For This Family That Raises Reindeers, It’s Basically Christmas Every Day

These reindeer earn their keep in December, and they’re fun family pets the rest of the year.

reindeer93PHOTO BY LOIS HOFFMAN, Farm and Ranch Living Magazine

You know all of Santa’s reindeer. Now meet Holly and her two offspring, Snowflake and Blizzard, who live on a farm just outside Centreville, Michigan. They may not be world-famous like Donner and Blitzen, but they’re quite the local celebrities.

Holly belongs to Larry and Vicki Brueck, their son Josh and his wife, Carrie. “We got Holly eight years ago when she was one month old,” says Josh, a park ranger with St. Joseph County. “A woman in Kalamazoo had some, and Holly nuzzled up to us right away. We knew she was the one.”

They bought a male at the same time, but he died. “So we got another male, tried to do everything right and successfully bred Holly,” Larry says. “We feel real lucky to have Snowflake and Blizzard.”

The Brueck family reindeer earn their keep entertaining kids of all ages in the six weeks leading up to Christmas. “People love to come and see a real live reindeer,” Josh says. “And since there are only seven or eight reindeer farms in Michigan, it’s not something you see too often.”

reindeer87PHOTO BY LOIS HOFFMAN, Farm and Ranch Living Magazine
Reindeer eat a lot of lichen in their natural Arctic habitat, but happily settle for grass and a mix of calf pellets, corn, molasses and the occasional candy cane.

“You’ve heard about reindeer games? They certainly like to play them,” Josh says. “Holly and her kids are smart, and reindeer have an amazing sense of smell. So they know if you have a cookie in your pocket, or a candy cane from Santa. Holly is pretty slick at snatching candy canes from unwary kids.”

The reindeer have 12 shows booked this year. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work,” Larry says. “We have to get them used to people and loud noises so they don’t get spooked. We set up a big dog kennel and border fence at each show. Then it’s usually freezing cold standing out there for five hours!”

The animals must pass regular USDA inspections to protect their own health and that of spectators. And the state enforces its own stringent regulations about raising specialty animals.

reindeer99PHOTO BY LOIS HOFFMAN, Farm and Ranch Living Magazine

“Dealing with all the licenses and fees is the worst part,” Josh says. The Bruecks have decided to take their time and master the basics before they increase the herd.

In the meantime, Carrie says, the reindeer make great pets: “Their natural disposition is to go with the flow, and they are very fast learners. We’ve had them pull a pony cart on the farm, and they acclimate easily to being saddled. Our kids, Juli and Corban, love playing with them.”

Judging by the smile on Corban’s face as he pets Holly, the reindeer make it seem like Christmas every day of the year.

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