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Take from this what you want, a feel good reindeer story

By Deb Apthorp

As many may already know, from phone calls emails, or Facebook, it looked like Scott and I were having our best year to date, as far as calving is concerned. Based on bad mojo with H. Contortis, or babesia, or P.Tenius, just keeping adults healthy was a full time plus job to date.

When our February Biopryn testing came back that all three of my cows, Cupid, Annabelle and Ava were pregnant, I was ecstatic for about a minute, then, reality and fear set in, three babies, what if one dies or what if all three need bottles, I’m no Cindy Phillips or Emma Cusson, I can barely herd cats let alone tackle that challenges with my novice experience.  However we anxiously went into April hoping for the best. When we got thru April and onto May I struggled with late summer babies concerns, heat and humidity but on Mothers day May 12th we went to feed and found Annabelle with a 10lb heifer calf. It seemed very apropos. but by the 6th hour it became apparent this little girl was struggling, and by 8am on May 13th after stabilization at our vet’s office from a “bulla” pressing on her left lung and aorta, we were on the road to OSU for ICU care of baby with mom in tow for milk. Ten minutes before pulling into the emergency large animal bay she went into cardiac arrest and even CPR wasn’t going to change the outcome. So we began the long tear filled ride, many of us have experienced with our reindeer, to get Annabelle home, care for the other reindeer, and await the other 2 pregnancies of Cupid and Ava, we asked for necropsy results to make sure there was no unknown bacteria or virus at our farm and the Bulla was simply a genetic anomaly.

On May 22, Cupid gave birth to a second healthy, standing, jumping, nursing well 14lb heifer calf. She was doing great, her vet check included a blood test to check Immunoglobulins and our vets were more than happy with transfers thru Cupids colostrum to provide adequate protection.  By this time our camera to monitor moms had arrive from Amazon, and we got to rewind and watch the whole birth, because by the time I saw a nose progressing to hooves, I went to get Scott off the tractor and we made it to the barn to see  Cupid had the cord chewed, the sack gone and was licking baby Ginger dry.  We did the usual that many had advised of doing, weigh, get our temp, dip the navel, give our ecolizer. 

We anxiously watched Ava, we knew she had a more poor history of mothering and had dumped calves but since she was young and now in with two really good reindeer moms, we were hopeful we wouldn’t need us to intervene, weeks went by after some initial spotting was seen on her in May, as well as 4 ultrasounds had been done. We followed the suggestion of our vets and Biopryn to repeat a second pregnancy test which showed a decrease in hormones but still fit the criteria for being pregnant, so we would watch her two more weeks and repeat a third pregnancy test. A lot of theories were being tossed around from an early abortion, to a mummified fetus, to possibly still being pregnant, because as everyone says, “reindeer don’t follow the rules”.

We now had resigned ourselves to our calving season was finally over, Annabelles baby had died, and Ava had lost her pregnancy. We were happy with one healthy bouncing baby girl. Life would calm and return to normal and since Rudy was great at throwing X chromosomes, we would repeat him with our three moms again this fall 2019. 

On a routine day  June 21, my granddaughter Brooke and I went down to the barn so Brooke could play with baby Ginger, I heard barking, and I actually said Brooke stop making baby reindeer noises, she yelled, No grandma there’s a baby in here! I panicked a moment but we had cameras, and I thought well maybe the tests were wrong with Ava, and she had finally had a calf. To my surprise Annabelle was once again with a baby, and had not passed her placenta this time (so we knew for certain this baby was hers) and now I was really confused?! A second baby born 39 days later?  First call was to my vet who was out on farm emergencies, so a second call, full of WTH and WTFs went out to poor Dr. Cary. Happy for us, he conveyed to me twins, although rare can occur in reindeer and weeks apart he said it had already occurred this year in Daryl Simons herd.  So upon my vets arrival this 14lb Heifer calf seemed healthy, not as robust as our second calf, but not in dire straits as our first calf we lost.  Annabelle however had unfortunately sacrificed her colostrum on the first baby and her milk had dried or severely diminished. Milking her revealed only a few drops.

Heading the advice of a few people we had Equidone, (domperidone) on hand and our vet started both the equidone and oxytocin shots, while we tube fed and syringe fed powdered colostrum for the first 24hrs. This baby we appropriately named Faith Amari (Miracle of God). The same immunoglobulin testing we had done with Ginger revealed Faith had not acquired enough passive immunity, so we did do IV plasma therapy at day 4 in our kitchen, which went very well, and really helped her bounce ahead.

Needless to say my vet was not 100% convinced the first calf actually was a miracle twin, but rather since we had no camera evidence to view who delivered, that baby, Ava may have had the first calf and Annabelle being the felonious mom reindeer who steals all the babies to hoard to herself, had stepped in for what may have been Ava’s calf. If Faith was a miracle twin my vet wanted to write a paper, so the quest for DNA testing began. 

So as entertaining as this whole story may be, there is quite a bit of information that hopefully anyone can glean, especially by novice owners such as myself, we are now exhausting potential DNA testing, from both moms and the tissue samples that OSU still has. 

I reached out to Shawn Shaffer at NADeFA, he has been a tremendous help and I support saying although they primarily focus on whitetail, joining NADeFA is an asset as a reindeer owner. Shawn has been great and he works with ROBA members quite a bit. He put me in touch with Neogene, Geneseeker in Lincoln Nebraska 402-435-0665. And Geneseeker was not able to help simply because the deer testing they do is in Whitetail, and the whitetail folks have a proprietary test, which I understood, but they took it a step farther and connected me with the VGL (Veterinary Genetics Labs) at U.C. Davis in California 530-752-2211. They were willing to do DNA testing, however the tissue samples at OSU had been preserved in formalin, and the contact at U.C.Davis  stated that formalin degrades the DNA and they would not be able to give us accurate DNA test. My last contact was to The Canadian Wildlife Genetics Lab, 250-352-3563 who have many DNA tests on reindeer and caribou at their wildlife genetics lab, and that is where we are currently awaiting a final yay or nay on testing, before this just becomes a fact over fictional story depending on which side you choose to believe happened. 

Needless to say I am pursuing DNA testing on my whole herd thru Canada, because as a potential future breeder, and just a curious individual, I’d like to know as much about my reindeer lineage as possible, not unlike I did when we purchased our police K9 in my former career. The coolest thing I could look back on was whether my dogs papered in the US, or Germany or the Netherlands was filled with their family health history and working titles. I loved that and think at least from a basic lineage standpoint, understanding and having it available the information is a standard I would like adhere to, with my reindeer.  I understand that’s for everyone and is his or her own decision as I am not trying to push DNA testing on anyone. Again any information in this story is simply for anyone who want or needs it, The legwork has been done many times over, why not share.

So whether you support science, or have a deep Faith in God, I think this story has both, and like most science people I support both sides, because science teaches us a lot, but sometimes faith intervenes and we just need to appreciate that for what its worth.

With the most special thanks to Dr. Ginger Hobgood and Dr. Danielle Mzyk at the Animal Hospital of Waterford in Waterford, PA

Deb Apthorp

photos from story

Annabelle with Annabelle’s Baby Girl May 12 2019 to May 13, 2019 our mystery baby.


Cupid with baby Ginger Houdini May 22, 2019


Annabelle with baby Faith Amari June 21, 2019


Our vets administering IV plasma


Great vets help amazing vets inspire


our granddaughter getting to help, learn and experience. what a way to shape a young mind

what a day


we cannot ever say thank you enough, The Animal Hospital of Waterford, caring and knowledge make this all possible