REINDEER STOP IN FULL GALLOP
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen, but did you know you can find their distant relatives in Livingston County?
Joe and Judy Walsh own Shining Star Ranch, the Reindeer Stop, an 83-acre farm in Iosco Township where they’ve successfully raised reindeer since 1994. This time of year — the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas — is the couple’s busy season. Weekdays are spent feeding and managing their herd of reindeer, and weekends consist of transporting their popular Christmas animals all across Michigan for the public to see. The whole family contributes, with Priscilla and Joseph bedding pens, feeding calves and providing whatever general help they can during the busiest time of the year. You also may see the extra “elves”, John, Dave, Ryan, work with the reindeer at displays. Booked on weekends with many public shows and back out again some weekdays” said Judy Walsh is how the reindeer ‘pay’ for the rest of the year leisure. “The weather can change on a dime for MI, so they try to stay within a reasonable distance.”
The couple began raising reindeer in the early 1990s because they wanted to raise animals they wouldn’t have to slaughter, as they would many other farm raised animals. The work is not always easy. Reindeer require feeding and bedding, and Judy Walsh said she monitors them at many unusual times, including in the middle of the night during calving season. In the summer, she has to ensure the reindeer are cool enough because they’re built for cold-weather climates, and the work is two-fold with younger animals because they have to be acclimated to human contact. For that reason, it’s not uncommon on the Walsh farm to see two- or three-week-old reindeer being walked around as an owner might walk a dog.
Judy Walsh takes great care with her animals, naming each one as if it were a member of the family, and keeps track of each animal’s traits and distinct personalities. Reindeer can live to be more than 15 years old, and at a certain age, reindeer who were once featured in displays across Michigan are relegated to the pasture with other senior reindeer.
In their over decades raising reindeer, Judy Walsh said they’ve gone through the “original eight” Christmas reindeer and Clarisse and trusty bulls named Curious George, Yukon and Rhubbarb. Now, the bull Nicholas roams and grazes the hallowed grounds once walked by the perhaps more-famous predecessors.
“We’ve raised over 100 animals here, and I could tell you each one of them; they’re all different with different personalities,” she said. “The hard part is when you lose them. It’s like losing a dog, and there is definitely a sense of loss when they make their final trip to the North Pole.”
Judy Walsh, an information technology project manager, began spending more time on the farm after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2004 and relapsing in July 2006. Her husband retained his full-time job as a cost specialist in the auto industry while she recovered. Judy eventually went back to work, only to be involved in a serious car accident December, 2010 that landed her in the hospital for months. She has been back to work to volunteer and in small gigs since 2014.
“I’ve had more time on the farm, more time with the babies, and to refocus on the important family things.” she said. “We’ve got enough acreage here that one of us does spend a lot of time handling it.”
In recent years, the family’s herd size increased in size from a few animals to more than 25 — enough to sell and replace the farm’s older stock.
Now, Shining Star Ranch has around half that many reindeer, in part because they sell like hotcakes.
“We’ve gotten inquiries from Texas, New Jersey and Washington state,” Joe Walsh said. “There is a pretty big market for them.” It seems, even in an economic downturn, that people want to enjoy Christmas as much as ever. The Walsh family, and their herd of reindeer, never miss an opportunity to give the public a little extra dose of holiday cheer.
For four weeks to five weeks each year, the family’s hard work raising reindeer pays off, with those reindeer making everybody’s Christmas a little extra special. “It’s great to see kids around them, having fun and learning a little bit about the reindeer,” Judy Walsh said.
For more information on Shining Star Ranch, the reindeer stop contact email@example.com or call (517) 223-9437 or an older e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, see us at Facebook.com/reindeerstop.