Farm rents reindeer for holiday events
Posted: Monday, December 14, 2009 8:01 pm
WHITE HOUSE (AP) — There’s only so much you can do that’s different when decking the halls for a Christmas party from year to year, event planner Falon Veit says.
That’s why she and other party planners in Nashville are excited about a new option for their holiday bashes sure to put a twinkle in guests’ eyes: live reindeer. “This can put a creative spin on what is normally just a red and green party with a Christmas tree,” said Veit, vice president of Event Logistics Inc. “We’ve been wanting to do something like this for years.”
Santa’s Reindeer Tour, a new venture based at Strickland Place farms in White House, is making three female reindeer available for appearances at events or for display at retail stores.
“They add an element of magic you can’t get otherwise,” said Jill Swenson, who owns the business with her husband, David Pepper.
Swenson and Pepper are the only ones in the Nashville area with these uncommon animals available for rent, and they’re among only three such companies in Tennessee. Over time, they plan to develop an agri-tourism business to include a Santa’s workshop display with vintage toys to complement the reindeer, Swenson said.
Two of their animals, 3-year-old Comet and the mostly white Snowflake, made their first public appearance at the Tennessee Capitol Christmas tree-lighting ceremony on Nov. 30. The other reindeer, Holly, is a yearling. A fourth female, 7-month-old Baby Prancer, is too young for public outings but probably will be ready for display next year, Swenson said.
Despite the economy, reindeer rentals are doing well, said Kyle Wilson, an owner in Knoxville and vice president of the national Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association. He has 12 animals.
His business is up about 30 percent this year, including one-day party rentals and multi-week leases at Christmas tree farms.
“As long as there are kids and Christmas there will always be a need for reindeer,” Wilson said.
At Santa’s Reindeer Tour, the quartet of docile females makes their home in an old cattle-milking barn. They spend much of their day in a large enclosure with eight-foot-high fencing.
“I thought they’d be a way to set us apart from other agri-tourism places,” said Pepper.
Pepper was laid off as an engineer at Peterbilt Motors Co. and wanted to start a business at his family’s 100-acre hay farm. He stumbled into reindeer researching Christmas tree farming.
In Tennessee, there are about 600 farms involved in agri-tourism, including those that have pumpkin patches, corn mazes and pick-your-own strawberries or blueberries, said Tom Womack, spokesman for the state Agriculture Department.
To put the reindeer on display, Pepper erects an enclosure and puts down a tarp and bed of hay.
In most cases, people are asked not to pet the animals — although they’re friendly enough and more like pets than deer found in the wild. Onlookers also are asked to stay far enough away so that the antlers don’t poke.
Published in The Messenger 12.14.09