Carolyn’s Online Magazine
A VISIT TO THE REINDEER FARM
A Blast from the Past for Jordan
A study suggests that Rudolph might not be unique: reindeer do have glowing red noses. Scientists found that reindeer`s noses looked redder in freezing temperatures, and on viewing under infrared light, it was found that their nose were not covered by fur like the rest of their body. The reddening is a sign that blood was being transferred from the rest of the body in order to keep them warm.
Perhaps reindeer can even have green noses, even if only in the imagination of 8-year-old Marcus who wrote Rack, the Green-Nosed Reindeer.
Researchers have also discovered the eyes of Arctic reindeer change color through the seasons, going from gold to blue, to adapt to extreme changes of light levels in their environment and to help detect predators. the color change helps reindeer to see better in the continuous daylight of summer and continuous darkness of Arctic winters, by changing the sensitivity of the retina to light.
This being said, below is an article I wrote (for a now defunct publication) in 2000, after I took my granddaughter, Jordan, then just 3 years-old, to a reindeer farm.
Leave the proverbial beaten path and enter a curvaceous roller coaster road that passes through increasingly barren land. The feeling is not unlike what I’d expect if I were approaching the North Pole.
After several miles of wilderness, the narrow road passes a lake and a farm, then crosses a one-lane bridge. Finally, the road takes you to your destination: a typical-looking farm on the left that, eleven months a year sports a sign saying Heart’s Content Farm.
However, this is the 12th month, and we’re not at the North Pole—we’re in Slickville, Pennsylvania. And the roadside sign proclaims Santa’s Reindeer Farm.
As we arrive an atypical strange creature peeks out the door of a Quonset Hut in the front yard. What? Could it be? Dancer—and that other strange creature, Prancer?Is that jolly-looking gentleman with twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks, really Santa? He’s wearing everyday workshop clothes while standing at a fenced area, talking gently to nuzzling reindeer while tickling the noses sticking through the fence. Could this bearded man really be Santa?
Within another small fenced in area a child-like white reindeer with brown spots eyes us strangers warily. Snowball was born last May 29.
“Her mother, Snowflake, is white,” said the broadly smiling man known January through November as Wilber “Bud” Hawkey. He’s breaking Snowball in to become a member of the farm’s reindeer team.
“We use a horse trailer with a halter to familiarize her with walking and accepting petting,” he told us.
Snowball knows the Hawkey family members who “put a lead on her and walk her around,” Bud said. “After reindeer get a little tame they become just like puppies. They aren’t rowdy and don’t jump like a regular white tail deer.” Bud enjoys the reindeer’s response to rain. “They just love it. They jump in circles and play like kids. I wonder if that’s why they are called ‘reindeer’” Pun intended, of course.
Bud encourages the reindeer’s people-friendliness by inviting children to play with him. This day, my 2 ½ year-old granddaughter, Jordan Smith, visited the farm with her father, Gregory Smith. They accompanied me on this magazine article interview.
It took a while for Jordan to warm up to this new creature. Soon, however, Snowball was eating a broken-off cornstalk right out of her hand.
“Nobody believes us when we tell them we raise deer,” Bud said. “In fact, my granddaughter had to take pictures to school to make them believe it.”
Like two children, Snowball and Jordan soon tired of the “feeding” game and began racing each other up and down the length of the pen-yard, protected from each other by the fence between them. Buy used this time to share how he fulfilled his lifelong dream of raising reindeer. His opportunity came when ill health forced him to retire from his meat packing business.
“It isn’t too strenuous to care for the deer. They feed once a day, eating reindeer pellets, corn, and clover hay.” They drink water with a self-waterer.”
His first three reindeer came from Alaska three years ago. “The Eskimos don’t want to sell them. It’s a hassle. And they really don’t need the money.”
Bud still has two of his three original reindeer. “The bull killed one female when he was in rut. What they do when they rut is to herd the does into a corner. If a doe doesn’t listen the bull beats her. This one put his horns right into her.”
Bud noted this is normal reindeer behavior and not the result of captivity.
The enclosed field houses six reindeer—two male, four female. All have horns, but “the male’s horns are a lot bigger,” according to Bud. The deer are less sociable with humans in the fall because their natural interest is in each other. “It is the rutting, or mating, season. Watch those two reindeer playfully butt horns.”
Reindeer aren’t affected by climate changes. “They can take the heat. The only thing that bothers them is humidity. They don’t sweat. I turn on a big fan to keep the deer cool when the humidity is high.”
Raising reindeer made at least one change in Bud’s life. “I hunt white tail deer, but it’s getting harder every year. My son tells me I’m getting soft in my old age.”
Bud’s Santa-like appearance combined with his love for children, the reindeer, and Christmas made it inevitable that he’s transform his farm at Christmas time, his wife Charlotte Hawkey, said, describing the Christmas event.
“Dancer and Prancer walk from the barn,” she begins. “Santa sits in the sleigh, to which Donner is hooked up. There are two elves and Mrs. Claus.”
“Everything is in a Quonset Hut,” Bud said. “I’m in there with the reindeer hooked to a sleigh. Kids come and climb in the sleigh, sit in my lap, and tell me what they want.”
Santa’s most unusual request came from a little girl whose dress indicated her poverty. “All I want for Christmas is for you to help feed the needy and the homeless,” she said.
“It tears me up,” Santa said. “And the handicapped break my heart.
Santa’s strangest experience was “a guy who came here drunk, with his boy, and said ‘Tell Santa he wants a gun and poison—a gun to kill Santa and poison to kill the deer.” Santa’s 6’7” 270-pound gatekeeper asked the man to leave.
In 2010 Make-A-Wish Foundation sponsored Hawkey’s Christmas production, the Hawkey’s said. “We hope to have banners and little buttons from them,” Charlotte said.
“We charge a donation of $5.00 a vehicle no matter how many people come in it,” Bud said. “For each car Make-A-Wish gets $1.00. To be honest with you we don’t make a penny. It is just more enjoyment than anything.”
The production benefits from volunteers, Bud said. “We have a lot of people who help us for free during the Christmas season. Our son Randy and his wife Carol; our daughter April; my grandson Glen and Big Jim, the gatekeeper; and Joanne and Ted and Helen.”
Charlotte, who usually plays Mrs. Claus, couldn’t do it in 2010 due to ill health. Another volunteer will take her part.
Each year the number of visitors gradually increases. The Hawkey’s don’t actually count people, but last year they had 300 vehicles.
This is a Christmas surprise that is a must-see for the holiday season.
NOTE: I’ve unsuccessfully attempted to contact the Hawkey’s and will keep trying, in order to update you on their Christmas venture.