Exciting times ahead!

Mid April here has a definite ‘calm before the storm’ feeling. The area has quietened down as the school holidays have finished and all is peaceful on the reindeer front…but it won’t be for long. At the start of May, all hell will break loose.

A growing belly!

Calving is nearly upon us. Although we know exactly which females ran with bulls during the rut last autumn and should therefore be pregnant now, it’s not easy to tell with a reindeer, and it’s really only into April that bellies start looking that little bit more than just well padded. Scanning them like farmers do with sheep is obviously completely impractical, so all we do is to keep an eye on the possible candidates and watch for rapidly expanding tummies. Literally within a couple of weeks reindeer can go from looking exactly the same as their non-pregnant chums, to looking absolutely enormous! As I write, in mid-April, we’re in the middle of that stage, and every day someone will remark on a particular reindeer’s sudden portliness. The weather has finally warmed up too, and with the reindeer still having their full thick winter coats as well as extra weight to lug about, they are looking like they are starting to find it all a bit of an effort, and there’s lots of huffing and puffing when the herd move from place to place.

A couple of hot and bothered pregnant female reindeer

By the time you read this, we’ll have moved the herd across to our hill enclosure, and will be doing a bit of sorting out. Non-pregnant females will go back out onto the free-range to spend their summer there looking after themselves, while male yearlings will be split from their mums and be moved across to join the other male reindeer at our farm, near Glenlivet. Pregnant females will stay in the hill enclosure until they’ve calved, and then will head out to the hills to join the other females, leaving us to bring male reindeer across to the enclosure from the farm, to duly entertain all the visitors through the busy summer months.

The biggest pregnant belly I’ve ever seen! This is old lass Chime, back in 2010
‘A small hairy udder! Seen here on Emmental, with her now two year old Olmec beside her’

Once bellies give away obviously pregnant reindeer, then the next clue is an udder starting to form. Reindeer don’t have huge udders like cows do, as no arctic animal wants a frost-bitten udder, but instead have much smaller, fur-covered udders and produce smaller volumes of  milk, but much richer in fat than that from a cow.

Any sign of udders yet?

As many of you probably know, all the staff here take part in a calving bet to pick who they think will calve first. Winning doesn’t really matter; it’s not being last that is most important, as a cold swim in the loch awaits the unfortunate loser (as told by myself and Abby on a previous blog:  The Calving Bet. So from now on until the start of May, there will be a lot of inspecting bellies and peering between back legs to be done…



N.B. Details of which reindeer are pregnant will be kept under wraps by us until our June newsletter for our adopters has been published – so don’t ask us whether so-and-so is due to calve this year! If you recognise a reindeer in the photos above, keep it to yourself…

Featured Reindeer: Balmoral

Balmoral: Born 16th May 2012

Mother: Fly

Father: Strudel.


For the calves born in 2012 the theme was just ‘2012’ because so much happened that year. It was he Queen’s Jubilee year our 60th anniversary and also the London Olympics. So we had great fun coming up with diverse names to suit the theme and as one of the biggest calves of the year Balmoral was aptly named.


Fly and Balmoral

He was, however, a mistake! During the rut of 2011, when Balmoral was conceived, we attempted to restrict the number of cows breeding by leaving them out on the free-range without a bull. That all seemed fine until a young bull, Strudel, went missing in the hill enclosure and turned up a few weeks later on the free range having found ‘heaven’, i.e. lots of reindeer females – even more than your average breeding bull would manage in a season.

Fly was one of those cows left out but ended up in calf to Strudel. But we’re not complaining because there are now some great reindeer in the herd now as a result from that rutting season in 2011.

Naughty/lucky Strudel

During the 35 plus years I have been with the reindeer there have been some iconic bull reindeer who have stood out amongst the rest of the herd. In the early 1980s it had been Troll: great name (from the children’s story Billy Goat’s Gruff – and yes there was a Trip and a Trap too) and an equally great reindeer. His son Gustav, a real gentleman among reindeer, took over from him in the late 80s and early 90s. Then we brought in a young bull from Whipsnade Zoo for new blood and that was Crackle, who featured in many photos, leaflets and articles about the herd. Indeed he was the reindeer on the front cover of the first book I wrote about reindeer, Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses’.

In 2003, a bull calf named Crann was born and by two years old he showed all the signs of being something special. As a mature breeding bull he grew huge antlers year after year, probably the biggest antlers that have ever been seen in the Cairngorm herd and right up until his last year he continued to grow amazing antlers for his age.


By 2015, Balmoral was the most promising young bull in the herd, growing huge antlers as a three year old. As a result, we decided to give him a shot as a breeding bull, allowing him to father some calves, rather than being castrated as most of the other three year old males are. In 2016 he looked incredible with even bigger antlers, and ended up being the main breeding bull that autumn, with many of the calves born last spring fathered by him. He’s well and truly spread his genes about! His son Burns, born May 2017, who is big, bold and boisterous may well follow in his footsteps and become a breeding bull in his own right in a couple of years.




The Northern Corries

As it’s my turn to write a blog, I thought I would do something a little different. Here at the Reindeer Centre in Glenmore, every time I look towards the hillside and enclosure, my eyes are always drawn to the daunting shape which stands boldly behind it. These are the Northern Corries of Cairn Gorm. On a clear day in the Glen, whether you’re here to see reindeer, walk, ski or simply escape into the space of this beautiful place, the horizon of towering cliffs and steep slopes might just fill you with awe as it does for myself. It’s for that reason that I’d like to tell people a little bit about what lies on the reindeer’s doorstep and where they have the opportunity to go now the time has come for them to explore the free range.

The Northern Corries from Loch Morlich

The Northern Corries are what make up the North West side of Cairn Gorm, Britain’s 6th highest mountain at 1245m high. There are 3 corries in total that sit side by side to one and other, each having it’s own individual character. A coire (corrie) or cirque is an amphitheatre like, bowl shaped valley formed by glacial erosion. The head of a coire is usually very steep with cliffs and rock faces. Below these, a steady downhill slope carved by the glacier that would have once existed.

Reindeer in the Northern Corries

As one of the most iconic spots in the whole of the Cairngorms National Park they are also popular with people, in particularly Coire Cas. This is the most eastern of the 3 corries where the ski centre and funicular railway is. It’s over 50 years since the first chairlift opened to skiers and it’s grown in popularity ever since. Our reindeer have been known to wander here every now and again but during the winter months they tend to keep their distance from the busy ski slopes. However, they have often been seen licking salt off the road to the main carpark! Interestingly, other animals such as mountain hare and the ptarmigan also use the busy slopes as protection from predators such as the Golden Eagle and Ravens who, like our Reindeer usually keep away the busier areas.


The central coire of Coire an t-Sneachda is the most dramatic. Here the cliffs can be up to 200m high and below them, a huge boulder field with rocks the size of cars that have been crumbling away from the cliffs high above for thousands of years. During the winter, climbers and mountaineers can flock into the coire if the conditions are good as it is one of the most reliable places for this style of climbing anywhere in the UK. For our reindeer, I could imagine there is actually a lot of food for them in the coire with lots of boggy areas where lichen would thrive but over the years. Unfortunately for them, Sneachda has also got busier and busier with people and it’s become a place where the reindeer spend less time other than the odd spot of grazing.


Reindeer grazing in Coire an t-Sneachda

The final and most westerly coire is Coire an Lochain. This is another steep sided coire where more giant cliffs lie at the back. It is also home to the highest loch or lochain in Scotland at around 920m. What makes this coire special is that it’s thought to have had the UK’s last glacier as little as a few hundred years ago. Remnants of this are still visible all around the coire, but the most obvious sign of past glacial activity is the Great Slab, a glacial moraine of rock that sits proudly just under the upper cliffs.

The Great Slab in Coire an Lochain


Climbers and walkers do regularly venture into Coire an Lochain but not in the numbers that the other two coire get. Being a little quieter, this is the most popular of the coires for the reindeer. Similarly to Coire an Sneachda, the coire is much wetter than the plateau with many small burns and boggy areas, meaning there is more lichen and other foods for them. The females and calves have been found there a few times recently. On the whole though, the reindeer don’t spend huge amounts of time here and usually pass through to higher, more remote places in the summer months.


Dave with the reindeer in Coire an Lochain

If you are planning on exploring the Northern Corries in the coming year summer or winter, keep an eye out for some of the herd. You may be lucky to bump into some of them in one of Britain’s true mountain areas.


Ochil (left) and Sambar (right)




Featured Reindeer: Fly

Fly: Born May 2007
Mother: Fiddle

Calves: Custard 2009, Dragonfly 2010, Domino 2011, Balmoral 2012, Anster 2013, Hudson 2014, Aonach 2015

Fly as a calf, with her mother FIddle during the winter of 2007/08

I was inspired to write about Fly as the featured reindeer for this blog as I followed her back from the far end of the hill enclosure with her new-born male calf back in May 2014. Fly’s name has a tenuous connection to the 2007 theme of the colour green: the gardener’s worst nightmare, greenfly. We shortened her name to Fly.

Fly: Autumn 2017

As I followed her through the wooded slopes of Silver Mount Fly led me a tortuous route up and down the hill through deep heather and thick woodland. I’m not sure who she was testing, me or her calf. Her calf was amazing, struggling through the jungle of rank heather, scaling rough boulders and trying to keep up with his mum as she strode up the hill. I had to keep my wits about me as on a couple of occasions she appeared to completely vanish. Fly by name, fly by nature.

Fly and Hudson, a while after giving Tilly the runaround

There are only a few breeding females in our herd that get the gold star for breeding success and Fly is up there with the best of them. She calved first as a two year old, a strapping female calf who we called Custard (can you guess the link?!). Custard calved for the first time in 2012 then in 2013 she had a beautiful female calf, Cream (clever with linking names eh), so Fly at the age of only five years old became a granny. In the world of reindeer grannies can go on to be mothers too for many years and since having custard Fly has gone on to produce six strapping males: Dragonfly, Domino, Balmoral, Anster, Hudson and Aonach.

Fly with all of her wonderful sons and daughters

Fly is coming up 11 now and having missed out on the rut last year she shouldn’t be calving this year. However, as she’s still one of the biggest and strongest females in the herd it’s possible she may well run in the rut with a male again this autumn if she stays in good health. Fly has maintained a remarkable record of being the first female to come to call every time Fiona has been out to bring in the free-rangers these last couple of months. She is never far from the front of the group when the other herders call the reindeer down but she is always first when Fiona calls!


Fly having a well earned rest in the snow
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