Mr Moose’s Great Escape

Moose, Jonne & Rubiks on a big adventure…

Moose, Jonne and Rubiks were the only ones left enclosed, all other reindeer were freeranging. They thought this was extremely unfair, and took the matter in their own hooves. They decided they’d have none of it, and left for an adventure..

After the Christmas holiday, we shut the centre for a couple of weeks and usually let all reindeer out to freerange. This year however, we had a different plan for 3 of our boys. Over the festive season, Moose had been struggling with a quite persistent ulcer on his eye – we had to keep an eye on him and give him eyedrops (up to 7 times daily!). Of course it would be sad to leave him enclosed on his own, as reindeer like to have company. Jonne and Rubiks had already been free ranging for a couple of weeks, and every time they were seen they seemed a little bit thinner than before. This was enough reason for us to put them in with Moose, and keep all 3 of them under our close surveillance.

During these weeks of being closed to the public, we get to do tasks we otherwise don’t have time for. One of these tasks this year was to re-fence the forest area where our paddocks reindeer stay overnight. Moose, Jonne & Rubiks were staying in different parts of the paddocks enclosure during the daytime and nighttime, but little did the herders know that the gate between their night’s stay and the forest area was open!

More well-behaved, less naughty reindeer would have stayed put nicely, but not Moose, Jonne and Rubiks.. So the next morning, when we went out to give the boys their breakfast and daily walk, we found them gone, taking themselves out for a walk! Luckily, for the first time in weeks, it had snowed a little bit overnight, so we were lucky enough to set off on a little treasure hunt, trying to find our escapee reindeer.

Looking through the Pass of Ryvoan after bringing the boys off the back of Mealle a’ Bhuachaille
Quick pause at Lochan Uaine on the way home.

Four herders set off on four different routes – asking any passerby if they had seen any reindeer. They must have thought we’d all gone bonkers. The theory we stuck to is that reindeer like to move uphill, so we did as well. And behind the paddocks is a nice hill we all love to hike/run on, so we figured the reindeer would as well. Five to ten minutes from the top I spotted the first clear hoof prints. Then Andi spotted them on the other side, near the top. Chris also found some, on yet a different route, also near the top. We all followed our own trail of hoofprints, and Andi was the first to find the cheeky boys. Chris and I soon caught up, and all 3 of us led a reindeer on a halter, all the way back to the paddocks. We came across quite a few of the hill walkers we had asked about sightings before, thankfully taking away their concerns about our sanity.

It was past midday when we got back to the centre. The boys had had a blast, and to be honest, so had we. We considered “accidentally” leaving the gate open again, but decided against it as it would appear too much of a coincidence (or stupidity) to do so again. We just accepted that we all had a lovely day, and that it was a one-off! After some more time back in the enclosure recovering Moose, Jonne & Rubiks got what they wanted in the end, and are currently freeranging in the Cromdale hills.

Manouk

After their Great Escape, and Moose only needed a few eyedrops a day rather than 7, we moved them up to the hill enclosure for some extra room and browsing.

Dynasties: Haze

We recently watched the BBC series Dynasties, narrated by David Attenborough, which looked at matriarchs in different species of animal. There are occasional females in our herd who are extremely successful mothers, and I thought it would be interesting to have a look at some of these family lines, starting with a gorgeous big female who was named Haze.

Beautiful Haze in her prime

Haze was born in 2002 and grew to be a big, solid female who had distinctive large bold antlers – not fancy but quite thick for a female. Over the course of her life she reared six calves: Santana, Gazelle, Caddis, Wiggins, Camembert and Fyrish – four females and two males. She was a relaxed mum and was quite happy to let us humans come up when she’d just calved, give her some food and check the calf over. One of first reindeer calvings I attended on my own as a new herder was when she gave birth to Camembert, and I remember her being completely at ease, putting up with my inexperienced fumblings as I handled the calf briefly to spray its navel and check it had the requisite number of legs.

Haze’s first set of antlers weren’t too impressive
Delighting in motherhood with her calf Wiggins

Haze passed on her large solid build to her offspring, most notably to Gazelle, Caddis and Fyrish, who are all quite chunky. Caddis is the stand out mother from the next generation, consistently rearing one of the largest calves each year: Mozzarella, Lairig, Viking, Christie and Sherlock. Her latest calf, Sherlock, is a real beast of a reindeer, already acting like a bull by 5 months old… Caddis also manages to pull off a huge set of antlers each year, despite the energy put into her new calf – what an incredible reindeer!

Grown up Caddis with mum Haze behind – their bond remained strong throughout their life
Proud mum Caddis with her calf Christie – Christie has enormous antlers for a calf

Gazelle has reared some lovely male calves, including Aztec and Burns, and whilst Camembert is younger and has only had one calf so far, Celt, he is one of the largest of his year group. He was a special one for me, as I found him as a newborn – the first calf I had found whose mother I had also been the first to find when they themselves were born – I felt like a proud granny…!

Gazelle with her calf Aztec – note her similar style of antlers to Haze
Camembert with her first calf Celt

Haze died in 2016 at the ripe old age of nearly 14, but her family line is continued – to date she has been grandmother to 10 youngsters, and last autumn we chose her son Fyrish as one of our main breeding bulls, so come May there is the potential for the family to become even larger.

Fyrish, potential new father this spring…

Andi

Bond’s bond, or not

In May 2018 a male calf was born in our Reindeer Enclosure. His mother Ladybird was happy and attentive. He would later be called Bond. He and his mother left the enclosure a few weeks later bound for the tops of the hills and away from the heat of the coming summer.

Bond as a calf

The pair was seen together a few times in the summer. Bond was progressing fine and enjoying being a calf in the Cairngorms.

Free-ranging Bond

In the autumn, as always the reindeer came down from the tops of mountains to the lower pastures. I was out looking for them one morning and spotted a large group up on the ski road. I led them down towards the Allt Mor and over Utsi’s Bridge keeping them interested all along with a bag of treats. This time of year we are always keen to see how the calves have got on so I was checking the group for any calves. I spied just one in this group, very small and without any antlers. Usually a calf will have grown a small set of antlers in their first summer. While I walk I try and identify the calf’s mother, but it’s not obvious which female is his mother! He darts around the whole group and gets bunted away by several females. Where is his mother? By a process of elimination we identify him as Bond and indeed his mother Ladybird in missing. It is very rare for a four month old calf to be without its mother. He was very small for his age but he was in perfect health. We thought he must have been without his mother’s milk for some time. Reindeer calves are extremely hardy and are capable of grazing as soon as a few weeks after birth.
Weeks passed and we began to fear the worst about the whereabouts of Ladybird. Until one morning I was out again and spied a group and was relieved to see Ladybird amongst them. I had images like in the movies of long lost relatives reunited but it was not to be. There was no embrace, no high fives. They were often in the same group but would not stick tightly together like other cows and calves. Bond had ‘roughed it’ on his own and that was how it was going to stay. Ladybird’s milk had dried out so their bond was broken.

Bond back in the enclosure in September

Bond is still smaller than the other calves but makes up for it in gusto. He is often one for the first to kick at the bag of feed, but does so gently. I think to make it on your own you must be stoic and gentle if at times a little pushy.

Bond in December

We think around August Bond and Ladybird must have become separated. Dogs can sometimes chase our reindeer and can force a group to split. We are looking forward to watching Bond’s progress and Ladybird is doing fine also.
Dave

Christmas and New year!

I suspect it’s definitely my turn to write a blog and Chris has been very polite and not pestering me but it’s definitely in the back of my mind so I’ll give you a wee sum up of Christmas.

Christmas team 2018… or at least most of it, including dogs.

As always Christmas went very smoothly in 2018. We covered the length and breadth of the country with our furthest north event in Lairg and our furthest south event in Truro. On our busiest weekends we had eight teams out all consisting of 4-6 reindeer and 2 herders. No weekend for me was the same, I had different reindeer, different team mates and I found myself in as far south as Essex and as far north as Tain and Dingwall. I also flew home (not by reindeer and sleigh!) from the depths of the south at one point as Leonie (fellow reindeer herder) swapped places with me. My first weekend away was with Joe and Sheena. They were in training, learning the ropes for the rest of the season. We had an absolute ball and it was nice for them to experience another part of the Reindeer Company having worked up here in the highlands for so long with the reindeer. The three of us all had hoarse voices when we got home from all the singing in the cab of the lorry. The following week was my long drive south, in what felt like the slowest lorry. Olly joined me as far as the Lakes then Eve jumped in there and we headed to the far south covering events south of London over the Saturday and Sunday. We stayed with friends of ours who have a deer farm down there and had some lovely mornings exercising the reindeer and doing a spot of extra training with the team. Leonie then flew south, joined Eve and that team of reindeer while I flew back north. Spending too much time down south isn’t really my cup of tea anymore; it’s nice to be back on home soil! The following weekend I was with real old timer Colin Delap. When I was a kid Colin lived and worked here so is like a brother to me. Having lived in Australia for over ten years he is now back in Scotland and dots in and out helping us out at busy times of year… i.e. Christmas! We did some more local Scottish events that weekend which was nice. I have to say (with some exceptions of course) the Scottish events are much more hospitable than the events down south. There is always tea/coffee and food on tap… Hint Hint! 😉

Oryx relaxing in Peterhead
Cake given to us at our event in Essex by one of our lovely adopters… Thanks Michelle!

The next weekend was completely different to the usual. With Bobby my buddy from the Everest marathon around for a couple of months, Tom (another Everest marathon friend) came to visit us. Tom could only come over on the weekend which meant if he wanted to spend time with us he had to work! He took it all on board and between him and Mo (the reindeer) they had these events down to a T! As a bit of back up, Ruth (ex-herder) joined us for the events as an extra pair of hands as she lived fairly local to them so the four of us had a great time. The following weekend I headed off with Kate who was also taking part in Christmas for her first year. She had already been out with other herders so knew the drill by this point. We had world famous fish and chips in Anstruther, hung out with the posh students of St Andrews and did the longest parade through Linwood. By this point it was getting quite close to Christmas. My next weekend was away with Bobby. But this time there was no Ruth or Tom to help out so instead I took a ‘bomb proof’ reindeer team. In fact Bobby had done the least amount of events out of the whole team, however he took it all in his stride. We joked as we were getting close to our event that the parade will probably all be uphill and he’d have to push the sleigh the whole way… Well we shouldn’t have joked because it was about 1 mile of uphill. Poor Bobby had a quick lesson on pushing the sleigh while I walked merrily at the front leading the two reindeer ‘pulling’ the sleigh and the reindeer at the back plodded along. Ach, Bobby does marathons all over the world, it’ll just go towards his training 😉

Fiona, Tom and Bobby heading off on their first events
Ruth joining the team to make sure we were doing all the right things
Catching up on sleep!

The final days running up to Christmas I dotted back and forth from the farm, doing local events at schools, nurseries and hotels… basically trying to avoid Christmas Fun at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. These guys have got it all under control and having organised the events side of Christmas I didn’t need to be involved with Christmas fun as well. I’m clueless when it came to Christmas fun so I was better off keeping out of their hair. Chris finished off Christmas with me doing Christmas Eve and Christmas day round the final events. We also had youngest herders Oscar and Tilly (Colin Delap’s children) join us on Christmas day. They were leading reindeer and sitting in the sleigh, making sure we were all doing the right jobs of course. It reminds me a lot of when I was a child because myself and Alex would have to join mum and dad on Christmas day going round the local hotels before heading home to celebrate Christmas itself. I wouldn’t know Christmas any other way and wouldn’t have it any other way so delighted to see Oscar and Tilly also getting involved because it is such a great way of life working with the reindeer.

Fiona

Mini Tilly and Oscar on Christmas day. Start em young!

Coming Home

As the Reindeer Centre was shut to the public in January Manouk and I were able to take a couple of weeks off to head off skiing in Austria. We had a great time and Manouk patiently taught me to ski so it was a great success. Any time we head away we are always happy to be home as we live in such a fantastic place and love being around the reindeer everyday. We returned home to find winter had finally arrived properly. Loch Morlich was frozen, snow everywhere and the temperature regularly dropping to minus 10 overnight for almost a week. It’s good to be home and we had a stunning first couple of days back here in the Cairngorms so here are a few of my favourite photos. It just so happened that Fiona had also been away skiing for a couple of weeks  at the same time, slightly further away from home than us, so we all had a big reunion on a sunny snowy day feeding reindeer together, lovely!

Austrian Ski selfie. Always wearing our red jackets ready to lead a hill trip at short notice!
Frozen Loch Morlich, what a sight to arrive home to!
Manouk captured me leading the girls from high up on Windy Ridge down to meet her and Fiona where we would feed them. Ibex and Clouseau leading the way.
Chelsea and Pavlova, amongst others, up on a snoy and sunny WIndy Ridge.
Fi was delighted to see DIxie as always after a couple of weeks away herself.
Manouk counting all our girls, thankfully we didn’t forget any names after two weeks sithout seeing any reindeer!

Chris