Sherlock’s Antlers

Sherlock in September 2022.

Despite spending the last 40+ years devoting my life to the Cairngorm Reindeer I am still fascinated by the annual cycle of reindeer growing their new velvet antlers, then stripping the velvet to reveal hard bony antlers and finally casting their antlers and growing a new set next year.

It is an amazing process, hugely demanding on their resources, but very beneficial to the individual whether they are males competing for females in the rut or females and young males competing for food in the winter.

The older mature males grow the most impressive antlers and for them the process of growing their new velvet antlers begins before the end of the winter and continues until they strip the velvet from the antlers around the middle of August, in preparation for the rutting season. The bigger the antlers the more likely they are to ‘win’ a fight and so claim a harem of females, so big antlers are important.

Sherlock – 8th of April 2023.
Sherlock – 9th of May 2023.
Sherlock – 6th of June 2023.

One of our main breeding bulls Sherlock showed all the signs of growing a pretty big set of antlers last year and by the autumn he didn’t disappoint us. Luckily for us he is a real gentleman among reindeer and although he sported these great weapons on his head, he was never aggressive towards us and we could still safely go in beside him and his breeding females on a daily basis to feed and check them all.

Sherlock – 29th of August 2023 – stripping the velvet.
Sherlock in the rut with Bordeaux in front of him on the 2nd of October 2023.

But their glory doesn’t last long and having spent 5 ½ months growing their antlers the breeding males are the first to cast their antlers at the end of the rut and before the winter sets in. So only about 10-12 weeks of glory with big hard antlers to fight with!

Spartan, who is a couple of years older than Sherlock was first to cast his antlers in the middle of November so I knew it wouldn’t be long before Sherlock was antlerless too. Two weeks later and off came one of Sherlock’s antlers making him very lopsided! Then a couple more days and the other one had fallen.

So now we are in 2024 and Sherlock, who was so dominant in the autumn, has been at the bottom of the pecking order over the winter.

Sherlock with no antlers in January 2024.
Sherlock just beginning to grow his antlers on the 28th February 2024.
Sherlock on the left on the with his lovely velvet antlers growing well, still free roaming in the hills – 30th of March 2024.
It’s in the genes! Sherlock’s mum, Caddis, grew very large antlers for a female.

Tilly

Heather Hanshaw – Past Reindeer herder and Leathersmith

Hello everyone! First of all, let me introduce myself for those who have not have met me.

I’m Heather, and I used to be a Reindeer Herder. I like to think I still am really. As we always say, it’s like being a King or Queen of Narnia, once a Reindeer Herder, always a Reindeer Herder!

In my former guise as a herder! Christmas training with Eco, Dylan, Sporran and Sting (and Ceris at the back!). Photo by Tony Marsh

So, my Reindeer herding career began way back in 1998, when the ‘Sweeties’ year of reindeer were born. I first went to the Centre for work experience from the local High school, and when I arrived for my week’s experience in September, the calves had just been named. Some of you will remember Eclair, Polo and Malteser, to name a few!

Back in 2002 when I was 18, with Cluster (biggest antlers), Shock, Rascal, Tuna, Torrent and Pepsy.

As the years rolled by, I worked at the Reindeer Centre off and on for roughly 15 years, in my school and university holidays. And once I graduated from Edinburgh University, with a degree in Geography (using the reindeer as my subject for my 4th year dissertation!), I headed back full time.

The good ol’ days of reindeer herding… Top left clockwise: Me with Shekel, Beastie, Caddis and Diddly.

After the Reindeer Centre, I worked in a couple of other jobs, before deciding it was time to head into the family business of leather working. My Mum and Dad have been leather workers since before I came along, and while I always helped them in the workshop as a child, it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I really started learning the craft. I now have my own workshop in Carrbridge, not so far from the Reindeer Centre and would now call myself a full time Leathersmith. I run my own business, Loch Ness Leather, and make belts, handbags and hats, along with smaller accessories.

In my workshop in my garden

But how is that relevant to the Reindeer Centre now? Well, those who support the herd by adopting a reindeer, will know that each year when you re-adopt your reindeer, you get a lovely pack in the post including amongst other things, a hand written letter, and a selection of gifts. Well, this year, I am in charge of one of those gifts! I have been commissioned to make leather keyrings which will be going into the adoption packs. Each one is made by hand, by myself, in my workshop in Carrbridge. Luckily my workshop is in my garden, so I have been able to carry on working safely during the current situation. And it’s just been a case of handing over a new batch each time the herders pop by with a Wild Farm meat delivery for us!

The pattern is embossed and the dye applied

Each keyring is made of natural vegetable tanned leather. I cut the leather to shape, emboss it with the reindeer design, and then dye it by hand. Layering up the colours to make each one – they’re all very individual! A rivet is then used to attach the ring, and it’s ready to go. And all made within 12 miles of the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre.

Colour complete, and the finished product!

This year is a tough time for us all, I personally usually sell my wares at Highland Games and other events across Scotland through the summer. However, they have all been cancelled this year, understandably, so I have been focusing on selling online. If you would like to see more of my work, please do visit my website, www.lochnessleather.co.uk. Or of course, you can follow me on Facebook or Instagram. As a thank you for supporting myself, and the Reindeer of course!, I would like to offer you a 10% discount across the whole of my website. To be sent the code for this, please click here to sign up for my newsletter.

You can also keep a look out for more Cairngorm Reindeer Herd and Loch Ness Leather collaborations in the Reindeer Centre online shop, coming soon and throughout the year!

I hope you all enjoy your adoption packs this year!
Thank you all and Stay Safe!
Heather Hanshaw (Past Reindeer Herder)

N.B. Because of the way our adoption scheme gifts work, only those re-adopting a reindeer from now until April next year will receive one of Heather’s keyrings with their pack. Adoptions purchased for the first time in this period will receive different gifts. However, if you don’t want to miss out on a keyring, please feel free to get in touch with Heather directly via her website to purchase one!

 

Adopters’ Open Day at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre

Back in 2012, when we got to the 60th year of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, we thought we ought to mark the occasion in some way. Therefore, in the October of that year, we ran a special weekend aimed at all our amazing reindeer adopters, who show us so much support from year to year, and without whom we couldn’t continue in the way we do today. As the weekend finally rolled around, the sun shone, the adopters flocked our way and everything ran like a dream. And somehow, somehow, the stress of organising such a big event (bang in the middle of the run up to our hectic Christmas season) faded into the past… So in March this year, when Tilly announced that as we were 65 years old now we should do a similar event, I blithely said “Ok Tilly! Whatever you say, Tilly.” More fool me.

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About a week later, I realised that I was going to have to be in charge of the organisation. The Sunday at the farm could mainly be left to Tilly, but the Saturday here at Reindeer House was going to be mostly my domain – whether I liked it or not – with Andi as my trusty sidekick. Heather organised the 2012 do, but isn’t working here anymore; Fiona would be far too busy organising the annual Christmas tour; and all the other staff have started here much more recently. Damn. Even just choosing the weekend proved problematical. It had to be October, but the ‘usual’ weekend clashed with the Aviemore Half-Marathon, and another clashed with the Craggy Island Triathlon, where half the staff decamp to each year. The weekend before, at the very beginning of the month? Tilly’s first grand-child would be due then… It would have to be the 21st and 22nd (ironically, the baby then resolutely refused to put in an appearance until 2.5 weeks after his due date, meaning Tilly’s son Alex had bigger fish to fry by the time we got to the Open Day. Granny Smith (haha) is delighted though).

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Bumble making a new friend!

The spring and summer passed in a hectic haze of the usual reindeer related activities and millions of visitors, and we managed to get the Save the Date cards out, and then the general info out with the June newsletters. Thankfully Heather had done a great job of organising everything the first time around and much of the stuff was still filed away on the computers here, just need updating a bit. As time passed I started to get more and more twitchy, and in the final couple of weeks was starting to sweat a little. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not always the calmest under pressure! I started making lists, and delegating left, right and centre, but gradually it all started to come together. It probably helped that I had a couple of days off in the week running up to the event, although I did insist on working on Fri 20th to save everyone from a day of answering the phone the find a squawking Hen on the other end, worrying about whether such and such had been done yet! But everyone here was absolutely awesome, and I needn’t have worried at all as everything came together perfectly. In fact I was barely needed…

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The back shed all ready for the big day

We opened at 8.30am on the Saturday, and started off the day with a Hill Trip at 9am, followed by another at 11am. All the reindeer who had visitors coming were in the nearest part of the enclosure (the ‘Bottom Corridor’), which made life easier without having to trail around all over the various parts of the enclosure to show everyone ‘their’ reindeer. Kota, the breeding bull on the hill, still in full rut mode, was just over a fence with his girls and ensured that everyone got to see just how impressive he was as he grunted at anything that moved, peed on his legs and charged about…and tried to climb the fence once or twice. Eeek. Thankfully he remained the right side of the fence all day long.

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Kota looking super handsome! Photo: Belinda Beattie

Down at the Reindeer Centre, sleigh training demonstrations were in full swing, and everyone could try their hand at lassoing, Sami-style (not on a real reindeer but rather on a skull mounted on a post!). We had set up a little marquee beside the shop to provide some cover in case of awful weather, so lots of people parked themselves in there with a tea or a coffee and caught up with old friends, or made new ones! Visitors could also walk to Utsi’s Hut, the wee cabin in the woods built from the crates the first reindeer arrived in back in 1952, and Fiona did a special hill run in the afternoon up Meall a Bhuachaille behind Reindeer House, with everyone guessing her time for a donation towards the Everest Marathon Fund. Overall, there was a lovely atmosphere and it was all very relaxed, with people pottering around and just enjoying being here. And the weather was relatively kind to us too! It was mild, not windy, and only a little bit of rain at times…

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In the afternoon we trialled an ‘Open Hill’ system where visitors collected their tickets and maps, and made their own way to the hill enclosure, to be met by a herder on the gate, and a couple of herders in with the reindeer who could show them who was who and answer any questions. This seemed very popular too, although the weather deteriorated a bit as the afternoon went on.

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Fiona and Tilly doing a sleigh training demo. Photo: Barbara and Martin Butters

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Fiona setting off on her hill run! Photo: Belinda Beattie

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Reindeer harnessed up and ready!

And then on to Tilly’s talks at Glenmore Lodge! She ran one at 5pm and another at 6pm, and both went very well apart from some technical issues with the powerpoint, meaning some of the photos didn’t show up. This probably made the 6pm talk a little smoother, as at least she was prepared for the issues! Tilly also played a wonderful 20 minute film made in the 50s for the BBC about Mikel Utsi, the man who started it all, bringing reindeer back to their rightful home in Scotland after a 2000 year absence – thankfully the technology gods were with us for this one and it played fine!

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Tilly’s talk at Glenmore Lodge. Photo: Belinda Beattie

So all in all it was a wonderful day, but most thanks must go to our wonderful reindeer adopters, who give us so much support from year to year. We all went home exhausted on Saturday evening, but the fun didn’t stop there as most folks met up again the following day over at our farm, along with a few new faces too who hadn’t made it to the Saturday. But the blog does stop here, as Sunday’s write up can wait for another week!

Although first here’s some more photos…enjoy!

Hen

Matt O'Gorman
Enjoying a walk to Utsi’s Hut. Photo: Matt and Toni O’Gorman

Martin and Barbara Butters

Paintpot (and LX) meets one of his adopters! Photo: Martin and Barbara Butters

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Oatcake

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Tilly and Fiona. Photo: Clare Stokes

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Strudel and North. Photo: Carola de Raaf

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Kara meets her adopter Candice! Photo: Candice Bell

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Santa’s little helpers! Photo: Candice Bell

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Making friends on the hill. Photo: Belinda Beattie

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Sooty and his adopter. Photo: Belinda Beattie

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Jonas and Fiona

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First glimpse of Utsi Hut (Photo by Karen Sinclair)

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Utsi’s Hut. Photo: Martin and Barbara Butters

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Welcome to the hut! (Photo by Karen Sinclair)

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Sookie tried to go home with someone! Photo: Martin and Barbara Butters

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Cheer

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All too much for some reindeer by the end of the day! Photo: Belinda Beattie

Keeping Warm

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Reindeer facing resolutely into the weather.

Reindeer are the past masters at keeping warm. When you evolve to live in temperatures below minus 30 Celsius then you need all your wits about you to keep warm.

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Some of the boys toughing out a blizzard, ice plastered to their foreheads, including big Magnus (centre) who even has snow layering his antlers.

To begin with they have an extremely dense winter coat, 2,000 hairs to the square centimetre although I have to confess to not having confirmed that by counting them myself! Secondly, each individual hair is hollow for the same reason that we have holofil in our duvets. Air is a very good insulator so the combination of air in each hair and around each hair increases the insulation factor. In fact, reindeer are like a mobile thermos flask, neither allowing the cold in or indeed the warmth out. A bed of snow is a comfortable spot for a reindeer, and they can lie on it without even melting it.

Caddis
Caddis and her young calf Mozzarella (in 2013) – calves have even thicker coats than adults so they can stay snug in late snowfall.

You may have noticed that cows or horses out in fields in windy weather tend to put their backs to the prevailing winds (as well as look pretty miserable). That is actually not a very clever thing to do, as the wind lifts the hairs and takes away more of their body heat. They need to copy reindeer who face a blizzard. By doing this they keep the hair across their body flat and so do not lose heat. The only disadvantage to this is you end up with a ice pack on your face. Lucky that reindeer have hairy foreheads.

Jenga
Jenga in just a wee bit of snow, but not cold!

Actually if you study a reindeer closely from nose to tail you will find no bare skin anywhere and that even applies to the bottom of their feet. Yet another fine adaption to the cold, and with the added bonus of improving their grip on the ice and snow.

Finally, if you measure the temperature of the blood of a reindeer at its extremities you will find it is cooler. Once again this is to prevent heat loss. To do this a counter current system has evolved whereby the warm blood exiting from the main part of the body passes close to the colder blood coming back from the extremities. The net effect is the cold blood is warmed and the warm blood is cooled and the heat remains in the body.

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A reindeer’s perfectly designed coat beats all of the artificial layers us herders have to wear – no contest! Look at the snow sitting unmelted on top of the fur.

There are other heat saving aspects to reindeer but I think that’s enough for now. Food for thought however it does mean that they can get awfully hot in the warmer weather. I reckon reindeer would be the first to sign up to a programme to slow down global warming!

Tilly

January

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Caddis, Chelsea and Vandal enjoying the snow

In January, we are closed to the public, and it’s the time of the year when we all take the opportunity to take holidays and have a bit of a break. There’s still plenty to get on with though at the Centre – the reindeer are all free-ranging but we still feed them daily, if of course we can find them! At this time of the year their appetite is greatly reduced and the weather doesn’t always permit us to walk out onto the mountainside. If we can’t feed them, it doesn’t matter as they’re perfectly capable of finding enough food themselves, but its always nice to check them over and see that they’re all fine. On snowy days, this can take two or three of us two or three hours, as we’re often breaking a track through deep snow, whilst carrying feed, to get to where the reindeer are.

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Gorgeous views, spying for the reindeer

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Calling the reindeer – the better your call, the less distance you have to walk…!

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Not always the easiest of walks – reindeer may be designed for the snow but us herders aren’t!

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Hen’s call must have been good enough – the herd come to meet us.

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Follow the leader. This is on the outside of the enclosure fence line.

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Posers! This is Gazelle.

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Waiting expectantly for the food.

Aside from feeding the reindeer, there is plenty of maintenance to do at the Centre, which we can’t really do whilst we’re open. Painting the exhibition shed floor is a big job each January – it gets very worn over the course of the year so needs three coats of garage floor paint to smarten it up in preparation for all of our visitors over the coming year! It’s always entertaining reading the instructions on the paint can “Ensure the temperature is over 10*C”, then looking out of the window at the snow – anyone who’s visited will know that our exhibition shed is unheated, so it’s unfortunate that we have to do the floor in the coldest month of the year, when the temperature is mostly sub-zero. Our solution is to block off the doors and get a fan heater on, which helps, but I still wear a hat and gloves and take a cup of tea to help keep me warm!

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Coat one is well under-way, you can see how worn the floor gets.

The other big job for me is to oil all of our Christmas harness and make any necessary repairs before it is popped into storage for the year. If you’ve met me, you may realise that I absolutely love order and lists, so organising harness is one of my favourite jobs. It’s also a little warmer sitting oiling harness in the shop than most of the other tasks. The shop is the only place large enough to do this really, which is another reason that its done whilst we’re closed, along with the fact that we’d never get round to it if we left it until before Christmas!

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The shop in its January role.

There’s still also plenty of office work to get on with: making up adoption packs, answering emails, planning what gifts we’ll order to go in next year’s adoption packs, counting and reordering shop stock (again a delight for me as I get to make lists!). So whilst we may be a little quieter, don’t imagine we’re just sat around with our feet up!

Perhaps the most important purpose of being closed to the public in January is that after a hectic Christmas season (in fact all of 2016 was hectic…) it gives both us herders and the reindeer a proper break and change in routine, which means that when we reopen in February we’ll be bright and bushy tailed, and actually look forward to meeting our visitors and introducing everyone to the beautiful reindeer!

Andi

Snow!

To any southerner just an inch of snow means great excitement, school closed for a week and the front page story on every newspaper! Having spent the first 18 years of my life living in Bristol, where the yearly day of snow is celebrated (before everything grinds to a halt) you can imagine my excitement to wake up to snow one morning in early November!

Morning commute
The morning commute

Seeing as my room (fondly known as the Cave) in Reindeer House has no external windows, it was not till I opened the curtains in the kitchen, I saw the snow covered wonderland that was Glenmore. I proceeded to eat my porridge in the garden and then spend the last ten minutes before work throwing snowballs for the dogs, before realising I had no gloves on and could no longer feel my hands.

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Caddis looking beautiful on the snow covered mountain side!

Initially my excitement was laughed at as the dusting that we woke up to barely counts as snow if you’re Scottish. By mid-morning however I was told by Fiona that we now had ‘real snow’ which looked a lot like a blizzard to me!

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Arrochar looking a wee bit shocked by the whole thing (I think that may just be her resting face)

I was away on Christmas events the first three weekends that it snowed here, but I just about managed to fit in a few rounds of torch-lit sledging before work (dogs in tow of course) and a snow angel or two. This weekend was the first weekend to be at home for the snow (enough for the snow plough to be out) and I took up a lovely snowy visit.

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Feeding the herd on a lovely snowy morning

The reindeer are absolutely in their element at this time of year; they couldn’t be happier in the snow. If you’re coming up to visit us make sure you’re well wrapped up (as many layers are you can wear and still move and a full set of waterproofs) so you can feed the reindeer in the snow and love it as much as I do!

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Brimick looking incredibly cute, Spy posing for the camera and Cioch pulling a silly face

Lotti

Awesome autumn

The reindeer look superb in Autumn, with their fully grown antlers and thick winter coats just come through. Here’s some photos to give you an idea of how good they’re looking…

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Young bull Cambozola, having freshly stripped the velvet from his antlers

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Yearling bull Hudson, with Mo in the background. Often a few ‘streamers’ of velvet cling on after most has been stripped.

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One of the biggest and oldest female calves of the year, Lairig

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A wee male calf, Tinto, with unusual facial markings. It doesn’t take long for the calves to learn that we provide tasty food for them!

Wapiti
Wapiti grows one of the biggest sets of antlers among the females

Brie
Little Brie looking amused!

Caddis
Beautiful Caddis is easily recognisable with her patchy white face

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Grunter and Max enjoying a drink at the loch at our Balcorrach Hill farm

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