Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Youth get up close and personal with reindeer at UAF

The University of Alaska Fairbanks hosted a reindeer youth development camp in August for the first time, immersing Alaskans in reindeer husbandry so they could take the knowledge back home.

Children learn how to assess reindeer health during a UAF camp.
"There's been a de-coupling of young people from reindeer herding," said Greg Finstad, UAF Reindeer Research Program manager. "The young people have been losing interest. For the industry to survive we need the excitement and enthusiasm of the young people. I told them we need them to be reindeer producers to feed Alaskans."

The campers took the charge seriously, Finstad said. "It will be a grassroots way to try to revive the reindeer industry," he said.

From Aug. 9-12, students from Stebbins, Savoonga, Nome and Anchorage learned about the care and feeding of reindeer, reindeer ecology, halter breaking animals, record keeping, meat cutting, herding, forage ecology, grains, fertilizers and facilities. They also worked with UAF Veterinarian Lisa Lunn to give the animals physical exams.

Even though the students hail from diverse locations around the state, they formed a 4-H club to help them carry out the work they learned in Fairbanks. The Future Reindeer Herders of Alaska's vision statement is: "Educating people and developing proficiencies in reindeer herding through interaction, training, learning and reaching out through universities, camps and communities worldwide."

Each student was assigned a 4-month-old calf to work with. If he or she has the funds to ship the animal home, a pen for it once it gets there and enough food for a year, the reindeer will go with the student to rural Alaska. It has to be raised as a 4-H project, not as a pet, so it can be used for meat production, pulling a sled, packing gear or for educational outreach.

"They had lots of questions; once they were comfortable with each other they became very interested in the topics," said Jennifer Robinette, RRP outreach coordinator and the camp organizer.

Parent Bonnie Davis of Anchorage, a member of a Nome reindeer herding family, said the camp was beneficial for children. Two of her daughters attended. "I wish I had had this when I was young. This is an unparallelled experience for these guys."

Davis will likely be a leader of the 4-H club. "We're gong to make it work," she aid. "We will make this succeed."

She would love to see the camp held again. "You can't bring this type of experience to the classroom," she said. " This is amazing." 

Greg Finstad demonstrates meat cutting.

No comments: