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Reindeer Bring Customers To Illinois Farm
Reindeer really do fly, says Julie Hardy, after transporting a dozen Alaskan reindeer to Illinois in a Boeing 747.
  She and her husband, Mark, say the reindeer have created a lot of excitement at their Rantoul, Ill., farm which also features a traditional 10-acre corn maze, a pumpkin cannon ,and a Wild West Saloon that serves up chuck wagon dinners.
  “Our advice to anyone trying this is don’t copy the neighbors. Be more unique than anybody in the area,” Julie Hardy says. “Our buildings are restored 100-year-old barns; nothing is cookie cutter.”
  The Hardys developed their business over 19 years, investing and adding activities and developing markets.
  They started with a couple of regionally purchased reindeer before traveling to Alaska and purchasing a dozen reindeer (domesticated caribou). The animals were loaded into individual crates and forklifted into the cargo section of the 747 airplane. Thirteen hours later they arrived in Illinois.
  “They are obnoxiously friendly and will kiss you for a cookie,” Hardy says.
  The reindeer attracted local and national media attention and drew visitors from Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis. The Hardys don’t charge admission to their farm, but charge fees for specific activities such as the maze, hayrides, reindeer tours, paintball gallery and pedal race carts.
  Group packages are also popular, Hardy says. One example - the “Little Buckaroo” - includes a reindeer tour, hayride, cookies and juice and a pumpkin for $8/each for young children. Large groups get reduced rates.
  “We marketed outside our area to become a destination,” Hardy says. She connected with tour people to set up bus tours.
  “We made the banquet hall a Wild West saloon. Tour people want a unique experience so we came up with a chuck wagon dinner - something you don’t find in the Midwest,” she explains. She hires local entertainers to add to the Wild West theme, and costumes are available for guests.
  Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch is seasonal, from August-December, but also offers group bookings by reservation year round.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Mark and Julie Hardy, Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch, 1356 Co. Rd. 2900 N., Rantoul, Ill. 61866 (ph 217 893-3407; www.reindeerranch.com).

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2015 - Volume #39, Issue #4