“Christmas has always been one of our favorite holidays,” shared Jeff. “It is hard to explain the joy we experience when we share the spirit of Christmas with our community, friends and relatives.”
Cindy and Jeff grew up in urban Milwaukee and lived in the suburbs until their two children, Jen and Jon, graduated from high school.
“We would always drive through the countryside in the fall and admire how peaceful and beautiful it was,” Cindy reflected. “One year we decided there’s no reason we couldn’t move to the country, so we started looking for a small farm.”
In 2000, the couple purchased a 5-acre hobby farm with a 130-year-old log home and an old dairy barn. While making the transition from city-life to the countryside, the couple started researching these exotic animals.
“Owning reindeer was always a longtime dream,” Cindy shared. “Their characteristics are so extraordinary and unique.”
The first two reindeer calves, Comet and Cupid, arrived at the Phillips’ farm on May 26, 2002.
After growing demand for the reindeer to make public appearances, the couple decided to share these magical animals with local communities. The first holiday season started with just a couple events. Last year, Reindeer Games was booked most November and December weekends.
“We really go all out,” Cindy shared with a smile. “The reindeer are often accompanied by Santa and his elves at the events we attend.”
Cindy and Jeff participate in public events such as parades and town festivals as well as private parties at daycares, nursing homes or family gatherings.
“When we go to private family parties, an adult will sometimes bring presents to our farm before the party so we can load them up with Santa in the sleigh,” Cindy explained. “It makes for a really magical event when the kids hear the bells and see Santa and his reindeer come up to the house.”
While the Phillips are busiest during the holiday season, caring for and training the reindeer is a year-round task.
Every year, reindeer heifers and cows are bred to have calves in the early spring. After a couple of days of nursing, the calves are brought in the house for Cindy to begin bottle feeding. The calves get 24-hour care from Cindy until they are two weeks old. At that point, they will go back outside to a nursery pen for the summer. Bottle feeding continues until they are about three- to four-months-old.
The calves are taught to walk with a halter on a lead rope, an ability that is needed as they get older and make public appearances.
In the late summer and fall, Cindy and Jeff refresh the reindeer on their parade and public appearance etiquette.
“We always want our animals to be comfortable and relaxed,” said Jeff. “To do this, we start walking them on halters at the farm. Then we put their harnesses with bells on. This helps ensure that when we show up to parades or events, the animals know what to expect and are on their best behavior.”
The past 17 years have brought many learning opportunities for the couple.
“There are a lot of rules and regulations we have to follow,” Jeff explained. “Due to Chronic Wasting Disease concerns, we have double fencing around our pastures and we have a lot of paperwork that needs to be completed each year.”
Not unlike other sectors of agriculture, the Phillips shared that there are many misconceptions about reindeer.
“We have had adults insist that reindeer aren’t real and ask questions about what we bred with a whitetail deer to get our animals,” Jeff shared with a chuckle.
In addition to public appearances, the couple is passionate about learning and networking with other reindeer breeders. Jeff serves as a Central Region Director with the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association.
Jeff explained there are about 105 reindeer breeders across Alaska, Canada, the lower 48 states and Europe. The Phillips are one of four reindeer owners in Wisconsin.
“Being able to utilize the knowledge from others who raise reindeer has been invaluable and one of the reasons we value our membership with ROBA,” said Jeff.
The Phillips also value their Farm Bureau membership.
“Even though we are new to the organization, we enjoy learning about Wisconsin agriculture and what other Farm Bureau members do on their farms,” Jeff explained.
Wisconsin Farm Bureau members come from all walks of life, but have many things in common, including a love for working with family.
“We love to have our grandkids visit the farm and help with chores,” Cindy shared with a smile. “While they are young now, we will make sure the farm is available to any of our grandkids who wish to pursue this lifestyle.”
“Christmas is a time for families to gather and make memories, and the memories we make with our family during this busy season are definitely ones we will never forget,” said Cindy.
If you want to learn more about the couple and their business Reindeer Games, visit reindeergames-wi.com.
Story and non-supplied photos by Sarah Hetke. The original version appeared in the December|January 2019-2020 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.