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Santa’s helpers

SHABBONA – You don’t have to go as far as the North Pole to see reindeer this Christmas. Whispering Pines Reindeer Ranch and Tree Farm will bring the reindeer to you.

The tree farm, located on 80 acres at 2792 Shabbona Grove Road in Shabbona, has six reindeer: Holly, Eve, Buddy, Kringle, Jack Frost and Ruby.

Whispering Pines is a new venture for owners Randy and Beth Espe. They began the business in 2017 by planting 1,800 trees. They planted 2,000 more in 2018 and 2,200 in 2019. The first of the eight varieties of trees will be mature enough for patrons to cut in three years.

The idea for a tree farm began after the Espes planted 9,000 trees and shrubs as a border around their property. They planted a forest in their backyard and put in two lakes. Before the holidays each year, family and friends would visit their farm to cut down their own tree for Christmas.

“It was a great holiday tradition, where we’d invite the neighbors and all our family, and they’d go into the forest on a hayrack ride and I had chili cooking in the kitchen,” Beth Espe said. “But then the trees got to be too big. So we thought of starting a tree farm, so we could bring that tradition and fun to others.”

“I’ve been a seed salesman and farmed my whole life,” Randy Espe said. “I have three daughters and three sons-in-law. I said, ‘If I start it, you have to help.’ Everyone loved the idea, so we planted the first trees in 2017.”

It was only after doing research online about tree farms that Randy Espe had the idea for including reindeer.

“I read that after another tree farm added reindeer, their business really took off,” he said. “So we decided to get reindeer as an attraction for people to see while they come and get their Christmas trees.”

The Espes purchased their first reindeer in October 2018. The reindeer flew in from Fairbanks, Alaska, via Federal Express to Indianapolis.

“Normally only Santa’s reindeer fly, and only on Christmas Eve,” Randy Espe said.

Since purchasing the reindeer, the Espes have come to learn a lot about the animals, which are a species of deer and also are called caribou. Reindeer are native to the Arctic tundra and boreal forests of Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska and Canada.

“They have four stomachs like cows, size-wise they’re like big sheep or goats and they’re more like dogs than deer,” Randy Espe said. “They’re like every other animal, but unlike anything else. They all have their own personalities. … They don’t really make noise, but they do snort and grunt a little.”

For example, Eve is more timid, and Holly loves to pose for photos. The male reindeer like to rear up, jump and strut, and all of the reindeer love to play in the snow. Fences usually contain reindeer and are used to keep predators out, but Jack Frost once jumped over a 5-foot fence.

In the future, the Espes plan to train two of the reindeer to pull a sleigh to take visitors back to the farm’s 40 acres of forest and lakes. They also hope to take the reindeer to schools for educational visits with children.

While the trees grow on their farm, the Espes take the reindeer to holiday events in the region, from the northern suburbs to Rochelle and LaSalle-Peru. A visit from the reindeer can be booked online at www.whisperingpinesreindeerranch.com or by emailing whisperingpinesreindeer@gmail.com.

Next year, Whispering Pines Reindeer Ranch and Tree Farm will be open the Friday after Thanksgiving and every weekend until Christmas until pre-cut trees are sold out. Visits with Santa and hot chocolate and cookies will be added to the activities offered. In three years, visitors can cut their own trees from the farm’s forest.

“Right now, I’m known as ‘The Reindeer Lady,’ and I think it’s a lot of fun,” Beth Espe said. “I’m always surprised at the number of people, grown adults, that don’t believe reindeer are real, that they’re like unicorns or mermaids.”

Joe and Aleesa Gunderson of Sycamore stopped at Whispering Pines to purchase a pre-cut tree, visit with the reindeer and start a new family tradition. Their two sons, Bennett, 2, and Brody, 1, were excited to pet the reindeer.

“We’ve been reading about Santa and reindeer, and I think it’s special to see reindeer live,” Aleesa Gunderson said. “Having a fresh tree is a tradition in both of our families. Visiting the farm and seeing the reindeer really put us in the Christmas spirit.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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