Every day Christmas at Iosco Township reindeer farm


IOSCO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — At the Shining Star Ranch in Iosco Township, every day is Christmas.

The Walsh family has eight reindeer at their farm – the perfect number for Santa’s sleigh Judy Walsh said.

“For us to raise them, we enjoy being out with the kids and sharing all about the Christmas time, not just the act that these are arctic animals but being able to say yah, there’s a jolly old elf and eight tiny reindeer,” she said.

Judy and her husband, Joe Walsh, moved to their home in 1991. Three years later they ventured into raising reindeer after searching for an animal they could raise and not worry about having to slaughter, the Livingston Daily Press & Argus reports.

They started with six reindeer from Seward Peninsula in Alaska and in their 27 years as a reindeer farm, the couple have raised and named more than 150 reindeer, including of course, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen.

“We start to run out of how many different names we have for Christmas,” Walsh said. “Disney has helped out with Frozen with, of course, Elsa and Sven.”

Every morning Walsh starts her day checking on the animals, making sure they are “bright-eyed and bushy tailed with bells on,” she said.

From there the animals get ready for whatever is on the agenda, whether it be training, a trip or a day grazing in the pasture.

For at least two months of the year the family travels around the state to “wherever Santa is traveling,” she said.

The reindeer have visited thousands of children this year at Livingston County schools and events such as the Fantasy of Lights in Howell and Christmas in the Ville in Fowlerville.

Reindeer are very gentle, social animals, Walsh said, similar to dogs or cats.

“The animals have been thoroughly person-imprinted, human-imprinted, so much that some of them are almost pests,” she said. “They will help you change the water, they will help you get the feed out.”

Walsh battled several illnesses over the last 20 years and said the reindeer have helped her through them.

“Staying in this has been fun for me,” she said. “It keeps that joy of the season going.”

The reindeer farm is a family affair with her husband, daughter and son helping show the animals and tend to the farm.

Throughout the years the farm has been home to more than 20 reindeer at a time as babies are born in the spring and later sold.

A healthy baby reindeer can sell for tens of thousands of dollars, however they require a significant investment from farm owners, Walsh said.

Similar to horses, reindeer require vaccines, medications and routine hoof trimming. A female reindeer can live up to 15 years with male reindeers living closer to 10.

Because they are arctic animals, the herd thrives when temperatures drop toward freezing.

“They prefer anything cold,” Walsh said. “People tell me ‘oh that’s so cool’ when they find out I raise reindeer. I say, well, actually it’s cold.”