Checking in with a reindeer producer

Checking in with a reindeer producer
Dec 23, 2019

The animals on Herman Bulten’s farm have a specialized diet

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Right now, nine reindeer in the North Pole are receiving their final instructions to help Santa Claus make his worldwide journey on Christmas Eve.

Not all reindeer are called to pull Santa’s sleigh, though, and some call Alberta home.

Herman Bulten owns and operates Amber Lane Game farm near Leduc, Alta. While the 145-acre farm is mainly for 130 elk, the Bultens have five reindeer as well.

“Elk are much easier to keep,” Bulten told “Reindeer have a very specialized diet. It’s been a guessing game and some trial and error a lot.”

The reindeer mainly eat hay, alfalfa and grain, but the Bultens discovered another item the animals require.

“One of the essentials for them is tannin, the stuff that makes tea brown,” he said. “We figured that out because our reindeer would do well for a few years then fade away, but reindeer on farms where they had lots of leaves and plants to eat did well. Reindeer usually live in tundra surrounded by muskeg, and the water they drink is pretty dark brown because of all the tannin.”

The Bultens have since added ground peat moss to the reindeers’ rations “and things are going better than they ever have,” Bulten said.

Bulten, who’s also the president of the Alberta Reindeer Association, bought his first reindeer in 2000.

The province used to have about 27 reindeer producers. That number has dwindled to three individual producers, a farm at the University of Calgary and the Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, Alta. In total, about 45 reindeer call Alberta home, he said.

One of the main factors that contributed to the decrease in reindeer producers is regulation.

The government “dumped so many rules on us that many (producers) just gave up,” Bulten said.

Raising reindeer comes with different rules from traditional livestock because they fall mainly under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment and Parks, not Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“For elk we require an eight-foot fence, which is normal,” he said. “But, for reindeer, you must have a nine-foot fence, and you must have a minimum of 10 acres of land fenced and inspected before you can buy a reindeer. You also need an annual permit from fish and wildlife and from Alberta ag.” Images Plus photo

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