Range Management and Nutrition Projects

In addressing the challenges of range management and reindeer nutrition, we are involved in a variety of projects:

Production of reindeer range on the Seward Peninsula
Assessment of range resources is essential in range management. Since reindeer nutritional status is highly attuned to changes in forage plant availability and quality throughout the growing season, a onetime estimate of biomass production for the summer season has limited usefulness. To address this, we established transects prior to greenup and sampled at intervals throughout the growing season. Plant phenology of key species was recorded during each sampling bout and temperature loggers were placed in the vicinity of sampling sites to monitor growing degree days (GDD). Biomass was calculated and nutritional analysis was performed. This provided a set of regression curves of biomass production of each forage species in each habitat versus GDD. By collecting data on production and nutritional value of each forage plant species in different habitats throughout the growing season, we hope to better understand the link between reindeer foraging strategies and animal production.

Monitoring climate and grazing conditions on the Seward Peninsula
Reindeer on the Seward Peninsula currently exhibit high growth rates and body mass. Growth rates and body size of caribou and reindeer have been shown to be strongly influenced by snow depth, forage quality and quantity. Yearly variation in forage is influenced by weather and grazing history. We have established weather stations, exclosures, and vegetation plots to monitor weather patterns, grazing intensity, phenology, and species composition of the vegetation communities used by reindeer and caribou. This data can be used to evaluate changes in climate and grazing patterns and the corresponding changes in vegetation and animal production.

Nutrient atlas of reindeer forage plants on the Seward Peninsula
Because reindeer have high growth rates during the summer, small differences in forage nutrient quality can dramatically affect growth and body size. To maximize weight gain, produce heavier carcasses and generate higher profits, it is important that reindeer producers graze their animals in locations with high-quality forage. The vegetation communities of the Seward Peninsula have been inventoried and converted to digitized maps that are usable in a geographic information system. Biomass of vascular plants has been determined for these plant communities and samples of reindeer forage plants at various stages of growth have been analyzed for nutrient composition. This data has been integrated into an interactive mapping program that is capable of generating daily nutrient maps of reindeer ranges, making it possible to identify the most productive areas of a range at any given point in the growing season. It is available to Seward Peninsula producers via a designated website on the internet.
Here are the formula tables used for calculating plant nutrient values for Julian Date, or Growing Degree Days.

Locally produced feed ingredients for use in captive reindeer diets.
Reindeer can be successfully raised in captivity. However, the cost of shipping feed to Alaska makes the economic success of an intensively managed reindeer herd difficult. By using locally and regionally available ingredients, there is potential to develop a ration that is both cost effective and nutritionally complete. Following is a list of several projects that examine the merit of various feedstuffs both in terms of palatability and animal performance when incorporated into a complete ration.

Utilization of forage to optimize reindeer production
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 and production is unknown. These studies compared annual production and seasonal nutritional profiles of two pasture grasses, and examined their effect on weight gain, feed efficiency, calf growth, milk composition and meat quality.

Contact Information
Reindeer Research Program
Page Last Modified: 05/15/15 1:38 pm by: dsblodgett@alaska.edu