Researchers at Norway’s Centre for Sociobiology and Animal Husbandry (CASH) said they had brought a herd of fifty deer to maturity at their facility outside Stavanger, in the first successful trial of new techniques to acclimatise the animals to indoor living.
“The skins and meat harvested from the deer showed no material difference in quality to skins from Reindeer on the Finnmark Plateau,” Synnøve Henrikksen at the centre told The Local.
Henrikksen’s team used pioneering electric lighting to mimic the changing Polar seasons, and fed the deer on artificial lichen grown in tanks at the centre.
Norway’s Sami minority are at present the only people under Norwegian law permitted to keep and herd Reindeer, bringing them from their Summer grazing areas around the islands and coastal areas of Finnmark every Autumn to graze inland on the plateau.
But the shrinking of the Reindeer’s traditional pasture areas over the last decade due to climate change, combined with the skins’ growing popularity internationally, have left them struggling to meet demand.
Pål Hemstad, Chairman of the Norwegian Livestock Association, said his members were lobbying for a change in the law to allow Reindeer to be farmed commercially by those outside the community.
“These techniques could do for Reindeer what was done with salmon in the 1980s,” he told The Local. “This could be the birth of a new industry for Norway.”
Sami could still be able to demand a premium for ‘wild’ or ‘free-range’ Reindeer meat and skins, he pointed out, much as Salmon caught in rivers today fetches a higher price than the farmed variety.
Reindeer skins are already big business internationally with the Swedish flatpack furniture giant IKEA already stocking them at stores across the world.
Hemstad said the challenge for the industry would be to make reindeer meat products a mainstay of canapés internationally, as has been achieved with smoked salmon.
Henrikksen said that incidents of cannibalism and self-mutilation among the deer in the trial had been lower than expected, with only a handful of serious incidents during the trial period.