Learn about raising a herd of reindeer on the homestead.
Raising a Herd of Reindeer
For the Gillaspies of Redmond, Oregon, reindeer aren't a minor sideline; they're a full-time family occupation. Mike and Cindy Gillaspie have been running, and later running and owning, Operation Santa Claus for nearly 20 years. OSC keeps a herd of around 100 reindeer to support several touring teams that work during the holiday season.
Around 35 to 40 reindeer make up the four-deer touring teams. A calf enters the program through Rudolph Training. Calves are selected for their willingness to be led by rope and not fight the rope while standing still.
Cindy Gillaspie admits her feelings toward the reindeer change from day to day and season to season, but she always loves bringing the reindeer to children, especially in the cities where reindeer education often includes the line, "No, the antlers are not glued on."
But those moments of joy come with a price. "It's not labor intensive, but it is time intensive," Cindy says. Caring and feeding for more than 100 reindeer takes a huge effort on the part of the family. The Gillaspies do extensive testing to make sure their herd remains disease-free, and getting away for a vacation from animals that need to be fed twice a day is pretty tough. The family is also committed to providing continuing support to people who buy reindeer from OSC and those who buy them elsewhere, as well. If there's one aspect about the Blitzen business that really irks Cindy, it's sellers who are just in the market for the money, and then leave small-scale buyers high-and-dry when it comes to information.
"You have to do your homework," Cindy says. If a seller only talks about how great reindeer are, it's probably time to look for another seller. She also warns against believing that reindeer will bring an owner endless profits. "If you do it the way you're supposed to, you're lucky if you break even."