Seasonal Changes:

A look at reindeer management throughout the year.


January

Our farmed deer are fed a 14% crude protein diet in the winter and a 16% crude protein diet in the summer. This is in response to the natural physiological cycle of reindeer. Free-ranging reindeer don't have access to protein- and mineral-rich green forage during the winter, instead subsisting on a carbohydrate-heavy diet of lichen. They also eat less during the winter months. This is a trend we see in captive deer as well. Their intake drops, their rumen volume decreases, and their nutrient requirements change. From both a biological and an economic perspective, it makes sense not to feed them a rich diet if they don't need it.

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


February

The females are over halfway through their pregnancy by now, and the metabolic cost of pregnancy is beginning to increase as the fetus grows. Free-ranging reindeer won't see higher protein feed sources (green forage) until later in the spring, but to ensure that our captive deer have successful pregnancies and healthy calves, we begin to transition them from a 14% crude protein ration to a 16% crude protein ration mid-month. This provides a nutritional boost, even though their intake rates are still low.

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


March

In addition to reproductive stresses and reduced intake rates, parasites can affect an animal's ability to put on weight. Reindeer are susceptible to a variety of parasites, including warble flies. During March, the reindeer on our farm are treated with levamisol, the first of two annual parasiticide treatments. The adult animals are also vaccinated against Clostridium. This group of bacteria can cause a host of diseases fatal to reindeer.

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


April

In anticipation of the new calves, we begin to check the pens and pastures three times daily, monitoring any females in labor. Once a calf is born, we observe it, but leave it alone for at least 12 (and preferably 24) hours. This allows adequate time for the mother to bond with her calf, and reduces the likelihood that she will abandon it. After this observation period, the calf is tagged and weighed, and the umbilical cord is dipped in a 14% iodine solution. This is to guard against umbilical infections that can lead to abdominal abscesses. Though it is important to give the mother and calf adequate time to bond before performing these tasks, it is also important not to wait too long because the calves find their running legs remarkably quickly and a long chase results in undue stress for both the mother and the calf.

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


May

Calving season continues and proper nutrition for our females is more important than ever. Late pregnancy and early lactation are metabolically expensive activities and an appropriate plane of nutrition is essential in the health of both the mother and the calf. Good nutrition also ensures good antler growth for all animals (including the new calves!) We continue to feed a 16% crude protein ration throughout the summer.

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


June

The animals on the farm are eating more and more and their antlers are growing rapidly. The calves are growing quickly too, gaining as much as one pound per day. They are still nursing heavily, but are nibbling at the adult ration and at green forages as well. Nutritionally, this is a critical time for the calves. Improper nutrition can result in slow growth, poor hair coat, and compromised health. Young animals that are not healthy and strong in the fall are less likely to survive the winter, so it's critical that they receive adequate feed during the summer.

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


July

The calves are still nursing, but their digestive systems are well developed by this time and they are capable of subsisting on the milled adult ration. At the end of the month, the calves are weaned, giving the mothers a short break before they are bred again. (Weaning the calves is also a logistical necessity because some young animals are reproductively viable already and we don't want to risk the chance that a female calf might be impregnated when the breeding bull is introduced into the pen. Instead, all the calves are separated from the breeding stock.)

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


August

In preparation for rut (breeding season) the females are divided into harem of 15 to 20 animals, each of which will be serviced by one bull. Division of the females not only eliminates the likelihood of sparring bulls, but also gives us control of paternity of the calves.

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


September

Rut continues through September. Even though feed is available to all the animals, the bulls eat very little and lose weight.

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


October

Rut continues into October and the bulls continue to lose weight as long as they are with their harems, even though high quality feed is available to them at all times. At the end of the month, they will be removed from the females and housed in individual pens. The bulls are still exhibiting the aggressive behaviors of rut and isolating them from one another ensures that they won't injure one another sparring. It also allows them to gain weight faster because the presence of other reindeer (males or females) encourages rutty behavior, including fasting.

October is also when the animals get their second parasiticide treatment of the year. This time they are treated with ivermectin instead of levamisole. Alternating between the two drugs reduces the likelihood that parasites will develop a tolerance to either one. In addition to ivermectin, the calves are also given their first Clostridium vaccination, a protection against a variety of bacterial diseases. The deer are converted from a 16% crude protein summer ration to a 14% crude protein winter ration, which they will continue to eat until spring. (See January for an explanation of why they are fed differently in the winter than in the summer.)

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


November

November brings a Clostridium booster for the calves. The bulls remain in individual pens, as they still have their antlers and can be aggressive. (Once their antlers fall off, they no longer exhibit aggressive rut behaviors.)

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


December

The bulls' weights are stabilizing, as they finally go out of rut. They will lose their antlers soon, which will be our confirmation that they can be safely handled and housed with other deer. Even though they are bigger and heavier than the females, they will be subordinate to the pregnant mothers who still have their antlers. Antlers are largely a social organ, determining the hierarchy of a herd. A pregnant female's antlers (which she retains until her calf is born) ensure that she can defend her nutritional resources against unwanted advances by other deer.

Click here to learn more about how these management strategies are informed by the natural cycles of reindeer.


Contact Information
Reindeer Research Program
Page Last Modified: 05/15/15 1:25 pm by: dsblodgett@alaska.edu