Farmed reindeer ‘Norway’s new salmon’

Reindeer in Norway could be now farmed intensively for their skins and meat for the first time, opening up the way for a new revenue stream for the country’s hard-pressed farmers.

Farmed reindeer 'Norway's new salmon'
Reindeer roaming wild. Photo: M.prinke/Flickr
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. 


Record Arctic heat drives reindeer into cool tunnels

Norwegian authorities have urged motorists to watch out for reindeer that are seeking refuge in tunnels to cool themselves amid extreme heat in the nation's far north.

Record Arctic heat drives reindeer into cool tunnels
File photo: Gorm Kallestad / NTB scanpix

“It has been very hot for weeks in northern Norway,” Tore Lysberg, a senior official at the Norwegian Public Roads Administration, told AFP on Thursday.

“The animals retreat to colder places, both reindeer and sheep find refuge in tunnels and shaded areas to cool down,” he said.

Although this phenomenon is nothing new, it could be intensified by record temperatures in Norway's northernmost regions.

The Norwegian Meteorological Institute posted a temperature of 31.2 degrees Celsius on Wednesday in Finnmark, a major reindeer herding region located within the Arctic Circle.

The region is so hot that it has experienced 12 “tropical” nights with evening temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius so far this year, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration said no serious accidents involving animals have been reported yet but described the situation as “a challenge”.

The government agency, which has multiplied its messages to raise awareness among motorists, should be helped by the weather, which is expected to return towards normal starting this weekend.

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