As a little winter treat to remind us of the better weather we had in the summer, we now have a series of blogs from volunteer and adopter Emm Cassidy who came to visit us in August. This is the first of three installments. We hope you enjoy!
My name is Emm Cassidy and I was a volunteer reindeer herder for 6 days at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. It was such an amazing experience and meant so much to me and I really enjoyed it.
I have known The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre for 9 years now since my family stayed at Wild Farm Cottage in Glenlivet in August 2007 which is owned by Tilly Smith. I was in my element meeting all the reindeer, feeding them and stroking them. I fell in love with a yearling called Dylan who then I went on to adopt for 6 years until he died suddenly of an undetected heart problem in September 2013.
We came to the 60th Reindeer Anniversary Adopters Weekend in October 2012 and I had sat with Dylan fussing him in Tilly’s back garden at her farm and he was talking to me by grunting at me! It was such a brilliant, special and magical time.
I now adopt Mo who is 4. I met Mo last year on my summer reindeer trek and fell in love with him too. The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is so special to me so when I found out I could volunteer there, I was so excited!
Working as a reindeer herder was extra special to me as I felt I fitted in perfectly with the reindeer and herders. When I first entered Reindeer House, I felt like I had been there for years and felt I was part of the family. I could just be myself and everyone is so friendly, special and understanding! I even made jokes which I normally don’t do! I have Aspergers Syndrome (a form of Autism) and Anxiety so being a reindeer herder was a very massive thing to me but being part of the team, I felt I hadn’t got any challenges and that I felt normal!
I couldn’t believe how quick the days went! I was really sad when it was all over. I have gained so much from being a reindeer herder and I wish we live closer to the reindeer herd and reindeer herders.
Went into Reindeer House and it was really brilliant seeing everyone and the dogs again. I met Andy who is originally from Kansas and Paddy (Abby’s boyfriend) and properly met Julia (who I had only seen from a distance last year). I helped Fiona fill up the reindeer feed sack with reindeer feed which is the reindeers’ breakfast then with Fiona, Abby and the 3 dogs called Sukie, Tiree and Murdo went to the ski carpark in the reindeer van to find any free ranging reindeer near the road. Sukie had jumped from the boot to me in the back and snuggled up to me and enjoyed lots of fuss and attention. She had remembered me from last year when me and my brother David had thrown sticks for her outside the reindeer centre. When we had got to the ski carpark, Sukie immediately sat up and looked intently out of the window looking at the mountains with her ears up and very alert. Then we then went to check the reindeer herd in the hill enclosure. The reindeer were in the East Enclosure and followed us up the board walk. The midges were very bad up the hill that morning and they were swarming around us. Abby and Fiona fed the reindeer and then I was able to feed the last bit to them. We counted them very quickly to make sure that all the reindeer are there and ok or identify who is missing.
I spotted Mo and went to say hello and I was very excited to see him. Abby and Fiona identified some yearlings (reindeer who were born last year) who had been brought over from The Cromdale Hills the day before and they hadn’t seen them for ages. They were really pleased to see them again and were trying to recognise them and guess who they were as they had changed quite a lot since they had last seen them. They had got much bigger, had antlers and got their summer coat on.
Back at Reindeer House Imogen was hoovering up. Murdo started to play with the hoover by trying to get it which annoyed Imogen who sent Murdo to bed.
Julia showed me how to poo pick the paddocks which we both did together. The 4 reindeer in their sleeping enclosure in the woods were coming near the fence knowing it was nearly their breakfast time. We then let the reindeer into the paddocks and they headed straight for their breakfast. Julia introduced me to the reindeer who were Beastie, Ost, Aonach and Nutti. We then had to get out of the paddocks as it was time to open it to the public.
I was so excited to go in the reindeer office where lots of information is up around the room about each individual reindeer and which ones are in the hill enclosure. I had a herd list so every time I went up there, I could make notes on every individual reindeer till I got to know them all individually. They store all their paperwork and adopters folders in the office too with individual reindeer photos which is organised alphabetically and this is where the herders organise their Christmas events, do the adopters packs, answer emails, keep up to date with the social media pages and organization of the reindeer centre. I was amazed.
Later I went on the 11am hill trip with Imogen. I was a bit nervous of the people at first but then slowly got more confident with them. I carried the hand feed up in the rucksack and went at the back to make sure nobody got lost or went the wrong way as the line can be sometimes broken up as going up a steep hill. I started to get to know each individual reindeer and making notes on them on my herd list. Noted their antlers shape and size, any markings, the coat colour, something that made them stand out, their personality etc.
We all had lunch at the big long table at Reindeer House and it was lovely as everybody talked to each other and asked how their day was going and what they had been up to. Everyone was interested in each other. There wasn’t any sugar for my tea so Fiona said that you can also put a teaspoon of honey into tea to make it sweeter and it was very nice. I was also very interested of the defrosting milk on the draining board. It turned out they freeze the milk as it is used up so quickly as there is lots of people in the house so they don’t have to keep going to the shop every day to get more milk.
We filled the reindeer feed sacks and the reindeer hand feed bags for the hill trips. We put 2 scoops of reindeer hand feed in each bag. On the 2.30 trip Julia the herder was telling the people about the characters of the herd and health and safety when hand feeding, I loved the feeling when they tried to nibble on your clothes or bag and how they got close to me when I had the feed bag. Some reindeer followed you as they knew what you have got in the bag and knew what was coming out of the bag.
Nearer the end of the hill trip, we found all the reindeer just chilling and lying down at the bottom of the east enclosure by the gate. They were so laid back and it was really brilliant and special to sit and relax with them. Julia put out most of the reindeer feed and she let me give out the last bit which was brilliant.
When everyone had gone, me and Julia was really surprised that it was 4:45pm. It was a very lovely sunny day and people had just loved being with the reindeer and loved finding out about them.