What would you do if in the middle of the night your mate suggested you launch a reindeer farm?

Russell Anderson’s reaction to his wife, Jessica, was that he didn’t even know if the animals were real, and, if they were, he would need to meet a reindeer before making a decision. After petting one of Santa’s antlered ambassadors of Yuletide, he was all in.

The result is the couple’s homespun The Reindeer Farm a few miles south of Bowling Green, Ky., where children of all ages can see a reindeer practically eyeball to eyeball on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from now through Christmas Eve including the Monday through Friday before the big day.

Operating in its second year, The Reindeer Farm is something like a big barnyard petting zoo with seven reindeer as the main attraction. Youngsters can see and also, in some cases, handle Holland Lop rabbits, miniature pigs and cows, chicken, an alpaca and a pony. And at the Christmas Barn children can write a letter to Santa, watch Christmas movies and whoop it up on an indoor playground.

What inspired the Andersons to pursue their dream of creating a Christmas fantasy land?

Recalled Jessica, “We had our kids very close together, and Russell had taken a new job and started out on third shift. We were talking in the middle of the night about something we could do together as a family because he was wishing could be there with me and our three small kids.

“I suggested, ‘Well, let’s do something with Christmas.’ We’re a family really big on traditions at Christmas time, and we’ve been to Lebanon to see Chad’s Winter Wonderland and the Dancing Lights of Christmas and to Christmas at Gaylord Opryland. So, I said, ‘What if we got a reindeer farm?’ because I had found a reindeer farm about a nine-hour drive away and wanted to take our kids.

“Russell didn’t think it would be a possibility in Kentucky, so I stayed up all night and did the research. He thought it was a neat idea, but when he got to pet a reindeer, then he said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’ ”

Recollected Russell, “I didn’t know it was even a possibility. I told her, ‘Surely not. Are they even real?’ When I got to meet one, I was sold immediately.”

The couple brought home their first reindeer in July 2020. Today, they’re the proud owners of Flea, an 8-year-old cow; Blitzen, a 3-year-old steer; Moodolph, a 1-year-old bull; and four 6-month-olds: Rudolph, Fireball, Mistletoe and Clarice. Five of them are native Alaskans but seem to be happy munching clover in the Bluegrass State.

‘Rough and soft … but cute’

On the farm’s opening day two weeks ago, Hailey Houke, 8, had her first encounter with a reindeer. After touching one, she said, “It felt a little rough and soft. It was weird.” Her sister, Audrey, 6, added, “They’re cute.”

“This is a field trip put on by our home-school group of about 20 families. We’ve never gotten to see real reindeer before. It seemed like a neat opportunity,” said the girls’ mom, Megan Houke, of Rineyville, Ky.

Hadley Portman, 5, and her twin brothers, Bryson and Waylon, 2, who live near Clovis, N.M., were visiting their grandparents in Leitchfield, Ky. They also seemed to be enamored by the Christmasy critters. Their mother, Brittney, said, “They loved it. They like anything with reindeer.”

Spending most of her time in the reindeer barn answering questions about her unique pets, Jessica noted that opening day made her feel “happy-nervous,” and that she seemed to be “losing my voice a little bit.”

She pointed out that of the three reindeer farms in Kentucky, The Reindeer Farm is the largest and the only one open to the public.

Russell’s role is elf in charge of the 36x80-foot Christmas Barn, which holds the big playhouse and a small gift section.

The Reindeer Farm is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays leading up to Christmas week. It will be open noon-5 p.m. Dec. 20-24. Admission is $12 for ages 3 and older. Cash is recommended as they take credit cards but have a slow internet connection.

Life on the farm

Jessica described their holiday experience by saying, “It’s a festive atmosphere.”

She said Christmas music is played all day and hot chocolate is available for free. A pasture area with mini-donkeys and mini-cows that will come up to you is near the reindeer barns and a petting zoo. There is also a chicken coop designed like a church. Food Network star Danny Kissel demonstrates ice sculpting on select days.

As for the star attractions, Jessica described their personalities as “Reindeer are like people. Some are much more outgoing than others, but they are all sweet and not aggressive by nature. Some are a little more shy. Our Moodolph is kind of stand-off, but Blitzen loves to meet everybody that comes to the farm.

We never force our animals to stay in barns, but Blitzen will let everybody pet him. We have an arena barn where they come right up to the gate, and you can put your arm out and touch him.”

In caring for reindeer, Russell said, “The hardest thing is everything. They can mask an illness about up to death. We feed them three times a day so we can try and stay on top best we can in monitoring their health.”

The creatures munch on alfalfa hay, beet pulp and a pellet formulated by the University of Alaska. Jessica also noted that reindeer do not eat carrots (as depicted in the movie “Frozen”) “because they have no top teeth up front, only a hard, top pallet.”

The couple has been married eight years and has three children under the age of 10: Aniston, Ashton and Russell. Both work day jobs: Jessica as clinical nutrition manager at Greenview Regional Hospital in Bowling Green, while Russell does preventative maintenance at Henkel Corporation.

Getting started with their farm was not easy, Jessica reported.

“There are less than a hundred reindeer farms in the lower 48 states,” she said. “Reindeer people are a pretty small, close group and love their animals. So, we had to find those people who would take the time to get to know us and to build rapport with to even get them to consider selling reindeer to us, and then the infrastructure because reindeer are kept behind an 8-foot fence.

“Working with the State of Kentucky, you have to have multiple permits from different government agencies. All of them have to tell you yes. Some said yes and some no. It actually took us four years before we got our first reindeer. We moved to the farm in 2019. It was a soybean field when we bought it. We built our house and the barns and all the fencing and literally did everything ourselves but the electrical work.”

Some bold visitors on occasion take upon themselves the opportunity to smooch a reindeer. So exactly how do you kiss a reindeer?

“It’s pretty easy at our farm because Blitzen is such a ham. So, he’ll slip his head and nose through the gate, and you just bend down and give him a kiss,” said Jessica. “The kids really like it because of Santa, but adults love it because they always thought reindeers were a myth. They’re blown away that reindeers are real.”

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