first breeding bull and another favorite), before he was snipped and grew into the gentle steer that became a school celebrity in the Fairbanks area. Rip also passed away in 2008 at the age of 8. Currently we are without an antlered reindeer outreach representative that can travel to schools, but we hope to have one trained up again soon. We do still have reindeer for schools and classes to come visit at the AFES farm: Contact Erin Carr firstname.lastname@example.org or George Aguiar email@example.com to arrange for a farm tour.
You can read more about reindeer management throughout the seasons by clicking here, or get general information affecting reindeer production by going here.
Utilizing the space that once housed cattle and pigs, reindeer are currently the only livestock species maintained at the farm. The deer are distributed among several pastures and pens, totaling approximately 17 acres. The herd is fed a barley and hay based feed, which is offered ad libitum. This ration is formulated and mixed on site. It is not a pelletized ration. Feed for each pen with animals is weighed out daily and adjusted depending on the intake trend in that particular pen. Leftover feed from the day before is collected and weighed to calculate the intake.
Our research herd is used primarily for nutritional studies, specifically towards the development of a balanced and cost-effective ration made from Alaskan grown products. Over the past several years, we have conducted a series of feeding trials investigating the ways in which various barleys, hays and protein sources affect both feed palatability and animal performance.
In addition, we are interested in the ways that these various rations affect meat quality and flavor. Reindeer in Alaska are typically range fed, though there is increasing interest in developing the market by providing supplemental feed or raising animals in a farm type setting. We are interested in comparing the meat of range fed deer to that from farm raised deer, as well as investigating the effects of various protein sources on meat quality. This is a particularly interesting question as it relates to the use of fishmeal as a protein source, since it is well documented that various feedstuffs have the capacity to alter attributes of the meat.
Name our calves
Each year we enlist the help of the public, particularly school-age children,to help us name our new calves. Click here to submit your suggestion.
To see pictures of reindeer on the farm, visit the farm gallery.