Reindeer games

Reindeer games

A reindeer looks into the camera.

Dan and Linda Downs’ reindeer conjure the Christmas spirit across Ohio.

Dan and Linda Downs had an easy time scheduling this year’s Christmas open house at Pine Acres Reindeer Farm for Dec. 22 — turns out, it’s the only Saturday before Christmas that their reindeer weren’t already booked. “We’re busy taking reindeer to events throughout Ohio from Thanksgiving through Christmas,” Dan Downs says.

The Downses, who own an independent insurance agency, not only breed reindeer at Pine Acres Reindeer Farm, but also live on the 35-acre farmstead and are members of Mid-Ohio Energy Cooperative. The farm is just outside the village of La Rue and features a custom-made metal sculpture of a reindeer. Fittingly enough, Pine Acres was once the site of a Christmas tree farm, and its grove of Scotch pines provides a picture-perfect setting for the reindeer herd, which Dan started in 2003.

“He kept looking at the computer one night,” recalls Linda, “so I asked him what he was doing. Dan said, ‘Looking at reindeer. I’m going to buy a pair.’ I told him, ‘Oh, sure you are.'” Faster than Linda could say, “On Donner and Blitzen,” two reindeer named Fritz and Flossie were on their way from Minnesota to La Rue. Dan is well-known for putting up elaborate Christmas lights. One year, when he overdid his display, he had to call the staff at Mid-Ohio, who came out and replaced the transformer that had served the farm with one that could handle three houses.

Although Dan purchased the reindeer as pets that could enhance his annual lighting extravaganzas, people soon began asking him if the reindeer could appear at Yuletide festivities. “The reindeer were intended to be just a hobby,” Dan says. “Things took on a life of their own and turned into a seasonal business.”

The Downses’ herd currently consists of three males — Comet, Tinsel, and Toto — and eight females named Velvet, Candy Cane, Holly, Ivy, Mishka, Nanook, Twig, and Jellybean. “Santa only has nine reindeer, so I tell everyone we have two spares,” Dan says.

Since reindeer are native to arctic and subarctic regions, Dan and Linda put fans in the reindeer pens to help keep them comfortable during summer. Like elk, moose, and deer, reindeer belong to the Cervidae family of hoofed, ruminant mammals, and as a precaution, the Downses installed 8-foot-high tensile wire fencing to ward off Ohio’s ubiquitous white-tailed deer and the diseases they can carry. Reindeer are herd animals that have been domesticated and used in many ways — including pulling sleds — for thousands of years. “We always take two reindeer to events, because they don’t do well when separated from their group,” Dan says.

Sporting red or green halters and sleigh bells, Pine Acres reindeer have been holiday attractions at places ranging from Liberty Center mall near Cincinnati to the Kenton Christmas parade to the Christmas Cruise Thru in Hicksville. “I like going to Hicksville,” says Linda, “because we usually have reindeer there for four nights, and the lights are awesome.”

The couple also gets great satisfaction from annually hosting a Christmas open house inside a beautifully decorated Pine Acres barn. In the spirit of the season, the old-fashioned country celebration is free to the community, and Dan and Linda furnish all the refreshments and entertainment. Santa pays a visit, and of course, the reindeer play a starring role. “People tell us it made their Christmas,” Dan says. “Of course, we’re always exhausted by Christmas Day, but we get a lot of enjoyment out of it.”

For more information about Pine Acres Reindeer Farm, search for the Pine Acres Reindeer Farm & Event Center on Facebook or call 740-361-1620.