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Crash course

Nikiski teen learning reindeer-training ropes

Posted: February 27, 2012 - 11:11pm
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Jenna Hansen experiences a moment of obstinacy from the 7-month-old male reindeer named Crash that she is raising at her home in Nikiski as a 4-H project.   Photo by M. Scott Moon
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Jenna Hansen experiences a moment of obstinacy from the 7-month-old male reindeer named Crash that she is raising at her home in Nikiski as a 4-H project.

Raising a reindeer isn’t all games.

Friday afternoon, about a week-and-a-half after Scene of the Crash moved to Nikiski, Jenna Hansen and her mom Hara worked to help him adjust to being around people.

Jenna held a rope, while Hara stomped in the snow near the 7-month-old reindeer.

Training is, initially, about “trying to desensitize it,” Hara said.

Jenna said its a lot like training a horse, something she’s done before, which focuses on release.

She holds him tightly, and releases a little when he is behaving, giving him some slack.

Friday was his second real outing, and he was showing improvement, Hara said.

“He doesn’t shake with her,” Hara said.

Crash might be Jenna’s first reindeer, but the freshman at Nikiski Middle-High School is an old hand with animals. She’s been involved in 4-H since early elementary school.

“I’ve raised turkeys, chickens, lambs, steers, horses, geese, pretty much everything but pigs,” Jenna said.

When she saw reindeer at the state fair, and heard that raising one was an option for 4-H, she decided to try.

Crash is one of just a few reindeer to reside on the Kenai Peninsula. In preparing for her project, Jenna learned a lot about reindeer in general, including some of the differences between caribou and reindeer.

“Reindeer are more of a livestock,” Jenna explained.

Caribou are taller, leaner and built for running. Plus, they run in herds.

“Reindeer, they just scatter,” Jenna said.

Reindeer’s adaptations make them a good fit for farmers in cold climates, Hara said.

He doesn’t need shelter, he drinks snow instead of water and he eats more in the summer than in the winter.

Eventually, Jenna said she’ll share the knowledge with other 4-H peers who might be interested in raising a reindeer of their own.

But even after all her research, finding a reindeer to bring to Nikiski was a challenge.

Jenna had help from a Palmer 4-H mom and veterinarian, who guided her through the permitting process to transport Crash, and helped with housing him temporarily and even castration. Jenna got to pitch in with that. The positioning was unique, shes said, but the basics of castration were the same as for other animals.

“It was a lot like horses and cattle, but really interesting, ‘cause it’s a reindeer,” Jenna said.

Transporting a reindeer any distance requires certain state paperwork, which are the permits Jenna needed for Crash.

Now that he’s arrived, Crash lives in an modified animal trailer the family has on their property.

“He doesn’t need shelter, they prefer cold over warm, and really high fences,” she said.

Since the Hansens didn’t know Crash was moving to their property until snow had piled up, the trailer was a more sensible option than building fences in the snow.

Before Crash moved in, Jenna made a feeder and a name sign for his trailer. Both were made in a computer-aided drafting class at school.

Despite all her research, Jenna is still learning the nuances of reindeer ownership.

“We haven’t found out what (treats) he likes yet,” Jenna said.

His feed was a little easier to determine. Crash eats about 50 pounds of food a week right now, a reindeer-specific blend that comes from Alaska Mill and Feed.

The hardest part, Jenna said, is catching him.

The best, is just having a reindeer.

“I love the feel of his fur, too,” she said.

Jenna said she’ll either sell enter Crash as a Junior Market Livestock 4-H project, which means he’ll get sold at auction, or keep him as an educational project. She’s also raising a steer, and can only have one junior market project, she said.

She has about two months left to decide which one is going to the auction block. That’s how long it will take for his antlers to grow in.

In the meantime, she’s working to adjust him to people, so he could be successful in either project. With both options, she’ll show him at the fair this summer.

If she goes the educational route, she’d likely take him to schools and other venues and give educational presentations.

No matter what, less than two weeks into her project, she said it’s already educational for her.

“It’s been fascinating learning,” Jenna said. “They really are the perfect livestock for Alaska.”

 

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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