James ScheibÕs 2001 Interview with Tom Scheib
Eli, TomÕs prized bull reindeer, had been performing for years so I wanted to get the facts on Eli and why he was different. Also, I wanted to document the acquisition and importation of TomÕs original three deer.
JS: So was Eli the first male calf to live?
TS: Uh, I donÕt think so. IÕd have to go back and check the records. I think Eli was probably born -- oh God, who was EliÕs mom and dad? I think I had a bull calf by the name of Gunner that we worked with before Eli.
JS: So would he have been in the second batch that lived?
TS: Yeah, probably so. I mean – Eli – Like I say, I would have to back & look at the records & see all who Eli came after. Eli and uh – Eli and Minna were brother and sister. Minna was born first. Actually, Elvee, whoÕs over in Taylors Falls now was a year older than Minna. Minna came the year after Elvee. Eli came a year after Minna. So, like Eli was third back, yeah three years down. The first two calves we got, as I recall we lost when they were young. Because of our stupidity, you know. We didnÕt know anything about Ôem at the time and we listened to veterinarians tell us do this, do that. Again, those veterinarians never handled reindeer and we found out since then that everything they said back then isnÕt necessarily the way to go.
JS: You had goats on that land before then?
TS: Well, we had goats but that wasnÕt the problem. Both of those heifer calves got E. coli in their gut, in their umbilical cords. And the reason they got E. coli in their umbilical cords was because the vets that we were using at the time said donÕt disturb the mother, they may leave the calf alone and not accept the calf if you go in and grab the calf right after sheÕs born and pour anything on the umbilical cord. Well, weÕve since come to the conclusion after 20 years of raising reindeer that thatÕs poppycock. Reindeer have a strong maternal instinct. TheyÕll swat at you when you go in there to grab the calf, but if you let the calf nurse and bond with the mother about a half an hour then go pick it up and tie off the umbilical cord and soak it in either betadine or iodine, the calf wonÕt get navel illness. We just got bad advice from the vet and we learned a lot over those years.
JS: So, Eli was in the third group to live, which was really the fourth group of calves --
TS: Fourth group of calves we had. Yeah.
JS: Was that from the same two original parents that came down from Alaska?
TS: Yeah, we had Toolie and Savoo and a good majority of those calves. Those calves, all did. Elvee, Toolie or uh, Elvee, Minna and Eli, Gunner, they were all from those two original calves and the original bull Eino.
TS: Eino. E-i-n-o.
JS: E-i-n-o. Now, you brought three down originally from Alaska.
TS: We brought three out of Canada.
JS: Out of Canada.
TS: The vast majority of the reindeer in this herd both in Minnesota and here in Milltown are from an original herd, it was up in Tuktoyaktuk , which is in the northwest corner of what used to be the northwest territories. And that herd was moved into the Northwest Territories in about 1930. It was bought by the government of Canada and brought over into the reindeer grazing preserve. You can see it on a map if you ever look at the northwest part of Canada. It actually took Ôem about five years to move that herd from out off the Seward Peninsula of Alaska. I think they actually started in like 1930 or 1931. They started with about 3000 animals, and they ended up with almost 2,370 animals in Canada five years later, but the vast majority of Ôem were all animals that were born along the way. Hundreds were lost in the five year trek south.
For more details see:
And thereÕs some videos out and thereÕs some literature thatÕs produced by the Canadian government – the Canadian filmmakers and I think I actually have a tape, I canÕt remember; I think the name of itÕs just ÒThe Herd.Ó It was produced by the Canada film industry on the move of that herd, which was at that time owned by the Lowman brothers, into Canada and it was bought by the Canadian government.
JS: Tell me again how theyÕre different from caribou.
TS: Reindeer are not caribou. Reindeer are a domestic, semi-domestic, species thatÕs been specifically bred over hundreds, maybe thousands of years, for temperament, size, meat, and a lot of characteristics that one wants in a domestic animal.
Caribou are a wild animal. Uh, theyÕre stubborn. They donÕt have the brain; they donÕt have the the calmness of reindeer. Again, reindeer have been bred over generation after generation after generation like we do here. We use the good bulls. We breed the ones with the good temperament. We were very lucky we got a bull back in Õ91 or Õ92, Gus, also Canadian bull from Lloyd Preston up in Prince Edward Island. The parents of that bull came from Tuktoyaktuk and Lloyd was selling out and we got one of the bulls and Gus was, you know, was the luck of the draw. We couldnÕt have picked a better bull.
JS: Can you tell the difference by looking at Ôem?
TS: Um, people that raise reindeer and people that know caribou can tell the difference. The majority of people in this country I doubt could tell the difference.
JS: There are physical differences?
TS: There are physical differences. Reindeer are a smaller animal. The color is a little bit different. IÕve never yet seen a pinto or a white-marked caribou. Caribou generally have a long main beam that kind of wraps up out towards the front of the animal with several fingers on it. You walk out here and look at our reindeer bulls like Weezer and Flyer and those guys and those antlers are altogether different.
Caribou have a big Roman nose. Reindeer have a much more dish-faced look like a Jersey. Caribou are generally longer-legged. A really interesting difference between reindeer and caribou are: Reindeer generally calf a little earlier than caribou do, like about two or three weeks before caribou.
JS: Tell me a little bit about that trip down with the first three.
TS: YouÕre trying to embarrass me.
JS. No. No. This is a story in itself.
TS: The reindeer that we bought were brought down from Tuktoyaktuk by uh, an entrepreneur, uh, by the name of gosh, now why canÕt I think of it. Gordon Sherman. Gordon raised some animals, elk, reindeer, and flew those aircraft that fight forest fires, the ones that drop fire retardant and water. He was a big strapping guy, reddish hair, he was a big guy. And he went north into the Tuktoyaktuk area and purchased several cattle trailer loads of reindeer in the wintertime from the Inuit people that owned them and trucked them down to Cardston, Alberta. And we went to Cardston and picked up two cows and a bull from Gordon. They were $1500 apiece and we came across the border at Sweet Grass.
The arrangements were all made ahead of time. We had to deal with the bureaucrats, the U. S. Forest Service and Wild Life guys and the State of Minnesota DNR and the Minnesota Department of Ag, and it was really incredible because nobody knew how to handle this. You get one story on what permits you needed from one agency and another story on what permits were required from another agency.
JS: Nobody asked before. You were the first.
TS: And finally we just, you know, we said, ÒWell, weÕre going. HereÕs where weÕre going.Ó We told the DNR we had a game farm license. We mapped out with the local game warden what the route was that we were coming out. We showed him we were coming through the border at Sweet Grass. The animals were TB and brucellosis tested and they passed both of those tests and we had them in the back of a 1977 Dodge pick-up with a big box on the back end. The animals were a year old. We came through Sweet Grass um, -- they had a vet on there that was part time and had never been on the gate before and so he wasnÕt real sure of the procedures and what permits were required. He wanted us to unload Ôem at the border and then load Ôem again after he viewed Ôem and I said ÒIÕll be happy to unload Ôem, but once theyÕre out of here then you better be able to put Ôem back in the trailer,Ó cuz we had one heck of a time getting them in –
JS: The first time.
TS: The first time. So you know, I mean, we had holes in the side you could look, you could see the ear tags. They had big yellow ear tags in their ear you could read the numbers. One was, I think, 44. I canÕt remember what the others were but theyÕre still on the original permit. And so then he opened up the tailgate and looked in there and saw everybody was okay, and we did the paperwork and uh, basically we fumbled around there for quite some time because nobody was really sure what was required, even though they run a lot of cattle across that border.
So, then we headed out across the U. S. Highway 2, which would take us across Montana through North Dakota and ultimately through Minnesota, bring us in by Cloquet down through Duluth, take Highway 61 up and finally into Finland, Minnesota. Somewhere along the way – I can find it on the map – but I canÕt remember the name of the town right now, there was a big bump and I thought I lost my spare tire holder. We hit a pothole in Highway 2. I thought the spare tire holder broke and I heard this clunk. And I looked in my rearview mirror and actually what had happened was the tailgate fell down. When they were looking in, probably at Sweet Grass, and when we shut the tailgate we probably didnÕt get her shut all the way, or there was some straw in the latch or whatever. When we joggled it real hard there about 70 miles down the highway, it came down and out went the three reindeer, out the back underneath the box but because the tailgate was down there was still two feet or whatever and out they went out onto the highway at about 70 miles an hour.
The vet had said that the one thing you donÕt want to do is stress them. Well, this kind of stressed them and the temperature was about 90 plus degrees and then they ran off into the wheat field which was right by a grain elevator in this itty-bitty town. A couple of cowboys saw them and they said, ÒWell, weÕll go round Ôem up.Ó
12 hours later the cowboyÕs ponies were, you know, not doing so hot, and the people on the pickup trucks were tired and the guys on the four-wheelers were tired and the reindeer were still all running loose. And if it hadnÕt been for the guy in the biplane, we would have lost them in the wheat field. But a guy had a biplane that he was working on and he took it up for a test drive and by this time, news must travel fast or they mustnÕt had much news in the middle of Montana, because it was on the radio station that reindeer were running around in this part of Montana.
So, being it was late June, you know where weÕre that far north, the sun was very bright very late. I donÕt even remember it getting dark, but it probably did, and sometime in the wee wee hours of the morning we actually got the deer into a coolie, a little lake, pond-type thing one at a time and there were enough people around that as the deer tried to swim out of the water they would get shooed back in by the people on the shore and then three cowboys in a johnboat would lasso Ôem and then weÕd drag Ôem into shore and then we took them up and put Ôem in a barn.
They were scuffed up pretty good. The antlers were broken and the one cow had a broken pelvis, and the cow with the broken pelvis, we figured was kind of finished. In actuality, she turned out to be the best cow we probably ever had for giving birth. I think she gave birth to a live calf every year that we owned her, for 15 years.
TS: So we finally got Ôem back. The vet came out and checked them out, treated them as best we could there, put Ôem back into the truck and decided we would wait one day, give them a chance to rest, eat, water, calm down, and then we would barrel for the eastern shore of Minnesota.
JS: So you said the caribou are more wild, but it sounds like these three were pretty wild.
TS: Well, these three came off of the tundra, you know. They werenÕt in a farm situation. They were just off the tundra, but, you know, they did well. They did well once they were in the trailer and they did well on the farm after that.
JS: They just hadnÕt had prior exposure?
TS: They had experience but hey had had no contact with humans. They were basically wild. TheyÕre like a range cattle. You know, thereÕs a difference between the cattle running out the middle of Montana, you know, that never see a human soul except for roundup and the cattle that are here across the street in MitchÕs yard, where theyÕre fed a bale of hay every day.