Reindeer meat projects at RRP

Most reindeer producers in Alaska use an extensive management system where animals are allowed to free-range over large designated grazing ranges on the Seward Peninsula, St Lawrence and Nunivak Islands and the Aleutian Chain. These ranges are large and remote with no or limited availability of slaughtering, processing and transportation infrastructure. Some reindeer producers want to shift the management and location of their operations to more intensively managed farms in Interior Alaska to utilize cereal grain and forage production, slaughtering facilities, and transportation and distribution networks. Currently voluntary state inspection is utilized for reindeer field-slaughter but a federal inspection program is in the process of being initiated. Therefore it is anticipated that more meat from Alaska's reindeer herd will be marketed to consumers and restaurants where questions about meat quality and sensory attributes will arise. To address these questions, research in reindeer meat quality started at RRP in 2003. Currently a number of different meat quality attributes are evaluated within the following projects:

Feeding soy or fish meal to Alaskan reindeer - effects on animal performance and meat quality
The RRP has developed a feed mix for reindeer made from products grown in Alaska (barley, brome hay and fish meal). In this study we evaluated effects of the feed mix on animal growth performance, feed efficiency and meat quality. Three groups of animals were included; two groups fed the special feed mix based on either fish meal or soy bean meal (control) and one group of free-ranging reindeer from the Seward Peninsula. We found that the reindeer on the fish meal diet had a better feed efficiency compared with the control group fed the soy bean based mixture. No differences were found comparing the three groups for meat quality attributes like cooking loss, tenderness or the trained panel's scores for juiciness, tenderness, meat flavor and off-flavor. In a consumer preference test more consumers characterized the meat from free-ranging reindeer by various off-flavor attributes compared with the meat from fishmeal fed animals. We could not find any negative effects on eating quality of reindeer meat from animals fed low levels of fishmeal. Therefore we concluded that fish meal demonstrates promise as a cost-effective feed component for intensively managed reindeer operations in Alaska.

Meat quality characteristics of electrically stimulated reindeer carcasses
State regulation allows Alaskan Native producers to sell field slaughtered, non-inspected carcasses to local retail outlets. The market potential for this product is limited. Electrical stimulation (ES) accelerates post-mortem glycolysis and rigor onset, so that carcasses can be rapidly cooled or frozen without risk of toughening the meat. Reindeer from the Seward Peninsula were shot out in the field. Carcasses were electrically stimulated directly after bleeding. Shoulder meat was boned out in the field and left to freeze in wax lined boxes. Loin samples were collected from the carcasses for mechanical measurements of tenderness (WB shear force), determination of water-holding capacity during storage and for sensory evaluation using a trained panel. The frozen shoulder meat was thawed (tempered) and then diced, sliced and ground before cooking. The different products made from the shoulder meat were evaluated in three consumer tests. No differences were found comparing meat from ES and non-ES carcasses for shear force, water-holding capacity and the trained panel's evaluation of sensory attributes. Consumers judged the cubed and sliced shoulder meat the ES carcasses to be more tender for both products. No difference was found between the two treatments for ground meat. We concluded that the ES technique can be used in field slaughter systems for reindeer to significantly increase the quality and potential value of meat. It is possible ES will also have a role in enhancing reindeer meat quality in conventional USDA slaughter operations; however, this remains to be further investigated.

Seasonal variation in carcass composition, meat yield and quality in reindeer from the Seward Peninsula, Alaska
Reindeer producers on the Seward Peninsula want to enhance their operations by reliably delivering a high quality product from animals slaughtered outside the mid-winter months. In this study we want to determine reindeer body condition dynamics, carcass characteristics, composition and yield of adult reindeer bulls and steers through a nine-month slaughtering season, July through March. Reindeer from the same herd out in the Seward Peninsula were slaughtered at three different times; mid July, late November and mid March. Carcass deboning followed a protocol developed for this study. Samples from the loin (LD) were collected from the carcasses for sensory evaluation by a selected and trained panel. All sensory evaluation was conducted at the Cooperative Extension Service Food Product Development Facility/Sensory Laboratory. The panel consisting of seven members performed a descriptive test on the reindeer loin samples. The reindeer bulls showed a bigger seasonal variation in body composition than the steers. The proportion and total weight of two of the most valuable cuts; striploin and topside, did not show a great variation between the sexes or over the season. No difference in any sensory attribute was found when comparing meat from the two animal categories (bulls and steers), however the three different slaughter times affected the sensory quality of the meat. There was a tendency towards stronger total smell intensity of the meat over the season, with lowest values for July and highest values found for March. The meat from animals slaughtered in November was most tender and juicy compared with meat from the July slaughter. The gamey flavour of the meat increased slightly from July (lowest values) through March. Reindeer slaughtered in November produced meat with the highest intensity of sweet flavour. The results from the present study will generate information necessary for Alaskan reindeer producers to develop an operational plan that will increase the value and expand the delivery of reindeer products demanded and accepted by upscale markets and consumers.

Consumer acceptance and shelf life of pre-cooked reindeer meat products
Marketing of value added reindeer meat products is of great interest to Alaskan producers and processors. One type of value added meat product is the pre-cooked category that is commonly found in super markets. Currently there are pre-cooked red meat, poultry and seafood products in the market place; however there are no pre-cooked reindeer items available. This project will develop pre-cooked reindeer products and assess the sensory and chemical properties and evaluate these during product storage. Reindeer meat samples (M. semimebranosus, "inside" and M. biceps femoris + M. semitendinosus "outside") were collected from reindeer bulls and steers slaughtered in the Seward Peninsula. The meat samples were frozen and transported to SFOS Fishery Industrial Technology Center, Kodiak Island where two types of products (a small bone less roast and a cubed product in gravy) were processed and cooked. The roasts were injected with water, sodium or phosphate or a mixture of these three ingredients, and the gravy mixes included water, phosphate or extra spices. A consumer test was performed to evaluate the various products. The consumers preferred the roasts that had been injected with all three additives (water, sodium and phosphate), and they ranked the water injected roast at the bottom of the preference scale. No difference in preference was found when comparing the cubed products in gravy. Very limited work has been done on creating or evaluating pre-cooked reindeer products. This study therefore adds valuable knowledge.

Feed and forage to optimize reindeer production
Much of Interior Alaska is covered by boreal forest, which is not suitable for reindeer grazing; however, recent development of forage and cereal grain production could be utilized in farm settings to increase reindeer production. Reindeer will graze a wide variety of native graminoids in a free range setting but these forages cannot be grown in a farm environment. Smooth bromegrass (Bromus inermis) and Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis) are common pasture species grown in Alaska. These species are readily grazed by reindeer during summer and could be used as forage sources in a feed and pasture system. The supplementary use of pasture in an intensive feeding regime based on commercial reindeer feed mixtures could reduce annual feed costs but its effect on feed intake, growth rates and meat quality is unknown. The results from this project will add important information to our existing knowledge and contribute to a more complete survey of factors influencing reindeer meat quality along the whole chain from pasture to plate. In addition, it will be possible to determine the most cost-effective ratio of pasture/artificial feed for intensive reindeer production in Alaska.

Carcass management and meat processing to improve lower quality cuts from reindeer carcasses
Reindeer meat has been marketed in Europe for many years and is often processed and prepared in traditional ways. Lower quality cuts can be pre-prepared by freezing, thinly slicing and cooking the meat in gravy, this dish (finnbiff/renskav) is often eaten with potatoes and lingonberry sauce. Reindeer meet has been sold in rural Alaska as cubed or "stew" meat for decades but the urban Alaskan and general American public have had very little exposure to the unique sensory characteristics of reindeer meat. As the Alaskan reindeer meat industry expands, processors, wholesalers, retail outlets and restaurants must have basic consumer preference information on which to base processing and marketing strategies. It is well known that the conditions during rigor development (e.g. muscle pH decline, temperature/pH relationship and carcass treatment) are very important in controlling meat tenderisation. Therefore, carcass suspension techniques have been studied for beef where the variation in tenderness is considered to be the main reason for consumer dissatisfaction. To our knowledge, the effect of pelvic suspension on tenderness in reindeer meat has not been previously studied. The goal of this project is to determine which method of processing of lower quality cuts from reindeer carcasses is most preferred by consumers. We will also compare the effects on meat tenderness of two different carcass suspension techniques.

Determining a market carcass price through live animal online auction sales
The Reindeer Research Program (RRP) auctioned off 11 reindeer in 4 online auctions between January and September 2016 to determine a market carcass price for reindeer. The auctions were hosted on the RRP website and advertised in the local newspaper, on the RRP home page, on the RRP Facebook page, and via email and word of mouth to interested parties (people that had previously contacted the RRP about purchasing reindeer meat). The online auctions used animal live weight in pounds as the base weight bidders made a price per pound bid on, although an estimated carcass weight using 55% of live weight was also displayed on the bidding page. There was a total of 7 bidders who participated in at least one of the auctions. In the table below we have used carcass weight and converted the bid price accordingly.

RRP Reindeer Auctions
# ReindeerAgeSexConditionAvg Carcass WeightMin Bid Per LbAvg Winning Bid
34 yearsSteerGood168 Lbs$6.00$10.18
32 yearsSteerFair126 Lbs$6.00$ 6.76
14 yearsBullPrime252 Lbs$8.18$ 8.27
45-12 yearsFemaleCull108 Lbs$6.00$ 7.34
Overall Average Price Per Lb Carcass Weight$ 8.04

Contact Information
Reindeer Research Program
Page Last Modified: 11/10/16 4:38 pm by: dsblodgett@alaska.edu