You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. You know Comet and Cupid and Donnor and Blitzen.
But do you recall?
Jasper, Ben and Carl? Olaf, Elsa, Kristoff and Anna? Big Hoss? Sheldon? Penny? Indigo and Bella?
“ ... “
Perhaps they aren’t as likely to go down in history. But the star inhabitants at the Crystal Collection farm in Lake Crystal play just as many reindeer games as the ones mentioned in the popular Johnny Marks song “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
At least that’s what their owners, Daryl Simon, Bev Herda and Yvonne Simon, say. Their feisty, playful herd of 44 get up to all kinds of crazy high jinks.
“You should see them when it snows,” Yvonne Simon said laughing. “They get so silly. It’s kind of like watching a cat with catnip.”
When reindeer try to fly
Hopelessly curious, yet remarkably docile, the small, antlered quadrupeds form the base of the Lake Crystal trio’s rapidly expanding business. Herda and the Simons breed, sell and lease reindeer, as well as travel with them for live appearances.
The reindeer march in parades, trot around Santa’s villages, pose for magazine ads and jingle their bells at local libraries, community centers and holiday celebrations all over the country, Herda said. The farm also keeps reindeer at Sibley Park during the Kiwanis Holiday Lights show and supplied three of the reindeer seen on Animal Plant’s live reindeer cam.
On their breaks, the animals like to munch on cookies, milk ... and rolled oats.
“It’s their favorite,” Herda said, stroking a reindeer’s head as he buried his nose in a small plastic buckets of the aforementioned treat.
Reindeer cannot fly, though Daryl Simon will do his best to convince you otherwise.
“They’re always trying to fly,” he said, grinning at some of the herd’s young calves. “These guys are too little though. They need bigger antlers.”
He tells one of the reindeer to put off any test flights until his antlers grow, but the young upstart doesn’t listen. With a running leap, he launches into the air and soars only a few feet before crash landing.
“Now he tries to fly with only one antler,” Daryl Simon says, laughing. “He keeps buzzing around in circles.”
Other myths about reindeer are true. For instance, their feet really do go “click, click, click.”
“There’s a tendon in their legs that allow their hooves to spread,” Daryl Simon said. When the tendons stretch across the bones in their feet, they make a clicking sound.
A crystal collection
Few know more about reindeer than Herda and the Simons. All three are former teachers, and they’ve been raising the animals since 1993 when they bought the herd matriarch.
Her name was Crystal and she was the first reindeer the trio had ever laid eyes on. The original plan was to expand their small horse farm with some other kind of livestock.
“We looked at buffalo, emus, elk … and nothing really made much sense,” Daryl Simon said. “We didn’t have room for them here at the farm. But reindeer, they’re little. They don’t take up much room.”
Though many assume raising reindeer is a hobby, Daryl Simon says the goal was always turning the farm into a money maker.
If that’s the case, the trio has definitely succeeded. Today they are one of the largest reindeer farms in the United States. During calving season, the herd reaches nearly 70, several of which are sold to other breeders, zoos and farms.
“Every year the herd just gets bigger and bigger,” Daryl Simon said. “Thirty years from now, we could have hundreds and hundreds.”
Herda laughs at that. But she says the business is indeed thriving. In addition to actually raising reindeer, Crystal Collection sells reindeer halters and knives with handles made out of reindeer antler.
(The antlers are shed by the reindeer every year, as part a natural, growing process.)
The farm is booked for so many live appearances each December, it often has to turn clients away. It’s also had to say ‘no’ to shows with Dolly Parton and the Budweiser Clydesdales.
Shouting out with glee
There’s a lot of joy in raising reindeer, Herda said. Their inquisitive nature makes them fun to be around and care for, and though in December the trio is kept so busy traveling with the animals they hardly have time to stop and catch their breath, they love meeting new people.
“It’s wonderful,” Herda said. “Just the different people we have met, from all over the country. What an experience! What an adventure!”
Equally fun is telling children — and their parents — more about the reindeer and answering their questions.
Do Reindeer really fly?
“With Santa at the north pole.”
What about his reindeer friends?
“Getting in shape for Christmas.”
Herda said people are drawn to the reindeer out of both curiosity and nostalgia. The animals are as much at the center of contemporary Christmas lore as Santa Claus, but few people realize they actually exist.
When they see the animals in person, they are awestruck.
“The need to come and see the reindeer,” Herda said. “It’s an adventure. It’s something they never forget.”
Did you know?
• Both male and female reindeer grow antlers.
• Reindeer’s antlers are shed completely and re-grown every year.
• Reindeer calves can stand on their own just minutes after birth.
• Reindeer can live for up to 20 years.
• Reindeer have a great sense of smell and use it to find food buried up to three feet underneath the snow.
*Source: Animal Planet
Live reindeer cam
When they aren’t busy pulling Santa’s sleight, reindeer from the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul star on Animal Planet’s live reindeer cam.
To see what they’re up to today, visit: www.apl.tv/reindeer
Crystal collection reindeer farm
To find out more about the Crystal Collection reindeer farm, visit: www.livereindeer.com