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 will delegate to anyone else at any point.

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 150 pairs of 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 in around February – 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 March onwards the cows start dropping their antlers, but 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 more 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 about twice 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 someway 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.

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 him/her, and a single broken-off 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. 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

A Family Affair

I thought I’d write a bit about the family trees of our herd for this week’s blog, since they work a little differently from a ‘standard’ human family tree. Those of you who have been adopting an individual reindeer within our herd for a while will probably have received a family tree at some point, as we send them out with adoption packs in even years of sponsorship (2nd, 4th, 6th etc) normally. I say ‘will probably have received’ however, as the Swedish born reindeer in our herd obviously don’t have them, and if you’ve only ever adopted the herd as a whole then you’ll not have seen one before.

We record the lineage of the reindeer born here in the herd, stretching back to the original ones imported from Sweden in the 50s, through the maternal line only (on the trees at least – of course we record the father of each calf on our database to keep track of their genetics). More dimensions than a sheet of A4 can offer would be required for anything more than the maternal line in this form however. Let’s look at a sample of a tree (apologies, you’ll probably have to zoom in to see it properly):

(no, I didn’t mean to scan in a leaf as well as the tree…)

This tree (above) is the one currently in use for the living descendants of female reindeer Russia (highlighted in red), born in 2005. As an example, you would receive this particular tree if you adopt Morse – you can see that he is the second of four calves for his mum Torch, herself the first of three offspring for Pavlova. Pavlova’s mum was Russia, Russia’s mum was Cherry, and so on. This goes right the way back to Vilda at the top, one of the reindeer brought over to Scotland in the 3rd consignment to join the growing herd, back in 1954. This particular family tree currently stands at 10 generations in the maternal line. In reality it’s actually more than that, as Morse himself is a breeding bull with multiple offspring, but let’s just stick to the maternal line and not confuse matters!

Vilda in 1955, aged 2 years old. The ancestor of many, many members of our herd!

But again A4 paper has it’s limitations, and as Russia’s mum Cherry (highlighted green on the tree above) was such a productive breeding female then this tree has had to be split into multiple ones once all her calves started calving themselves and we ran out of space. So Cherry’s descendants are now on three separate trees, the top halves of which are all identical until Cherry and her nine calves, but then different below. So Cherry’s daughter Cello (highlighted red below) went on to lots of descendants mainly via her daughter Fonn, who are on this tree:

…whilst another daughter, Tjakko (highlighted red below), was also very productive, as seen on this version of the tree:

This explains why sometimes we chat away about a relative of your reindeer in your adoption letter – who doesn’t seem to exist on the tree you’ve also received in your pack. We haven’t made them up – they’re just on an adjacent branch of their tree that you don’t have!

At times we get a family line that effectively runs out of breeding females – a so-called ‘dead line’. Not the nicest of names perhaps, but it is what is says on the tin… Tjakko’s tree, above, is an example of this – the only living female still remaining on it is Ibex, now too old to breed, so this tree will never change. As a result in this situation we stop sending the trees out to adopters once they’ve received it in it’s final state, as there’s no point receiving it again and again with no additions. Ibex does actually have descendants but they are on yet another permutation of this tree, showing her offspring and those of Bumble.

Within the animal world, there is quite a ‘flexible’, shall we say, approach to age and generations, in comparison to humans at least. We tend to breed our female reindeer up to the age of around 12 or 13, but usually only with a bull aged 3-5. This is because we castrate our male reindeer at this age, but females are never castrated as there’s no need for us to do so. Reindeer calve first (usually) at age 3, so a 3 year old bull could be three generations younger than some of his ladies, if he has a 12 year old cow in his harem. Questionable, in the human world anyway, but no reindeer eyebrows are raised. 

5 year old bull Sherlock during this year’s rut, with his older ladies (left to right) Feta (10), Jenga (12) and Torch (11).

The shortest family tree I can find is that of Okapi, consisting of only 8 generations in total including Vilda back in 1954. But again this is a family that has calved itself into a breeding cul-de-sac, as it were, with no new additions since 2013. In contrast, the most generations in a tree is 13, with two year old Sombrero and yearling Solero the most recent of the generations.

Okapi’s family tree (she has outlived both of her calves).

I thought that as a final part to this blog – and a way of getting some photos of actual reindeer into it – here’s some photo evidence of the 8 generations of Okapi’s tree. Vilda we’ve seen already, and I can’t actually find a photo of Sarah. We will no doubt have one in the albums, but we’ve only digitised up to the early 60s so far so I don’t have one to hand… But then comes Eidart, who was apparently the first reindeer that herd owner Tilly ever met, when she arrived here in 1981:

Eidart, with one of her calves

Eidart’s final calf was Trout, who held the joint record for oldest ever member of the herd (aged 18) for many years, until 19 year old Lilac stole her crown.

Trout in her latter years

Trout was an extremely productive female, with 11 calves to her name, the final one being Amber:

Amber

…whose first calf was Esme….

Esme

…the mother of Okapi.

Okapi

And finally – the end of the line – came Oka. Sadly she died before producing any offspring herself, effectively bringing this line of reindeer to an abrupt end.

Oka

So there you have it, a bit of info about our family trees. So should you get one in your next adoption pack, you can think about all those reindeer who came before your lovely adoptee.

Hen

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 1: October 2022

Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.

I was up volunteering with the herd at the beginning of October for 12 days last year. It was really great fun as always.

Sunny

I got to meet Sunny the hand-reared reindeer calf. He was born in May and his mum Rain had died when he was 6 days old. He was 5 months old when I met him in the kitchen at Reindeer House. He slept down at the Reindeer Centre in the Paddocks with the other reindeer at night and in the daytime he went up to the hill enclosure to spend the day with the reindeer in there. His mode of transport was mainly in the back of the reindeer van where there was some food for him to eat. Sometimes Sunny travelled up with the dogs in the morning. He had 3 bottles of warm goat milk a day; one was first thing in the morning, one was on the 11am hill trip and the 3rd one was either on the afternoon hill trip or when he got back down to the Reindeer Centre for the night.

Sunny travelling in style!

When we walked him to the hill enclosure and down to the carpark, it was funny to see the hill walkers surprised faces. Some wanted to stop and chat to us too. At the end of the afternoon Hill Trip, Sunny would be often found waiting at the gate waiting to come off the hill knowing he was going to go back down to the Paddocks for the night. One time when Sunny came back to the Reindeer Centre, he was in the outdoor area where the reindeer feed and hand feed are kept and he kept trying to get to it so I had to guard the feed whilst his milk was being made for him. Lol. One day on a Hill Trip, Sunny was so chilled out and lay down. He let people sit down next to him and have photos with him. On my second to last day the decision that Sunny was old enough to stay with the rest of the reindeer in the hill enclosure was made. That day, we found him as usual after the afternoon visit waiting at the gate to come off the hill and it was so hard leaving him up there. When we walked away he looked at us and started walking up and down by the gate and fence grunting wondering why we were going without him. He however did very well spending the first night up in the hill enclosure and got used to spending his nights up there.

The Calf Found On It’s Own

One day, a man phoned up The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre saying there was a reindeer calf who was on its own and was following him whilst he was out walking in a nearby area. Andi and Lotti took Clouseau and Olympic to the man’s location to see if they could catch the calf. They managed to catch him and identify him as Zoom. Zoom’s mum was nowhere to be seen and they hadn’t seen her for while. They took Clouseau, Olympic and Zoom back to the Reindeer Centre and put them in the Paddocks. Lotti and I took Zoom on his first ever walk with Clouseau and Athens with Zoom in the middle of the 2 older reindeer to make a “calf sandwich.” The older reindeer are good role models for the calves and they make the calves feel calm. Also reindeer love to stay as a group as they are a herd animal. We walked to Glenmore Visitor Centre and back to the Reindeer Centre. We had to wait for a bin lorry but the reindeer were all really good and waited patiently. Over the next few days, Zoom got attached to Clouseau and followed him around lots even when they went into the hill enclosure. In the hill enclosure Zoom got confident and was feeding out of the feed bag and hung around with us herders and the visitors.

Zoom in the hill enclosure.

The Special 70th Adopters Weekend

Whilst I was up, it was the special 70th Adopters Weekend where the reindeer herd was celebrating 70 years of the reindeer being in Scotland. The Saturday was based at the Reindeer Centre in the day and at Glenmore Lodge in the evening and the Sunday was based at Tilly’s farm in the day.  Lots of reindeer adopters from all over came to this special weekend.

The Saturday

On the Saturday people could go on the hill to see the reindeer. There were 2 Hill Trips and an ‘open hill’. The open hill trip is where people could make their way up to the reindeer on their own to spend time with their reindeer. I helped on the open hill trip based in the hill enclosure with the reindeer welcoming adopters and talking to them. There were sleigh training sessions throughout the day and I helped out with one with reindeer Dr Seuss, Spider, Clouseau and Rubiks. I wore a reindeer herders’ Christmas jumper and we stopped halfway, whilst on route, and the adopters got to sit in the sleigh for a photo.  I got to sit in the sleigh with my mum for a photo and also had a photo with me at the front of the sleigh and mum at the back of the sleigh. Near the end, I got to lead the sleigh pulled by 2 reindeer with 2 reindeer at the back which was very exciting.

Emm holding Clouseau.

There were activities people could do down at the centre. There was guess the weight of Sunny the reindeer calf, a silent auction for Holy Moley’s antler, lasso a reindeer’s antlers, make their own reindeer adopters badge and a memory board where adopters could write down their memories or put photos on. There was also tea, coffee, cake and biscuits and a Cairngorm Gin stall. People could walk to Utsi’s hut in their own time and explore it.

At the end, we tidied things away and put things in Tilly’s van ready for the Tilly’s farm the next day. On the Saturday evening, Tilly did a reindeer talk at Glenmore Lodge. She did 2 sittings. There was a 5:30pm one and a 6:30pm one.  Tilly did a very good talk with lots of lovely photos and a lovely video.

The Sunday

On Sunday, Fiona and Lotti and me took Spider, Olympic, Anster, Rubiks and Sunny to Tilly’s farm. Tiree and Fraoch the dogs travelled with us in Brenda the lorry cab. We stopped off near some woods near Tilly’s farm to get some lichen lollipops (sticks covered in lichen) in the woods so the adopters could give the reindeer some at Tilly’s farm. We put Spider, Olympic, Anster, Rubiks and Sunny with the rest of the older male reindeer in Tilly’s garden at her farm. Adopters could walk amongst the reindeer and give them the lichen lollipops.

Fiona with Fraoch the collie, Lotti and Emm in Brenda (the lorry) ready to go to the farm!

Tilly did farm walks around her farm for the adopters to see the Soay sheep, the pigs, the Belted Galloway cows, the 2 hand-reared Belted Galloway calves, the Red deer and her other animals. The walks ended going into an enclosure to see the young reindeer bulls where people could walk amongst them. There was a BBQ, some handmade soup, tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. Whilst setting up, I had to guard the cake and biscuits from the chickens who were roaming around, lol. There were also some items from The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre shop in a gazebo. There were some activities from the Saturday too. At the end the day, we started putting the reindeer from Tilly’s garden to a big barn. I led Olympic and Hamish. Sunny and some other reindeer went back to the Reindeer Centre in Brenda. Moskki, one of Tilly’s dogs jumped onto Tilly’s quad bike and looked like she was driving it. 

Emm and Amy at the farm. Olympic delighted to see a handful of lichen!
Moskki posing on the quad.

Free-range Reindeer Turn Up

One of the days when we got to the hill enclosure gate for the afternoon Hill Trip visitors, a group of 20 reindeer who had been free-ranging on the mountain were waiting by the gate. Cameron and I continued with the visit whilst Sheena, Shona and Stuart led them into the hill enclosure through another gate so they could check on them. A calf was running back and forth along the fence as it had to get use to going through a gate, eventually it got through. In the group was Morven and her calf called Mochi which was amazing because a few weeks before, Morven had turned up without Mochi. She still had an udder so the herders knew she still must have her calf so they sent her away to go and find her calf. Hey Presto, Morven had found her calf came back together so we were all very happy. What amazing mums they are. Andi and Lotti came up to check on the group of free-range reindeer and put 10 reindeer back out onto the free-range and keeping 10, including Morven and her calf Mochi, in the hill enclosure.

Mochi, closest to the camera, with mum Morven behind. What a stonker of a calf. Well done Morven!

Stay tuned for part two of Emm’s super blog….!

Emm

‘Uncover the Mythology of Reindeer’ with Sharon Hudgins

A few years back I replied to an email from a lady who had visited Glenmore from the USA back in 1969, and had been put up for the night in Reindeer House by Mikel Utsi. She remembered meeting a pure white reindeer in the pen behind the house (what is now the Paddocks), and from our herd records I could tell this must have been Snowflake, one of the first ‘leucistic’ reindeer in the Cairngorm herd.

Snowflake outside Reindeer House in 1970.

We corresponded a bit and Sharon, who is an author and public speaker, then came back to visit Scotland again that summer, returning to the Reindeer Centre once more, and has stayed in touch since through becoming an adopter (picking a descendant of Snowflake as her adoptee!). Her unexpected encounter with a reindeer back in the 60s sparked a life-long interest , and she has gone on to write a book about her early travels and her time since spent amongst reindeer herders all over the world. She wrote a wee blog for us too a couple of years back too.

In 2019 Sharon gave lectures on reindeer on Viking ocean cruises, using a mixture of photos she has taken and ones we have provided, and in 2022 the lecture was recorded for Viking TV. And here it is!

Hen

Volunteer Blog: Falling in love with reindeer

How it all started

I have been a reindeer adopter for 10 years and it all started because my brother adopted the lovely Topi as a Xmas present for my sister-in-law. On reading the wonderful welcome pack, I decided I needed to visit the herd. So, the following summer found me up in the Cairngorms on a fantastic trek leading the great Grunter. I was hooked!

The lovely Topi in 2012. When Helen first adopted him.
Grunter looking very handsome in 2013.

Over the years I’ve visited 2 or 3 times a year- thoroughly enjoyable each time. Not only were the reindeer and the setting up in the Cairngorms superb but so were the dedicated group of people who ensure the safety and care of these wonderful creatures. I had promised myself that the first thing I would do when I retired was volunteer at the Reindeer Centre to see behind the scenes and play all be it a small part in this venture.

My first volunteer week

So being accepted September 2019 saw my promise fulfilled – a whole week with the reindeer and of course these wonderful herders. As well as being so very excited, I was a bit apprehensive – not doing the right thing, being more of a hindrance than help. However, I was made so welcome and my help much appreciated no matter what that I soon relaxed. I knew from my own work that supporting volunteers is quite a commitment so all praise to the great team of herders one and all.

Spending twice a day up in the hills was just all I had hoped it would be – don’t think I have the words to do it justice. Getting to share my enthusiasm for the herd and the work done to support them was a privilege. Over the week I learned so much from each of the herders that I grew in confidence in talking to the visitors.

By the end of the week I had developed a whole range of skills – cleaning wellies and scooping poo high on the list! I was also fitter though that may seem ridiculous as I stumbled, fell and broke my wrist (yes, I am THAT volunteer!!) I have high praise for the health services in Aviemore and the care and concern of the herders. Not daunted although I couldn’t sadly go up the hills for the rest of my week, I was able to chat to people who visited the paddocks, make lots of cups of tea and help out in the office (at least I hope it was viewed as help!) I also mastered the art of washing wellies with one hand!

The pandemic put a hold on another opportunity to volunteer – yes, I was going to be welcomed back!

May 2022 – the return

May 2022 was my next chance for a week for all things reindeer. I deliberately wanted to be part of the calving season as my September 2019 stint saw the start of the rut. The May week was a wet one – I don’t think I got out of the wet weather gear and grew to bless wellies. No matter the weather it is always worthwhile going up the hills. The scenery is stunning and atmospheric and of course the welcome from the reindeer makes it all complete.

Marple and Vienna’s calves on a soggy day!

As there had been over a 2-year gap to my volunteering, although I had been a visitor when I could, I was a bit concerned that I would have forgotten everything. No worries, it came rushing back with updates and new things filling the gaps. It was like meeting a new herd as a whole new group of reindeer had been born and grown up as well as saying goodbye to some favourites.

It was a wonderful experience to see the new born. The mothers were very protective initially keeping their distance from us with their calves. When the time was right they joined us with the wee calf at their heels. I think the oldest calves were about 3 or 4 weeks old and to see them also grow in confidence over the week to where they tentatively came up to check you out was quite a privilege. At one point I was “helping” with temperature checks and watching the protective behaviour of the mothers whether new hands or experienced was quite something – and very noisy in a small space! Honking like geese was my comment!

Soon after Helen’s help checking temperatures and making sure the calves and their mothers were healthy, they were put out into the mountains to free range.

My skill set also grew. No welly washing is required anymore but I added making up the feed – good cardiovascular workout. If it was possible to make this week even more special I was lucky enough to be at the Centre on the actual day of the 70th anniversary of reindeer arriving at Cairngorm. Cake was very welcome coming down off the hills. I think visitors also enjoyed the extra surprise of treats at the Centre as well!

Fiona and Lotti food mixing – now one of Helen’s skills too!
70th Anniversary Hill Trip – Helen can be seen clutching the white handfeed bag!

As in 2019 it was sad to say goodbye when the week ended. For a long time afterwards looking at the clock I would be thinking “they’ll be going up on the hill visit” On a lovely day weatherwise I just wanted to be there. The place and experiences get under your skin.

Adopters Weekend

So it was with great pleasure I visited again in October for the Adopters Weekend. The 5-month gap had brought much change to the calves I had seen in May and it was like starting again getting to know them. It was great to see the adults again – hello Beanie always reliable to arrive to greet us particularly when food was involved! It was great day (it didn’t rain!) talking all things reindeer and Tilly’s evening talk humorous and informative was a great way to end the day. Sad again to say goodbye, however there are the Xmas events to look forward to.

The calves in October- a big change since Helen last saw them in May.
Beanie, being Beanie! The face lots of people witness as the handfeed bags appear!

I can’t believe 10 years have passed since I read that welcome pack – thank you, big brother! Here’s to the next 10 and beyond.

Helen Adair

Newsletter chaos!

Having been here for a long time, the logistics of sending out the bi-annual newsletter that is posted to all our reindeer adopters has, almost by default, become Andi and I’s domain. The two newsletters are sent out in June and October, so for the 6 weeks or so beforehand I spend my time in a bit of a flap, trying to coordinate everything at the same time as doing all the other, day-to-day work (I would say ‘we’ spend our time in a flap, but realistically, it’s probably just me. I’m not known for calmness under pressure. Andi is much more unflappable than I am).

Work on the June newsletter is very much intermittent in May, as May is the calving season for the reindeer and we are usually rushed off our feet, so by the first half of June I am tearing my hair out over it. It needs to be out in the post to all 1800(ish) adopters by around the 20th June, so I am liable to getting a little bit frantic at times! Once upon a time we used to handwrite some additional information about each person’s adopted reindeer that was sent out with the newsletter, but those days are long since passed as our number of adopters has grown significantly over the last 15 years or so. Nowadays, for the June edition, we type a section of bumff about each reindeer, count how many need printed for each individual, and print them on 1/3 A4 sized slips. Much easier. Except that actually it takes ages to write them in the first place as almost every single one of the ~150 reindeer in the herd have adopters – years ago I wrote the entire lot myself, ran a word count and the overall total was longer than my university thesis had been! (I’m confident I know more about reindeer than limpets these days though…) In recent years I’ve managed to palm this job off on Andi, who does the bulk, with myself, Lotti and Ruth taking occasional turns.

The October 2022 newsletter photo, of Morse and his girls earlier in the month (though I did miscalculate and we ran out of these photos towards the end so a few of you will have received a different picture…)

The October newsletter goes out with a photo of the herd instead of individual info about each reindeer, with some more general info about how the year is going printed on the reverse. September is a hugely busy month for us too, with the start of the rut, vaccinations and free-ranging reindeer all over the place generally getting in the way, along with calves to halter train and handle for the first time. We just don’t have time to write 150 blurbs anymore, so a photo of the herd is the next best thing. God knows how we ever hand-wrote anything for the newsletter in the past – madness!

Many, many adoption forms to work through… The 18th Year + folder now goes up to 32nd year!

One day I guess we may get to the point of sending out newsletters digitally, but I, for one, hope those days are far in the future. Everyone prefers getting actual physical post, don’t they? I certainly do. It also means we don’t discriminate between folks who do/don’t use the internet. Our rather idiosyncratic system of working our way through the folders of adoption forms one by one, and cross-referencing the details on the form with the address label that has been printed is time consuming, but does pick up any mistakes that we have made when entering details on to the database. Labels print alphabetically by surname, within each adoption year, and one person’s job is to find the relevant label whilst the other reads out the details on the form. No problem for the long-standing adopters, where there are only a few in each year, but by the time we get down to the folks in their 1st year of adoption that person is on their feet the whole time, dancing back and forth up and down around 900 names. It’s quite a tiring job, mentally in particular!

After actually packing up the newsletters comes the job of franking all the envelopes!

Nothing pleases me quite as much as carting all our boxes of completed newsletters off for the postie to collect – job done for another few months. It’s a good feeling! I can go back to my normal level of flustered confusion finally rather the super-charged fluster I exist in during May and September of each year.

Finally ready to post! And taller than me…

Hen

Hannah’s Volunteer Blog

It started with a Hill Trip. Back in February 2018 my partner took me on a surprise trip to Aviemore and beyond, little did I know that this would result in a lifelong love of reindeer, two volunteering sessions and 3 adoptees!

Hannah’s very first HillTrip!

I have always been an animal person so my partner knew that this would be a winner, but I was completely amazed by these beautiful creatures to the point where I rather embarrassingly burst into tears as we reached the crest of the hill and saw the herd grazing in the snow. Naturally we put the herders through two hours in the cold asking questions and generally staring in awe, and it took only the time between walking back down the hill and into the shop to get my volunteering application at the ready and adopt the lovely Anster!

Hannah and Anster in August 2019.
Hannah during her first volunteering stint in 2019.

My first volunteering week was back in August 2019, I turned up super excited to help and I was welcomed with open arms by everyone at Reindeer House. Being the height of the summer holidays, it was hill trips galore and I couldn’t have been happier to throw myself into being a volunteer reindeer herder and guide. I was a little nervous though – what if a visitor had a question I couldn’t answer? It’s amazing though how little a problem that was, with the herders being so lovely, answering my many, many questions and giving me the chance to be as hands on as possible both on the hill in the mornings and down at reindeer house. Suddenly I could hold my own with the questions and was even trusted with a wee bit of the talking by the end of the week. My time on the hill was amazing for many reasons, but especially as I got some great quality time with my adoptee, who was always first in line for a hand feed! I reached the last day so sad to leave (and with another two adoptees as I couldn’t choose between them) but ready to return a year later… Or so I thought!

For reasons I’m sure we all remember well, my 2020 return was unable to go ahead, and continued to be pushed back until finally, I was in the clear to return to Reindeer House in July 2022!

It was lovely to see the friendly faces of the herders again, but this time with a new addition – who should I see coming round the corner, but a tiny calf climbing into the feed bags! I was told all about the lovely Sunny and I couldn’t help but feel that my timing had worked out quite well after all!

Sunny on the 5th of July in Reindeer House.

Being a returning volunteer allowed me to crack on a little quicker and more confidently which meant that I got even more quality reindeer time! I spent most mornings up on the hill first thing, checking the herd, putting out the feed, checking temperatures and training on the harness. I couldn’t quite believe my luck and the ever-wonderful team helped to guide me along every step of the way.

Hannah hand feeding Kiruna and Sherlock in July 2022.

I was especially lucky to be a part of Sunny’s first ventures into ‘big school’ aka joining all of the boys together for the hill trips. He settled in amazingly well and after a small telling off from some of the yearlings has seemed to find his place among them. Being a volunteer meant that I not only got to spend the hill trips with Sunny, I also got to enjoy walking him to and from the hill, hand rearing (to a lovely chorus of ‘awhhhh’s’ from the visitors) and watching his progress from the beginning to the end of the week.

Sunny travelling up to the hill in the back of the reindeer van.

Though of course Sunny is not only the main event. I threw myself back into my mission to ID as many reindeer as possible on the hill trips and while I’m a huge ways away from the pros, both times I couldn’t believe how quickly you can catch on to the quirks and personalities among the herd that can help you to tell them apart. I have to say though, between lots of new additions to the herd in my three year gap and the transition to summer and winter coats it was a whole lot more of a challenge this time!

Saying this, it was an absolute treat to see how the boys I had got to know so well in my first week had grown and how quickly I recognised them. In 2019, Bond had no antlers and was trying to find his place among his pals in the paddock, now he has a beautiful set and looks like a fully fledged reindeer, Sherlock now has the biggest antlers I have ever seen, many of them now have calves – so much can change in a few years and it’s good to know that while I was cooped up in my flat, the reindeer were still out on the hills living their best lives!

While it’s an amazing experience for anyone, I can honestly say that volunteering not once but twice (so far…) was easily the best decision I ever made, and it is no exaggeration to say it has been life changing. Seeing the team care so diligently for these beautiful animals and how passionate knowledgeable they all are about them and their environment is beyond inspiring. In my other life as a teacher, I returned from my first stint determined to build my students appreciation for the outdoors, for animals, for their world, gained my forest schools qualification and taken steps to bring animals nature to the children and vice versa. It was something I always cared about, but seeing what the herd have achieved gave me the push that I needed to start making these goals a reality. Sharing my experiences, photos and other things I’ve picked up along the way with the children in class has also given me a fair bit of clout in the classroom too – I’ve never had so many reindeer themed Christmas and end of year gifts!

Hannah and Sunny – July 2022.

I feel so lucky to have had these opportunities with the herd and the wonderful help everyone in the team to give me the most magical of experiences. I can’t wait to head back up the hills again – just maybe without the three year wait this time…

Hannah

Long-distance adopting!

Our blog this week comes from Freya, a long-time supporter of the herd for, well, as long as she can remember! Freya now lives in Canada so visiting us isn’t quite as easy as it once was unfortunately, but she and her family adopt several reindeer and keep in touch with the herd via social media. Isn’t technology useful these days?!

When I say I’ve been visiting the Cairngorm Reindeer herd since before I can remember I am quite sure people think I’m exaggerating. Truth is, I have been visiting since before I can remember. It became a well-established tradition for my family (and often my extended family) to visit Scotland at least once a year from when I was about 5 years old. I couldn’t tell you when our first visit to see the reindeer themselves was, but I do recall seeing photos of a tiny little me wrapped up so much that you could barely make out arms and legs!

Jigsaw with her mum Doughnut

The year I will always remember was 2005, the year of the ‘countries’ theme. We had come up to Aviemore for the first time in the Spring and were delighted to be able to see the calves like never before. As luck would have it we finished the climb of the Hill Trip just in time to see a very fresh calf popping into the world! I’ll always remember watching the little calf, later named India (I believe), making all the effort to stand up on those very wobbly legs!

One of the other newborn calves in 2005

It took a single visit for the reindeer to become an essential part of every trip to the Highlands and we would make the trek at least once, sometimes twice, every time we visited – rain, shine, hail or snow! By the age of 8 I was obsessed with the reindeer and we had fallen in love with a family line – specifically Bell (born in 2000), her mother Shell and grandmother Tortoiseshell (Editor’s note: Bell, Shell and Tortoiseshell were descended from a lovely reindeer named Edelweiss, who was a prolific breeding  female in the ’90s and early ’00s. While this line of her descendants has now died out, another branch of her family tree stretches down to Scrabble and Strudel, still present in the herd today). To this day we all (parents and grandparents included) remember the Edelweiss line well!

Shell (right) with Bell in March 2002

Up until that point we had been admirers of the herd but never adopters. The special memories of 2005 changed that and my birthday present a year later in 2006 was to choose a reindeer to adopt. Sadly, by this point India wasn’t an option so instead I adopted Fiji, Bell’s cousin through Shell’s sister Coral. As nature has it, a couple of years later we received the heartbreaking letter that Fiji had passed (I am thankful that I met Fiji several times in the meantime). It was at this juncture that I discovered the Russia family line and Russia became my next adoptee from the ‘countries’ year. I adopted Russia for a few more years and visited lots more times over the coming year until moving away to Canada.

Fiji with her mum Coral in 2005

In 2006 since on a visit with my dad, feeding one of the calves born the previous year. It might have been Fiji but I’m not 100% sure now! (Editor’s note: the reindeer’s coat’s bleach in the light through the winter months, so by late spring, prior to moulting, they are a completely different colour from the previous summer).

A Hill Trip out onto the free-range rather than to the hill enclosure in 2007.

Life happens and I confess that we lost track of the reindeer herd a little in the chaos of emigrating. We liked the page of course, watched any clips we could get hold of, but visiting became much less of an option. The global pandemic brought us many things, most of them bad, but I think it also gave us the opportunity to stop and take the time to appreciate the little things we often forget in the chaos of daily life. In these hard times I made it a resolution to consciously spend less money on large organizations and more supporting smaller, family-oriented organizations. The first one that came to my mind (conveniently right around my birthday) was the Cairngorm reindeer herd and an adoption was the birthday treat of 2020. I got in touch with the lovely team who willingly helped me find a reindeer with a connection to one of my past favourites. I became the proud adopter of Scrabble who is a cousin of Shell and grandchild of Edelweiss.

A Hill Trip with herders Gill and Jack (potential for plenty of ‘Jack and Jill go up the hill’ based jokes!)

Young reindeer Caterpillar in 2012

Fern

During lockdown I completed my Master’s degree, leaving my housemates and I stuck at home with lots a plethora of spare time. My household loves a challenge so to keep ourselves busy we decided to try and work out the past themes and family links of the current reindeer. I can now officially say I’ve read every blog post available online! I may not be an official ‘groupie’ yet – but I think it’s safe to say I’m a groupie-in-training! Another sign – my family and I have adopted two more reindeer (Jonne and Svalbard) and are thinking about a fourth (Holy Moley being a strong contender!) Suffice to say that I am just as excited about supporting the herd now as I was when I was eight and I look forward to visiting again in the future!

Freya

As usual we’re always delighted to include your stories of meeting the reindeer in future blogs. Just get in touch with Hen via our main email address if you’d like to get involved 😀

Thank you all!

Following the TV programme on Channel 4, ‘A Baby Reindeer’s First Christmas‘, we have been overwhelmed with lovely letters of support, incredibly generous donations and new ‘adopters’. It really has been a fantastic lifeline for us here at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre and I can honestly say our lovely reindeer have touched the hearts of many, both at home and abroad.

TV stars Dr Seuss and Holy Moley at the Strathspey Railway event. Photo: Justin Purefoy/Maramedia

The lovely letters we have received have been incredibly varied and while protecting people anonymity I thought it would be nice to share some of the contents of these letters.

A young lass from the Midlands sent a wonderful letter, written and illustrated by herself. Her attention to detail was amazing and I can’t resist sharing her lovely drawings with you.

If any of you budding young reindeer enthusiasts would like to also send in anything we would love to receive it. Getting letters through the post is always special and here at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre we would love to receive any works of art or prose! Our postal address and email address can be found on the Contact Us page of our website.

Quite a number of letters and cards came from people reminiscing about days gone by, maybe an occasion when they met the original owners of the herd, Mikel Utsi and Dr Lindgren. Although we have a considerable archive here at Reindeer House of the history of the herd, many of the stories recalled were new to me and so all the more interesting.

I smiled at the recollection of one couple who attended a talk given by Dr Lindgren and described her as ‘large’ (not fat) and very straight backed and a loud voice. Well I certainly chuckled at this description! Dr Lindgren indeed a very tall lady and the above description hits the nail on the head. I knew Dr Lindgren well in her latter years and I was terrified of her! She was so worldly, intelligent and dominant, but she was also kind and considerate when necessary. I would love to hear from anyone who knew her personally and has a story to tell – she was quite a character and had many different interests and skills, other than reindeer.

And then there was a lady who met Mr Utsi, in North Sweden, before the first reindeer came to Scotland in 1952. This was a lovely encounter, which was described in detail to us. Back in 1951, the lady who wrote to us went on a skiing expedition with her school to Swedish Lapland.  Many of them had never skied before, but quickly got to grips with the sport and by all accounts had lifetime memories from their time there. While there they were taken to see a herd of reindeer and the owner Mikel Utsi told them that he was introducing his reindeer to Scotland! What a wonderful memory and I am so glad this lady was able to see the TV programme on Christmas Eve and see just how it is all those years later!

There was a strong common theme through the many letters we received with comments as follows:

best viewing ever over the Festive season

Thank you for adding ‘animal magic’ to a home alone Christmas

A Baby Reindeer’s First Christmas was absolutely brilliant and a stroke of genius – wonderful publicity, informing such a wide audience of all the great work you are doing for the community

The programme brought back lovely memories of when we used to visit you in your early days

So thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone you has been in touch to reminisce, donate and adopt reindeer. It has been a huge help to us and most importantly ‘put a smile on our faces’.

Tilly feeding young bull Sherlock. Photo: Justin Purefoy/Maramedia

Tilly

Cameron and Crowdie

This week’s blog is from Cameron, one of our younger supporters. If any readers would like to contribute a wee story for a blog we are always delighted by this – please send them to info@cairngomreindeer.co.uk , for attention of Hen:

On the 24th September 2018 we decided to come and meet the Cairngorm Reindeer for the first time. I was 8 and really loved reindeer so was delighted to find out I could actually meet them. We decided to do the Hill Trip and although it was quite windy it was amazing to see the reindeer coming down the hill as they could see the herders with the feed!

Surrounded by reindeer!

I loved being able to hand-feed and stroke the reindeer (which visitors could do before Covid-related restrictions came in last year) and they were so gentle and friendly to everyone. This was the day that I met my adoptive reindeer Crowdie for the first time. Crowdie came right up to me to feed and was such a lovely boy, he was a bit mischievous as he tried to get into the feed bags and kept coming for more and more food.

Crowdie and me!

When I heard that you could adopt any of the deer I really wanted to do this to help the herd survive. Unfortunately at the time we didn’t know the name of the reindeer that I fell in love with. Unknown to me my mum sent the photo of me to the Centre who told her it was Crowdie and I was delighted to get him as my adopted reindeer for Christmas that year.

We have visited Crowdie a few times and are came to visit most recently in October last year.

Cameron 

Crowdie as a two year old

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