MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In about 24 hours, Santa’s reindeer will be off and flying. Other than that important role, not much is known about these animals. That’s about to change.

One of the largest reindeer farms in the country is just off Lake Crystal near Mankato.

On the Crystal Collection Reindeer Farm just a few miles out of town, guinea hens and Arabian horses are kept company by another animal.

“All of our reindeer are friends to Santa and Rudolph and all of our reindeer have names,” Bev Herda said.

Instead of Donner and Blitzen, you’ll find Sweetie and Lolly and about 30 other reindeer at the farm. Twenty-seven years ago, former teachers Herda and Daryl Simon began educating people about these animals. They were looking for something to raise on Simon’s farm and got caught up in the Christmas spirit.

“As soon as I saw the reindeer I thought, Christmas comes every year,” Simon said. “It’s a lot of fun. You get a kick out of kids and stuff like that.”

From early November through Christmas, you’ll see the farm co-owners working overtime at holiday events across the Midwest. But when they’re all together, it’s all about the reindeer games, especially for the bulls looking to prove themselves.

“They will fight for only two to three minutes, but we could see a couple antlers knocked off,” Simon said.

Losing an antler is temporary. They grow back for males and females.

“When those antlers are growing we feed them at night and when we come back in the morning, there is 2 to 3 inches of growth on those antlers. It’s like you can almost see them growing,” Herda said.

While they’re known for landing on rooftops this time of year, this is a grassroots effort. Raising a winter animal is a year ’round job. Springtime can be especially busy.

“It’s so exciting. My favorite time of year is when we are having baby calves,” they said. “To see those little ones get up and start wobbling around … it’s just exciting.”

From the clicking of their hooves to the rattling of their antlers. There’s no guarantee any of the reindeer at this farm will ever guide someone’s sleigh. But they don’t need to, to help make the season merry and bright.

“It’s never going to go away. It’s just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger,” they said.

The reindeer at Crystal Collection Farm are fed twice a day and get a diet that includes sugar beet pulp, alfalfa hay, protein and copper.

John Lauritsen