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The Reindeer Ranch spreads holiday cheer in the upper Midwest

The Hoseltons take their reindeer to holiday events all around the region.

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Vernon Hoselton got into the reindeer business in 1998 after selling off his buffalo herd. Photo taken Dec. 5, 2022, in Drayton, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek
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DRAYTON, N.D. — As Kyle Hoselton feeds carrot after carrot to Olaf, it’s clear this reindeer has worked up an appetite. Olaf may not be as illustrious or illusive as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer or Vixen, but he works just as hard as they do — by spreading holiday cheer in the upper Midwest.

The Reindeer Ranch came to fruition in 1998. Vernon Hoselton had just sold off his buffalo herd five years prior when he realized he lacked the land needed for the animals, and he wanted something new occupying his acres.

“Many years ago I had buffalo for about 10 years, and we finally figured out we didn’t have enough room for them. So my wife asked me what do you want to get into next? And reindeer came out of my mouth,” Vernon said.

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These two reindeer are six and seven months old, both born on the Reindeer Ranch. Photo taken Dec. 5, 2022, in Drayton, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

There were some initial roadblocks in place for Vernon to be able to bring reindeer into the state. At that point in time reindeer were not permitted in North Dakota. He chalks it up to the North Dakota State Vet at the time being “an elk guy,” who did not want the reindeer to become an issue to the state’s elk population.

Luckily for the Hoselton’s, reindeer were eventually allowed in the state.

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Vernon Hoselton and his son Kyle feed Olaf bread and carrots while taking him for a stroll outside of his pasture. Photo taken Dec. 5, 2022, in Drayton, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

Kyle helps run the day to day operation with his father, Vernon. Having spent more than 20 years tending to the animals, he’s taken a liking to them — so much so he would like to see their current herd of 10 reindeer jump to 40 or 50 head on their ranch. But that’s not all. Kyle wishes to one day erect a reindeer satellite farm in Texas, with around 1,000 head of reindeer. He says there is quite a demand for reindeer in the southern part of the lower 48.

The Reindeer Ranch does have their own breeding program, with two working bulls on location. The gestation period for a reindeer is seven and a half months, and they normally calve out in the month of April. As some can imagine, it’s extremely difficult to get reindeer genetics into the region.

“Lately I have gone to a guy in Washington state; he’s the closest for me. I am trying to figure out what it takes to get them in from Alaska. After Alaska, I am going to end up going to Norway and Europe,” Kyle said.

The Hoseltons' reindeer make countless appearances around the region throughout the holiday season, mostly in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. They are booked and busy every weekend throughout the month of December and have events on several weeknights too. So far, the reindeer have traveled over 3,000 miles to spread holiday cheer this year, and it’s not even half-way through December.

Being that Reindeer Ranch is as busy as they are, they have hit a niche agritourism market that clearly was wanted in the Northern Plains. However, thanks to sky-rocketing market prices, they’re thankful they got into the reindeer business when they did.

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Olaf is one of the bulls that Reindeer Ranch uses in their breeding program. Photo taken Dec. 5, 2022, in Drayton, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

“The price of reindeer has gone up drastically in the last few years compared to when we started,” Vernon said.

While Vernon and Kyle may trade spending their holiday season for leisure to pure chaos, the look they see on people’s faces makes all the trekking worthwhile.

“Seeing all the people, of all ages come up and watch their eyeballs like the old cartoon pop out of their head, kinda going, 'Oh they are real! Maybe Santa is real!' And I get those parents that say, 'Maybe he is real. I told you he was real because here's his reindeer,'” Kyle said.

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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