Reindeer in Alaska

Excerpts from "Reindeer in Alaska," Seymour Hadwen, Chief Veterinarian and Parasitologist, and Lawrence J. Palmer, In Charge of Grazing Investigations, Bureau of Biological Survey, United States Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No. 1089, Washington, D.C., September 22, 1922 (pp. 33-52). [Figures and photos to be added.]


Reindeer handling in Alaska suffers greatly from lack of application of improved modern methods. The growth in the numbers of reindeer has been very rapid, but correspondingly improved general organization, and better methods of controlling parasites and diseases have failed to keep pace with it. Consequently the industry has developed to large proportions under conditions which urgently need improvement to insure continued healthy progress. Generally, the method of handling now employed follows the Old World practices, and these often are built up on superstitious beliefs or old customs, and have, to a large extent, apparently missed the influence of modern ideas. Reindeer grazing does not differ so greatly from other live-stock handling that the same principles of management are not generally applicable. The improved practices in handling live stock employed in the Western States apply equally in general principles to the handling of reindeer in Alaska.

Among other things, the Eskimo herd owners greatly need corrals and cabins (Pl. XIV, Fig. 2) on the grazing areas to promote better herd management. Lack of proper corralling facilities is preventing the accurate marking of stock and the making of counts and ownership records of many of the native herds, some of which have not been counted for several years. Often in the larger bands only a part of the fawn crop is being successfully marked each year, and unmarked yearlings are commonly noted in the herds. Aside from entailing confusion in ownership and leaving an opening for "rustling," this lack of corrals otherwise impedes proper supervision.

Without cabins on the winter range, in many cases the reindeer are held on the same ground along the coast both summer and winter. This, of course, damages the range and jeopardizes the herd when the snow crusts over. Proper winter range lies in the hills back of the coast, where there are protected areas with an abundance of reindeer moss. Consequently, winter quarters should be established away from the coast villages, and this requires the construction of cabins in the hills on the seasonable ranges.

Unless the reindeer industry is put on a good commercial basis, there will be little incentive for investment in stock, and the herds will be of value only for the owner's individual needs and for a very limited local sale. Consequently, if its greatest development is to be attained, it will be necessary for white interests with capital and initiative to take a leading part. If development of the industry should be confined mainly to the natives, progress will be relatively slow, since, unaided, they have not the ability, knowledge, or means to develop it.


In any event, better supervision of the native herds is necessary to care properly for them. Such care and protection is important not only in view of the natives' food and clothing requirements, but also because of the need for meat production to aid in fostering local white enterprises in the Territory.

The native herds are scattered throughout the present coast range on all grazing units, irrespective of white or native occupancy. Thus reindeer of both natives and whites often graze cooperatively on the same range, and in such instances all the animals come under white management. Except where cared for in a white man's herd, the Eskimo reindeer are generally rather badly managed because of the improper methods employed and the lack of trained supervision. The teachers at the Eskimo schools maintained by the Bureau of Education are doing all they can to supervise the management of the herds of the people at their stations, but they are not skilled in animal husbandry, and their other duties occupy their time. The assistance of a small organized corps of trained white men to look after the native herds and supervise their development along improved practical lines is urgently needed.


The organization of herds on a cooperative basis, as proposed and recently initiated by the Bureau of Education, will not only secure proper and definite allotments of range but will promote more effective management of both herds and ranges. Such organizations among native owners will make possible the employment of the best reindeer men for herding and prevent interference and meddling by others. It will make possible uniformity in distribution of herders between bands, establish adequate and just remuneration for them, and eliminate the inefficient herder who could put in his time to better advantage in fishing and hunting. It will result also in the adoption of one distinctive earmark or brand for the combined herd, and in a centralization of herd management, either in a white superintendency or in an advisory board of the leading natives under white supervision.

In larger herds under the cooperative plan herd management will be much simplified. Gain and loss in the herd will be prorated among the individual owners, and it will be easier to guard against "rustling," which may grow to serious proportions. The supervision of native holdings by the Government also will be greatly simplified and made more effective.


In Alaska, reindeer are now run in herds of from less than 400 up to 5,000 head, and in one case 8,000. While the future tendency will be toward the larger herds, under existing conditions it appears to be preferable, for the present at least, that the Eskimo reindeer be run in herds of medium size. In the absence of proper corrals, in order to insure less complicated handling, particularly for marking and counting, these should not be larger than 1,000 to 1,500 head each.

Where a cooperative organization includes several small bands or herds, this should not necessarily imply uniting all of them in one band on the range. When two or more large bands are under one ownership, they should be maintained so far as practicable in separate herds on distinct grazing areas or on separate portions of a large unit. On the other hand, when two or more small bands are held by the same owner they can usually be combined to considerable advantage, provided they do not make the one herd too large.

The greatest number of reindeer that may be run economically in one band under present methods of handling has not yet been determined. It may be pointed out that with the present distribution within a grazing unit, it may be for the best interests of both the range and the animals to run two or more medium-sized bands than one very large one.

The following points should be carefully considered: A very large band, unless very openly herded, will do proportionately more injury to the range than a smaller band. On the other hand, other things being equal, it may cost as much to herd the small band as a medium-sized one. A large mixed herd may be run probably without undue injury to the range if before fawning time the does can be successfully segregated from the bucks, steers, and yearlings, and during the early part of the season the two groups run separately.


Grazing units having been established and definite numbers of stock allotted to each, the next problem will be to realize the best use of the forage within each allotment. This requires such control of the stock within the allotted grazing area as to bring about full and uniform grazing. Steps to be taken to this end include herding, salting, and the construction of needed range improvements such as fences and cabins.

Herding.—Open herding is the best method of handling reindeer to avoid damage to the range and to secure the best results in the herd. In close herding, as frequently practiced in Alaska, the stock is held closely banded together at all times, whereas in open herding the animals are allowed to graze spread out on the range. In the latter case herding consists chiefly in making a big circle around the band each day, without disturbing it, but working in the few strays that get too far away from the outer grazing circle.

While permitting the herd to spread loosely on the range and involving less handling or disturbance, open herding must not be thought of as implying lax herding, in the sense of turning the animals loose to wander over the country at will, to be herded only at intervals. Proper open herding requires constant attention, but with as little disturbance of the herd as possible, thereby maintaining a more natural and wide-spread grazing on the particular range area used. Unless the herd is constantly watched material losses are sure to result through straying.

Reindeer herding is now done entirely on foot, mainly by natives and Lapps, commonly aided by dogs (Pl. XIV, Fig. 1). One or two herders go out each day from a central camp to watch the herd, sometimes remaining out over night. The herd dogs are generally of small size and compare quite unfavorably with a good cattle or sheep dog. Improvement in the breed of reindeer dogs is desirable and would aid greatly in attaining better herding.

For bands numbering on the average from 1,000 to 1,500 head, usually three herders are employed, with extra help during the marking season. Herds numbering from 2,000 to 5,000 require a herd superintendent, a chief herder, and three good herders during the greater part of the year, with extra help to insure fast work at marking and butchering time, usually 20 or 25 men for a few days.

Salting.—Salting, said to represent the best herder the cattleman has, is considered as offering the greatest possibilities for maintaining a proper distribution of cattle on the range, and it is believed that it may likewise be developed as a major factor in controlling reindeer grazing. By its use, considerable improvement in the distribution of stock and utilization of range is made possible. Reindeer salting will be similar to salting cattle and the same principles should apply.

Reindeer are very fond of salt, and when held along the coast they get it during the summer season by drinking the sea water or licking up the deposits on the beach. Along with the fly pest, this undoubtedly serves as an important factor in urging them to the coast during the summer months.

The salting now being done on a small scale in Alaska by a few of the white reindeer owners is with crushed rock salt This is placed on the range usually by scattering handfuls on rocky ground. On one allotment in the summer of 1921 a small amount of experimental salting was begun, using both the crushed rock salt and the block salt. The owner reported that so far he has found that the reindeer are very fond of the crushed salt, but that they scarcely touch the block salt. This may be significant as indicating that it may be found necessary to use crushed rock salt exclusively for reindeer. Salt in both forms will be thoroughly tried out in the experimental projects undertaken by the Biological Survey. If found equally acceptable to the animals, block salt would be preferable as being more convenient to handle and transport. Crushed rock salt would probably require troughs to use it in an economical manner.

Fencing.—Open herding and necessary control between adjoining grazing units, particularly on the summer range, may be facilitated by the construction of short division fences in many localities. Fencing at this time, however, should not be considered a major requirement in reindeer grazing, but more as an expedient that may be resorted to in some places to obtain better stock control. In the more heavily timbered ranges of the interior, fencing no doubt will prove more of a necessity, not only for control but for protection as well.

The greatest use of fencing is to insure against mixing of herds in certain cases on adjoining allotments, especially where there are no natural barriers along the boundary lines. As the ranges become fully stocked the need for such fences will be more and more evident and they will be a necessity in some cases if allotments are to be fully utilized and if herds are to be prevented from mixing along the boundaries of adjoining allotments. In the absence of fencing the tendency will be to confine the herd as much as possible to the inner portions of the allotment, thus leaving a belt of unutilized range along the boundary lines, resulting in a material loss of range. Fencing along such boundaries would permit grazing up to the allotment lines and thus eliminate loss. The mixing of herds involves much labor and time in corralling and separating the animals and often results in injury to the stock as well as to the range where the herds are closely held. Absence of fencing will tend to increase the size of allotments to make up for the ungrazed borders.

The problem of control between grazing units may be greatly lessened by careful selection of allotment boundaries, careful herding, and perfection of systematic range management. In locating allotment boundaries, advantage should be taken of such natural barriers as streams, prominent ridges, and other major topographic features.

Fencing within the grazing unit may later be of value as an aid in the following respects: To better control deferred and rotation grazing; to segregate breeding stock from nonbreeding stock; to control stock in timbered sections; to maintain holding pastures for stock during a round-up, either in connection with cold storage plants or with marking and separating corrals.

Careful herding at all times is of prime importance to prevent mixing, but cooperative arrangements between owners of herds on adjoining allotments should evolve a system of rotation grazing whereby each allotment area may be almost fully utilized by having only one herd near the border at any time. The practicability of fencing any particular allotment should be considered from the viewpoint of ground site, availability of material, and expense of construction as related to maintenance cost of the herd as a whole. Fencing even at this time will not take the place of efficient herding if it can be procured.

Construction of cabins.—Reindeer herding deals with large acreages, a country of sparse settlement and poor transportation facilities, and traveling over the range on foot, usually under adverse conditions. Consequently there is great need for the erection of shelters or cabins for the herders here and there on the range (see Pl. XIV, Fig. 2). At least three main cabins are needed on the average allotment—one headquarters cabin on the summer range, one headquarters cabin on the winter range, and one cabin on the fawning grounds. In addition to these, and depending upon the size and character of the allotment, the construction of several subsidiary cabins or shelters at strategic points over the range will facilitate the work of moving herds about the range and handling them with less confinement and disturbance. In some instances, tents may suffice, but a permanent shelter is preferable, since this will be more comfortable and permit the storage of necessary supplies at favorable periods in the year and save much labor where transportation is difficult.

The construction of necessary cabins is not difficult in timbered sections of the country; but where there is no timber, as over the major portion of Seward Peninsula and along the Arctic coast, the problems of material for cabins, of available fuel, and of transportation are serious, especially so on treeless winter ranges. Material is readily available for the summer on the coast of Bering Sea in the form of beach driftwood and of lumber brought in in a few instances by boat for building purposes, while driftwood, willows, and natural lignite serve for fuel.

Much of the fuel and building material for cabins on the winter ranges of the Seward Peninsula must be transported into the hills from the coast. In some cases this will prove difficult, and in a number of instances it is this very difficulty of building a new winter headquarters that is holding the herd on old and fed-out ground when it should move on to new range. However, while transportation of material to desirable winter-range sites on the Seward Peninsula or elsewhere may not be attempted under present conditions, it undoubtedly will be in the future through large holdings under individual or cooperative management.


It is apparent that little or no thought has been given in Alaska to the proper breeding of reindeer. Exchange of blood between herds has been more a matter of accident than design. It is especially important that more attention be paid to the selection of herd bucks. At present there are too many undesirable small bucks doing service, and in too many cases the larger animals, which should be heading the herds, are castrated and later killed to supply the meat demand.

Not more than 5 bucks are necessary for 100 does, and records indicate that even less than this number may suffice. In one instance, a ratio of only 1 to 30 was maintained with successful results, and in another case the ratio was 1 to 44. All bucks not needed for breeding purposes should be castrated and grown as steers (Pl. XV, Fig. 1).

The female side of the better breeds question must also be considered. Old does are either unproductive or have weak fawns, so that it is highly desirable to cull out a percentage of them each year. These animals should be separated or marked sufficiently early in the year for the unproductive ones to be easily identified, and they may be profitably butchered either before or soon after the rutting period. In addition to the old does, all stunted, sickly, or otherwise undesirable animals should be disposed of.

In other breeds of domesticated animals the present cry is to eliminate the scrub. By applying this practice just as rigorously in the reindeer business, and by introducing the practice of selective breeding, the first and most important step will have been taken toward establishing a better grade of stock.

Crossing with caribou.—Experiments are being planned to introduce caribou bulls into a herd of reindeer in which the reindeer bucks will first be castrated. The woodland caribou is a much larger animal than the reindeer, and dressed weights of over 300 pounds are common, while the average dressed weight of reindeer steers is only 150 pounds. The mixture of caribou blood will undoubtedly have a decided effect in increasing the weight of the animals. In addition to the introduction of the large caribou bulls, a carefully conducted program will be carried out of permitting only the best reindeer stock to breed, the undesirable or scrub males and females being weeded out. It is believed that reindeer may be brought up to double their present weight and that this program of improved breeding can be generally introduced throughout Alaskan herds. It is planned to conduct the experiment on an island where there is only one herd. This will eliminate the chance of error by the intermingling of stray animals. It may be stated that caribou mix readily with reindeer and they are constantly being seen in the herds. Unfortunately this is generally late in the season after rutting time, and besides this the caribou are wild and do not remain for long periods in the herd. These difficulties will be eliminated in the proposed experiment, which should mean much to the reindeer industry.



Numerous round-ups (Pl. XV, Fig. 2) for trivial reasons and much driving of the reindeer during round-ups and on the range result in injury to both herd and range and in loss in weight of the animals, and must be avoided if the best results for the herd are to be obtained. Where there is no central management and lack of concerted action in handling herds among the various owners, the tendency is for frequent round-ups throughout the year for the convenience of individual owners, without regard to the common interest or the welfare of the herd as a whole.

In a systematic business management of the herd, round-ups will be reduced to a minimum and the necessary handling of the animals planned to fall as far as possible into three main periods: (1) a spring round-up for counting, marking, and castration of fawns; (2) a fall round-up for cutting out steers for market; and (3) a winter round-up for separating breeding from nonbreeding animals. Round-ups between these periods, unless absolutely necessary, should be avoided.

In fixing the round-up periods consideration should be given to the time of year that the herd may be handled with least injury. The spring round-up should take place early in June prior to the fly season, which begins toward the end of the month. The fall round-up should be during the period that the animals are in best condition for butchering, and when handling is practicable; this is generally at the close of the summer grazing and after the rutting period. The winter roundup (Pl. XVI, Fig. 1) should be in the fore part of the season, since toward the end of winter the females are heavy with fawn and consequently should not be disturbed. When a round-up is to take place, all interested parties should be duly notified. If an individual fails to avail himself of the opportunity to cut out or otherwise handle his stock, he should not be permitted to have a special round-up later for individual work.


The corral method generally employed at present is to rope in a crude brush or pole enclosure on the open range. This usually involves handling the herd for a long period, often requiring two or three weeks, and as a general rule results in considerable losses of animals injured or killed outright. If these losses are to be eliminated, roping must be reduced to a minimum and as much of the handling as possible done in a corral arranged with separating pens and chutes. In any case, greater care must be taken in handling the animals.

On most allotments two corrals are used, one on the summer and another on the winter range. The main corral is on the summer range and is usually built near or on the beach, ordinarily of driftwood, brush, and green poles, or sometimes lumber, wire, and burlap. On the winter range a brush corral is usually constructed. The summer corral is used largely for marking, castrating, and counting. and the winter corral for separating purposes and for cutting out animals for slaughter.

Many of the bad features under the present methods of corralling can be overcome by building proper chutes connected with the corrals. The time now taken in separating a herd by the roping method is much too long. In one case, a herd was worked 9 hours on each of two days, with 5 to 6 men roping, and then only 234 reindeer were handled. In another case during the winter a herd was held in a corral during severe weather and starved for 48 hours. When to this period the collecting and driving of the herd is added it can be readily seen that much injury must have resulted to the animals.

If reindeer are handled in too small an enclosure, the warmth of their bodies soon causes the surface of the ground to thaw and this later freezes and becomes icy, resulting in many injuries to the animals from slipping and falling. If there are sticks and stumps projecting through the snow, as is frequently the case, ribs and legs are sometimes broken. When the corral is too small some of the animals may be trampled, and this results in many losses. In the second case mentioned above, of 1,443 deer handled during the 48-hour period, 11 deer were accidentally killed and a great many injured. Under present methods the owners regard these losses as an unavoidable part of a round-up. With proper corrals, however, such losses may be almost entirely prevented.

A diagram of a highly successful type of corral in use at Buckland River, Alaska, for overcoming the present drawbacks in handling, is shown in Figure 2. In a corral of this type used in the Kotzebue Sound district during the marking season of 1921, a large herd was put through in 10-1/2 hours and a total of 1,680 fawns marked. In another case, at Golovin, 1,250 animals were marked (ears notched and buttoned) in 14-3/4 hours. The corral illustrated is exceptionally large, being made to hold 10,000 reindeer. A corral of about half this capacity should suffice for the average Alaskan herd.

The separating pens, or pockets, on either side of the entrance to the connecting chute form a special feature of this type of corral. By their use sections of a milling herd may be detached and put through the chute as needed. The pockets are merely partitioned off from the corral by "hooks," made in three sections at angles, which keep the detached part of the herd from rejoining the others, by turning the leaders away from the entrance, so that the animals mill in the pocket until the excitement due to imprisonment has subsided. Without the hooks it would be almost impossible to handle the last animals in the corral and the leaders would become wild and refuse to be driven. Two hooks are employed, for the reason that the milling animals tend to reverse the direction of their movements when they approach a pocket from which they have succeeded in escaping on previous occasions, and then, not recognizing the danger of entering the other, they are driven into it and operations are thus facilitated.

Men are stationed at the various platforms and gates, two on the platform at the end of the chute (Pl. XVII, Fig. 2), to hold back the reindeer by catching their horns, in order to prevent overcrowding at the exit. The chief herder is usually the one stationed at the swing gate, and he decides what disposition is to be made of each animal as it passes.

As a rule the Lapps build the corral just over the brow of a hill, so that the reindeer do not see it until they are practically inside. The animals are driven in through the entrance driveway between long wing fences, which in some cases extend out a quarter of a mile or more on each side. (Pl. XVI, Fig. 2.)

The present slow system of corralling often results in keeping a herd in the immediate vicinity of the corral for long periods, in some cases for weeks at a time. This causes undue trampling and damage to the near-by range and exposes the animals to grazing on contaminated ground, where they pick up large numbers of parasites, and further emphasizes the need for improvement. If for unavoidable reasons the improvement advocated can not be made at once, the herd should always be driven to the corral by the same route, in order to limit as much as possible the damage to the range and the danger of parasitic infection. Furthermore, when liberated the animals should not be allowed to remain about the corral, but should be driven away at once to fresh feed.

Choice of site and selection of building material are two important considerations in constructing the main corral on the summer range. It is particularly important to build the corral in a dry place, as it is readily apparent that a herd may be handled more efficiently and with less danger of injury here than on wet ground. When the corral is on wet ground, the tramping of the "milling" animals soon converts it into a dangerous mud hole. The best sites along the coast are on sandy spits immediately adjoining the beach.

In the selection of building material, it should be kept in mind that a closely constructed corral fence or wall is preferable to an open one. There is the possibility of considerable injury to animals in an openly constructed corral. When pushed and frightened, reindeer often try to break out of the enclosure at any point they can readily see through; and, in the attempt, may get their legs or horns caught and, as often happens, broken. Consequently a closely built split-pole or board corral is preferable to one constructed of wire or of open paneling.


The lasso, or lariat, used in Alaska differs from the rope commonly seen in the Western States. Reindeer men prefer a flexible cotton rope about one-fourth inch in diameter. The eye is made from a piece of reindeer horn, and is of considerable weight. The entire rope is gathered up into a number of small coils, and thrown at the deer's antlers with the motion used in throwing a stone. The roper does not whirl a single loop and throw the rope in cowboy fashion, but throws the lasso so that it hits the horns and entangles them. The thrower does not know whether he will catch one or both horns, but expects that the loops will get caught on one or more of the numerous points on the antlers. Roping reindeer (Pl. XVII, Fig. 1) is much easier than roping cattle or horses, where either the feet or head must be accurately encircled. Reindeer are caught by the feet only by accident.

A form of injury that often occurs in roping, but to which the reindeer owners appear to pay little attention, is to the growing horns. These are very vascular and soft, and are easily hurt. Serious hemorrhages are apt to occur, and harmful bacteria may gain entrance where the velvet of the horns has been rubbed or torn off. For this reason it is desirable to avoid roping the older animals, at least, until the velvet has "set."


Ownership in reindeer is commonly indicated by ear marking. Usually this is done by cutting off the tip or notching one or both ears, and one or two herd owners use a metal ear tag or button in addition to cutting. Each individual owner has a different earmark, and often separate marks are used among the various members of the same family, particularly in the case of the Eskimos—the father, the mother, the sons, and the daughters each having his or her individual mark. Constant trading and bartering of deer among the natives results in the earmarks being continually so changed that at times the ears are almost entirely cut off. Moreover, in the absence of provision for the registry of these marks, there is often considerable confusion as to the ownership of the animals, and petty "rustling" is frequently reported.

The fawns in the majority of herds in Alaska are now earmarked like their mothers. Individual reindeer owners pick each fawn as belonging to this or that mother and mark it accordingly. In a small herd this may be successfully done, but in a large community herd, especially where there are many owners, marking according to the mothers does not work out very well. In a "milling" herd especially, fawns may not follow their mothers. Thus it may often be only a guess as to ownership in the picking of any particular fawn, and a large margin of uncertainty must exist in the selections made. Consequently, there is the possibility of injustice in marking, particularly in the native herds, since it is evident that the individual owner having the greatest assurance and aggressiveness is in a position to get more than his share of fawns.

The solution is to adopt the plan of cooperative herds proposed by the Bureau of Education, each under a single brand, in which the owner has a percentage holding. Under this arrangement each owner will be given his pro rata share of the total fawn crop, based on the total number of his does in the herd; and the burden of loss and expense of running the herd, as well as the increase, will be proportionately divided among all the owners.

Marking all fawns alike in a herd under the percentage ownership system is to the best interests of the herd. Marking fawns according to the mother involves the use of the old roping method and handling the herd in a corral for long periods, resulting usually in injury to the animals. On the other hand, marking by percentage involves the use of the chute instead of roping, and, in addition to speeding up operations, insures good results and largely eliminates injury.


Trimming or notching the ears of a reindeer is unsatisfactory as a means of identification, and, as previously mentioned, such a mark may be altered with comparative ease. A brand on the skin, being less easily changed, is preferable. To try out this method, two yearlings were branded on April 30, 1921, at the Unalakleet station, with a hot iron, one on the jaw and the other on the hip. The hair was clipped, and the brand in the form of a U was applied lightly. The lesions healed rapidly and the hair began to grow very soon. In August of the same year, when the animals were brought back to the station from summer grazing, it was found that the jaw brand had been a complete success, a clear white U being plainly visible (Pl. XVIII, Fig. 1). The brand applied to the hip did not show quite so plainly, but was a sufficient mark for practical purposes.

Fourteen other animals were branded during the month of August, 1921, for later observation. These were all branded on the hip, since this promises to be the best location for branding for easy observation when the animals are on the range or are being driven. In these cases the hair was not clipped. In one or two instances, owing to the heavy growth of hair, the brand did not come quite clear and had to be retouched. This, of course, is bad practice. With a little more experience it is felt certain that the brand can be applied successfully at one operation.

Previous attempts at branding in Alaska had not been successful, probably because too much force was used in applying the iron, thus driving it through the skin. Some animals are reported to have died following the operation. Reindeer skin, as is the case with all heavily coated animals, is very soft and thin, and consequently branding must be done deliberately and carefully.


It has been remarked that the large growth of horn which is common to all reindeer must be a heavy drain on the system, and that if the horns could be eliminated the body weight of the animal might increase. Experiments in dehorning were made on two yearling reindeer which were being kept at the Unalakleet station. About 10 days after the horns had dropped the velvet had grown to a width of about one-fourth inch surrounding the horn core. After slightly moistening, sodium hydrate was rubbed onto this new growth. Only one of the horns on each animal was treated. Growth stopped at once and a scab covered the area. In about three weeks the scab began to lift at one corner and in a few days the treated horn was growing just as rapidly as the untreated one. That considerable injury had been done to the horn was evinced by the fact that a large white area appeared on the velvet. Strange to say, the injury appeared to stimulate the growth as well, and by the latter part of August it was found that the treated horn was much larger than the untreated one. (This is illustrated in Pl. XVIII, Fig. 2.) It had been suggested that the proper time to conduct a dehorning experiment is when the fawns are newly born; but unfortunately, it is not safe to handle the fawns at that time; consequently the outlook as regards dehorning does not seem promising.


The Lapp method of castration, which consists of crushing the testicles, was introduced into Alaska at the time the reindeer were first imported. This method, still followed in some districts, is barbarous and often ineffective and should be stopped as soon as possible. The method used for other kinds of domesticated stock, consisting in opening the scrotum, or bag, with a knife, severing the cord, and removing the testicles, is proper for reindeer as well.

No instruments other than the knife are required if the operation is done on the fawn soon after birth, but this is not good practice. With the older animals, however, serious hemorrhage is apt to fol1ow unless an instrument such as the emasculator is used to sever the cord. It is gratifying to record the fact that the use of the emasculator by the Biological Survey in 1921 was at once accepted by herd owners as an improvement and that its use has spread rapidly. Not only are the natives using it under the direction of officials of the Bureau of Education, but the leading Lapps have expressed themselves as in favor of the method. During the past season a large number of animals in most of the principal herds have been successfully castrated with the emasculator, so that it is now probably only a question of time until all herd owners will have adopted its use.

The time for castration should be governed by the weather, as it is unwise to undertake it when the weather is hot and flies are abundant. The proper time to operate on fawns or yearlings is when green food is available and before the hot weather and the flies appear. As it is unsafe to rope or handle adult reindeer when the horns are in the velvet, on account of danger of injury, castration of the older animals should take place either early in the spring before the horns are grown, although they are harder to handle at this time, or else after the velvet has "set," which is just before rutting, or about August 20.

Cleanliness in the operation is important to avoid infection, and disinfectants should be used to keep the hands and the instruments clean. The operator should not have to handle the animals, but they should be thrown and held as he directs.


The average period of gestation in reindeer is 7 months and 7 days, so that the first fawns generally appear about April 10. In 1920 and 1921 the first signs of rutting were noticed the latter part of August, and it continued into October (Pl. XIX, Fig. 1). During rutting time the herd should be placed in the best pasture available and should be very little disturbed, and during the latter part of the winter the does should be kept as quiet as possible for at least two months before fawning, in order to avoid accidents.

In selecting areas to be used by reindeer during the fawning period, at least two requirements must be borne in mind, namely, ample green feed, so that the does will produce sufficient milk for the fawns, and a site giving protection against severe storms. A good fawning range should have as good natural protection as the topography and surf ace cover will allow, particularly in the way of coves and hollows and available patches of protecting brush or timber. Low altitudes with favorable exposures for the early growth of vegetation afford the most desirable fawning grounds.

Along the coast of Alaska fawning usually takes place on some portion of the summer range, either on exposed flats immediately along the beach or on the south slopes of the low hills adjoining it. The snow leaves these areas earliest, exposing patches of bare tundra, where, the first fresh growth appears, thus making available the succulent green feed necessary for the does during fawning (Pl. XIX, Fig. 2). This early growth usually consists of young shoots or flowering stalks of the small cotton sedge (Eriophorum callitrix) which appear abundantly on the tundra, and its green blades also are found here and there on protected spots.

A definite fawning ground should be established and used on each reindeer allotment, both from the standpoint of best care of the range and best results with the animals. Under present methods, in addition to being used as fawning ground in spring, the range is often grazed continually during the summer season, and this subjects it to becoming depleted through over-utilization. Setting aside a separate area for use only during fawning would insure a forage crop each spring and plenty of the best available fresh green food for the does at the time.

The practice of weaning fawns is not followed in Alaska, and many of them are still being suckled when the next fawn arrives. This is not only a double drain on the doe, but also is detrimental to the new fawn. Consequently herd owners should separate yearlings, along with bucks and steers, from the does prior to fawning. One Alaskan owner has already put this into effect. It is an old Lapp practice which was discontinued by them when they came to Alaska and should be revived.


Feeding reindeer has been tried out on a small scale. In 1920 two fawns were brought to the Unalakleet station and kept inside a small yard and shed for a period of six months. During this time they were fed the following: Reindeer moss, 3,000 pounds; wild native hay, 1,500 pounds; and assorted meal, 200 pounds. The meal, which was such as could be purchased at any village store, consisted of rolled oats, cornmeal, oatmeal, farina, graham flour, wheat flour, and hominy. The only item on this list which the fawns refused to eat was the hominy, which was apparently too hard for their teeth, and after attempting to crack the kernels a few times, they gave it up. In addition, apple and potato peelings and similar scraps were fed and much relished by the animals. The above test indicates that reindeer may be housed and domesticated like other animals, although the pair experimented with were not kept entirely away from reindeer moss.

Reindeer are not careful feeders like the horse. They resemble cattle in this respect and do not object to food which has been handled or, in some cases, even trampled. There is little difficulty, therefore, in getting them accustomed to a new food. They may refuse it at first if it looks or smells strange, but this can be overcome by forcibly placing some of it in their mouths, and if it is found palatable they will soon take it freely.

Reindeer respond promptly to a good food supply. A correspondent on the lower Yukon acquired a herd which had been badly managed, and the animals were in very poor physical condition. He put them on good pasture, and though they improved to some extent, the average dressed weight of the steers was only 150 pounds for the first season. The second year, however, showed a marked improvement, and the dressed weight rose to from 115 to 200 pounds.

Another instance might be cited of a herd on Norton Sound. In 1920, through too much close herding and corralling, a herd had run down to such a point that some of the animals were dying from parasitism, which always follows prolonged close herding. The dressed weight of steers ran very little over 150 pounds, though few weights were taken. It was recommended to the owners that they change their system so that the reindeer would have more freedom and an opportunity for fresh pasturage. The result was apparent in one summer, and in 1921 the animals which were killed for meat were in splendid condition; one weighed 204 pounds, two 199, and another 156. In each case the skin, head, and legs bad been removed. From the above it is evident that reindeer need only good range and careful handling greatly to increase the returns in yield of meat.

For centuries the Lapps have been driving reindeer and feeding them on moss alone and during recent years in Alaska this has also been done. The practice in use heretofore has been to drive the animal until they show signs of exhaustion and then turn them loose and take fresh ones. This does not appear to be good practice, as a sled deer is a comparatively long-lived animal and deserving of better treatment. No animal can be expected to perform steady and arduous work on poor food. It can be predicted with confidence that if reindeer were given grain in some form together with the moss, they would endure far more hardship without losing so much flesh and strength. Further experiments are necessary to settle these points fully and to determine the facts as to the possible use of the reindeer as a light draft animal.


Breaking reindeer for driving, as observed in the Unalakleet district, is done in the winter and the method is rather crude and rough. A reindeer is roped, battered, half dragged and half driven to a tree or post and tied there. It is usually left tied for a couple of days. until it is sufficiently starved to follow a man. Then it is led to a moss patch and tethered with a long rope. When first harnessed. the deer is tied short, so that it can not strike with its fore feet. Long lines are attached to the halter for driving, and at first the Lapps let the deer drag them about on skis. Sometimes they hitch the animal to a log, and finally it is harnessed to a sled by a long single rope.

The driver starts off by letting the animal gallop as fast as it can, and by jerking one rein or the other a course is steered. An animal soon becomes exhausted and lies down; then it rises and starts off rapidly, but after a short course it becomes exhausted once more. When the driver thinks it has had enough he tethers it out again for feed and rest.

As reindeer get no other food than moss when they are being worked, their strength soon diminishes, and it is the opinion that they do no more and no less, comparatively, than an ox would do under similar conditions if fed on nothing but hay. Well-broken animals are not very plentiful in Alaska, and many reindeer men prefer to drive dogs.

Many difficulties are encountered in using reindeer for sled animals, and one especially is through meeting dog teams on the trail. In the Unalakleet district only the Lapps drive reindeer (Pl. XX, Fig. 1), while the Eskimos invariably use dogs. Almost everyone who has driven reindeer has had fights with dogs or has had his deer bitten or killed.

Added to this menace is the difficulty of finding moss within convenient reach of the villages, where the deer may be tethered. The most satisfactory and safe procedure under present conditions is to house reindeer at the end of a journey and have available moss for feeding which has been gathered beforehand. It is believed that grain should be added to the moss ration. Well-broken reindeer with good manners, that is to say, reindeer fit for a woman to drive, are uncommon. It is believed, however, that with the more general adoption of improved methods of castration, gentle animals will become more common.

On a few trips made by us with Lapps behind sled reindeer it was noticed that most of the animals used were timid and easily frightened. They would jump off the trail for very little cause. Thereupon both reins would slip over to one side and the animal would stop, facing the driver. To make another start, after the animal had been headed in the right direction, one line was slipped over the back until it was over the root of the tail, when the deer would start off again, perhaps in the right direction. It must be said, however, in all fairness to reindeer, that some of them are gentle and drive well, and this indicates that much more could be done with them than is generally being accomplished at the present time.

The sleds used by the Lapp are not altogether satisfactory. They are so narrow that unless the driver sits with one leg on either side to keep it in an upright position it is very apt to turn over. The Lapp sled has been developed no doubt to travel over rough country where there are no trails, but it is not the best for use in those portions of Alaska where good trails are to be found.


Prospectors occasionally make use of reindeer as pack animals during the summer (Pl. XX, Fig. 3). In cruising about in the hills reindeer are preferable to horses in many respects. They need no fodder except what they pick up as they go along; they can traverse boggy ground in which a horse would mire; their feet do not have to be shod; and, finally, when they are no longer required for packing they may be slaughtered for food. It is surprising that so little use has been made in Alaska of the reindeer as a pack animal. Doubtless the principal reason is that few animals are broken for this purpose and that little effort has been made to supply the demand.

As regards the weight that a full grown reindeer may support on its back, the reader's attention is called to Plate XX, Figure 2, in which a heavy man is seen astride a reindeer. In Siberia Bertholf saw Tungusic reindeer commonly used as riding animals; he says that some of them are capable of supporting a 200-pound man.


The predatory animals that attack reindeer in Alaska are chiefly bears, wolves, lynxes, wolverines, and eagles. Their depredations are greater in the interior than on the coast, but while important they are not extensive. Bears are the most numerous and destructive enemy. Only a relatively few wolves, lynxes, and wolverines now remain along the coasts of Bering Sea or the Arctic Ocean; consequently the losses from predatory animals there are comparatively small, but in the interior they become more of a factor. Eagles are largely in the interior and are especially destructive to fawns. It is reported that in Lapland the herders must stay continuously with their reindeer during the night to ward off depredations by wolves, but on the ranges used in Alaska up to this time night herding to keep off predatory animals is rarely necessary.


[Alaskool Home]