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N.D. Woman Raises Reindeer for Fun

December 21, 1998

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ Neither Yule nor Elke can fly through a Christmas blizzard, but that hardly bothers their owner.

DeDe Schadegg’s earthbound reindeer are a smash at parties, anyway.

``We get a call just about every day during the Christmas season,″ the reindeer rancher said. ``They get around.″

Whether it’s a company fete in a posh Minneapolis hotel or one of many events with Santa Claus, Schadegg’s reindeer hit peak demand in December.

They can pull in the bucks, too, said Schadegg, who moved to North Dakota in 1996 with her reindeer herd.

``I have always told people that there’s one animal that I can guarantee you can buy, and you can pay for it the first year, and that’s a reindeer,″ she said. ``I’ve always made money on them.″

After the fees from parties, Santa appearances, photo opportunities and commercials, a reindeer can sell for about $3,000, Schadegg said. She has sold at least a dozen in her eight years of raising the animals.

That kind of money is one reason why reindeer ranching is growing in the United States, said Gordon Poest, a corresponding secretary with the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association.

Poest, of Zeeland, Mich., said the group formed in 1992 with 14 members. Since then, it has grown to 200. He estimates that there are now between 2,000 and 3,000 reindeer in the United States.

``We are also finding that a lot of our members, the past few years, are Christmas tree farmers,″ Poest said. ``They’re finding that by having a few reindeer it really helps bring out the customers.″

Schadegg discovered her fondness for the animals while working at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley, Minn.. She bought her first female reindeer in 1990 from a Pennsylvania man, who had bought it from a rancher in Alaska.

``It was hard to find them, then,″ she said.

Not anymore.

``I think it’s easier to buy reindeer in the United States because there’s more and more breeders all the time,″ Schadegg said.

This summer, she sold two calves to a new herder in Drayton, N.D. She has a waiting list of five people who would like a reindeer, but it’s an uncertain wait.

``I don’t pregnancy-test them,″ she said. ``I just wait and see what shows up.″

For now, Schadegg has eight reindeer on her 20-acre Northwinds Reindeer Ranch outside Bismarck. She describes them as very calm animals that are easy to raise. Contrary to their fictional reputation for soaring through the sky, they are clumsily built, she said, and their poor jumping ability makes them easy to keep fenced in.

``They are like pets,″ she said.

Schadegg’s daughter, Mick, bottle-feeds the reindeer. She says that helps make them especially tame.

Reindeer weigh about 10 pounds when they are born. Females can grow to 200 pounds and the males as much as 250 pounds. Both genders have antlers, and a full-grown rack can weigh 25 pounds.

With their furry muzzles, large lateral hoofs and intricately shaped antlers, reindeer add a sense of wonder to Christmas events, Poest and Schadegg said.

``I guess one of the things that surprises me the most _ and we’ve been doing this for six years _ but we still have numerous adults every year that don’t believe reindeer exist,″ Poest said. ``They say, `Well, what kind of deer are they really?‴

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