Thursday, December 22, 2022

Santa’s reindeer cleared to fly into Washington State on Christmas Eve

Dr. Amber Itle
Washington State Veterinarian

 Photo courtesy of Ed and Sonya Benhardt 
Reindeer Express LLC, Rearden, Wash.

Not all elves make toys, some take care of Santa’s team of reindeer. Santa’s head herds-elf, Holly, oversees reindeer husbandry and care at the North Pole. The elves have all been preparing for the big day by taking special care to properly condition the team to ensure they can endure the long flight. The elves work hard to minimize stress by providing reindeer with optimal nutrition, fresh air, clean bedding, and lots of space. Hermie, the elf dental specialist inspects and “floats” all their teeth for optimal oral health. 

Holly is also in charge of making sure all the reindeer health requirements are met before flying around the world. While planning for Santa’s stops in the United States, she checked to see what each State requires. All the reindeer that cross state lines must meet Washington State import requirements, including a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) issued by an accredited veterinarian and a permit number to move between states for toy delivery. A CVI is a special animal health document that certifies that the animals listed “are not showing signs of infectious, contagious and/or communicable diseases” and have met all the required vaccinations and testing requirements. Santa’s reindeer tested negative for tuberculosis, brucellosis, and meningeal worms and have maintained “free” status in the CWD Herd Certification Program. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph all received clearance to fly into Washington state. 

Washington State Veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle met with Holly to review his CVI paperwork and Santa’s biosecurity plans. Biosecurity plans are used to mitigate risk and limit exposure of Santa’s reindeer to disease by implementing key practices. This is extremely important since reindeer are susceptible to foot and mouth disease, an economically devastating and most contagious disease of cloven hooved animals. Biosecurity practices help to protect the reindeer for disease and allow for business continuity at the North Pole. If Santa’s reindeer get sick, they will not be able to deliver toys, which would have a huge economic and emotional impact on children and parents alike! Furthermore, Santa doesn’t want to be responsible for delivering an animal disease along with toys when he traverses the world. 

Santa’s Top 10 Biosecurity Plan Tips

  1. No visitors to the North Pole. 
  2. Keep a closed reindeer herd.
  3. Perform annual laboratory testing for diseases of concern.
  4. Establish a relationship with a veterinarian to oversee herd health and vaccinations.
  5. Bring your own reindeer grain, hay, and water for the journey.
  6. When traveling, never land on the ground; rooftops are cleaner.
  7. Avoid direct contact with wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.
  8. Clean & disinfect your sleigh and boots between rooftops, states, countries and when returning to the North Pole.
  9. Isolate all reindeer returning from toy delivery for 30 days.
  10. Designate elves to care for reindeer who have traveled. 

Make sure to track Santa and the reindeer’s flight path on December 24 using NORAD’s Santa Tracker.  Remember, if you are moving animals across state lines this holiday season to check to meet the interstate animal movement requirements.

Have a safe and happy holiday season from our end of the barn to yours. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

A Washington board game, the holidays, and Paul Harvey

How the true-to-farm-life game saved a family farm and continues to entertain and teach about the trials and rewards of agriculture around the world

Karla Salp

Original version of The Farming Game
Photo credit: Marylou Krautscheid
Mom picked up our family’s copy of The Farming Game at Cenex in Quincy. I always wanted to be “Roza Ray” or “Sunnyside Sidney” – two of the six Central Washington-themed names of the farmers in the game. The beat-up box and the odd missing piece testify to the fact that playing the board game was a popular pastime in our household. Only during the winter, of course, when the relentless list of farm and garden tasks took a seasonal reprieve.   

Apparently, we are gluttons for punishment.

Unlike Farmville, where there is almost no way to lose and the cows will wait until you come home, The Farming Game keeps it real. The cows get out. Hail ruins your crops. It’s 114 degrees in the shade.

While you can get rangeland, but there is a limit to how much cattle it can hold. High-priced fruit crops are high value but also high risk. Fate throws unexpected twists at the farm dream.

At least the way we played, it also never ended. Like real farmers, we played until we just got tired of it, or we went broke. Whichever came first.  

Hard times

The game itself really was invented on the seat of a tractor – just like it says on the box. After several years of initial success when they started farming in Central Washington, the Rohrbacher family was struggling to keep the farm afloat when their Goldendale ranch, which normally received over 20 inches of rain a year, received only five inches one year. The next, less than three.

With a third child on the way, the Rohrbacher family’s dream of returning to the land to farm was drying up in the summer of 1979. But that July, an idea sprung up in George Rohrbacher’s mind, cultivated by the smell of fresh-cut hay as he cut alfalfa in the pre-dawn hours.

George Rohrbacher, creator of The Farming Game
The idea – “the crazy idea” his wife Ann said – was to create a Monopoly-like board game about farming to save the family farm. Knowing that the most likely time for board game sales would be the holidays, the family set to work sourcing and assembling the game in time for the holiday sales rush. They literally bet the farm to do it – selling off half of their cows to pay for the board game materials and putting every penny they had into amassing 10,000 games.

Had George not been a natural marketer, that may have been the end of their farm, the game, and their life savings. He did everything from taking the game to farm shows and small-town shops to writing President Jimmy Carter and Paul Harvey, a radio show host popular in many rural communities at the time.

While the President returned a mimeographed “thanks for your letter” note, Paul Harvey did mention the game on his nationally-syndicated radio program. Although the Rohrbacher family never heard it themselves, there was a sudden uptick in sales and customers reporting they heard about the game on the radio.

The Paul Harvey push came just in time. By Christmas, they had a newborn, sold 7,000 games, and had earned enough to keep the farm afloat. Income from game sales continued to support the farm for years.

Beyond the farm

Current look of The Farming Game
The game was an immediate hit in farming communities where George peddled it. The farm families enjoyed the game but also appreciated how it accurately reflected the struggles of real farm life. Soon, teachers also saw the value in the game as a fun way to demonstrate to students how economics and real-world businesses work.

The Rohrbacher family was not the only farm hit by hard times. Increased prices and interest rates – much like today – made farming difficult to sustain, even for families who had been farming for generations. Tractors took to the streets in D.C. At one point, the game was given to every member of Congress to help them understand American farmers’ challenges at the time. George himself would even eventually become a Washington State Senator.

The game has also spread beyond America’s own borders. In 1994, the World Bank flew George to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union to oversee the translation of the game into Russian. There, the game was used to help farmers understand farm privatization after the end of socialism.

The Farming Game today

The Farming Game has been available for over forty years, now sporting an updated green box as opposed to the original tan. It was adapted for Windows and Macs but the electronic versions appear to no longer be available.

Interest in the game continues, having sold over 350,000 copies. Hard times seem to increase sales according to George – with increases in times of economic downturn and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rohrbacher family was even featured on The Last Archive podcast recently, discussing the game and the impact it has had. (Please note: The podcast contains a small amount of language or subjects that some listeners may find objectionable.)

The Farming Game brings up nostalgic memories for many a farm kid and anyone else lucky enough to have played the game, even though they knew nothing of the hard times that inspired the game, how it saved a family, or just how widespread the game’s impact has been. But now you know…the rest of the story.