DRAYTON, N.D. — Olaf, Cord, Prancer and Lena nestled in the snow on a cold late December day at the Reindeer Ranch near Drayton, catching a few winks before it was time to go back to work spreading Christmas cheer.
As Santa’s helpers, the four reindeer and their herd mates — Bert, Cupid and Olive — together with owners Kyle and his father, Vern Hoselton, have been busy making the rounds at holiday events. During the past month, the Hoseltons have taken the reindeer on the road to cities across North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
“We’re booked solid every weekend,” Kyle said.
The Hoseltons' Reindeer Ranch is the only one in North Dakota. Kyle Hoselton encouraged his father to start raising reindeer about 20 years ago after he decided to get out of the bison business. The Hoseltons bought three reindeer cows — Reba, Panda and Maggie — and within 10 years, the herd had grown to 13.
The Hoseltons have seven reindeer now, but Kyle hopes to greatly increase that number in the next few years. He plans to go into partnership with a friend in Texas, where they will have a reindeer ranch that is open to the public. The reindeer will be in a climate-controlled barn, which will keep the reindeer cool during the summer, Kyle said.
“When we get going down there, we’re looking at bringing people to us year-round,” he said. ”The interest down there is unbelievable.”
Reindeer also draw crowds from across the Northern Plains, so Kyle plans to expand the ranch near Drayton within the next few years.
Children enjoy seeing the reindeer during holiday events, Kyle said. Reindeer Bert, Cupid and Olive were at the Rheault Farm last week during Fargo’s Santa Village and will remain there until Christmas Eve. He planned to take Olaf — nicknamed Ole — and Lena on the road to Minot for an appearance.
The reindeer are docile, but because they have antlers, they are kept in large wire dog kennels surrounded by enclosed pens during events.
Kyle advises people to “look, but don’t touch,” he said. “If the reindeer comes and bonks you, you go flying.”
The Hoseltons haul the reindeer in a horse trailer and bring along their feed, including alfalfa hay, commercial sweet feed and sugar beet pulp. The Hoseltons also feed them treats, which vary from reindeer to reindeer. Olaf, for example, enjoys eating bread and comes running when he sees Vern heading toward him with a handful.
The hardy reindeer have a shelter at Reindeer Ranch, but most of the time they prefer to be outside.
The Hoseltons and their spouses, all of whom have full-time jobs, enjoy their weekends spent at holiday events featuring the reindeer.
“Seeing people, getting to know people, talking to people about the animals,” Kyle said.
It’s also time he can spend with his family. His wife, two sons and parents often accompany him on the trips, he said.
“It’s a family venture all the way through,” Kyle said.
He also likes visiting with children who come to see the reindeer and ask him questions. Among them: "Are they really reindeer? Are they actually Santa’s reindeer?"
Yes to the first.
And to the last?
“They’re Santa’s trainees,” Kyle said.