On the heels of the holiday season, we often find ourselves in nostalgia and excitement that spurs on the desire to travel and create new, special memories with friends and family. As you plan holiday-inspired travel, you’ll want to also look in your own backyard…specifically Downtown Stillwater. Stillwater’s Winter Wonderland will offer ice-skating, visits with Santa at his workshop, festive food trucks, carriage rides, and reindeer. In fact, we had a chance to connect with Nick Ledbetter, owner of the Reindeer Club of Oklahoma and the only reindeer farmer in Oklahoma, and asked him what it’s like to raise reindeer.
Q: Tell us about the moment you decided raising reindeer was an endeavor you thought you could actually make happen?
A: While attending a Christmas event with my family in December of 2014, my oldest son (Parker) asked me how come we never see a reindeer. He could not understand how we always seem to see Santa and his elves but never a reindeer. After some research and a ton of phone calls, I discovered that it is possible to help Santa raise his reindeer. After getting all the proper licensing from the USDA and Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, we were able to pick up our first family of reindeer (Hiser, Prancer, Vixen, and Rudy). While Prancer and Vixen have sleigh-pulling experience, Hiser and Rudy are still in flight training in hopes to pull Santa's sleigh one day.
Q: As with all new endeavors, you could probably write a book on "what not to do." Give us an example of a funny blooper you have experienced during this journey?
A: We have learned a lot from our reindeer, including how smart they are. Anytime we are in the pens with the deer, Rudy will always try to follow us out the gate. Little did we know he was watching us and learning how to open the gate by himself. We learned this by getting a call from one of our neighbors wanting to know if we wanted them to bring Rudy home and that he was over eating grass in their yard. She now holds the title of being the only person in Oklahoma to wake up and find a reindeer in her front yard. We have now had to add a second lock to all of our gates.
Q: How similar and how different are the needs of reindeer to deer native to Oklahoma?
A: Other than both being from the deer family, reindeer and our native whitetails share very little in common. Reindeer require a special feed mix that contains vitamins and nutrients that they would normally get from grazing on the tundras while whitetails are able to get everything they need from our local vegetation. Reindeer also do not jump like whitetails. They prefer climbing on things like a goat.
Q: Since reindeer have such a nostalgia and sense of magic about them, what has been your favorite encounter when someone has met your reindeer for the first time?
A: To date, my favorite experience with the reindeer was taking them to Moon Academy Elementary in Oklahoma City last year. For so long, children have only seen pictures of reindeer in books, but when these kids laid eyes on Santa's actual reindeer, it was a total game changer. Even the few that may have been doubting quickly realized you can't fake a reindeer. I will never forget the smiles on all those faces.
Q: What are five reindeer facts that surprise the most?
- Reindeer are the only member of the deer species that both the male and females grow antlers.
- Reindeer are insulated so well they can lay on snow without it melting.
- Reindeer have very large feet that act as snowshoes and keep them walking on top of snow instead of sinking down in it.
- Reindeer contain tendons in their legs that click while they walk. This clicking allows them to keep track of one another while traveling in snowstorms.
- The best reindeer fact of all is that with Santa's help…reindeer really can fly!!!
We give a special thank you and appreciation to our community partners, Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, City of Stillwater, Stillwater Medical Center, Harrison Electric, Tv-31, Stillwater News Press and Downtown Stillwater BID #1 for their partnership in bringing Stillwater’s Winter Wonderland to our community this holiday season.