Deer Raising

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Deer Raising


a branch of animal husbandry that is concerned with the raising and economic use of reindeer, Japanese deer (Cervus nippon), Caspian red deer (Cervus elephus maral), and Asiatic wapiti (Cervus elephus xanthopygus).

Reindeer raising. Reindeer raising is the most important branch of agriculture in the Far North. It is common in the northern latitudes of Asia and Europe (from the Chukotka Peninsula in the east to Scandinavia in the west). In North America, the native Eskimo and Indian populations did not raise reindeer, although the animals were abundant there. It is not known when or where reindeer raising first originated. The oldest evidences are wooden figurines of bitted reindeer, which were found in Khakassia in a burial ground of the Tashtyk culture (first century B.C. to fifth century A.D.). Reindeer raising was apparently introduced to Siberia by peoples of the Samoyedic and Tungusic language groups. It was probably adopted from them by other peoples.

Since ancient times, there have been various economic uses of reindeer. The economic basis of the peoples of the Siberian tundra is the raising of reindeer for meat and hides. In taiga regions further to the south, where reindeer raising is combined with hunting and fishing, reindeer are usually raised for transport.

Methods of reindeer raising are varied. The Nentsy, Northern Khanty, Mansi, and Komi harness the reindeer. The animals are not milked, and dogs are used during pasturing. The Saami (Lapps) raise reindeer as harness animals and as saddle-and-pack animals. The animals are milked, and dogs are used in pasturing. The Evenki, Eastern Tuvintsy (Tannu-Tuvans), and Karagasy raise reindeer for the saddle and pack. Some western groups of Evenki harness the reindeer. Dogs are not used in pasturing, and the reindeer are milked.

In prerevolutionary Russia, reindeer raising was the most resource-exhaustive and backward branch of agriculture. It developed chaotically and sustained enormous losses from predators, disease, and lack of forage. There were about 1.5 million reindeer, and these were owned primarily by kulaks.

After the Great October Socialist Revolution, the raising of reindeer became an important branch of the national economy in the Soviet Far North. Nineteen northern nationalities are engaged in reindeer breeding. Reindeer-raising kolkhozes and sovkhozes have been organized, the most profitable of which are specialized sovkhozes with herds of 10,000 to 15,000 individuals or more. Pasture rotations and various other systems of pasturing are being organized over vast areas for the purpose of increased productivity. Zooveterinary measures are used systematically, and breeding work is being conducted. The work of herdsmen brigades is being better organized, and the living and working conditions of those involved in reindeer raising are being improved.

The raising of reindeer in tundra and forest zones is somewhat distinctive. In the tundra, large herds of 1,500 to 1,800 individuals pasture nomadically. In the spring and autumn the reindeer are pastured in the open tundra; in the winter they are pastured in the forest tundra. Herdsmen brigades are organized to tend the animals, which travel hundreds of kilometers. Each herdsman is responsible for 250 to 350 reindeer. Large reindeer-raising farms have established settlements known as intermediate bases along the course of the wandering herds. The families of the herdsmen live in the settlements seasonally or permanently. Such bases provide the herdsmen with production equipment, food, and manufactured goods. The use of a “mechanized” brigade in the tundra looks promising. Such a brigade is equipped with several small, light-weight, portable buildings and with portable power and radio stations providing two-way communication between individual brigades and between a brigade and the farm. The portable buildings, which include dwellings, farm buildings, and recreational and educational facilities, are transportable by harnessed reindeer and by tractor and other power-driven means. Widely used in the tundra are all-terrain motor vehicles, vehicles with four-wheel drive, helicopters, airplanes, self-propelled barges, riverboats, and motorboats. The vehicles transport specialists to the tundra and deliver cargo, mail, and movies. Helicopters and airplanes are being used successfully to survey the condition of reindeer pastures, protect the pastures from fires, search for lost deer, and destroy wolves. In the taiga, reindeer herds usually consist of 600 to 1,200 individuals, which pasture in the forest in the winter and summer. Portable or stationary pens are built for taking inventory of the herd, for branding and vaccinating the animals, and for treating the animals against botfly infestation.

The reindeer population in the USSR is increasing. In 1941 there were 1.9 million head, including 256,000 on sovkhozes and other state farms, 587,000 on kolkhozes, and 1,068,000 on personal auxiliary farms. In 1973 there were 2.4 million head, including 1,587,000 on sovkhozes and other state and cooperative farms, 459,000 on kolkhozes, and 313,000 under private ownership.

Also increasing is the output of the most important reindeer products. Meat production was 14,700 tons in 1958, 23,800 tons in 1965, and 30,300 tons in 1972. Adult reindeer (carcass weight, up to 80 kg) and fawns between the ages of four and five months (carcass weight, 25–30 kg) are slaughtered for meat. Suede, boxcalf, and other types of leather are produced from the hides. The hides are made into warm garments and tents. Lightweight furs are made from the hides of young reindeer and premature fetuses. During lactation, females yield 40 to 50 kg of milk, with a 17–19 percent fat content.

The reindeer is used for transport between the hunting and fishing industries of the Far North. They transport cargo from supply bases to the deep, interior regions of the tundra and taiga. The animals are also used to transport the herdsmen during the migration of reindeer herds.

Research on reindeer raising is being conducted by a number of research institutes of agriculture, including those in Noril’sk, Magadan, and Iakutsk. The Murmansk and other agricultural experiment stations are doing similar work. Reindeer raising is taught at the University of Iakutsk and at several technical schools and agricultural institutions of higher education in Siberia and the North European USSR.

The raising of reindeer is widespread in the tundra and forest-tundra zones of Europe (Finland, Sweden, Norway) and North America (Alaska, Canada). Reindeer farms are usually small, well equipped, and accessible to good roads. Their pastures are fenced. The reindeer population was 2.1 million in Finland in 1971, 250,000 in Sweden in 1967, 129,000 in Norway in 1969, 30,000 in Alaska in 1967, and 9,000 in Canada in 1967. The world reindeer population in 1972 was about 5 million.


Raising deer for antlers in the velvet. Japanese deer, Caspian red deer, and Asiatic wapiti are raised primarily to obtain antlers in the velvet. The animals also yield meat and hide. Until the middle of the 19th century, antlers in the velvet were obtained by hunting wild deer. In the 1840’s the domestication of Caspian red deer was begun in the southern Altai. Beginning in the 1880’s, Japanese deer were domesticated in the Primor’e Krai. The raising of Caspian red deer later spread to other mountain regions of Siberia. In prerevolutionary Russia, the raising of deer for antlers in the velvet was conducted primitively. Zooveterinary services and standardized feeding were nonexistent, and herd productivity was low (owing to the shooting of the best stags for their antlers).

During Soviet times, the raising of deer for antlers in the velvet has been introduced into the Primor’e and Altai krais, the southern Krasnoiarsk Krai, and the Kazakh SSR. Deer-raising farms, principally sovkhozes, have been organized in these regions.

In the summer the deer are kept in areas surrounded by high fences. Pasturing in open areas under the supervision of herdsmen is being instituted. In the winter the deer are kept in corrals, where sheds are built for the young. During the barn period, the animals are fed rations of hay, silage, and concentrates. The quantity of concentrates is increased during intensive antler growth. Zooveterinary care for the herds has been organized. Breeding farms that supply commercial farms with pedigreed Caspian red deer and Japanese deer have been established in the Altai.

Japanese deer that are 12 to 13 years old and Caspian red deer that are 14 to 16 years old are slaughtered for their frontal antlers, which are highly valued on the international market. The number of Japanese deer, Caspian red deer, and wapiti in the USSR in 1973 was 70,000: 62 quintals of preserved antlers of Japanese deer and 204 quintals of antlers from Caspian red deer were obtained. The antlers of Caspian red deer are the principal product. High state prices have been established for high-quality antlers in the velvet. Up to 60–65 percent of the USSR’s annual output of preserved antlers in the velvet is exported to Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand.

Research on raising deer for antlers in the velvet is being conducted by the Central Scientific Research Laboratory for the Raising of Deer for Antlers in the Velvet at the Altai Scientific Research Agricultural Institute in the city of Barnaul. The laboratory has a base in the Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast. This branch of agriculture is studied at the Ussuri and Altai agricultural institutes.

The raising of deer for antlers in the velvet is also pursued in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, the People’s Republic of Mongolia, and China. In China, reindeer tendons, penises, embryos, and tails are also preserved.


Severnoe olenevodstvo, 2nd ed. Edited by P. S. Zhigunov. Moscow, 1961.
Galkin, V. S., P. V. Mitiushev, and M. P. Liubimov. Prakticheskie sovety po pantovomu olenevodstvu v Gornom Altae. Gorno-Altaisk, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.