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UAF reindeer herd moved to Delta for increased meat market

  • Author: Erin McGroarty, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
  • Updated: September 18, 2019
  • Published September 15, 2019

FAIRBANKS — All but two of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Experiment Farm reindeer herd have been moved to Delta amid budget cuts and program changes.

Thirty-five of the reindeer were moved to a bison farm near Delta Junction two weeks ago. The farm, owned by the Stevens Village Native Council, has been working with the reindeer program for a number of years. Milan Shipka, director of the UAF Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said the move will help the farm develop a larger herd for meat production.

"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."

Shipka explained that the farm's location on the road system provides better opportunity for USDA-inspected slaughter than other Native entity-owned herds in more remote areas. It also allows for improved market opportunities, he noted.

Ten of the reindeer will eventually be moved to the family-owned Midnite Sun Ranch near Nome.

There were a number of factors in the decision to move the herd.

"Budget cuts are part of it. The budget changes over the years have made it much more difficult," said Greg Finstad, manager of the reindeer program.

The focus in research is also shifting.

"The nature of the research the producers need has just changed. The animals were no longer needed for the type of research producers were asking for," Finstad said. "We were looking at nutrition, herd health and improved reindeer husbandry. Now we're trying to develop a reindeer industry, so we need a home network of business owners. We have changed our focus more on developing business and more animal production research."

Finstad noted the farm location in Fairbanks also suffered a severe drainage problem due to bodies of water nearby.

The herd has existed at UAF since 1997. Now, with most of the herd relocated, Finstad said, the program will surely change.

"It's not that we're not going to be doing research," Finstad said. "We're just not doing research with hands-on animals anymore."

The remaining reindeer, Roger and Olivia, have been moved to the Large Animal Research Station located near the UAF campus. The two animals will be used for outreach, but student involved programs will be much more limited to the remaining number of animals, Finstad noted, adding that the program is working on an agreement with the Tanana Chiefs Conference with the hope of continuing to use the research herd for animal husbandry outreach and research as needed.

The Fairbanks Experiment Farm is a separate entity from the LARS musk ox farm. To his knowledge, Finstad said, LARS was not planning changes to its program.