Golden horn: how reindeer herders make their living
Why raising reindeer is so much more profitable than raising cows or pigs7 december 2020
The indigenous peoples of the Russian North have long ago realised just how profitable reindeer breeding can be above the Arctic Circle. Today, the profession of reindeer herding has regained its status as one of the most prestigious ones. For those who have never been to the Arctic, it must be difficult to imagine how reindeer herders can make their living and how much they can earn. Meanwhile, experts assure us that this is one of the most profitable types of animal husbandry out there, and with the least competition at that. If large enterprises have long since staked their claim on raising cows, goats and pigs, then reindeer husbandry still offers a niche for the novice entrepreneur. And the endless Arctic will provide the newcomer with its main resource — the tundra, fully capable of feeding a herd of reindeer throughout the year.
Why is it more profitable to breed reindeer than cows, goats or pigs, which are more familiar to the residents of central Russia? First of all, because Northern reindeer need minimal care and looking-after. No need to build cowsheds: deer manage quite well without a roof over their heads all year round. No special feed either: as the original denizens of the tundra, they can eat any plant-based food and wouldn't say 'no' to catching an occasional lemming off its guard. And no preparing hay for the winter either: the reindeer will break the snow on their own to get at the lichen. They can even manage childbirth without human help: the doe does an excellent job on her own, and the baby begins to eat the same food as the parents in only a week. The reindeer have naturally strong health and immune systems, they very rarely get sick. So, all that a human breeder needs to do is protect them from predators and blood-sucking insects and make sure that they always have good pasture.
Seeing as domesticated reindeer lead virtually the same lifestyle as their wild kin, reindeer breeders have to adapt and roam with their herd. You have to drive them to a new pasture every week. Most of all, this resembles how sheep are kept, free grazing. And this is the main challenge for a first-timer who has decided to become a reindeer herder. It is not an easy thing to roam the tundra all year round, nor to find hired help who would agree to lead such a lifestyle.
However, the task is made simpler by the deer's sheer unpretentiousness: only 2–3 people are enough to take care of even a large herd. Thus, the ideal business model is the one adopted by the indigenous peoples of the North, wherein members of the same family look after the flock together. That is the most profitable, stable and psychologically appealing 'work collective' structure in the tundra.
How profitable is reindeer husbandry as a business? Experts assure us that it is one of the most profitable types of livestock breeding. After all, in order to make decent money, you don't even need to slaughter your animals. Antlers are considered to be the most valuable product of reindeer husbandry — the non-ossified ones, which are cut in spring. They are used to make medicines and biologically active additives that boost the immune system and restore the cardiovascular and circulatory systems.
The cost of one kilogram of dried and processed antlers reaches $200–250. One deer is capable of producing up to 30 kg of antlers per year. And since both cows and bulls have antlers, the entire herd can be used to produce the merchandise. As soon as the deer reaches the age of two years, you can start the annual 'harvest'.
Another source of income is selling the venison. Reindeer reach the marketable mass 2 years after birth. If you slaughter the reindeer in autumn, after a good fattening-up on their summer pastures, then 55–60 kg of meat can be obtained from one bull, and 40–45 kg from a cow. The cost of venison is about a third lower than that of beef, and it can be sold for significantly more.Read more Navigation professionals and unmanned aerial vehicle operators: What personnel are needed in the Arctic More than 20 thousand new jobs will be created in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation in 2021