Santa's Reindeer

Have you ever heard a reindeer's sleigh bells in the sky on Christmas Eve?

Have you ever heard a reindeer's hoofbeat on the roof of your house?

Or listened to the clatter of antlers outside in the darkness?

Of course you haven't

Santa's reindeer are so skillful that they can fly in and out of your
neighborhood without anyone hearing a thing.

Reindeer are of the family Cervidae-which means deer.
Courtesy of the Reindeer Owners & Breeders Association

In the case of reindeer, males & females both grow antlers, that are deciduous, solid antlers which grow from permanent bases or pedicles on the frontal bones of the skull; genus-Rangifer (reindeer and caribou), species-tarandus (reindeer).  That’s the technical/scientific description.  Farm raised reindeer are curious, friendly, likeable animals. They are easy to fence, feed and train to pull. 

Reindeer look a lot like their wild North American cousins, the caribou, but are somewhat (8-10 inches) shorter, and there is a difference in color.

Reindeer are believed by many to be the first domesticated animals with a written reference to herding in a 9th century letter from Norway’s King Ottar to Alfred the Great which mentioned his fine herd of over 600 reindeer. 

Both male and female reindeer grow antlers each year.  When they are growing, the antlers are soft, rubbery, and the living mass of blood and marrow is covered with a furry skin.  The antlers grow rapidly and during this period the reindeer are said to be “in velvet”.  The antlers are finished growing in August, harden, and the “velvet” is vigorously rubbed off. 

The bulls then begin to rut.  They become aggressive (remember, they are animals, keep safety in mind).  Their necks swell.  They become protective of the females in the herd, and the breeding season of several months begins.  The older bulls generally lose or “drop” their antlers first, usually late December or early January, with the remaining bulls following this process until as late as March. 

The females generally keep their antlers until calving time, 7 months from when they were bred.  Then the antler growing process is repeated all over again.  The antler when in velvet can be sold to a number of buyers for the Oriental market. 

Hard antler when it has dropped can also be sold to a variety of buyers for craft and other uses.  Gestation is about  224 days. The calves are usually single births with that flurry of activity beginning in April.  Twin births are extremely rare in reindeer. The calves are up nursing and walking very quickly, normally in less than an hour. They weigh between 8-14 lbs at birth, grow rapidly and some can easily weigh 90 lbs when they are 4 months old. By then they have already grown their first set of “Rudolph” antlers.

Reindeer do not require large areas or facilities. They can thrive on commercial feeds and are now raised successfully in most parts of the USA, including, as far south as Texas, Mississippi, and Tennessee.