If any of the reindeer ever escape into the wild from the Midlothian, Texas, ranch that raises them, the old joke about a hunter shooting Santa’s motive power might become reality; the headgear on these domesticated caribou is more than noteworthy.
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Across the barn, Blitzen grunted.
Comet and Cupid were remarkably calm, considering this is the busy season for reindeer.
Such was the spirit one recent morning at the Double R Reindeer Ranch just outside of Midlothian, Santa’s Texas reindeer division, operated by Rick and Roberta Smith.
“We’re busy six days a week right now,” said Rick Smith, wearing an elf outfit that he designed. “We won’t get a break till January.”
Lt. Col. Roberta Smith was getting ready to retire from the Air Force and Rick Smith was headed that way from the Texas Department of Public Safety.
“We wanted to raise something unique,” Roberta Smith said. “I knew Dr. Shelton and once he heard about what we wanted to do, he suggested the reindeer. We didn’t think of it much at first, but he kept after us.” And that’s how the Double R Reindeer Ranch was born.
The Smiths started with young reindeer — Comet and Cupid. They weighed about 125 pounds and will eventually top out at 450 to 500 pounds when fully grown.
Several Arctic and Subarctic peoples, including the Sami and the Nenets, have herded semi-domesticated reindeer for centuries. They are raised for their meat, hides, and antlers, and, to a lesser extent, milk and transportation. Siberian deer owners ride their reindeer like horses (Siberian reindeer are larger than their Scandinavian relatives).
Reindeer are not considered fully domesticated, as they generally roam free on pasture grounds. In traditional nomadic herding, reindeer herders migrate with their herds between coastal and inland areas according to an annual migration route, and herds are keenly tended.
Herded reindeer were not bred in captivity, though they were tamed for milking as well as for use as draught animals or beasts of burden.
The use of reindeer as semi-domesticated livestock in Alaska was introduced in the late 19th century by the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, with assistance from Sheldon Jackson, as a means of providing a livelihood for native peoples. Reindeer were imported first from Siberia, and later from Norway.
A regular mail run in Wales, Alaska, used a sleigh drawn by reindeer.
Alaska reindeer herders use satellite telemetry to track their herds, using online maps and databases to chart the herd’s progress.
The reindeer has (or has had) an important economic role for all circumpolar peoples, including the Saami, Nenets, Khants, Evenks, Yukaghirs, Chukchi, and Koryaks in Eurasia. It is believed that domestication started between the Bronze and Iron Ages.
A single herder may own hundreds or even thousands of animals. The numbers of Russian herders have been drastically reduced since the fall of the Soviet Union. The fur and meat is sold, which is an important source of income.
Reindeer introduced into Alaska near the end of the 19th century interbreed with the native caribou subspecies.
Reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula have experienced significant losses to their herds from predators such as wolves following the wild caribou during migration.