A lot of people assume that reindeer, just like Santa Claus, are make believe. But the antlered stars of Christmas stories such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Santa Claus movie are real animals—that bring in real business. Renting reindeer for an hour for, say, the company Christmas party typically costs several hundreds of dollars; their day rate is several times that.
Some economics are at play: supply is dwindling as demand is growing, especially at this time of year. The number of Canadian reindeer and caribou has plunged 81% in a decade. The global reindeer population has fallen too, as humans encroach on their lands. In the US, some farmers have ceased showing their reindeer in the face of growing regulations and disease management rules.
Yet reindeer rental owners “are as busy as they can possibly be,” says Cindy Murdoch, a board member of the Reindeer Owners and Breeders Association. She’s also the owner of Timberview Farms in Oregon, which—like the original St. Nick—has a fleet of eight reindeer. “We have double, triple bookings to meet needs,” Murdoch says.
The marketing power of antlers
Reindeer are run ragged during the holidays as an attraction to bring in customers, or as a part of a winter festival or special event. Their novelty to adults and children alike helps their marketability. According to data from various reindeer farm websites, a pair of reindeer may rent for $200 to $300 or more an hour; Timberview rents reindeer for a minimum of $1,750 for an eight-hour day.