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Christmas Special: 6 Fun Reindeer Facts

Keep the conversation around your holiday table light this year. When someone brings up politics or another controversial subject, share these interesting reindeer facts!

1. Long-Time Livestock

Reindeer have been raised as domesticated livestock for as long as 2,000 years, according to the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association, and were likely the first domesticated hooved animals. A ninth-century letter from King Ottar of Norway to Alfred the Great referred to his herd of more than 600 reindeer. Today, reindeer are raised on farms around the world and across the U.S., as far south as Texas. They can be fed commercial feed and don’t require vast tracts of land or large facilities. (Check local regulations.)

Reindeer can be raised for meat, but using them for agritourism and renting them out for holiday events is even more lucrative. For example, Reindeer Farm in Palmer, Alaska, charges $250 per hour for one or two reindeer and handlers, and $1,200 for five reindeer and handlers providing sled rides for two hours. That will make a reindeer farmer shout out with glee!

2. Antlers for All

Reindeer are the only species of deer in which both males and females grow antlers, and even the calves grow antlers in their first year. Reindeer shed their antlers every year, with most bulls and nonpregnant females dropping them in December. Pregnant females generally keep their antlers until they give birth in the spring. That means that there’s a good chance that most of the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are actually pregnant females!

3. Protein Shake

Reindeer milk is higher in protein and fat than that of any other land mammal, according to the Reindeer Research Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Only sea mammals like seals produce more concentrated milk. This lets the calves grow and develop quickly and provides the energy they need to keep up with their mothers, who are constantly on the move. If you really want to give Santa a boost on Christmas Eve, leave him some reindeer milk alongside his cookies!

4. Growth Spurt

When they are born, reindeer weigh only between 8 and 14 pounds, but they are up and walking within an hour. They grow quickly and can reach 90 pounds by the time they are four months old, allowing them to join in many reindeer games. 

5. Christmas Shoes

Most members of the deer family have small, pointed hooves, but reindeer have broad hooves and dew claws that basically act as snowshoes. This allows reindeer herds to travel across deep snow to better grazing areas. Their hooves help them dig through snow as deep as 3 feet in order to reach the grass and lichens underneath. They also have fur on the bottom of their hooves, which allows them to better control their movement on slippery surfaces like snow-covered rooftops.

6. Red Nose Reality 

Reindeer do sometimes develop red noses, thanks to reindeer nose bot flies. According to Ohio State University Extension, the flies lay eggs inside a reindeer’s nostrils, with larvae growing in the sinuses and throat. One of the side effects is inflammation, or a red nose. The reindeer eventually sneeze the pests out. Since reindeer are red-green colorblind, however, chances are good that all of the other reindeer didn’t actually laugh and call Rudolph names because of his red nose.

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