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

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

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

Memorable reindeer of the past: Lulu

Normally I write these sort of blogs about reindeer who are long since passed, but Lulu was a bit of a favourite of mine so despite dying relatively recently, she’s getting special treatment.

Charging towards a feed bag!

Born in 2006, Lulu was one of the very few reindeer in the herd alive until recently who were here when I first started, back in 2007. She was just a yearling at that point, but even at that stage her reputation preceded her and we called her ‘ASBO Lulu’ on a regular basis, due to her habit of occasionally nailing visitors with her small (but still sharp) antlers. I remember having to split her off from the main herd in the enclosure every morning, to keep a nice tall fence between her and any unsuspecting people.

Aged 6 months

Going back to 2006, Lulu was orphaned at about 6 months old, her mother Nugget passing away whilst Lulu was away with one of the Christmas teams at some festive events down south. Having to fend for herself from a relatively young age presumably helped to hone her tenacious character. Lulu was 18 months old when I first knew her, so I sadly don’t remember Nugget.

Lulu at 2 years old

Lulu grew into a very distinctive reindeer, light coloured with a particularly pale forehead, and small, neat antlers with lots of points. A pair of these are on the wall in my house still. Although she never grew particularly huge antlers, throughout her life she was unpredictable with them, and you could never trust her not to go for a visitor. It was never outright aggression – just done for fun. I heard tales from multiple walkers over the years who had bumped into a group of free-ranging reindeer and told me of a white one who kept ‘attacking’ them. Ah, you met Lulu, then.

Butter wouldn’t melt!
I once went walking in the mountains with my Dad, on a day off, and were joined unexpectedly by Lulu, who accompanied us for several hours.

I’ve just looked at Lulu’s calving record, to remind myself of who she had. Incredibly, all of the 8 calves she had over the course of her lifetime were male, an unsurpassed record in the herd surely. She didn’t have the best success as a young mum, with her first couple of calves not making it past a few months old. Then came LX though, born in 2012, and he’s still with us in the herd today. Born light brown with a white forehead, he turned white and looked very similar to Lulu, albeit in male form.

Lulu with LX

Pure white Blue was next, and then Lulu fancied a change in colour and had a jet black calf the following year! Her moment of calving glory however, was the birth of the first live twins in the herd, in 2018. Named Starsky and Hutch, we had great fun with these guys through the summer months, and all the visitors loved meeting them in the hill enclosure on the tours. Sadly neither survived long term, leading us to make the decision that if and when we had live twins born again we would hand-rear one of them and leave mum to cope with only one – a decision that had to kick into action this spring with Suebi’s twins.

With Starsky and Hutch, a few hours old.

12 years old when Starsky and Hutch were born, we decided that that was it for Lulu and it was time to retire from motherhood and enjoy life as an old lady with no hangers-on. That she did, still periodically nailing visitors from time to time – even just last winter we had to move her to join a part of the herd elsewhere away from the tours after she did her best to annihilate a somewhat surprised lady! 16 and a half and still disreputable – what a gal. For context, the average age for a female reindeer is around 13 – to be clouted by a 16 year old reindeer is akin to being beaten up by an ancient granny wielding her zimmer.

The photo of Lulu that visitor Tessa Wingfield sent us last winter, having a closer than expected encounter with her on a Hill Trip. The photo made us cry laughing – we do apologise for her behaviour, Tessa!
ASBO Lulu

Lulu was very healthy all of her life – bar a brief but nasty illness in 2018 when we thought we’d lose her – but this year she started to show her age and she was found out on the mountains having passed away in the late summer. 17 is an excellent age, so Lulu had a great innings and outlived all but two of her compatriots from the 2006 calving, as well as most of her offspring. Her and her bad behaviour have been a constant throughout my time here, so amongst the herders I’ll miss her particularly I think.

Hen

Reindeer Identification

What a lovely herd, but how do you learn all their names?

Reindeer identification is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of the work here at the Reindeer Centre. Of course there are a few individual reindeer that are very distinctive and easy to spot like Sherlock with those enormous antlers and Dr Suess with his with white nose. I’m also pretty confident telling apart the two white yearling males (99 and Mr Whippy) as long as they’re not too far away!

Sherlock is a very distinctive boy with big antlers.
Most visitors to the hill will be able to recognise Dr Seuss within a few mins of meeting him.

I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to try to get to know who’s who for the less obvious members of the herd. During the summer months while I’m here, the hill enclosure is home to a lovely smaller herd made up of some of the bulls. It’s a good time to try to learn a few reindeer while they’re part of a smaller group and I can see them most days.

The ear tags on the reindeer are colour coded depending on the year they are born, for example last years calves all have red ear tags (I was lucky enough to be volunteering the day they were tagged!). As a rule, I tend to look for any distinguishing features first like coat colour, markings, antler shape and size, and body size. After that, I’ll try to spot what colour the ear tag is. Some of the older reindeer are easier because there are fewer to choose from with that year’s colour ear tag.

Zoom showing off his red ear tag. But it’s his white face markings and cheeky character which give his identity away!

As well as the more obvious physical features, its been really helpful to speak to the other herders to get hints and tips on how they remember who’s who. For example, Sheena pointed out that Poirot’s antlers come out straight from his forehead like two fingers or the number “11” and his number is “211”. Isla told me how she remembers Arta’s name because the pattern on his nose looks like artwork and Mollie told me that Cicero has the biggest of the silvery coloured antlers.

Poirot having a snooze in the Paddocks. The unique shape of his left antler helps Fran identify him.

This week I learned that Merida, Dr. Suess’ mum, also has a lovely white face and I was able to spot my personal favourite, Beanie, thanks to her lovely speckly nose and the fact that she was with a group of two cows with their calves.

Merida on the left has a very distinctive white hourglass face markings. But who are the others?! Chickpea is in the middle and Solero on the right.

However, often, just when I get the hang of this ID game, things start to change. The boys summer coats don’t really last more that a few weeks it seems so no sooner was I was feeling very confident identifying Lupin and Kernel with their beautiful dark summer coats they’re both already growing their winter coats! We’re also bringing some of the girls into the enclosure which is adding ever more complexity to the task. My ID skills are definitely a work in progress and I’m loving taking every opportunity to watch the herd and learn who everybody is.

Lupin in his short dark summer coat at the end of June…
…2 months later at the end of August, Lupin is growing through his winter coat and is looking more silvery.
Fran helping to bring some more free ranging girls into the enclosure. Yet more names to learn!

Fran

Memorable reindeer of the past: Chelsea

It’s been a long time since I found time to write about a reindeer who’s no longer with us, but I’m acutely aware that it is high time for me to take my turn to write a blog, so here we are.

This time I thought I’d pick Chelsea, who only died last year but she’d lived a good long life and been around for the vast majority of my time here, so she seems like a good choice. Born in 2009, she was Glacier’s second to last calf, and Glacier was a very productive female so Chelsea was from a large family line! Like Glacier, Chelsea was a light coloured reindeer, but one without face markings, which is actually a rarity in our herd nowadays – most light coloured reindeer also have distinctive face markings. But Chelsea came from a line of light reindeer – mum Glacier, granny Ferrari and great-granny Vivi were all the same colouration, and doubtless ancestors before were too (but I don’t have that info to hand just now).

Chelsea with mum Glacier, back in 2009

Despite Glacier being a lovely, tame reindeer, Chelsea was always much more ‘independent’ – the word we use to describe a reindeer who is on the ‘wilder’ side! I remember her well as a calf – mainly from battling with her trying to get her used to wearing a halter. All our calves are trained to halter at around 5 months old, and Chelsea certainly had a lot of attitude and strong opinions about the whole affair.

At 5 months old, Chelsea’s baby coat had been replaced by her adult, lighter coat

Possibly the headstrong attitude came with the name. She was born the year we named the calves after ‘cakes, biscuits and puddings’, and during our naming evening we had a conversation about the name ‘Chelsea’ being too associated with the football team rather than the bun. And it sounded like a name for a footballer’s wife… Having just vetoed it, we offered our volunteer Paul – a retired joiner who has come to work with us multiple times over many, many years – the chance to pick a name for a calf. Having apparently not paid the slightest attention to the entire conversation, he peered at the list of possibilities and promptly picked ‘Chelsea’. We rolled our eyes and gritted our teeth… and named her Chelsea.

Chelsea and another calf in the back of one of our vehicles at a Christmas event, waiting to be unloaded.

Sally and I had Chelsea on our Christmas team that winter, and were rather embarrassed by her name so we called her Tiffin for a few days. But names just become names, and Chelsea became Chelsea whilst Tiffin disappeared into the ether.

So much attitude! Picking a fight with bull Pera

Chelsea had her first calf at 3 years old, in our diamond anniversary year of the herd. So we named her Diamond, and she has proved to be a lovely reindeer over the years, mellow where Chelsea is feisty, but she looks very, very similar.

Diamond at about a month old – calves born with white foreheads like this invariably turn into white adults

In 2015 Diamond reached maturity and in 2016 she had her first – and only – calf, Pagan. 2016 was also the year when Chelsea and Diamond both grew such similar antlers that year that we continuously got them muddled up. The photo below seems to be the only one I have of the two of them together that year – but look how similar!

Chelsea and Diamond. Or is it Diamond and Chelsea?

Chelsea did mellow a bit with age, but remained a reindeer that never willingly allowed herself to be caught. In a moment of necessity I did once make a bid to catch her by her antlers out on the mountains – once the velvet has stripped away from the antlers no feeling remains, so antlers can occasionally be useful emergency handles – but regretted it immediately, and had bruises to show for my bad decision afterwards.

Such a beautiful girl!

Dying in early 2022 at nearly 13 years old, Chelsea lived a full and rewarding life, most of her time spent roaming freely out on the mountains. Whilst she had a few calves, most were males who we didn’t breed from, so only Diamond continued her line. Grand-daughter Pagan has sadly gone now too, but she has left daughters Pumpkin and Winnie behind – Chelsea’s great-granddaughters – so Chelsea’s legacy continues. The light colour has gone though – both of this most recent generation are the ‘normal’ brown colour.

Hen

2020 calves – then and now (Part 2 – the males).

This week’s blog looks back on a select few of my favourite male calves of 2020 and how they have changed in the last three years. To read stories about my favourite female calves then check out this blog, published a few weeks ago: 2020 calves – then and now (Part 1 – the females). – The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd

Adzuki

I remember when we found Gazelle and Adzuki just after he was born how relaxed they both were. At the time Gazelle was twelve years old and had had many calves before so she was completely comfortable for us to hang out with her and her new-born calf. (Provided that we had brought her some food, which of course we had)!

New-born Adzuki.
Fiona, Gazelle and Adzuki.

Adzuki is now one of the biggest of his age group. Adzuki was always fairly shy so we have spent quite a lot of time, and bribery, getting him used to us. It helps that he is from a greedy family! Adzuki grew a wonderful set of antlers as a two year old and after a winter free ranging he’s currently back in our enclosure and has grown a whole new set once again – even bigger!

Adzuki growing a beautiful set of antlers as a 2-year-old bull – summer 2022.
Adzuki – summer 2023.

Haricot

Haricot was Ryvita’s last calf, and when he was born he was really wee. In fact as we waved the cows and calves off onto the free-range for the summer, I wasn’t totally convinced that we’d see him again. But we did, in fact by the end of the summer he looked totally great and was just as fat as any of the other calves. Ryvita however was looking a wee bit underweight, potentially due to having done such a fantastic job of raising Haricot, so we gave her some extra food all autumn. And of course, if Ryvita got extra food, so did Haricot! As a result, by Christmas, he was like a little barrel!!

A near miss for Haricot (if you don’t see it at first then look closer)!
Haricot as a new born.
Haricot in the snow as a calf with Lupin and Holy Moley coming up behind.

Haricot’s extra food that first autumn certainly stood him in good stead and he’s now a very handsome young reindeer. Here he is below with half brother Adzuki, you can certainly see the family resemblance!

Haricot and Adzuki. – summer 2022.
Winter Haricot.
Haricot – summer 2023.

Butter

Now Butter came as a bit of surprise. His mum, Gloriana, had never calved (despite running with a bull each year) until the age of 8 when Butter was born! We found Butter on a super soggy day and he had big floppy ears. Butter spent all summer free-ranging and we didn’t see him much and then one day at the end of the summer Gloriana came running into the enclosure with no calf. She was grunting away and still had an udder full of milk suggesting that she’d only recently lost Butter, so we sent her back out to search for him. We didn’t see either of them for quite a while and then one morning, Gloriana showed up with Butter in tow. He was looking fairly skinny so we decided to name him Butter, after a butter bean, in the hope that he would grow to be ‘fat as butter’!!  

New born Butter on a very soggy day!

Sure enough, fast forward almost three years and Butter is doing very well. He also got lots of preferential feeding that first autumn and as a result has done just as well as the rest of his age group! He is incredibly tame and can be pretty cheeky sometimes but it’s hard not to be fond of that white nose!

Butter looking smart in his summer coat.
Butter showing us he hasn’t changed all that much – summer 2022.
Butter free-ranging this past winter.
Butter – summer 2023.

Lupin

Lupin was Marple’s first calf and when he was born he was really small; we wondered if maybe he was a little bit premature. But Marple did a great job, she took motherhood all into her stride and after the first few wobbly days he was charging around the enclosure after her! When they were free-ranging that summer and we headed up to find them Lupin would always come marching over to see us! He was one of the tamest and boldest free-ranging calves that I have seen!

Tiny wee Lupin.

Lupin is now a very handsome young reindeer. He’s not as tall as some of the others but he’s in great condition and grew a fantastic set of antlers both last year and this year. He’s not lost his confidence either, he’s very bold with both humans and reindeer, in fact I think last autumn he got fairly full of himself and was strutting around as if he was one of the big breeding bulls! Lupin had a wee sister born last year who we named Viennetta, and another (as yet unnamed) sister this year. Viennetta could not be more different from him as a calf. She’s very pale with a white nose and was one of the largest calves of last year!

Lupin in the hill enclosure last summer – 2022.
Lupin – summer 2023.

Cicero

I had the great delight of finding Cicero’s mum, Brie, when she was mid-way through calving. I found a spot far enough away to not bother her and watched the whole process through binoculars. When I found her the calf’s front legs were already out and it didn’t take long for her to calve completely. It was totally amazing then to watch the first 20 minutes or so of Cicero’s life. First he was licked dry, then he had his first milk and then fairly soon afterward he took his first steps! 

Cicero taking his first steps.

As Cicero has grown up he has certainly taken more after his dad (Houdini) then his mum (Brie). Brie is the smallest of all our fully grown reindeer and Cicero is the tallest of all the reindeer his age, I think he over took her in height by about a year old.

Cicero on a dreich day – summer 2022.
Cicero – summer 2023.

Jelly

When Jelly was a couple of days old we noticed that he wasn’t suckling properly, after closer examination of Jenga, his mum, we realised that she had passed all of her afterbirth. Both the passing of her placenta and the production of milk are associated with the hormone oxytocin which is released as the reindeer is calving. After chatting to our vet we ended up giving Jenga a dose of oxytocin and kept a close eye on them for a couple of days to make sure he was suckling properly. After a couple of days they were happy and he was getting plenty of milk from mum, by the end of the summer he was in great form, one of the biggest calves.

Jenga and Jelly suckling.
New born Jelly finding his feet.

Not much as changed since then, Jelly is still one of the biggest of the 2020 bulls, definitely with the biggest neck of all of them – what a chunk! Jelly can be a little dopey at times and this reminds me of that tiny wee calf wobbling about to get milk.

Jelly being a dude – summer 2022.
Jelly – summer 2023.

Hemp

When Hemp was wee he was a beautiful slate grey colour with a white nose, much like his dad, Spartan. Whilst Spartan’s characteristics were showing up in many of the calves that year, note the white noses of Adzuki, Haricot, Borlotti and Chickpea, the family resemblance is strongest in Hemp.

Hemp leading the way.

Hemp has grown up into a lovely friendly young reindeer which is no surprise as he comes from a very tame family, on both his mum and his dad’s side. He’s incredibly greedy (which comes from his mother) and can be a little stubborn at times (which comes from his father).

Hemp in the summer – 2022.
Hemp – June 2023.

Lotti

2020 calves – then and now (Part 1 – the females).

I was recently looking back over photos from the calving season in 2020. This was the first calving season I had worked and it was in the middle of lockdown with fewer staff working so I was very lucky to be totally immersed in what was a very busy month! The calves born in 2020 are now three years old and some of them have had their own calves for the first time this year. I thought it would be nice to look back on a few favourites and how they have changed over the last few years.

Note: This started out being a fairly short blog just going through a couple of my favourite calves but very soon became longer and longer… Turns out I have a real soft-spot for the 2020 calves with lots and lots of favourites amongst them! I decided to split the males and females and make it into two blogs otherwise there was no way anyone would read all the way to the bottom. Part 2 is now online too.

2020 calves heading out to free-range.

Holy Moley

First and foremost, Holy Moley was the first calf born in 2020, the first new-born calf I had ever seen, and still to this day, I maintain she was the most beautiful calf ever to be born. Not that I’m biased.

New-born Holy Moley.

Anyone who watched ‘A Baby Reindeer’s First Christmas’ (Channel 4, first broadcast on Christmas Eve 2020) will be well aware that Holy Moley didn’t have the easiest start but she’s done really well over the last couple of years and has grown up into a strong, feisty and very cheeky young reindeer! Her name is often accompanied by the word ‘diva’ which I think explains a lot. 

Lotti and Holy Moley.

Sunflower

The most distinguishing feature I remember about Sunflower when she was a calf was the perfect arrow pointing along her back towards her head. We joked that the arrow was to show to ‘insert food here’.

Insert food here.

Sunflower’s arrow sadly didn’t stay longer than her calf coat but luckily we’re pretty well practiced at which end reindeer food goes! Sunflower has grown up to be such a lovely lass. She’s tame but not pushy. She’s also one of the tallest of the female reindeer her age, go Sunflower!!

Sunflower in the snow.
Sunflower out free ranging.

Pumpkin

When Pumpkin was a day or so old it was time to bring her from where she was born to a bit closer by and into our creche area to keep an eye on her. Me and Olly went to fetch Pagan and Pumpkin but about half-way through the walk Pumpkin was getting tired, as it was a long walk for brand new legs, so instead I had to carry her in, what a hardship!!!

Lotti and Pumpkin.

Pumpkin is very greedy much like the rest of her family. She’s usually one of the first in line for handfeeding, so if any of you reading this have been on a hill trip in the winter, you’ve probably met her.

Flax

Ibex, Flax’s mum, was another experienced mum who was totally chilled out around us as we treated and checked her calf. She was also the first reindeer who I’d watched eat her afterbirth which was amazing to see! Flax was born on a beautiful sunny day so we enjoyed ten minutes or so hanging out with the two of them before leaving Ibex to finish her lichen in peace.

Fiona, Flax and Ibex.
Ibex cleaning Flax.

Flax is Ibex’s last calf, so she’s not been pushed away after the birth of a younger sibling. As a result, Flax and Ibex are as thick as thieves and usually still at each other’s sides. Flax can be bossy and greedy just like her mum!

Flax with a snowy nose.

Pip

Pip was Kipling’s first ever calf and motherhood definitely took a little getting used to for Kipling. For the first couple of days when we went to feed them Kipling would come charging over for the feed and we would spend the next five minutes searching for her calf who would be left behind somewhere totally unaware that her mother seemed to have chosen feed over her. After the first week or so, Pip was mobile enough to stick with Kipling easily though. Kipling is Joe’s favourite reindeer and he caught and treated Pip when she was first born so when it came to naming Joe asked if he could name her Pip in memory of his dog who had had the same name.

New-born Pip.
Joe, Kipling and Pip.
Joe and Pip.

Pip has grown up into a very independent young female, she’s rarely with the rest of her family and is quite different from them in personality. Her mum Kipling is probably one of the tamest reindeer in our herd whereas Pip has a wee bit of a wild streak. Ruth thinks that if Pip was a human she’d be a real party girl and I think she’s right!

Party girl Pip spending the February half-term in the Paddocks.

Chickpea

At the end of calving in 2020, Angua was the only cows left to calve. When we went to feed the herd one morning she wasn’t with the herd, so we set off around the enclosure to try to find her and her new-born calf, unfortunately no luck! She was nowhere to be seen! We continued to search for the next few days without any success and were all getting more and more worried, particularly as it was Angua’s first time calving. A couple of days later, after lots of searching, we were bringing the herd in for their breakfast and suddenly realised there was one extra calf than the day before!

Andi and Chickpea having a cuddle.

Chickpea is fairly shy in nature, so we’ve spent lots of time over the last three years bribing her with food. This has definitely worked; you can now see her licking her lips whenever one of the herders approaches with a bag of extra tasty food.

Ruth, Chickpea and Lotti.
Chickpea licking her lips at the white bag – March 2023.

Peanut

Now Peanut came as a bit of a surprise. We hadn’t actually thought that her mum, Roule, was pregnant. Then as we were splitting the pregnant females to stay in the enclosure and the non-pregnant ones to go back out we took a second look at her and decided that her belly looked rather wide, sure enough a few weeks later, Peanut was born.

Peanut.

Peanut has become tamer and tamer over the last three years and in 2022 she also surprised us by having her first calf who we have named Nuii. Nuii is definitely one of my favourite of our ice-creams – she’s a real sweetie!

Peanut in the snow.

Lotti

2015 Scottish Hill Races naming theme

In the year 2015, we decided upon a naming theme of hill running races located in Scotland. Therefore, all the calves that were born in 2015 were subsequently given a name from this theme. Some of which I’d have had no idea how to pronounce had I not been told. These reindeer – who are now 8 years old – wear a white ear tag with a number between 900 and 950. Hill running appears to be a common activity amongst reindeer herders. Perhaps it’s an occupational hobby. A way to keep fit for the physical nature of reindeer herding, or indeed capitalise on the miles that are done on the job by trying to win a few competitions. In this blog I will explain a bit about the races that are responsible for five reindeer names.

Scolty is a tall and handsome chap. He’s a fantastic “Christmas Reindeer”, a highly experienced and reliable sleigh-puller. He’s named after a race in Deeside, located just south of the town of Banchory. At the top of Scolty Hill there is a tower – measuring 20 metres high – that was built in 1840. The race has a distance of 7.2km with an ascent of 396 metres.

Scolty looking a bit scruffy in July 2022, coming to the end of the moult.
Scolty looking looking more himself in October 2022, with a fresh winter coat growing though.

Morven is a beautiful breeding female who grows a unique set of antlers year after year. The Morven hill race occurs on Morven hill and is 8km long with an ascent of 640 metres. It is one of the favourite races of Alan Smith. It is located near to the village of Dinnet in the Aboyne area (Aberdeenshire). Dinnet is the first village along the River Dee to be located in the Cairngorms National Park.

Morven in autumn 2021.
Morven and her calf Mochi in the snow – March 2023.

Tap is a dark-coloured breeding female, she’s one of the shyer reindeer in the herd but very beautiful. She gets her name from the hill race Tap O’Noth which is a 7.9km race starting out from Rhynie, a village in Aberdeenshire. There is approximately 390 metres of ascent. With Tap’s athleticism, I’d fancy her chances if she was to compete in the race. What’s the prize? 7.9 kilograms of lichen?

Tap looking beautiful in August 2021.
Tap looking a bit of the scruffier side as she begins to moult her old winter coat – May 2023.

Ochil is a distinctive lass with a white patchy face and a big personality. She’s a good mum and is also a granny. Ochil is named after a long-distance hill race starting out from Stirling University. Its route travels through the Ochil Hills, hills formed from a thick wedge of Devonian age volcanic and volcano-sedimentary rocks. Reindeer herder Joe is planning to compete in this year’s race as it is one of the races selected for the 2023 Scottish hill running championships. He’ll have to navigate through 1200 metres of ascent over the distance of 31.2km. The etymology of the name Ochil – recorded as Okhel – is thought to be Pictish in origin and may derive from the old word ‘ogel’ meaning ‘ridge’.

Ochil free ranging in summer 2021.
Ochil in her thick winter coat next to her calf Vanilla – December 2022.

Suidhe (pronounced Sue-e) is a good mother but a rather shy lass, and can be fairly suspicious of what our intentions are but she can usually be won over by her greed! Suidhe is one of our local hill races. It starts from the Kincraig village green and has an approximate distance of 5km, with roughly 250 metres in ascent. The hill must be an important part of the local community because Kincraig’s pub takes its name from it.

Suide (closest to the camera) with her sister Feta, and her calf Solero in Feb 2023.
Suidhe in March 2023 after casting an antler.

Ben

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