Myths, Legends, and good old stories

In this blog, I will be exploring the way Reindeer and other Deer species are represented within myths, legends and general stories over a variety of cultures. From old folklore to modern day films and books, Deer have been used as symbolism for magic, and an insight into the natural world.
2000 years ago, the Sami people inhabited large parts of the arctic circle. The oldest recorded document regarding the Sami people dates back to 98AD by the Roman Historian Tacitus. The Sami have a close connection with nature and the animals that live and survive around them.
Sami folklore states that the white reindeer was the most magical reindeer of all the reindeer. It was believed that if a human was to catch a white reindeer it would bring them luck, riches and eternal happiness.

Harry, Bajaan, Minto

In some other cultures they have a beautiful belief of how they believe that in the beginning there was only the sun and the earth, and the white reindeer created the wold. The Veins became rivers, its fur became the forest, and its antlers became the mountains. Either way it seems that people who work alongside reindeer have a deep connection and understanding about nature and its natural balance.

Blondie

What makes a reindeer white- Leucism is a mutation in the genetics of reindeer. This makes the particular reindeer pure white, however the mutation can also cause them to be deaf too. Reindeer rely on hearing to communicate through involuntary clicking from a tendon snapping against the bone as they walk. If a predator is close by the clicking would be loud and in quick succession, signalling that the herd was running. A deaf reindeer wouldn’t be able to hear this, therefore, not so many white reindeer exist in the wild.

Mozzarella

In the Cairngorms we have two pure white Scottish females Mozzarella and Blondie, and one white Swedish male, Matto (although not Leucistic), he was chosen for us, so we would have a white reindeer in our herd. Matto was brought over from Sweden to potentially be a breeding bull, however there were sadly more handsome specimens available, and Matto was a bit on the small side. However, with no large bodied predators in Scotland, such as wolves and lynx, allows the white reindeer to survive, and pass on the lucky trait of being pure white! Or we are just a really lucky herd with huge amounts of eternal happiness.

Matto

Deer in general have strong places in the mythology across the world. In Celtic folklore, has several stories involving deer as spiritual figures. In some Scottish and Irish tales Deer are seen as “Fairy Cattle,” and are herded by otherworldly women, who can shapeshift into the form of a red or a white deer.
Furthermore, in many other culture’s deer are heavily featured in songs and poems, such as the beginning proportion of the poem Beowulf, and in the Poetic Edda poem Gimnismal The Four Stags of Yggdrasil, who are four stags who eat among the “Yggdrasil” (the world tree). A theory to these four stags is that they represent the four seasons, and the “World Tree” This poem also relates to mythical stag “Eikbyrnir” who lives on top of Valhalla.
Deer have also got links with Greek Mythology. The Third Labour of Heracles; Eurystheus and Hera were angered that Heracles had beaten the beasts in the first two labours, so gave him the task of capturing the female Cerynein Hind, a hind that could grow antlers, and outrun a flying arrow.
There are different versions of the story, one where Hercules captures the deer by waiting for her to fall asleep; another version says that Artemis intercepts Hercules trying to capture her sacred animal and tells him to relay the message to Hera and Eurystheus and the labour would be considered complete.
The hind was the sacred animal of Artemis, the goddess of hunting and the wilderness. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and one of the twelve Olympians.

Olympic as a calf

Reindeer pee- now this isn’t myth or legend, just a good (and true) story. Reindeer, particularly young males, occasionally enjoy eating a variety of mushrooms. Some of these mushrooms are highly poisonous to humans, however, because reindeer are ruminants, they are able to digest and deal with the poisons within the mushrooms. These mushrooms, however, can have some side effects. They can get high off the mushrooms; this happens in the cairngorm reindeer herd too, our boys go ‘shrooming’.
In some Scandinavian countries, they use this talent of digesting poisonous mushrooms to their advantage and drink the urine of the reindeer. Due to the poisons in the mushrooms being broken down, it just leaves trace elements from the fungi. These can have psychedelic effects if ingested.
Rudolph the red nose reindeer- The shiny nosed reindeer was first introduced by Robert L. May in 1939, in order to save money for annual Christmas promotions in the department store chain, Montgomery Ward. In its first year over 2 million copies were sold. May tried and tested different versions of the story on his young daughter. “Rudolph the red nose reindeer” was first printed on a large scale in 1947, and due to its success, a short cartoon was shown in theatres the following year. From the increasing success since 1939, Rudolph is probably the most famous reindeer of all.
Annabelle’s wish is a Christmas film about a cow who wants to become a reindeer. Is still my favourite Christmas film of all time! Annabelle and the rest of the farm animals are able to talk for one whole day, due to Santa’s magical powers. Annabelle is amazed by the reindeer who pull his sleigh and decides that next year she’ll ask Santa to make her a reindeer too. She is given as a gift to a little boy who cannot speak. She becomes really close friends with the boy and when the following Christmas comes decides to ask for another wish- so Billy can speak again. However, in doing this Annabelle is never given the power to talk again. She grows old and stays with Billy until he’s an adult with his own family. In the end Santa grants Annabelle her original wish and she becomes a reindeer, and part of Santa’s sleigh team.
Bambi- Was released in 1942 produced by Walt Disney and based on the book Bambi, a Life in the Woods by Austrian author Felix Salten. Bambi was only the fifth Disney animated feature film.

One of our yearlings, Frost

Bambi is based on a mule deer. However, Disney had to change the species from Roe deer to Mule deer to better fit the native species in north America. The film received three Academy Awards.
Fire Bringer was published in 1999 as a young adult Fantasy Novel by David Clement- Davies. The story follows the life of a young red deer, Rannoch, during the 13th century in the lowlands of Scotland, whose life is subject of an old prophecy among the deer.

Young male Red Deer in Glen Etive

Fire Bringer is one of the few books that I have read that I wish I could read again for the first time all over again. It is such a beautiful story with many adult underling themes. If I was to compare it to another book it would be of the same themes of Watership Down. With several different links to historical events throughout the book. I Highly recommend reading this book!
IZZY

Midges

Midges…complete and utter nuisances. That’s what most people tend to say.
Well…I’ve heard quite a few individuals use more colourful language than that, but that’s the gist of most people’s views on this small flying insect that occupies the Highlands. This view is commonly expressed whilst people flap their hands around as if they’re aiming to actually launch off and flee the plague of midges.
In the bible there is reference to a plague of locust but this past week it is the midge numbers that have been of biblical proportions, causing people to look like they have moustaches and tattoos. In the five years that I’ve been reindeer herding last week was by far the worst that I’ve ever seen the midges.
During this past week I also found that the term midge can get lost in translation! We recently had a visitor who complained about being attacked by midgets. It’s amazing the difference one letter in a sentence can make!

Horrible sight
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ox8SwZCvugE

It was during the latest inundation of midge attacks that I found myself asking: Where do these midges even live? Why are they biting us? How long do they live? Well, look no further folks…let’s rattle out some midge facts.
• Midges have a life span of around one month. Although adults are only capable of flight for a short portion of that time.
• Midges lay their eggs in wet soil, bogs, mires and the soggy surrounding landscape.
• In the U.K. there is 2-3 batches of midge eggs per year. The first batch is in May or June depending on warmth and moisture levels. A second occurs in late July or early August. And if the season is a warm one, a third batch can occur in September.
• In the U.K. alone there are more than 500 species of non-biting midges, and more than 150 species of biting midges. Most of these are found in Scotland, however they can also be found in Northern England and Northern Wales.
• Only the female midges bite. The male and female midges survive upon sugary food such as plant nectar. However, the females need a protein rich meal of fresh blood in order to mature their eggs. They get this from both birds and mammals, with the majority of blood coming from cattle, sheep and deer.
• Female midges tend to bite in close proximity to their breeding site and rarely go further than 1km away (cough, cough, Utsi bridge).
• Once they’ve found a blood source, midges emit pheromones and summon all their buddies to come on over, hence the swarming.
• They have short and sharp mandibles to pierce the skin of mammals and then they increase the blood flow via histamines in their saliva. This is what causes the wound to swell afterwards.
• Low light spurs their feeding habits so they’re most active at dawn and dusk.
• It takes a midge five minutes of feeding to become engorged.
• Mild and wet winters usually means a bigger midge season. Moreover, a very cold winter can also mean a bigger midge season. In 2010 the prolonged freezing conditions in Scotland reduced the number of natural predators such as bats and birds, meaning more midges.
• It is estimated that midges cost the Scottish tourism industry around £268 million per year in lost visits.
• On the Isle of Rum, folk lore says that as punishment for improperly burying a body, a gravedigger was stripped, tied to a post and left outside for the midges to feast on. They did kill him, eventually.
• Rumour has it that pomegranate skin, marmite, lavender and charcoal are all deterrents.
• They’re attracted to the CO2 that us animals produce. Some people are more attractive than others due to a combination of specific body odour and temperature. They are also more attracted to dark coloured clothing than light coloured clothing.
• There is a midge forecast, detailing how torrential the midge downpour is across Scotland, which can be located at https://www.smidgeup.com/midge-forecast/.

Close up of the horrible things
Source: https://www.mosi-guard.com/articles/midge-bites-how-to-recognise-midges-treat-bites-and-avoid-both-altogether

So, there you have it. They say knowledge is power, but I’m not sure this knowledge will stop you being attacked by these small critters, but at least it may give you some happiness to know that you’re playing a part in a midge’s life cycle. Bah, who am I kidding? Probably not! But you may get some happiness in knowing that at least you’re not a midge.

Swarm
Source: https://www.visitinvernesslochness.com/blog/the-highland-midge/

References:
https://www.lifesystems.co.uk/news/45-facts-about-the-highland-midge

1 year anniversary of reindeer herding

It’s time for me to write a blog and my one-year anniversary of being an (employed that is) reindeer herder is coming up soon, so why not make that my topic?

I arrived at reindeer house July the 5th, after a long drive from Newcastle where I was released from the ferry, ready to start my life as a herder in the Cairngorms. I was immediately swept away with the fast-flowing life of reindeer house, as a few hours after my arrival we were to play a game of rounders on Hayfield. My weekend plans had also already been laid out, there would be a ceilidh on Skye after a hill race the Saturday, and everyone was going. I’d only ever volunteered as a reindeer herder, and had never done a hillrace in my life, yet I’d been to one ceilidh so I kind of knew what was going on (or did I?). What followed was a summer full of running and walking around hills and mountains in rain and sunshine, long nights at the Pinemarten bar, short nights in my bed at the reindeer centre, nightly swims in Loch Morlich, and music gigs where we danced until our feet hurt and then we’d dance some more. I thought that within a year and a bit I might leave again, so I had best make the most of it.

Loch Morlich swims with Lotti

Fast forward to last week (Ed. back in June – it’s taken two months to upload this blog!), where I did a couple of days of reindeer herding, then drove off in a van to spend a long weekend in Arran with Chris. The main reason of our visit was participating in the furthest hillrace I’ve ever run (26k, 2000+m of ascent!!) but also to discover more of Scotland. I’ve now seen a fair bit of Scotland, but the more I see, the more I find I still want to see. I’ve also had every season now in terms of reindeer herding. I saved the best for last, as calving season has just come and gone and now our summer season is just about to start again. In a year I’ve learned lots, but most importantly that one can never know what to expect from a day at the reindeer centre. I’ll briefly go over the seasons as I’ve experienced them the past year.

Summer
Full on, both in terms of reindeer herding and life at reindeer house. At some points there were 7 people living at reindeer house, excluding visiting friends and family for whom there’s always a bed to crash at the centre. On top of that, on frequent occasions there were guests at parties that filled up the house and left it again, like the tides of a sea coming and going. This meant there was constantly a high level of energy in the house, and so were the people living and working in and around it. There were 3 hill trips a day, most of which were quite full. So basically, a standard day looked like this: wake up, get breakfast and a big big coffee. Then either go up the hill first thing, or do the paddocks and/or emails down at the centre. Then take a fairly large group of visitors up the hill to show them the reindeer, work a bit in the shop and the office, shut the centre at 5pm. After work we’d go for a run, eat together with everyone who lived at the centre at the moment and their guests, and this would often then end with a night at the Pinemarten bar for “just one drink” (which often somehow ended up being a bit more than that).

The first of many reindeer selfies

Autumn
There’s no clear boundary between Summer and Autumn, but at one point most of the seasonal staff has unfortunately left, and there’s an eerie kind of quietness that takes over in Reindeer house. All of the sudden some nights no-one took the initiative to go for a run, swim, or visit to the pub. And the nights I sat still I noticed a bit of a tiredness, like a giant hangover from the lack of sleep and excess of activities and drinks over summer. Autumn we took things a little bit slower, there weren’t as many hill trips and visitors anymore, the centre had quietened down and so had the house. It was also time for my first hill race ever, which was absolutely great. The days started getting shorter and the head torches came out for the runs at night..

October = sleigh training

Winter
And then it was winter. First wet and windy, later on a bit colder and snowy, but never as cold as I’d expected it from the stories of the years before. Reindeer house exchanged the running shoes for ski-touring boots and skis, and instead of walking or running up and down mountains we’d “skin” up and ski down, whenever there was snow. The first months of winter were crazy busy again, because of our Christmas events and weekends of Christmas fun. We’d either be at the centre, carrying out Christmas fun duties or regular herding tasks (including lots and lots of adopts), or we were going all over the country in teams, with big lorries for Christmas parades, staying overnight at our farm bases. When Christmas was over, another sort of peace and quiet came over reindeer house, different from the one after summer. I’d thoroughly enjoyed the events, but shutting the centre for a couple of weeks in January allowed us time to work less and enjoy the Scottish winter. We were also able to catch up on all sorts of tasks that had been dropped in the Christmas craziness. Days were very short and this meant energy levels a lot lower, so lots of excuses for going to bed early!

Ho~ro

Early winter free rangers

Proper winter reindeer herding

Spring
Eventually the long nights got shorter, bit by bit. Our female reindeer started showing signs of pregnancy. It was still very quiet at the centre, with the odd school holiday in between. Every time I went down South for a hill race or a trip of a different nature, it was clear that Spring was on its way, but in the subarctic climate of the Cairngorms we had to wait quite a while. Even once spring signs had clearly presented themselves we had a bit of snow every now and then. The last month of Spring was also the best month of my “career” as a reindeer herder so far – calving time is amazing. I’d be willing to drop everything at once if I’d get a shot at walking around the enclosure to find a wee ball of fluff next to its mum somewhere tucked away in a corner. The changing weather and daylight hours gave lots of extra energy, either spend chasing calves and mums or training for or participating in my first proper season of hill racing. What a joy to live in the hills, with such great animals and nature around!

Calving season
Special moments

And so my first year as a reindeer herder was complete. Summer staff came to move back into reindeer house, and the centre started getting busier. Tufts of hair were flying around: the reindeer were moulting their winter coats and the circle would start all over again.

Manouk

Doing our bit for the environment.

Nobody can be completely guilt free in what they choose to do through life whether it be what they eat, wear or decide to go on holiday by jumping on an aeroplane. However, everyone can do the small things which will add up and help towards a better and more sustainable environment. Here is how we have started at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and obviously we hope to do more in the future.

Two years ago we made a fairly massive purchase at the Reindeer Centre. We got an electric car. As a result, a free electric point was installed at our centre through the incentive of getting the vehicle and it’s been a great success. We use it for dotting up and down the hill which is only a 6 mile round trip each time so it makes a lot of sense. We don’t tend to use it to go further than Aviemore (12 mile round trip) but mainly because the mileage can’t really be trusted with a full charge only giving you 70 miles. Although going downhill means you can gain some miles as soon as you hit an uphill, which there are quite a lot of in Scotland, you rapidly lose those miles.

Modelling the electric car

Andi is chief of shop stock!!! She is always trying to source locally produced souvenirs and gifts for us to sell in our Shop. I make crafts and jewellery out of the reindeer antler, Andi makes fishing flies from reindeer hair, Manouk whittles away at green wood making reindeer figurines and ‘make your own reindeer’ packs, Ali sews together tartan clips and bows, the list goes on. Andi has also sourced biodegradable pens, re-useable coffee cups and tote bags which is great, plus free advertising when folk are out and about doing their shopping and getting a brew. We are always trying to find the happy medium in what we sell and offer so these are all great steps being made. Well done Andi!
Biodegradeable pens

Essential! Coffee cups.

Something you all want to know I’m sure… Reindeer herders are now using 100% recycled toilet paper! Buying in bulk from a company aptly name ‘Who Gives a Crap’ (look them up!) they are determined to prove that toilet paper is about more than just wiping bums. They make all their products with environmentally friendly materials, and also donate 50% of there profits to help build toilets for those in need. To date they’ve donated over $1.8m Aussie dollars (that’s the equivalent of over £1,000,000!) to charity and saved a heck of a lot of trees, water and energy. Not bad for a toilet paper company, eh?

https://uk.whogivesacrap.org/

Linking this back to the reindeer as a species and their natural environment, by doing these small things it helps with the bigger picture. It’s ironic really that man is extracting energy from the Arctic in the forms of oil and gas and here is a well-adapted animal in that same habitat adapted to conserve it’s energy. The Arctic is a ‘canary in the coal mine’ – the first area in the world to alert man to the affects of climate change and global warming. Melting permafrost, unexplained sinkholes in the tundra, vanishing pack ice, rapid freeze/thaw of snow and invasions of insects more commonly associated with the southerly climes are all effects of human induced climate change. It’s not only the Arctic being affected, all over the world extreme weather patterns are causing carnage to those living there whether it be man or animal. One wonders what the future holds!

So guys and girls I’m sure you heard it before and will continue to hear it again – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! We’ve started here at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, good luck with your own journey.
Fiona

Don’t forget your shopping bag!

Dynasties: Fly

Following from a previous blog about Haze’s dynasty, I thought Fly was another good candidate to look at. Like Haze, she is also a big, striking reindeer, not necessarily the friendliest – she likes her own space – but a dependable leader of the herd and a fantastic mother.

Fly in her prime

Fly was born in our “green theme” year in 2007, and is probably the largest female in the herd today – she’s a clear inch taller than any of the others. She also grows beautiful large antlers, whilst rearing a calf most years – a sign of a strong healthy reindeer as it takes a huge amount of energy for both of these activities and most reindeer will focus on one or the other rather than both.

Fly with son Anster, at just a few weeks old

Fly reared her first calf, Custard, when she was two – whilst reindeer are perfectly capable of rearing calves at this age, we try to make them wait until they’re a bit more mature at three years old. Fly evidently thought differently, and reliably reared a big strong calf in 2009 (Custard), 2010 (Dragonfly), 2011 (Domino), 2012 (Balmoral), 2013 (Anster), 2014 (Hudson) and 2015 (Aonach). At that point we decided she should definitely have a bit of time off!

Fly with four month old Hudson

In 2015 and 2016, we decided to run Balmoral, Fly’s son, as one of our breeding bulls, and he fathered a lovely selection of youngsters, including Inca, Christie, Burns, Shakespeare and Dante. We are hoping that Inca may have a calf of her own this May.

Balmoral as a breeding bull in 2016
Balmoral’s daughter Inca, who may have a calf this May

Fly’s only daughter, Custard, reared several calves of her own – Coe, Cream, Ceram and Tang – and Cream has also been a mum, though unfortunately her calf didn’t survive. Hopefully she may have better luck this year.

Custard with her daughter Cream

Fly has, so far, been a mother seven times, a grandmother eighteen times, and a great-grandmother once, and she’s still in full fitness and looking like she’s got many years ahead of her!

Andi

A moment in Hen’s memory

Earlier this year, on discovering how long I’d worked here, a visitor asked me what my favourite story or anecdote from over the years was. I was completely thrown – not only had nobody ever asked me that specific question before, but how on earth was I to pick just one thing?

But the question made me ponder, and reminisce a bit. Impossible to pick a single favourite moment, but there have been many, many stand out moments – and like for any job with animals, for both good and bad reasons. So I thought I’d tell you one of them, and will maybe write more blogs with further stories at a later date.

On tour with Mel at Christmas time

At the time when the question was actually asked of me, I went a bit blank, and despite a million different stories I could have told, suddenly the only one I could think of was a little moment from Christmas tour, several years back. I was on tour with Mel right down south and doing a ‘reindeer only’ event in Exeter. This differs from our normal events with the sleigh and parade etc, as it is just reindeer in a display pen for 2 or 3 hours, with us herders there to chat to people in the crowd. Much less work for both us and the reindeer compared to a parade!

I have no photos directly associated with this blog, so have only some general ones to add to it! Here’s Puddock, in his prime several years ago

It was a horrible day, absolutely pouring, so I can’t say either Mel or I were particularly enamoured of the idea of standing getting utterly drenched for hours, the sort of day where you know you’re going to get soaked to your underwear and the prospect of dry pants was a long way away (Christmas tour ain’t as glamorous as it sometimes sounds) – at least the reindeer have built in waterproof coats far more effective than any human clothing. We got the pen ready; straw spread out, feed and water in bowls, signage up, and then returned to the lorry to fetch the reindeer. The route to the pen involved walking along the pavement and then through a covered shopping arcade to the pen itself – no problem at all and the reindeer are perfectly happy in such a situation as we make sure that all six stay close together in their mini herd. There’s safety in numbers if you’re a reindeer! Just at the entrance into the arcade we paused, in the pelting rain, for security to clear a route through for us and the reindeer stood gazing around in interest at their surroundings – or more realistically, in hindsight, wondering where their pen and their lunch was. We were right outside a Costa coffee shop which had window seating, full of warm cosy people inside sipping nice hot drinks and oblivious to the world outside, until suddenly 6 reindeer appeared on the pavement, literally just feet away from them. We had big male reindeer Puddock as our of our team members (I can’t remember the others), and he put his nose right to the glass and breathed out, leaving huge steamed up patches. I watched a lady inside slowly put her hand up to the glass and put it flat against it, Puddock’s nose a centimetre away the other side. A few seconds passed and then we moved on, and the moment was gone.

Reindeer exercising while at a ‘base’, away on tour. Good stretch of the legs required!

And that was it. In real time just a fleeting moment, but one I have always remembered, and I often wonder too about the lady the other side of the window, and whether she still tells the story of the time she was having a coffee in Exeter and somewhat miraculously a reindeer appeared outside the window and then vanished once again. Years later I remember nothing about the actual reindeer event other than that little moment en route to the pen (and the fact that the herders at every single event across the country that day got completely soaked too apart from, ironically, at Fort William – normally one of the wettest places in the country).

Frosty morning

In my head I debated telling the visitor on the Hill Trip about this memory, but standing outside a Costa on a wet day in Exeter, of all places, seemed so at odds with our current situation way out on the mountainside high up on the Cairngorms, on a beautiful winter’s day, surrounded by reindeer roaming freely in their natural habitat, that it didn’t seem worth the effort of explaining it all, and it wouldn’t have been the sort of the story the visitor was expecting anyway. But it’s a memory for me none the less and as Puddock has been one of my very favourite reindeer over the years but is now retired from Christmas tour, it’s a particularly poignant one.

I have had a love-hate relationship with Puddock over the years, although mostly love! He can be a bit of a pillock at times though…

Hen

Memorable reindeer of the past: Scout

When I think back over the reindeer that have been part of the herd over the years, one which sticks in my mind is Scout. This is probably in part because he was on my “team” the first time I went off on Christmas tour. It was back in 2010, and as I headed off for my first two-week festive reindeer experience with Fiona, those six reindeer made a bit of an impact: experienced old boys Shekel and Shock (or Shockel and Sheck as we sometimes called them if we hadn’t had enough coffee!); Scout and Hughie, our younger Christmas reindeer; and calves Lace and Gnat. When you’re working, living and travelling with the same team for a fortnight you get to know their quirks rather well!

Scout as a six month old calf

Born in our “Green theme” year, Scout was a big reindeer (so big in fact that we castrated him at 2 years old instead of at 3), one of the tallest in the herd, and a fine looking fellow. He grew some beautiful sets of antlers, with lots of “fingers” coming off them. He was generally also holding almost too much condition, with a generous sized belly, and with this excess of energy he often had bobbles of extra velvet on his antlers, something we only tend to see in our larger (wider!) males.

Scout as I first knew him, with fingery points going everywhere

My main memory of Scout from that Christmas tour is when we arrived at an event in London, set out the feed bowls ready for their breakfast, and Fiona hopped in to the truck through the (human-sized) side door, assuming I would latch it behind her. I meanwhile assumed she was going to latch it herself from the inside (the hazards of having been on tour long enough to stop communicating about everything and make presumptions). Alas, the door didn’t get secured at all and the next thing we knew Scout had squeezed his antlers and ample belly through, bounded down and of course made a beeline for his breakfast! At least he was easy to catch!

I also have a vivid memory from a more recent Christmas of taking part in an incredibly busy parade in England, and looking back from where I was leading the front two reindeer – Scout was one of the reindeer following on at the back and he was utterly at ease, chewing the cud as we pottered along, not batting an eyelid at the noise, lights, marching band, fake snow and bubble machines that we were passing. Reindeer really are incredible animals.

He had beautiful big antlers even as a two year old

Scout was a dependable fellow out on tour, whether at the back or front of the sleigh, and was a friendly face at home on the hill, though he did have a grumpy streak at times, doubtless inherited from his father Sirkas, who certainly could have an attitude problem! Most of the time though he was lovely to be around, a bit cheeky and playful, and steady as a rock. His brothers included dark coloured Rummy, squinty-nosed Boris and the infamous Fergus. Scout’s grandmother, Fionn, lived to the ripe old age of 16, and her sister was Lilac, the reindeer who holds our record for longevity at 19. Unfortunately Scout didn’t live to quite such an age, but there are still many of his family alive, including two of our other biggest reindeer, Fly and Paintpot, who share the same father.

Andi

Outtakes of Reindeer Herding

Recently I got a new phone which made me look back through all my old photos before deciding which ones to keep. Rather than give you some of my best photos from a year and a half of reindeer herding I thought I’d give you some of the ‘worst’ from my first season of Christmas events.

Manouk and were sent off to Stonehaven for our first event together for a display pen event. Much of the time was spent playing with the inquisitive young Kips who was also on his first eventas a Christmas Reindeer.
On that same event in Stonehaven we were faced by a recurring problem. Every time we walked in or out of the display pen then we had to negotiate all the tasty plants of the garden centre. On one occasion Pratchett was too quick for us and helped himself to the tasty heather!
Back at the centre we had forgotten how to run the shop so had to ask Tiree to help us out/
Mel and I had Marple and Scully along with us one weekend and they both discovered their own reflection in a window. Scully, a relatively shy and polite young girl was inquisitive but nervous with her reflection. Marple however, is not shy or gentle so decided to attack her own reflection. Hence the blurry photo of me realising what she was about to do and trying to stop her in time!
There was a regular occurrence that weekend with Marple and Mel. Every time we pulled up in the lorry at an event, fuel station or overnight base: Marple would have her nose poking out the side of the lorry trying to see what was going on. Mel would then reward Marple with a tasty bit of lichen .
Overall, Marple and Scully were well behaved on their first Christmas events despite not always having the best example set by the older boys. One evening Mel and I went to check on the boys before putting them to bed and we found that Monopoly had decided he wanted to wear Santa’s sack which was drying out on the fence. Incidentally Mel has been doing Chrsitmas events for 10 years and the event we did in Larkhall was the wettest she had ever done!
Olly on a quad bike
Is a blog really a blog without a photo of Dr Seuss?
Any time we were away on tour it was always nice to come home to our ridiculous hounds. Sookie, in the background, is never happier than being curled up in a pile of blankets/jumpers that aren’t hers.

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