Wanna buy some antlers? It’s a complicated business…

Over the years I’ve established myself as ‘chief of antler sales’ here at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. As with most reindeer related things, it’s not really a job that is straight-forward but one that has evolved with time, and I’ve tweaked and tweaked each year until it is as workable as possible. But – in usual fashion – the devil is in the details, much of which are in my head and memory and it’s therefore not a job that I delegate to anyone else.

The dream set of antlers everyone wants… (thanks Spartan).

We’ve always sold antlers from the reindeer herd. But is it as easy as 150 reindeer equals 300 antlers per year to sell? Of course it isn’t…

Firstly, we only find around 30-40% (at a rough estimate) of the antlers each year. This is because the reindeer roam on a huge area of rough, upland land, and the time of year when most antlers are shed – January to April – is exactly the time that almost the entire herd are roaming completely freely and are not enclosed at all. The proverbial needle in the haystack. (In fact sometimes finding the herd itself can be a needle/haystack situation, let alone their cast antlers!).

So many antlers, so few of them found.

Secondly, whilst around half of our herd are males, we tend to castrate them at around three years old. This means the bone of their antlers doesn’t calcify to the same extent, and they will usually break their antlers off in pieces as a result. So instead of a nice, clean antler, we get broken sections of – to be quite honest – often rather manky antler, still partly covered with the velvet skin that covered it whilst it grew. Smaller pieces disappear into deep vegetation – never to be seen again – far more easily than a whole antler.

A classic bit of antler from a castrated male. This one’s from Frost – the top third of his right hand antler, still with remaining skin and a little velvet hair. But it’s still a bit of Frost none-the-less, regardless of it’s appearance.
Classic antlers from a castrate male around February time- the upright sections have broken off and only the points at the base remain, still with the remnants of the velvet skin and hair. Not particularly glamorous, eh Caribou?!

Once castrated, males also tend to grow relatively smaller antlers than they did as a bull. So we really only get two or three big, mature bull sets of antlers each year. But some of these we keep – for example we have almost all of Sherlock’s antlers, and most of Crann’s. Crann holds the record for the biggest antlers ever in the herd, and as such we’ll never sell them as they are of great nostalgic value to us, even though Crann himself is long gone.

Crann with his 2009 antlers (his second biggest set). They are the ones currently in our shop window that we hang stuff for sale on! COPYRIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY: LES WILSON

Antler selling starts in January each year. The mature bulls have dropped their antlers in November/December, and some of our immature bulls then have their antlers cut off in December before they are let out to their winter grazing up on the mountains. This is done for the safety of hill-walkers – a testosterone-charged ‘teenage’ bull could really inflict damage. It’s done long after the feeling in the antler has gone, so causes zero pain.

Two year old bull Domino, looking mighty miffed with his antler stumps.

From (usually) around February or March onwards the cows start dropping their antlers, but for me life gets very busy in the spring with the calving season, followed by writing/editing the June newsletter, so it’s often well into the summer before I pick up the antler list once again.

So… here’s some info for those of you now imagining a nice set of antlers adorning your wall.

Firstly, I give members of our reindeer adoption scheme priority for purchasing antlers over ‘unconnected’ members of the public. I feel it’s a privilege someone who supports our business should get. My method for this is to have a waiting list for adopters to add their name for dibs on ‘their’ reindeer’s antlers, which I work my way through gradually as and when I have something suitable. Should you want to add yourself to this list, drop me an email through the contact form on the website FAO Hen (please don’t just comment on the blog/social media – email means I can keep everything together, and gives better chance of a reply one day from me actually reaching you, rather than disappearing into spam).

If you’ve asked to be on the waiting list in the past, no need to get in touch again – you’ll still be there. Well you will as long as your adoption is still current. I’m afraid that I always double-check someone is still an adopter before emailing them, and you’re scratched off the list if your adoption has lapsed. My list, my rules.

If I have no-one on the waiting list for a particular reindeer’s antler(s), then I will send a letter to all of their (UK based) adopters in one go – and it’s first come, first served. Miss out, and you go on the waiting list. This does mean sometime multiple people are all waiting for the same reindeer to shed his/her antlers – which we might never find from year to year anyway. I’m well aware some poor souls have been languishing on the waiting list for years… sorry.

If you aren’t an adopter of a reindeer and are reading this in despair, wondering whether there’s ever a chance of you getting anything, then all is not lost. Email me anyway, and I have a password-protected webpage with any available antlers on that I can give you details of, and on which you can sign up for occasional email alerts when new ones become available (if I get my arse in gear, this is still only two or three times a year, so don’t worry about me flooding your inbox. (Also, I hate Mailchimp – it’s totally user-unfriendly)). I have separate webpages for single antlers and for pairs, and usually have a much better range of single antlers, since finding both sides of a pair is rarer in the first place.

A small, single antler can be very beautiful – size doesn’t always matter 😉

Final info:

Yes, they do cost a lot. The biggest sets we ever get to sell are in the region of (at time of writing in 2024) £300. The single antler in the photo above was about £60. I guess other places with reindeer in the UK maybe also sell their antlers, but I’ve never actually heard of them doing so. I do my best to price antlers fairly though – every single one is utterly unique and in some way it is a snapshot of that reindeer at that particular point of their life. I’m sure I could push up the prices hugely and they would still sell eventually, but that isn’t the point. It’s a balancing act to try and get it right.

For adopters, if you perhaps can’t afford the antler(s) you been contacted about, it’s still worth going on the waiting list. I might have a glorious £200 set of beautiful antlers one year from your reindeer, and a single broken-off – much cheaper – half antler the next year. But hey, it’s still a piece of antler that your reindeer actually grew, and really it means just as much.

Conversely, you miss out on something small that you had your heart set on. But hey presto you might then be first in line for the potentially much more impressive effort from your reindeer next year. It’s all utterly unpredictable and there’s definitely an element of luck involved.

I can’t post abroad, sorry.

If you can collect your antler(s) rather than me having to package and post them, a) it’s cheaper and b) I love you.

Postage nightmare.

If you receive an ‘antler letter’ through the post – read it properly! I always do my best to describe the antler fully before you phone up to buy it – but have never forgotten the lovely couple who arrived to pick up a set of antlers from their adopted reindeer years ago. The bloke was a bit worried about fitting them in the car. The antlers were about 30cm tall.

Antlers come in all sizes but all shapes too. Forget that classic set of ‘perfect’ shapely reindeer antlers you’ve got in your mind’s eye – they probably aren’t going to look like that… If I’m emailing you directly I’ll attach a photo, and if I’ve sent you a letter, you can ask to see a photo before you decide.

Tall and thin…
…or short and wide?

As mentioned before, we keep some of the biggest bull antlers. Herders also usually have first dibs on their favourite reindeer’s antlers (I’ll add that (depending on the size of antler) we do usually still have to pay for them!), so there are certain reindeer in the herd whose antlers will come up for sale very rarely, if ever. Huge apologies, if you also adopt one of those reindeer… let’s mention no names.

I do also try to be fair to people – if I know you already have multiple antlers from a certain reindeer but are keen for more, I will usually try and give their other adopters a look in at some point.

And if you adopt Juniper, well don’t give up hope. Ferrari was also a ‘polled’ reindeer (one who doesn’t grow antlers at all) and suddenly sprouted one when she reached 9 years old, so all is not lost. But I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much.

Ferrari in her latter years. Just one antler! But what a nice antler, after 8 years of baldness.

And finally, I’m only human so bear with me as the old brain doesn’t get everything right every time. Apologies again to the lovely lady who I posted the entirely wrong set of antlers to a couple of years ago, and then had to go through a whole rigmarole of getting her to post them on to the correct new owner (Editor’s note: we did get permission to pass on the address first!), whilst I sorted out the right set for her. And years ago I died a little bit inside when I realised we’d sold the same antler to two separate people, and I was going to have to make a very awkward phone-call (although in my defence, it wasn’t actually me that forgot to mark that antler as ‘sold’ on the list). Oh, the horror.

Hen

Photo Blog: January 2024

January has seen the last few Hill Trips of the Christmas holidays and then the start of our closed period where we can crack on with various office and maintenance jobs such as repairing holes in our waterproof kit (thanks Lotti for keeping us dry!) and oiling the Christmas harness ready to be stored for the next 10 months.

The entire reindeer herd roams freely in the hills at this time of year over two locations. Tilly looks after one group, and we look after the herd here which wander the Cairngorms. We tend to visit them every other day (when the weather allows) to check on our wonderful furry friends. Of course, they’re totally fine and are in their element over the winter months but they won’t turn down a free meal. I think it’s mostly for the herders benefit that we go up and see them else we’d all probably go a bit mad without our reindeer fix.

The HUGE thing which is also going on this January is the exhibition has been demolished so it’s been all hands on deck, taking things down, sorting and storing things to be kept, cutting trees, clearing brash, ripping up boardwalks, loading trailers etc. Here’s a selection of photos from what has turned out to be a rather action packed ‘quiet’ season! We look forward to reopening the shop and taking Hill Trips from Saturday the 10th of February.

2nd of January: A wonderful day for a Hill Trip.
3rd of January: 15 year old Ibex leading the free ranging herd.
5th of January: Cassie overseeing the feeding of the calves.
10th of January: The herd emerging from the mist on a beautiful atmospheric day. Merida at the front.
10th of January: Pavlova with one of the biggest sets of antlers this winter.
11th of January: Snoozy Orinoco and mum Pinto.
13th of January: Ben leading the herd in for a free lunch. Pinto and Orinoco at the front!
14th of January: Lace and her son Limpopo in the snow. Lace is a strong leader, and tends to be at the front of the free ranging herd as they come to our call.
14th of January: Sisters in the snow! Danube and her older sister Sorbet. Their mum Brie was just next to them too, but I missed the full family portrait.
19th of January: Herd on the move! Pinto and Orinoco, Lace and Limpopo and Hopscotch lead the charge.
22nd of January: We left the reindeer to it today, which meant we spent the morning clearing the chaos in the paddocks after the demolition of the exhibition. Here’s Lotti, Andi and Lisette hard at work.
24th of January: Amy leading the free ranging herd.
24th of January: Colin and Cameron on the site of our old exhibition. The Arctic Shed is the only part currently still standing.

Ruth

A Brand New Reindeer Centre!

On 4th August 1989 Alan and I took over the ownership and management of the Cairngorm Reindeer. We had both been working for the family who owned the herd for a number of years and when Mr Utsi and then Dr Lindgren passed away the opportunity arose for us to buy the herd.

Back when Alan and Tilly took over the Reindeer Centre in the late 80s (and Alan had more hair!)

To this day the 4th August is etched on my brain. Our children were 3 and 4 years old and we had never had our own business, Alan had been employed by Dr Lindgren and I was initially a volunteer. But we had lots of ideas and we had a beautiful herd of reindeer.

The requisite Smith family photo – Tilly and Alan with Alex and Fiona, and obligatory reindeer.

We immediately converted part of Reindeer House into the ‘Cairngorm Reindeer Centre’, with reception, shop and office at one end leaving the rest of the house for living in with our young family and friends, many of whom who were volunteer reindeer herders. The reindeer paddocks beside the house became a display area for visitors to see a small group of reindeer, along with the 11am Hill Trips to the herd on the mountains.

The shop and reception area, in what was once the living room of Reindeer House.

Nearly 35 years later and the status quo continues. The only difference is that we’ve all got older; Alan and I moved out to our new ventures at Glenlivet (although still closely involved with the reindeer) and our daughter Fiona is living at Reindeer House with many of the other herders (they’re paid now though!). We attract more visitors and there are extra daily visits onto the hill to the herd.

The Paddocks in recent years.

The set-up has worked really well and the homespun infrastructure and hard working herders, along with a unique herd of free ranging reindeer, has been a great story. I have written three books around the life of reindeer and our journey with them and the herd is still looked after by us along with a band of enthusiastic, caring and clever people. Our herders today have brought with them tremendous life skills which have hugely progressed the way the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is run from day to day. But most importantly the welfare and care of the reindeer is still at the heart of everything we all do on a daily basis.

Looking after the herd. Photo: Alex Smith
Tilly with Scrabble. Reindeer are the heart of the business, and always will be, regardless of the changes around them. Photo: John Paul

In the summer of 2021 we received an incredibly generous donation from a long term reindeer adopter who asked that the monies they donated be put towards upgrading the current facilities at Reindeer House, which would involve returning the house to a domestic property and constructing a stand alone building for our reindeer shop, exhibition and office.

Exhibition displays. They’ve improved a lot over the years, but the building housing them was definitely getting shabbier and shabbier!

The following January we engaged with an architect and since then we have been going through the process of agreeing plans and applying for planning permission and the building warrant. With all the statutory requirements in place we began work last September, building a 16 bay car-park close to the Paddocks. The car-park is now nearly finished (but not available for parking in yet) and work is due to start on the new building in early February, which will be situated in our existing Paddock area.

The artist’s impression of the shiny new building!The existing Reindeer House building can be seen at the left hand side here, with the entrance to the new car-park on the right hand side.

As normal we closed for a few weeks on 8th January 2024 and immediately our son Alex, with help from herders, began to demolish the wooden structures in the Paddocks to make space for the new construction. There is a tinge of sadness seeing the old buildings (that we built ourselves) coming down but I suspect the improvements are long overdue and we are imagining a really special place for visitors to come to learn about our wonderful herd of reindeer alongside new displays, children’s activities and of course reindeer. Most importantly the new Centre will be access to all abilities.

We closed to the public on Monday 8th January. By Friday the 12th the Paddocks looked like this!

So exciting (and expensive!) times ahead. Unfortunately a bit disruptive too as the Paddocks will not be available for viewing reindeer while the building is constructed. However once we re-open to the public on 10th February we will otherwise still operate as normal with reception, shop and office where they have always been and the daily Hill Trips to the herd will continue as usual.

Hill Trips will continue as normal – tickets available on our website (from 30 days in advance)!

To check out what is available and how you can still come and visit do keep an eye on our website for updates and once construction gets underway we will have a better idea of how things are progressing, and more of an idea of the duration of the work.

Tilly

Old lady Okapi

I’m lacking in inspiration, motivation and time to think of a new and so-far unused blog topic, so this week I’m going for the old tried-and-tested method – pick a reindeer and write about him/her.

This week’s subject is Okapi. I’ve known Okapi her entire life, and at 15 and a half years old, it’s a long life indeed. Whilst not right up there in my very, very top favourite reindeer, she’s always been in the upper echelons of the reindeer herd, and I reckon most other herders would agree – collectively amongst us, she’s held in extremely high affection.

Okapi was born in 2008, her mum Esme’s third calf. Esme was a lovely reindeer, and was actually the subject of our very first blog, back in 2015! I first met Okapi at a few months old, at which point she was easily distinguishable from the other 2008 calves by the silver hairs on her face, giving her the appearance of wearing war-paint.

Those silver hairs eventually spread across the rest of Okapi’s body, and although she is still want we would call ‘normal-coloured’, she’s a much greyer colour than many of the other reindeer in the same colour category. Coat colour runs in family lines – Esme was on the silvery side too, as were many other members of the family, most notably Okapi’s big brother Elvis. Elvis became a legendary reindeer in our herd, living to 17 and only passing away a few months ago.

Silvery-coated big bro Elvis

Okapi has always been a ‘leader’ in the herd, a relatively dominant female and generally one of the first to start moving in the right direction when we call the herd from a distance, leading them towards us. Reindeer like this are worth their weight in gold to us as a lot of the winter season is spent bellowing towards specks on a distant hill, and wondering whether they are going to come to us or we are going to have to go to them… It needs a dominant reindeer to sigh, stand up and start moving to get the rest of the herd underway too.

As a youngster, out free-ranging up on the mountains.

We usually like to breed from our loveliest female reindeer multiple times, but Okapi had a bit of a hitch in this respect. She had two lovely calves, in 2012 and 2013, Murray and Oka. Murray had the best set of antlers that we’ve seen on a calf in our herd, and we were very excited for what he would grow into in the future. Sadly it wasn’t to be, and he passed away at about a year old. Win some and lose some with animals, but this felt like a particularly hard loss.

Okapi with 8 month old Murray – look at those calf antlers!

Okapi’s second calf, Oka, was also lovely, but again didn’t survive long term – dying at about 2 years old. A huge shame, as a female she should have gone on to continue Okapi’s genetic line, but hey ho. Again these things happen, but it feels unfair for Okapi to have lost both her calves.

Oka

And that was that for Okapi’s motherhood career, as a few months after Oka’s birth she suffered a prolapse. This came completely out of the blue and we never knew what – if anything – triggered it, but the end result was that everything had to be pushed back into place more than once, and eventually permanent stitches were inserted by the vet to keep poor old Okapi’s bits where they should be. This meant no more calves for her – a real shame for a lovely 5 year old female in her prime.

Okapi’s classic pose – she’s a reindeer who almost always has her ears pricked. This is how I will remember her when she’s no longer with us.

But life as a permanently ‘single lady’ has meant Okapi has since been a lady of leisure, all her energy going into her own body each year, and quite possibly has contributed to her longevity. Almost every year she’s grown pretty big antlers, and it’s only really in the last couple of years she’s started to look ‘old’.

Never having calves at foot means that Okapi also spends a higher ratio of her time free-ranging out on the mountains, as there’s never really a reason for her to spend any length of time in our hill enclosure. She will come in now and then for a few days as all our reindeer need vaccinating a couple of times of year, or sometimes we’ll hold particularly friendly reindeer back in the enclosure so they can be part of a the group for filming, for example. But on average, I’d say Okapi spends 11.5 months a year out living a completely free lifestyle – pretty nice!

A life of luxury!

And finally, Okapi had one particular starring role – on the cover of our Naked Reindeer Herders charity calendar in 2023. But I don’t think too many people were looking at the reindeer, if I’m honest…

Okapi on the right,with Ochil, Ruth, Fiona, Marple and Lotti, left to right. What a line up!

Hen

Characters

Visitors often ask how on earth we tell apart the 150-strong herd of reindeer. Whilst there is variation in colour, markings and antler shape, one of the biggest distinguishing features is actually character. Just like people, reindeer come in every shade of cheeky, shy, friendly, stand-offish, bolshy, greedy, intelligent, daft… I thought I might mention a few stand out character types, past and present!

Overexcited Labrador

Aztec leading the herd – look at that expectant face

Step up, Aztec! Always the first to be involved, always wanting to “help”, very friendly, lovable, and not a manner to be seen if there is a mere sniff of food… Fun, but a bit of a liability.

Also falling into this category: Kipling, Bumble, Eco

The Thinker

Olmec paying careful consideration to all potential outcomes

Reserved and steady, not always the easiest to catch but utterly dependable when out on tour. Olmec, I’m looking at you.

Also applies to: Dragonfly

TV Diva

HM with her adoring fan Lotti

Introducing the one and only Holy Moley… who knows full well that she basically had her own TV documentary and hence feels that every visitor is there to see her and her alone.

Also: Dr Seuss appears to feel that his minor starring role in the same show entitles him to extra food portions every single day too.

Sweet as Pie, Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly

Sweet Diamond, with Hopper in the background

Beautiful light-coloured Diamond has to be one of the gentlest souls in the herd. She walks with a slight limp after an injury back in her younger days, which of course means we all (needlessly) slip her extra bits of feed. 

Also: Amber, Esme, Sunflower

Loyal and True

Okapi in her usual position – right in the footsteps of the herder

Certain reindeer can always be relied upon when we’re moving the free-range herd – they’ll be near the front, they willingly have a headcollar put on, they trustingly plod behind you whilst the rest of the herd debate whether your bribe is worth coming for. Okapi, you’re the star here.

Also: Olympic

The Boy Band Pin-Up

Sherlock, admired by all!

Sherlock has to be one of the most impressive looking reindeer in the herd today, and he also knows how to work it. Some reindeer naturally prick their ears for a photo, and seem to offer their best side!

Also: Elvis, of whom there was never a bad photo taken!

Grumpy Old Men (and Women)

That look in Pony’s eye which was the precursor to antlers being aimed at you! We were always grateful when she cast her antlers each year, though she would then resort to using her front feet!

Bond may only be 5 years old, but he definitely ticks every box for “grouchy” – you only need to look at him and he rolls his eyes at the thought that you might try to interact with him. Likewise, walking too near Lace or Turtle is likely to extract a swing of the antlers and a snap of the mouth as a warning.  Turtle is Pony’s daughter, who was perhaps the grumpiest reindeer we’ve ever had in the herd, so it’s definitely inherited!

Also: Addja once implanted his antlers into my leg when in a bad mood, only to cast one, which definitely didn’t make him any more cheery (though it did make me chuckle at the instant karma).

Big Friendly Giant

Scrabble, our very own BFG!

One of the tallest, heftiest reindeer in the herd, Scrabble was a bit of a liability in his youth as he was just so keen to meet everyone, and somewhat unaware of his sheer size. It almost seemed that his bum was so far away from his brain that he couldn’t keep track of the children he was wiping out as he turned around… Now he’s an old fella so a bit steadier, but just as friendly and enormous!

Also: Comet

Don’t Mess With…

Brie acting like butter wouldn’t melt… until she disagrees with the program

Brie may look little and cute, but her first instinct if she doesn’t like something is to beat it/them with her antlers, and whilst she both she and her antlers may be small, she is ANGRY. As Mel once found out when leading Brie, and Brie decided she did NOT want to be there…

Also: Spy. If Spy has calved, it usually takes about four herders, all hiding behind gates/fences to move her where we want her to be.

Andi

Photo Blog: December 2023

On the last Friday of each month throughout 2023 I have shared photos that I’ve taken on my phone to hopefully give everyone an idea of the goings on at the Reindeer Centre. What a complete mix bag of photos this is to finish the year off! December has seen me up and down the A9 and dotting around locally with beautiful teams of reindeer for lots of Christmas events. I’ve done the odd day at the Centre too catching up with the goings on here, with just enough office time to put together this blog. My wonderful colleagues have also been ridiculously busy on events and at the Centre keeping everything going. Getting through gazillions of adoptions packs, leading fully booked Hill Trips and of course Christmas Fun in the Paddocks. This selection of photos doesn’t really do December justice, but it’s a snap shot of what I’ve been up to at least.

30th of November: Couldn’t resist including this one from November. Moving our free ranging herd in the snow!
1st of December: Cassie feeding the calves out of the bag.
2nd of December: Very chilled out reindeer in Aberfeldy after a short parade. In the team we have Dr Seuss, Frost, Haricot, Lupin, Colorado and Limpopo.
4th of December: After two nights away here’s the same team as above returning to the snowy hills.
10th of December: Stenoa and Olympic posing at the front posing with Santa and a pantomime crew.
11th of December: Seven month old calves Colorado and Ob sharing the same puddle.
12th of December: Amazon needing a chin rest.
12th of December: Bordeaux’s beard blowing beautifully in a cold Cairngorm breeze!
15th of December: Walking a team of reindeer out of the enclosure for a local event at the Aviemore Ice Rink.
16th of December: Herder Melanie and I attend a wedding with reindeer at Raemoir House near Banchory. Here they are eating lunch before meeting the bride and groom.
17th of December: A day at Reindeer House for me and spending as much time on the hill as possible! This is the gorgeous Marple and her daughter Mekong with matching billowing beards on the afternoon Hill Trip.
17th of December: The lovely Chickpea has had an excellent year and is in fab condition.
18th of December: Olympic showing off his lack of top teeth at a visit to a primary school in Aberdeen.
22nd of December: Our team very settled at Gleneagles Hotel. From left to right we’ve got Mississippi, Aztec, LX and Olympic.
23rd of December: Mississippi being especially cute!
25th of December: Before spending a few hours in the display pen each day, we take the the the boys for a good walk each morning so they can stretch their legs. For reindeer this means stopping at every tree to have a nibble at the lichen! Here’s Aztec getting some tasty Christmas Day snacks.
28th of December: Turtle and her calf Amur on the hill.
28th of December: Isla’s last day of work (although I’m sure she’ll be back at some point!) so here she is spoiling Alba, one of our hand-reared calves.

Ruth

How Isla became a reindeer herder…

The lovely Isla with one of her favourite reindeer – Busby!

The first time I met the reindeer here at Cairngorm, I was just four years old and a bridesmaid at my mum’s wedding. Mum, being as extravagant as she is, decided she wanted the reindeer to pull the sleigh for us from the service to the party venue. Once we were on the sleigh I was quickly alarmed about the health and safety, as there were no seatbelts on board. Four-year-old me obviously thinking the reindeer would be flying us there! As we were just setting off, I whispered to my cousin “hold on tight, we are about to take off” but was quickly relived and slightly disappointed when I realised the reindeer would just be walking us there.

Four year old Isla – closest to the camera holding on tightly to her cousin. The reindeer is Wallace.
The sleigh firmly attached to the ground, phew!
The happy couple off to the party.

After the wedding it then became a tradition to come and visit the reindeer before Christmas. Even adopting Elvis as a two-year-old boy and always loving getting my certificate through the post before Christmas. Elvis lived to be one of the oldest males in the herd, before sadly passing away this August at the impressive age of 17!

Elvis as a two year old bull in 2008 – the year Isla adopted him.

During the spring this year, just as I was leaving school. I went round to visit my ‘Fairy God Mother’ Sheena, one of the herders here at the Reindeer Center. After explaining to her that I wasn’t sure what to do after school and fancied a change she suggested I got in touch to see if I could work the summer here with the reindeer.

So, after a few back and forth emails (me not being the best at replying during my exams), we eventually arranged a trial day for me to come and meet some of the herders and the reindeer of course. I was pretty nervous but was instantly put at ease when greeted by Ruth and Lisette with big smiles on their faces. I was thrown right in at the deep end as my first task was going up the hill to help give one of the reindeer an injection as she had a sore foot. I quickly realised that having dogs and occasionally helping my granny muck out her horse maybe didn’t quite qualify as having experience working with animals! But I like to think I’m a quick learner. And was super eager to get stuck as I loved the idea of walking up the hills everyday to look after the herd.

Not a bad office!

After a successful trial day, I was then offered to come work the summer here at the Centre which I was super excited for! I started at the end of May, and the weather was amazing! Blue skies everyday for about a month, eventually this bubble did bust. And I then had the proper Scottish herder experience. But even in the rain I still couldn’t believe that it was my job to walk up hills and find reindeer. I even didn’t mind taking a reindeer’s temperature (let’s just say it doesn’t go in their mouths) if it meant I could spend the morning up the hill with the herd! Over the summer I learnt so many new skills and everyone was so patient with me helping me to learn about these beautiful animals.

When Isla first started it was weeks of sunshine and moulting reindeer.
It’s a tough job getting to know all the calves when they come back into the enclosure in the autumn, like wee Shannon here.
Isla this time not sitting on the sleigh but working alongside Druid and Haricot at the back of it this autumn.
Breeding bull Kernel this autumn,
Reindeer during the first decent snow of 2023.

When chatting in the office I let it slip about the reindeer being at mum’s wedding, Our resident Blog Queen Ruth was insistent that it would make the perfect Christmassy blog!

We also realised that Hen, another one of the herders here, was at the wedding as well leading the sleigh! Which is hilarious, looking back on the wedding photos we actually found one of her at the front of the sleigh! (Note from Hen: also a way to make her feel really, really old…)

The back of Hen’s head at the wedding!

I have had the best 7 months here at the Centre and have loved getting to know all the reindeer and the herders of course! I’m off for a new adventure in the New Year but I’m sure I’ll be back soon!! If they’ll have me 😉

Druid thinks Isla should definitely return!
Isla chilling out with Cicero.

Isla

Well hello boys!

In the autumn, we move all of our entire males (apart from the 2 or 3 lucky chosen breeding bulls) over to our hill farm, away from the females and out of trouble for the duration of the breeding season. With no hint of love on the air, this keeps them calmer and easier to manage, though they still enjoy play-fighting. By December the rut is over and our breeding bulls have also joined them, so there is a slight vibe of an all-boys hangout. As Tilly is caring for these fellas every day, and she is less up on her social media, I thought I’d take the opportunity to grab some photos for you all this week when I was over at the hill farm.

Boys hanging out chilling in the sunshine on the hill
Tub heading over to see what’s up
Spartan is a picture of relaxation! Pure white yearling 99, and Cornetto are closest to camera.
Jester and Scoop resting up for winter
Yearling males 99, Kulfi, Cornetto and Zoom
The bulls spend a lot of time practicing their tussling skills – here’s a friendly bout between 99 and Zoom
2-year-old Akubra looks a bit sleepy for tussling just now!
2 year old Cowboy (centre) is certainly in charge of yearlings Calippo (left) and Iskrem (right)
Too close Calippo!
Pure white 99
The more mature bulls have already cast their antlers. Spartan and Sherlock are now getting a rest from carrying all that weight on their heads!
Look at that big fuzzy nose! Mr Morse.
Mr Whippy is the biggest of the yearlings
Like some of the other young bulls, Zap has broken parts of his antlers. He’ll grow back a full set next year after casting this set, a completely natural process.
Sunny, who we hand-reared last year. He’s grown into a very handsome fella.
Big Morse and young Kulfi enjoying the winter sun.

Andi

The Story of Zoom

I was over at the hill farm recently helping to feed our bulls and was pleased to see how good yearling Zoom was looking. And that reminded me that I’d promised Ruth I would write a blog telling the story of when we found him last year.

Teenage Zoom this autumn, with buddy Rocket behind him

Zoom was born on the 8th May 2022 to mum Angua, one of the shier members of the herd. He had white face markings, like dad Spartan, and in fact was almost identical to full sister Chickpea. After a couple of weeks bonding with Angua in the enclosure, the pair of them headed to the high tops of the mountains for summer.

The first photo of Zoom – taken when he was just a few hours old

We get out as often as possible over the warmer months to check on the cows and calves, but inevitably the weather and other factors sometimes get in the way of this, and as the reindeer move around a lot too we can go for weeks or months without seeing a particular individual. I saw Angua and her calf high on the mountains in mid-July – both looking very scruffy as they were moulting out their winter coat, but otherwise looking grand.

Zoom at two months old, roaming high on the mountain free-range with Angua. Both are mid-moult so look rather scruffy!

As the autumn came round, cows and calves started returning to the hill enclosure, and we went out to different areas too to fetch back some who had wandered too far. Whilst we don’t worry too much about not seeing a reindeer for a few months, by late September, the main stand out reindeer we hadn’t seen were Angua, her calf (now newly christened Zoom) and also her 2-year-old daughter Chickpea.

October rolled round and we were rushed off our feet preparing for the Adopter’s Weekend, celebrating our 70th anniversary. Typically, it was on the Friday, the day before the weekend, when we received a phone call from a hill walker, Richard, letting us know that his group had met a lone reindeer, and it had started following them. Reindeer are a herd animal so it is unusual to find one alone, and as we knew there were very few out on the mountains, Lotti and I scrambled to head out and try to catch them. We loaded up two of our steady Christmas reindeer, Olympic and Clouseau, from the Paddocks and drove the 35 minutes or so to the walkers’ car park nearest to Richard’s location. He called to update us that he had been up near the summit but had turned round to escort the reindeer back down to meet us – “Please hurry!”.

Myself leading Clouseau and Lotti leading Olympic up on the rescue mission – look at our anticipation!

Olympic and Clouseau were delighted to be out on an adventure and we hurriedly popped their headcollars on, unloaded them and set off up the path through the forest. As we walked we debated which reindeer it could be. Richard hadn’t been able to spot an eartag, which suggested it may be a calf, but a calf was unlikely to have had enough exposure to humans to choose to follow one… We wondered how we would go about catching them too. The idea behind bringing along two tame lads was that even a shy reindeer was likely to want to come up and join other reindeer if alone, and this would hopefully give us a chance to get hold of them – sometimes this involves reaching beneath the tame reindeer’s belly to get hold of a leg, then holding on until your colleague can pop on a headcollar – not the way we’d prefer to do things but sometimes the only option. But if the lone reindeer was very wild it would be hard to get that close…

Much sooner than anticipated, we spied movement ahead, and all of our assumptions were blown out of the water. Not only was the lone reindeer in question indeed a calf, Richard was hurrying down the path literally with his arm over their neck, hand gently guiding on their shoulder. For a species that tends not to like contact, and for a calf that was basically unhandled, this was incredible! No need to worry about how we were going to catch them! We could immediately see from the white face markings and size that this was Angua’s calf, Zoom – rather scrawny and a little underweight, but otherwise looking healthy. It was a simple matter to pop a headcollar on Zoom (for the first time in his life) and after thanking Richard profusely, we headed our separate ways – us back down the track with our extra reindeer, and Richard back up the mountain.

Lotti replicating Richard’s reassuring touch, just a few minutes after first putting on Zoom’s headcollar

Reindeer usually protest a little the first time they are on a headcollar, but wee Zoom just seemed relieved to have found some friends, and Lotti & I had an easy walk back to the truck, still both astounded at the turn of circumstance. We arrived back at the Centre before the end of the day and Zoom quickly looked at home. Any adopters who visited us that weekend might have seen him, already friendly and confident. He buddied up with Sunny, who had been orphaned and hand-reared, and was often closely following Clouseau, latching onto him perhaps because he was the first reindeer he’d seen after being all alone. We joked about how Clouseau had got a calf of his own (despite being a castrate!).

Up with two, down with three – Zoom pottering along as if he’d done this all before (in reality probably just utterly relieved to be back in reindeer company)

Sadly we never saw Angua again, and the probable explanation is that she must have died at some point in the autumn, leaving poor Zoom to wander on his own. But animals are resourceful and he did exactly the right thing – putting his trust in the right kind human – thankfully Richard was good enough to get in touch with us and go out of his way to get Zoom down – we still talk of the special “Richard Ruffle” that he used to guide Zoom at his side.

Zoom settling into life with the herd on the hill… and knowing full well that he’ll get a bit of preferential treatment from us herders!

The other good news was that Zoom’s sister Chickpea made it home too, though it wasn’t for several months. There was the occasional report, and even a photo of her, at the far extent of the reindeer range, but every time we went out searching, there was no sign. Then in February, when we called in the free-ranging herd for breakfast, there she was – she’d found her own way back. She had clearly been unwell at some point – her coat was scruffy and she’d already cast her antlers – but she was otherwise her normal cheeky self.

Chickpea free-ranging this autumn – her and Zoom have almost identical markings!

2023 has been a much better year for both of them, and Zoom and Chickpea are looking fantastic.

Andi

Christmas shopping

Once again, the festive season is sneaking up on us, and for anyone who is a wee bit stuck for gift ideas, we’ve got lots of options on our webshop.

Adoption pack

For the reindeer fanatic in your life, how about adopting the Herd for them? As an adopter, you become one of our valued supporters and in return for your financial support, you will receive a certificate and photograph of the reindeer and additional information about reindeer along with two newsletters over the year. For UK adopters, we also send a few unique souvenirs. You can also visit the herd for free (one person admitted free per adoption). The adoption subscriptions are spent entirely on the upkeep of the reindeer including their food and welfare in the form of medicines and veterinary care. Click here to find out more.

All sorts of stationary – notepads, pens and pencils.

Toys and cuddly keyrings for all ages.

Handy eco cotton pouch, and locally made leather bookmarks.

Tea towels of different colours, reusable travel cups, locally made wooden coasters and branded thimbles.

A selection of books, telling the story of the herd.

All of these, and lots more, can be found on our webshop by clicking here. Happy shopping!

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