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Fairbanks reindeer birth makes agricultural history

Fairbanks, Alaska-Thursday's birth of a 10-pound male reindeer calf at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm made worldwide agricultural history: It marks the culmination of the first documented successful pregnancy of a reindeer by artificial insemination using frozen-and-thawed semen.

The calf appeared at 3 p.m. on April 22, as University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program herdsman Rob Aikman worked nearby. He noticed the calf's mother, a 2 1/2-year-old named Lightning, was having difficulty and went to assist. As he tugged on the calf, he noticed its heart was beating but that the calf was not breathing. After Aikman performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, the calf was fine.

In September, seven females were artificially inseminated with frozen semen shipped from Canada. Once in Fairbanks, it was thawed and a veterinarian performed the necessary technique. Six pregnancies did not take.

"This is a first and it's a small step," said Milan Shipka, an animal scientist at the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, which runs the Reindeer Research Program. "We will work to get the bugs out so it will become a tool for reindeer producers."

He said the procedure allows reindeer owners to move genetics over great distances without having to move live animals. The Reindeer Research Program is dedicated to the study of reindeer: researching meat science, range management and animal health. The applied science is then shared with reindeer producers.

"We are absolutely excited," said Shipka, who is also a livestock specialist with UAF Cooperative Extension Service. "Janice Rowell and I have been taking steps to get here and we really appreciate the assistance of the Reindeer Research Program. This is just the beginning."

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