**Santa Spoiler Alert!**
“The Broes have been dairy farmers since the beginning of time,” says Pauline Broe. It is only more recently that the Vermont family has branched out to add reindeer farming, which makes this a very busy time of year traveling around the region with their reindeer.
The best part, Pauline says, is seeing people’s faces when they realize that reindeer are real. To youngsters, she explains, “These are Santa’s reindeer. It’s our job to take care of the reindeer for Santa. We call ourselves the reindeer-keepers.” The reindeer operation would not exist, though, Pauline says, without the dairy farm.
Pauline’s husband, John Sr., was born right on the family farm in West Charleston, Vermont and worked for a large neighboring dairy operation for years. Their son, John Jr., grew up wanting to be a farmer, his mother says. “His first visit to the Old Broe Farm was when he was 3 days old. As a little kid, he lived in the barn with me where I worked raising calves,” Pauline recalls. “That’s all he ever wanted to do.” Of her three sons, two are farmers. “It’s basically just in their blood,” Pauline says.
John Jr. went to college for dairy farm management and then started buying and raising heifers until he had a small milking herd. “That kid’s worked his tail off,” his mom says. “We’re pretty proud of him.” John Jr. and his wife, Deanna, are in the process of buying a dairy farm in Barton from the Chamberlins, 2017 Agriculture Hall of Fame inductees and one of the original 94 farmer-member co-op families. John Jr. milks around 63 cows of a variety of breeds and cross-breeds—Brown Swiss, Swedish Red, Holstein and Jerseys—leading to the name Endless Variety Farm. “He’s so proud of the amount of milk and the high butterfat his animals produce,” says Deanna. “He takes such good care of the animals. It motivates him every day.”
As their two sons, Connor and Tucker, have grown, they do chores and help with summer cropping, but when John Jr. got up and running over a decade ago, his dad left his job at the large dairy operation to help out on Endless Variety Farm.
That led to Pauline and John Sr.’s foray into reindeer farming as a way to bring in a little more income. To add to their menagerie, which already included a rescue pony and potbellied pigs, “I got this wild idea about reindeer,” Pauline recounts. “I thought it would be a cool little niche. We got some land. We got a barn. What the heck?”
Research involved going to a reindeer and Santa convention in Tennessee and tracking down healthy reindeer to purchase in Indiana. Reindeer have the same digestive system as cows, Pauline explains, and her husband had helped take care of a local elk herd, so it wasn’t completely a foreign concept. The local veterinarian doesn’t have a lot of reindeer experience, she notes; they rely on valuable networking with a small but tight community of other reindeer owners around the U.S.
Being the only reindeer in Vermont, demand is high for appearances throughout the winter season for both Christmas-related events and also educational programs. Among the information the Broes share is that reindeer are a distinct subspecies of caribou and that both males and females have antlers, which they lose and regrow on an annual cycle. Pauline says the reindeer like to go for walks in the woods, browsing for dandelion greens, raspberry and maple leaves. Her son provides the soft hay they like to eat.
During the more relaxed summer and fall, Vermont Reindeer Farm has Open Farm Sundays where visitors can see the reindeer as well as mini donkeys, potbellied pigs and a few Endless Variety heifers. They also host a fall festival and open the farm for snowshoeing in January.
For the Broes, the rewards of the reindeer and farming are many. Pauline works at the local elementary school where she sees the magical power that animals, including reindeer, can have on children. “If they’re having a bad day,” she says. “I can turn a kid around by showing them photos of our animals.”
Learn more about Vermont Reindeer Farm and their event schedule on Facebook
Broe Family Christmas Pumpkin Rolls
Makes about 20-30 small dinner rolls depending on shape
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons Cabot butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 and one-quarter teaspoons (1 packet) dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
1 cup mashed pumpkin
4 ½ to 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
Heat milk, butter, sugar and salt in a small pan set over medium heat until butter is melted. Cool to lukewarm. Meanwhile, dissolve yeast in warm water in a large mixing bowl. Add lukewarm milk mixture and pumpkin along with 2 cups of flour to the yeast and mix until smooth. Add remaining flour and mix with your hands until you can handle it. (It might be a little sticky still.) Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
Place dough in a greased bowl, turn dough, cover with a clean cloth and let rise in a warm place until about doubled, 1 ½ hours or so. (Dough is ready if a fingerprint remains when touched.) Punch dough down and divide into three balls. Roll each out until about ½-inch thick and cut into desired shapes. (The Broes cut triangles and roll them into crescents; you can also use a biscuit cutter and fold each round in half over a pat of butter.) Arrange rolls a couple inches apart on greased baking sheets. Cover each with a towel and let rise for another 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake rolls for about 15-20 minutes until golden, switching pans from top to bottom shelves and turning them front to back halfway through. Serve warm with lots of Cabot butter.
Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming, and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).