August is one of my favorite months in Alaska, the days are a little more balanced light wise, the mountains are occasionally tipped with fresh snow and the air is crisp and fresh. On a reindeer farm there's a lot going on as well. The busy summer season is winding down, and the days are a little less busy, and the farm begins to prepare for fall. This time of year is also when reindeer shed their velvet. What is velvet? Who sheds it? And why do they shed it? All good questions my friends, I've got answers straight from the farmers!
First of all both male and female reindeer grow antlers. While the antlers are developing and growing they are covered with a soft substance called velvet. What is velvet? It is almost exactly like what it sounds like, a soft velvety fur cover on their fresh antlers. It grows, as the antlers grow, to protect them as they get bigger. When the antlers are full grown the velvet dries up, and the reindeer begin to rub it off because it itches. They rub on just about anything to get that velvet off and uncover the antler that most of us would recognize.
Interestingly the males lose their velvet in August, starting earlier than the females. Once the males are just about finished the females start losing their velvet. If you were to come by the reindeer farm at this time of year you would probably get to see some of the reindeer rubbing and scraping off this velvet. The farm provides cut trees and, oddly enough, street sweeper brushes at this time of year to aid the reindeer in this process. It's definitely an interesting time to visit the farm.
Why do reindeer shed their velvet ? After it serves it purpose of protecting the young antlers, the soft furry velvet is no longer needed. Underneath the velvet is the bony antler that is so important to the reindeer. The antlers can be used as protection from predators, one toss of their head can inflict some serious damage! And males dress to impress the females with their impressive antler display that say's "I'm a stud". Females can use their antlers in the winter to clear away snow from their food sources. Those antlers are so needed!
So if you're planning a visit to Alaska in August or September be sure to plan a visit to the Reindeer Farm. Not only is the beauty of Alaska so full and rich at this time of year the pace of the farm is a little slower and definitely more relaxed. You could also witness reindeer shedding their velvet up close and personal. So come by for a visit and look for the reindeer scraping and rubbing their antlers in the hopes of finally shedding their velvet. Late summer in Alaska.