Reindeer have a significant role in the historical and cultural perspectives of Alaska, particularly along the western coast. This makes them a useful medium for tying together lessons in science and math with those in history and culture. Through the years, many teachers have expressed an interest is locating the resources to develop their own reindeer units. In response to this, the Reindeer Research Program has hosted a series of workshops in Fairbanks and Nome for teachers who wanted to learn more about reindeer and their potential as a teaching aid.
Through a grant from the College of Rural & Community Development we were able to go even further and develop a curriculum book called Reindeer Roundup! This publication is a direct outgrowth of our teacher workshops and many of the participants of those sessions wrote lesson plans that were ultimately included in the book. Reindeer Roundup! meets the State of Alaska standards for Alaskan studies in public schools. It is available in PDF format here.
Market Steer Program
Each year, the 4-H Club of the Tanana Valley, together with Alaska FFA and the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, organize a livestock show and auction at the Tanana Valley Fair. Among the animals showcased are beef & dairy cattle, ducks & geese, goats, horses, lambs, poultry, rabbits, sheep and swine. However, reindeer have never been included as a market animal.
Reindeer are an ideal option for Alaskan market livestock programs. Besides being uniquely adapted to the northern climate, they are good natured and respond well to the intensive human contact typical of 4-H and FFA livestock projects. They are also hardy animals that do well on commercially available feeds and in farm settings.
The logic of including reindeer in local and regional market steer programs goes beyond their ease of management, however. 4-H, whose slogan is “Learning by Doing”, has its foundation in the practical application of land-grant university knowledge by youth in their communities. At a university where reindeer are the only livestock species being studied in an agricultural production setting and given our mandate of disseminating regionally relevant knowledge, the inclusion of reindeer in 4-H programs in Alaska makes good sense.
To this end, the Reindeer Research Program, with the support of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Reindeer Herder’s Association (RHA), has made available 5 steer calves (~ 4 months old) to select 4-H and FFA members in the Fairbanks area. These students are required to participate in weekly sessions covering all aspects of reindeer husbandry including health, handling, feeding & nutrition, herd management, and facilities design & maintenance. These hands-on sessions provide a sound knowledge base for participating youth and their families. Under the guidance of experienced reindeer handlers, students begin the fundamental work of socializing their calves and building a healthy and safe human-animal relationship. After the completion of these sessions the students are given charge of their animal, which they raise at their own facilities for the next year. Like other market animals, they are managed in a manner consistent with the 4-H livestock program guidelines and shown at the Tanana Valley Fair. They are sold in the market auction at 15 months of age, by which time they are of respectable slaughter size.
Inclusion in the market program reinforces the concept that reindeer are a livestock species, selectively bred and raised throughout the circumpolar north for their meat and—to a lesser degree—for their milk and as pack or draft animals. They are not wild animals and they are not pets, but the foundation of a legitimate agricultural industry. The Reindeer Research Program is committed to the advancement of this industry and to sharing our knowledge with the youth of our community.
We also provide educational programs to adults, both to reindeer herders and to the interested public. For example, in conjunction with Cooperative Extension Service, we have hosted a series of meat cutting and preservation workshops in Nome and Fairbanks. These classes are very popular and always fill up well in advance.