General Factors Affecting Reindeer Production

Greg L. Finstad, Reindeer Research Program


I. Weight gain

  1. Parasitism
    Treat with Ivermectin during fall or winter months. $1/animal
    Treat with Levamisole during summer ¢25/animal

  1. Prepubertal weight gain (1yr) - nitrogen dependent - need high protein diet > 18% CP. Nitrogen retention high in summer, low in winter

  1. Postpubertal weight gain - carbohydrate dependent - need high energy diet during lactation and during "flushing" in late summer, early fall

  1. Minerals
    1. Calcium for mature bulls estimated at 20 gm/day (during antler growth). For lactating females estimated at 2-3 times maintenance.
    2. Copper. Cervidae are susceptible to copper deficiency causing reduced immune function and production.
    3. Mineral blocks may help especially in spring and summer.

  1. Seasonality

    1. Males - antler growth, bodyweight changes and breeding season.

      1. Heaviest weight in August (pre-rut)

      2. Steady weight decline though December (up to 25% of pre-rut body weight). Dry matter intake often less than 500gm/day, severe catabolism.

      3. Antler casting for mature bulls December and January but may be later for immature bulls.

      4. Weight loss slows during January and weight may begin increasing in February. Dry matter intake increasing slightly.

      5. Velvet antler growth beginning in February or March.

      6. Body weight increasing through summer with large increase in dry matter intake. May exceed 3% bodyweight per day.


    1. Females - breeding and lactation.

      1. Heaviest weight in October

      2. Slight decline in body weight until partuition. Dry matter intake may decline to 1.5% - 2% bodyweight per day.

      3. Immediate weight loss at partuition in late April or early May (avg. calf weight 6-7 kg).

      4. Increasing dry matter intake through summer but little weight gain (lactation).

      5. Weaning calves the end of July.

      6. "Flush" between weaning and breeding.

      7. Dry matter intake may drop during the rut, late August, early September but will increase after breeding.

    2. Steers - castrated males.

      1. Heaviest weight in October. Very little decrease in body weight through winter and may show slight increase. Steers are in relatively good body condition during spring and early summer when females and males are in relatively poor body condition.

II. Sex ratio

  1. Free range. Sex ratio should be one male for 15-20 females on most ranges. Where the range is extremely mountainous or forested then the ratio should be one male to 10-12 females. If all the females in the herd are 16 moths or less than the ratio should be one male to 8 females. If all the females are 28 months or less then the ratio should be one male to 15 females.

  1. Fenced herd. Sex ratio should be one male for 25 - 30 females. The ratio should be reduced (1 to 15-20) if either the females or the males are less than 2 years old.

  1. Castrating excess males is an extremely important and valuable management tool!

    1. Castrated males do not go through rut, meat quality remains high where meat from rutting and post rutting bulls is practically inedible.

    2. Excess males challenge the herd bull increasing stress on both males and females. Body weights of reproductive animals will decline more with excess bulls in the herd.

    3. Steers maintain body weight during the year so they may be slaughtered during times of the year when reproductive males and females are in poor body condition. Steers do not use up their body reserves in rut behavior so energy (meat) is conserved.

    4. Metabolism after castration drops by 10-15% further conserving energy (meat).

    5. Change in Behavior. Steers show greater range fidelity, they don’t wander as much. Steers in fenced herds are much easier managed during rut than reproductive bulls and can be left in breeding pastures without increasing stress levels.

    6. Steers tend to live much longer, up to 15 years, where reproductive bulls rarely live past 7 or eight years.

    7. Antler growth and casting is disrupted in castrated males but may be treated with hormones.

III. Optimum herd structure. This recommendation for optimum herd structure was developed by reviewing Russian and Scandinavian management strategies.

Optimum Herd Structure at Maximum Herd Size (no growth)

Adult females 60%

Calf and yearling females 25%

Adult bulls 6%

1-2 yrs 20-30%

2-5 yrs 50-70%

Over 5 yrs 10-15%

Bull calves 9%

All excess animals from each category should be slaughtered or castrated


IV. Calving

  1. Free-range populations. Reindeer females demonstrate good site fidelity to calving areas so selection of these areas by the herder is extremely important. Good calving area characteristics:

    1. Warm. Newborn calves do not have the hair coat or the body mass to withstand extremely cold and inclement weather. Southern or southwestern slopes seem to be warmer and preferred by parturient females.

    2. Shallow snow cover. Lactating females need to conserve energy not expend it digging through deep snow for forage. Also, areas with little snow cover tend to melt out sooner, the exposed ground absorbs and retains heat and provides camouflage cover for the newborn calf.

    3. Availability of forage. Lactating females need a tremendous amount of energy to produce milk. Calving areas must contain high energy forage such as lichen, Eriophorum vaginatum flowers, and other sedges such as Eriophorum angustifoliun or Carex aquatilus.

    4. Predator avoidance. The herder should maintain vigilance during calving to protect his herd from large predators such as wolves and bears. Selecting a calving area away from shrubby and rocky areas will help the female reindeer observe and protect her calves from smaller predators.

    5. Avoid crossing rivers or swollen streams until the calves are larger. Smaller calves must swim across water bodies where the larger females can wade across. The calves are swept away and either become separated from its mother or drowns.

  1. Fenced herds. Observe the calf after it is born until it can stand and nurse from its mother. If it cannot stand or has not nursed six hours after birth then the caretaker may have to initiate a stomach tube feeding or give bottle feeding. After the calf has nursed;

  1. Start a medical record and fill out a birth record sheet

  2. Weigh the calf

  3. Swab or dip navel with full strength betadine solution

  4. If ear tags are going to be put on now wipe the ear with dilute Nolvasan solution prior to using the punch

Contact Information
Reindeer Research Program
Page Last Modified: 05/15/15 1:35 pm by: dsblodgett@alaska.edu