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UAF Moves Reindeer Herd to Delta, LARS

Sep 12, 2019 | Agriculture, Education, News, Science

The reindeer research herd at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm has moved to a bison and reindeer farm near Delta Junction.

Thirty-five of the reindeer were transferred two weeks ago. Two remaining reindeer used for outreach, Roger and Olivia, moved Friday to the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Large Animal Research Station near the Fairbanks campus.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which owns the animals, approved the transfer. The university’s Reindeer Research Program has maintained a herd at UAF since 1997 for research on range management, nutrition, and feed rations. The herd, which has also been used for educational outreach, has been a familiar sight in the fields opposite the Georgeson Botanical Garden.

Milan Shipka, the director of the UAF Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said the transfer reflects a shift in program goals. The new emphasis will focus more on outreach, as well as developing range and business plans for communities interested in establishing a reindeer herd for meat production.

The Delta Junction bison and reindeer farm is owned by the Stevens Village Tribal Council, which has been working with the reindeer program for five years. Representatives have attended reindeer husbandry workshops at UAF and have been developing a herd on the 2,000-acre farm.

“This was an opportunity to help an Alaska Native entity develop a red meat industry,” Shipka said. “This has the potential to be a sizable Native-owned operation on the road system.”

Being on the road system allows for a USDA-inspected slaughter and greatly improves market opportunities, Shipka said. The farm will get a higher price for the reindeer meat because it will be able to sell USDA-inspected meat.

The reindeer were moved to Delta Junction in enclosed trailers. Greg Finstad, the reindeer program manager, said the farm will be a good location for the reindeer because of its access to the road system and to inexpensive reindeer feed, including hay, barley, and oats.

Finstad said said ten of the reindeer going to the farm will eventually be transferred to the family-owned Midnite Sun Ranch near Nome.

He said the program is working on a memorandum of agreement with the Tanana Chiefs Conference to continue using the research herd for animal husbandry outreach and research as needed.

Finstad said his program is working with other Yukon River communities, as well as reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula, St. Paul Island, and Saint Lawrence Island to develop reindeer production and use hygienic slaughter practices to increase the value of the meat they sell. The program also will continue to provide husbandry and meat production training.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

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