Wednesday, September 11, 2019

UAF reindeer herd moves to Delta Junction, LARS

A newborn calf stays close to her mother at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm
this April. UAF photo by J.R. Ancheta
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, and two reindeer used for outreach, Roger and Olivia, moved Friday to the Large Animal Research Station near the University of Alaska 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 and for educational outreach.

Roberto Burgess, left, and Steve Hjelm of Stevens
Village look on as Greg Finstad talks about weighing and
handling the reindeer during a 2016 animal husbandry
workshop. Erin Carr and George Aguiar help hold
the reindeer.
Milan Shipka, the director of the UAF Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said the transfer reflects a shift in program goals, to focus more on outreach and 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 10 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, and reindeer herders on the Seward Peninsula, and St. Paul and Saint Lawrence islands on developing reindeer production and using hygienic slaughter practices to increase the value of the meat they sell. The program and will continue to provide husbandry and meat production training.

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

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