Spring officially arrived March 30 at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm, and it was not a robin or even a Canada goose that announced the change of seasons. It was a 14-pound reindeer bull calf.
A student worker went to the farm Saturday morning to feed the reindeer herd, which includes 36 pregnant cows. The wee one’s arrival was not unexpected, but came a little earlier than the norm, said caretaker Erin Carr. She explained that the gestation period is around 220 days. The calves will continue to arrive into May.
Reindeer in the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ research herd are tagged with a number at birth for record-keeping and tracking purposes. The farm’s newest arrival has tag number 1302.
Reindeer Research Program staff members note that they generally give the mother and calf 12 to 24 hours to form a strong bond before they tag and weigh the newborn. If they process the calf too soon, they risk the cow abandoning her calf. If they wait too long, the calf becomes extremely mobile and it could be stressful to catch it for tagging and weighing. By late summer or early fall, when the calves have been weaned from their mothers, they receive names.
Suggestions, which come from school children across the country, are made online. The Reindeer Research Program staff members select the ones they like best and assign them to the calves according to the animals’ individual traits and personalities.
Generally, the naming website gets hundreds of suggestions. So far this year there have only been three male names and three female names added to the list: JoJo, Joey and Keith; Fuji, Jesi and Gertrude. Teachers are encouraged to have their classrooms submit names.
Since 1981 the Reindeer Research Program has worked to develop and promote the reindeer industry in Alaska. Research focuses on herd management, animal health, nutrition and meat quality. The program is also heavily involved in outreach, sending speakers to schools and inviting students to visit the farm and learn more about these fascinating animals.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Photos are available for download at www.uafnews.com.