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Raising Reindeer in Central Illinois
Any kind of livestock farm involves cleaning up nasty stuff, even at Hardy's Reindeer Ranch near Rantoul.
"It's interesting, the animals themselves are ruminants," Mark said. "I mean the feed program, the vet care, everything is very similar to a cow."
But there are plenty of big differences, including the antlers and their tolerance for cold.
"Their winter fur is good to 50 below," Mark said.
And there's the sound they make.
"Reindeer and caribou both make a clicking noise," Mark said. "Their feet click, like up on the housetop click, click, click. There's a tendon on their foot that rubs on a bone that makes that noise."
Mark has a theory as to why they evolved that way.
"The reason I think they do it, is when they migrate and that, if there's a snowstorm or something and they can't see each other, they'll hear the clicking and they'll follow the clicking," Mark said.
The reindeer ranch grew out of their Christmas tree farm 17 years ago.
"I raise 4,000 to 5,000 cut-your-own trees," Mark said. "I've got scotch and white, some firs and spruces. There's a variety of fir called a Frasier fir that doesn't grow here. That's a top-selling tree, so I buy 'em and bring 'em in. I just can't grow enough trees."
But the reindeer and the Christmas trees were just the beginning. With buildings like the Klondike Cafe and their gift shop, they've tried to turn the entire farm into a Christmas and autumn destination.
"The Klondike Cafe," Mark's wife Julie said. "During the weekends, it's open with some concession food and a place for people to warm up. Year-round that is a western style banquet hall, chuckwagon, Branson-style entertainment for group reservations."
And the gift shop.
"This is a beautiful, old fashioned country store gift shop," Julie said. "We kind of built it out of three old barns, heat it with a pot belly stove, so it's just got a charming atmosphere, and lots of different theme ornaments and certainly a lot of reindeer ornaments that people want reindeer souvenirs to take home with them."
But the reindeer tours are still the big draw out here, and the reason crowds are already piling in to feed and pet the animals.
"Today Champaign schools didn't have school, so we came up here because it's great to be outside, especially when it's this warm," Jen Smith, who was visiting with her son, said. "And really cool to see the reindeer and hear them click, and be able to run around and play."
Making the experience special for the visitors means keeping the animals friendly.
"I just really spend a lot of time with them," Julie said. "And I think it's somewhat like any animal. The more affection you give them, the more affection they give you, so I always tell people they're obnoxiously friendly."
In Champaign County, Mike Brooks, ABC NewsChannel 20.