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Raising and Training Reindeer


I would like to thank my father, Michael F, Cary, DVM, without whom I would never have had the opportunity to work with Reindeer. As a veterinarian, he has provided invaluable technical and medical advice and assistance. I also would like to express appreciation for the information I gained from the ROBA conferences, the ROBA manual, and Raising Reindeer For Pleasure and Profit by Gordon Poest.



The author has been involved in raising and training Reindeer for the last 5 years. He has participated in several ROBA conferences. We currently have 11 Reindeer, with 5 more cows due to calve. This manual was written to provide a general overview to help people new to Reindeer and those interested in starting with them.



This manual is written as a general guide for those who want to raise and train Reindeer. The manual follows the steps needed to raise a three-month-old calf from the time it is purchased through the time it has produced a calf of its own that is three months old. Included in this manual are feeding, vaccine schedules, worming protocols, preventative medicine, halter training, displays, harness training, antlers, breeding, tuberculosis testing, plasma collection, calving, postnatal care and treatment, handling calves, and weaning.



The primary use for Reindeer in the continental United States is for displays, especially for the Christmas season. They are also used for Scandinavian displays and educational purposes year round. To be used successfully they should be trained to lead and some are even trained to pull carts or sleds. They must also be used to people and noise or distractions. This manual serves as a general guide to getting started in raising and training your Reindeer.



  • Reindeer training and handling should only be done with, or by, experienced personnel.
    • Reindeer can be dangerous.
  • Antlers and hoofs can be dangerous.
    • Preventative measures should be taken to minimize contact during displays.
  • Bulls in rut can be extremely dangerous.
  • Cows with caves can be extremely dangerous.
  • Proper handling facilities are important safety factors for the deer and staff.



  • Deer may eat many indigestible things.
  • External and internal parasite control is a must.
  • Slug and White Tail control are important for the prevention of Brain Worm.
  • Velvet can be easily damaged.
  • Deer are prone to overheat.
  • Sudden changes in diet may cause serious or life threatening digestive problems.
  • Deer may get tangled in loose fence.
  • Don’t use Rompun or any xylazines on a Reindeer in rut (it may be fatal)



  • 6’ tall predator proof fence for Reindeer.
    • 10’ tall perimeter fence if White Tails are present in the area.
  • For feed see appendix A.
  • A heated watering trough that is hard for them to paw at.
  • Catching, holding, and handling facilities.
  • Halters and leads.
  • Harness(es) and sleigh(s).
  • Display materials and pen(s).
  • Livestock trailer and pulling vehicle, or a livestock truck.
  • Medical supplies.
  • A barn or equivalent shelter.
  • A pasture or paddock.
  • A large animal veterinarian capable of dealing with Reindeer.
  • Carhart type jacket- must have dense weave that can deflect antlers or resist puncture.



  1. Obtain deer from good reputable stock.
    1. Look for good conformation, antler growth, and disposition.
  2. Confine in holding pen until deer grow accustomed to their surroundings.
    1. Work around the pen.
  3. Check the new deer’s fecal.
    1. Repeat fecal in 1 month if deer was wormed within the last month.
  4. Check vaccines.
    1. Vaccinate as needed.
    2. Check appendix B.
  5. Give a rumen magnet if not already present.
  6. Consider copper boluses.
  7. Start halter training.
    1. Catch or pen up the Reindeer to a small area.
    2. Fit and place the halter, with 2 fingers space under the noseband.
    3. Find what safe treats that the deer likes and give them as rewards.
    4. Work around the deer while the halter is on. Move slowly and speak softly.

CAUTION: Avoid tangling the lead in antlers, especially while in velvet. Avoid struggling with deer in warm weather or times of the day. Difficult deer should only be done during cool times and in hard antler.

    1. Attach the lead rope to the halter ring.
    2. Calves may be walked with their dams if the dams are trained to lead.
    3. Start tying adults in the pen at shoulder height with a quick release knot and about 3 feet of lead, attached to an inner tube or using a bungee lead.
    4. Gradually increase the time the deer is tied until the deer will stand for about 1 hour without struggling.
    5. Work near the deer while it is tied, talk to it, and give it treats.
    6. Start to walk for short distances on lead. Deer prefer a long lead.
    7. Allow deer access to feed, water, and treats while on lead.
    8. Start with several short sessions so deer don’t get bored.
    9. Lead from both sides.
    10. Start teaching the desired terms for driving such as:
      1. Walk
      2. Easy
      3. Whoa
      4. Gee (turn right)
      5. Haw (turn left)
      6. Stand
      7. Any special commands
    11. Increase distractions and noises until the deer is not easily disturbed.

CAUTION: Deer may have serious digestive problems if they change diets too quickly.

  1. Allow deer into pasture or paddock.
    1. If pasture, feed well before letting out.
      1. Only let out for ½ hour and then increase until the deer stop grazing.
  2. Separate the heifers (female calves) from any bulls (males) when the bulls start rubbing out their antlers.
  3. The calves can now be displayed as a Christmas display or a Sami display, if sufficient training has occurred.
    1. On premises, deer may be displayed to the public for fees. (Older deer can be taught to pull a sleigh.)
    2. Off premises, deer can be used in portable display pens or lead in parades.
    3. Deer can be leased out for the whole Christmas season.
  4. Antlers will drop from late winter to early spring and then the calves can be kept together again.
  5. Fly control is important in the warm months, especially when deer are in velvet.

CAUTION: Any injury to velvet puts the deer at risk for fly strike.

  1. Annual vaccines, Vitamin E/selenium, and worming are done in August, prior to the rut.
  2. Calves would be weaned and separated as before at this time.
  3. Deer must have brush or street sweeper brushes to rub off the old velvet.
  4. Once the velvet is rubbed off, male Reindeer should have their antlers sawn off.

WARNING: Male Reindeer in rut are extremely dangerous, especially if they are tame.

  1. Record breeding dates if possible.
  2. Depo-Provera may be given to bulls to mellow out aggressive behavior, especially after the initial breeding.
  3. Refresh halter training.
  4. Harness training may be started at this time.
    1. Start by exposing deer to the harness, allowing them to smell and see it.
    2. With the deer restrained by the halter, start rubbing the deer down with a sack.
    3. Deer can be taught to pull when lead or to be driven from behind.
    4. Place the harness on the deer and gradually allow the deer to get accustomed to it.
    5. After the deer tolerates the harness, hook up a light sleigh or cart to the harness. Deer should be two years or older before pulling heavier weights.
    6. Once the deer is comfortable with straight line pulling, start with gradual sweeping turns.
    7. Work up to sharper turns.
    8. Challenge the deer with distractions while working.
    9. Be sure to use the commands you want to use as you train the deer.
  5. Deer are usually displayed from November to December for the Christmas season. Sami displays are done year-round.
  6. Tuberculosis testing is best done in January to February. Check with your state veterinarian for specific regulations.
  7. Collect blood for plasma from adult Reindeer, usually the male, to use in calves that don’t get enough colostrum.
  8. Give scour vaccines to cows 1 month prior to calving, 2 weeks earlier if never given previously, as it must be boostered in 2 to 4 weeks.
  9. Calving dates may vary by area. Use breeding chart to calculate the due dates (usually mid-April to mid-May).
  10. Prepare for calving and follow your protocol.
    1. Check cows several times daily for new calves.
    2. If a cow cannot deliver normally, call your veterinarian for advice.
    3. Carefully place all new calves with their dam in a clean, dry holding area.
    4. Weigh calves and record the weights.
    5. Dip the navels in tincture of iodine.
    6. Give an injection of Vitamin E/selenium.
    7. Give 10cc of Polyserum subcutaneously.
    8. Give 5cc of Clostridia perfringes antitoxin.
    9. Make sure the calf’s mouth is warm and that it nurses.
    10. If the calf does not nurse or the dam has no milk, give 50-100cc of plasma orally or by injection.
    11. Make sure the dam has plenty of food and water in containers the calf cannot fall into or get stuck in.
    12. Keep the calf with its dam for at least 2 to 3 days.
    13. Be careful the calf does not get fly strike. Spray if flies are a problem. Crotch out if needed.
    14. Release the calf and its dam back with the herd, but watch them closely initially and for several days.
  11. Make sure calves have access to feed and water.
  12. Handle the calves frequently and consider starting halter training at an earlier age.
  13. Calves are usually weaned at 3 months of age, but can be taken from the dam earlier and bottle fed, if tamer calves are desired or the dam has insufficient milk.
  14. Repeat procedures where appropriate.


Appendix A


Reindeer are usually feed free choice and should have good pasture or fine stemmed, grassy hay, water, and their grain available at all times. Some companies make a special Reindeer pellet such as Purina’s Reindeer pellet.

(Poest, G. Raising reindeer for pleasure and profit. Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing; 2001. 107 p. )


Appendix B 

(Vaccines and Preventative Medicine)

Calves at 3 months:
  • Clostridial 8-way vaccine (boostered in 2-4 weeks and then annually)
  • Autogenous Clostridial vaccine (usually type A) may be used if problems occur within the herd (boostered in 2-4 weeks and then annually)
  • Tetanus toxoid (boostered in 2-4 weeks and then annually)
  • Leptospirosis, may be combined with Vibrio or Campylobacter (boostered in 2-4 weeks and then annually)
  • Rabies (boostered annually)
  • West Nile vaccine (boostered at 2-4 weeks, 3 months, then annually)
  • Other vaccines if indicated in individual situations
  • Vitamin E/Selenium injections (annually)
  • Rumen magnet if not present
  • Copper bolus (best to check serum Copper levels but some farms give them annually)
  • Fecal
  • Worming programs may vary from only according to fecals to every 3 to 6 months to monthly (done with long acting wormer such as Eprinex or Ivomec to try to prevent P. tenuis or brain worm (spread by ingestion of infected slugs and snails; guineas and geese in the pasture help control the slugs and snails, the disease is fatal in Reindeer))

Adults: all the above, with E. coli and possibly rotaviral vaccines, given 1 month or more prior to calving. When the vaccine is first given it is done 6 to 8 weeks prior to calving and then boostered 2 to 4 weeks later. Can also be given to calves at 3 months and then boostered 2 to 4 weeks later.


Appendix C 

(Reindeer Blood Values)



Poest, G. Raising reindeer for pleasure and profit. Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing; 2001.