Friday, August 19, 2016

Reindeer Farm

When you're at home, do you visit the local tourist attractions or does everyday life get in the way? I never seem to get around to enjoying all the things people come all the way to Alaska to see, but I'm trying to do better. Which is part of the reason why, after living in Anchorage for twenty-five years, I finally made a visit to the Reindeer Farm in Palmer, in the shadow of Pioneer Peak. The other reason is that I'm writing a Christmas story set at an Alaska reindeer farm, and I wanted to get a firsthand impression.

Yes, that's a buffalo in the photo. There are more than just reindeer at the farm. Dolly, a plains bison, has lived her whole life there with reindeer, and probably doesn't even know she's a bison. She was born late and only grew to half the size of a normal bison, but she's had a good life on the farm.

When we arrived, we were greeted by this lovely fellow who gave us a sniff and went back to chasing sunbeams. While we waited for our tour, we were allowed to wander over and meet a few of the other residents of the farm, including an exceedingly friendly pig who loved petting, some rather exotic-looking hens, and quite possibly the cutest animal of all time - a one-and a half month old reindeer calf. She was a surprise, born three months after all the other calves to a mother who hadn't breed during the regular rutting season, but somehow caught up later. These photos don't do her justice.

Once our guide arrived, we got to the fun part, feeding the four-month old reindeer calves alfalfa pellets. That big guy on the left is the babysitter, in the pen with the calves to teach them how to behave. Letting the tourists feed the calves is not only entertaining for the us, but helps teach the young reindeer to be comfortable around people as part of their training so that someday, they'll learn to pull sleighs. 

You may have noticed that the calves are already growing antlers. They're still in the velvet stage now. Reindeer are unusual in that both males and females grow antlers. The bulls shed theirs after the rut in the fall. The cows keep theirs until spring. That may be a clue about the sex of Santa's reindeer. Here I am holding one of the antlers after it's been shed and dried. It's heavy! It must take a huge amount of energy to lug these around. I'll bet when they shed them, the reindeer feel like they can fly. 

Reindeer, like caribou, seem to grow antlers in erratic patterns. Look at this guy. One goes straight up, but the other has a little dip, and the front parts don't match either. I saw another with a horn that dipped low over her eye, Veronica Lake style. I say like caribou, but actually reindeer and caribou are the same species. Reindeer are simply the domesticated version of caribou. We have lots of wild caribou in Alaska, but they're further north, starting around Denali National Park. These reindeer descend from European reindeer imported to Canada more than a century ago.  They're smaller than Alaskan caribou.  
Speaking of antlers, the farm also has a resident herd of elk. Unlike reindeer, the cow elk have no antlers, but the ones on this bull are magnificent, don't you think? 
It was a beautiful day to be out and about in Palmer, and if you're ever this way and would like the chance to pet a reindeer, I'd highly recommend a visit to the reindeer farm. 
So how about you? What local attractions have you been meaning to visit and haven't? Or is it just me?


  1. Love the pics :)

    I read a stat once that estimated only 10% of the people living in NY city have visited the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. Since then I've tried to play the tourist in my area as often as I can. I think it's just natural that we put off things we feel we can do anytime. It's different when we're on holiday; being in a city we may never come back to we realize it's a potential now or never opportunity... that pushes us into action in a way the local attractions can't.

    1. Good for you. I think you're exactly right -- I can do it anytime, so why bother now? Thank goodness I chaperoned a lot of field trips when my kids were in school, so I had a reason to visit interesting places.

  2. I too have lagged in my local tourist gems. Most people get a little excited when I tell them I'm from NY. "What's the city like?" They ask. "I don't know, I've never been there. I'm from northern NY." I shrug. "Oh like Albany," they guess. "No father north; I'm sandwiched between Vermont and Canada." "Wow so like Buffalo." That's when I give up and just say I'm from Canada.

    1. Someday, I'll make it to your area. I want to see the leaves. In Alaska, we have birches and mountain ash, in Arizona, we have aspens, but I want to see a true hardwood forest with all the different autumn colors.

      Our summer visitors said his grown kids had only been to Niagara Falls twice, even though they only live thirty minutes away. I want to see that, too.

    2. NY's a great place to visit in the summer and fall with all the lakes, apple orchards, and hiking trails.

      I've never been ton Niagara myself; it's over 6 hours from my hometown. Most people don't realize NYS is that big where it can take 9 hours to get out of the state.

      Since I'm from the Adirondacks, I can definitely attest to the gorgeous fall colors. I once had to drive through NY and VT to take an exam in October and was just awestruck. I'd lived there my whole life and never really thought much about driving through the rainbow colored mountains.

    3. Definitely on my bucket list.