Winnie and Alba

We thought it was about time you had an update on our hand reared calves of this year. Back in May, off the back of our calving season, we were left hand rearing two female calves. Last year we raised Sunny, a male calf who lost his mum at only a few days old and this year Alba joined us when she was 3 days old and Winne when she was 10 days old. The two of them are thick as thieves and are always together. They spend the day time up on the hill getting exercise and grazing and also learning to be in amongst the herd and in the evenings they are back down here at the Centre with the paddock reindeer. The reason we bring them off the hill is because they are still getting bottles of milk so this makes it a lot easier for us to do.

Winnie (left) and Alba (right) on their way to the enclosure for the day.

Alba is a twin. Her and her brother were born on the 13th of May 2023 and their mother is Suebi, a 7 year old mature female. We had twins born back in 2018 from Lulu. That was the first time we had twins born alive and with no prior experience we decided to try and leave Lulu with both of them to raise herself. So Lulu spent the summer in our mountain enclosure so we could help her out instead of free ranging with the other cows and calves. Although smaller than normal calves their age both the twins seemed to be doing just fine. However, for what felt like no reason whatsoever we lost one of them at 4 months old and the other one at 5 months old. We don’t know why, maybe reindeer just aren’t meant to raise twins? So, we decided back then if we were to have twins again then we’d need to change something and potentially take one away from the mother leaving her with one to rear herself while we hand reared the other. Alba was the smaller and weaker one of the two born this year. We helped both calves out for the first few days making sure they were getting milk from Suebi then it got to day three and the time had come for us to take one away and leave her with the bigger and stronger calf. Suebi was completely unfazed and satisfied she had a calf. I don’t think the maternal instinct goes as far as counting to two which was lucky for us! We took Alba off the hill and for her first 3.5 days she lived with us and the dogs in the house as she was too small to be with other reindeer at this point.

Suebi and her twins! Alba is the one standing.
Alba taking over Reindeer House living room – blankets down to help with the slippery floor!

After a few days Winnie came on the scene and the two of them teamed up as our hand reared duo of 2023. Winne’s story is a little different. It was mid-May and she was with her mum for about 10 days before one morning she came in with the herd and mum wasn’t with her. This is very strange because if mum wasn’t feeling well and lay down usually the calf would always stay with her so for the calf to be in without mum was really unusual. Maybe she had an accident or if she did become ill it’s been far too long now that we can only assume she passed away. Obviously we immediately looked for her on the day she went missing, however, our mountain enclosure with is 1200 acres (the equivalent of 1200 football pitches). This is made up of heathery mountain ground, peat hags, lots of trees, bog and thick juniper so it is like finding a needle in a haystack sometimes. It got to the afternoon of the day she went missing and we had to give Winnie some milk or she would have starved. We also had to take her off the hill that night as she would not be able to stay with the herd without a mum so down she came and both her and Alba teamed up.

Winnie on the hill, still with her mum.
Winnie clearly very settled after being brought of the hill. Her and Alba already thick as thieves.

We laugh as incidents or problems only ever occur when there is something else happening for us herders or when the long term herders are away on holiday. And true to form this all happened during the wedding of two herders so we were already on minimal staff with the long termers away celebrating. The staff that were working that day came up trumps big time to deal with everything though! I did pop back and help out and also pass on advice over the phone but it was the folk on the ground that held the fort and did a bloody good job of it too considering the complications. Also, as it was a herders wedding we of course had the ceilidh to go to that night. While we were all at the party in the evening, who else had to come along… Alba and Winnie, of course! So into our wee livestock truck they went, along with their bottles of milk ready to warm up mid-ceilidh. Then come 8pm, dressed up in my glad rags, off I went to feed the calves. The scene of walking through a wedding party, in a frock, holding two bottles of milk to go and feed the calves should of looked unusual but nobody batted an eyelid. I was definitely in amongst like-minded people!

Kate enjoying calf time!
Calves being babysat by the bigger reindeer in the Paddocks. Iskrem showing where the food is!

So now we are well into the summer, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster having two calves to hand rear. For herders living at Reindeer House there is a further responsibility with two extra feeds after working hours so Cameron, Kate, EK, Fran, Hannah and myself have all been doing this. When we hand reared Sunny last year he spent a lot of time hanging out with us in Reindeer House but as there are two calves this year they don’t come in so much. Cameron has certainly adopted the two girls this year having done most of the looking after so when he went away for a week’s holiday in July he had to trust us we would do a good job!

Volunteer Emily and herder Hannah bottle feeding the duo.
Winnie in the hill enclosure, starting to grow her antlers.
Winnie’s hilarious milk drunk face.

Obviously we’d prefer not to hand rear reindeer calves, however, sometimes there is no option. Sunny is now a year old and I still call out to him in the mornings ‘calf, calf!’ and he even grunts back to me sometimes. This may be a trait which carries on through his life but it certainly gives us a good laugh. Alba and Winnie this year I can already see are going to be naughty little girls. Both coming from quite independent, head strong mothers I think we’ve got out future work cut out with them so watch this space!

Fiona and Sunny in the kitchen at Reindeer House. Fiona’s hand reared boy born in 2022.

Fiona

Photo Blog: May 2023

May! What a month! Calving began on Sunday the 29th of April and was done by Sunday the 14th of May. A two week, action-packed blur. After the first few calves were born we were expecting a bit of a lull, but nope, they just kept on coming. As well as many experienced cows we’ve had eight first-time-mums and all are doing a super job and have taken to motherhood very well. On the whole everything went well, however, calving season sadly does tend to bring some sad moments as well as lots of highs. In addition to looking after the new-borns, we’ve also been running two Hill Trips a day and the Paddocks and Exhibition have been popular with holiday-makers so looking back this month has been a bit of a whirlwind!

This month’s photo selection is biased towards the cute calves but I’m sure that’s what we all want to see anyway. Just a reminder – we won’t reveal the names of the new mothers until after we’ve let our adopters know in the June newsletter so I’ve tried to be deliberately vague. Enjoy… !

1st of May – Ben walking some lovely females in from Silver Mount in the cloud, Black Loch behind.
3rd of May – The oldest calf of 2023, already very bold at 4 days old (born on the 29th April).
4th of May – Druid waiting for hand feed, please!
7th of May – Another gorgeous new addition to the herd!
8th of May – Choosing which picture to select has never been so hard! But this is today’s cutie which won!
9th of May – On searching for a cow and calf in the enclosure I found these lazy boys, late in for their breakfast! Dr Seuss was clearly having a lie-in on his 6th birthday!! Happy birthday Dr Seuss.
9th of May – Trilby, Fab, Borlotti and Viennetta. Now Viennetta and Fab are not the youngest cohort in the herd we have to get used to calling them ‘yearlings’…. no longer the calves!
11th of May – The first pale calf of the season! Hiding behind mum’s legs!
12th of May – I was lucky to find this new mother and calf. It’s always a total privilege to be the first person to see a new addition to the herd!
15th of May – Motherhood is clearly very tiring for this mum. But she’s doing a super job!
17th of May – Some of the oldest and boldest calves are now mingling with our visitors on Hill Trips. Meanwhile, Aztec in the background is enjoying his absolute favourite time of the day – hand feeding!!
18th of May – It was great to catch up with this old girl whilst out on a free range mission with Sally! This is Diamond who is 11-years-old and very sweet-natured.
19th of May – We did routine temperature checks on all the cows and calves. We have only two black calves but they still managed to get us completely confused at one point. Who do you belong to?!
22nd of May – Druid again! He’s been busy growing his antlers since the previous pic of him (4th of May).
23rd of May – Turtle on “World Turtle Day”. She’s actually named after the variety of bean, rather than the sea creature, but it’s a good opportunity to put her in the limelight.
24th of May – Beanie trying to break in to a food bag. What do you mean this isn’t stashed here for me?!

Ruth

The curious case of Lolly and the blue jacket

At the end of each summer, we bring the cows and calves, who have spent all summer free-ranging in the mountains, back to the enclosure. For most of the reindeer this involves spotting a small herd of reindeer somewhere relatively near the enclosure and using a bit of bribery to lure them into the enclosure. That means the calves, who aren’t used to people, will just follow their mums through the gate and we can then spend the next couple of months training them and getting them used to us.

Zap was one of the first calves to come into the enclosure, ten days later he was very relaxed around people!

Every year though, there are a couple of cows and calves who like to keep us on our toes and wander to the wrong side of the hills which means we have to drive around in our wee truck, find and catch the reindeer, and then drive them back again. This just leaves the one small task of catching the calf, who has never worn a halter and has spent all summer avoiding people. Usually the easiest way is to catch their mum, then spend a little time walking with the mum on a halter and getting the calf used to your presence. Once they are settled and are coming back close to their mum then you can use their mum as a shield to hide your body as you get close enough to the calf to catch them. Once you have caught them, the second herder will very speedily put a halter on and lead them down off the hill.

Hen and Andi midway through a calf catching mission.

At the end of September last year there were still a couple of reindeer who hadn’t come in yet after free-ranging for the summer. September always ends up being a very busy month but on one, very rainy, day we found ourselves with enough staff on for two of us to head out searching for the last few reindeer. So, Ruth and I rummaged around for the most waterproof of all our jackets before heading off. The jackets that we decided on were both Rohan jackets given to us after Fiona was featured in their magazine, Ruth’s jacket was navy blue and mine was bright turquoise. The colour of our jackets might seem trivial but it is relevant to the story.

If you look very closely you can just spot Lotti camouflaged against Fiona’s van…

We set off walking and fairly quickly spotted three reindeer, two cows and a calf. During our walk up the rain had stopped, and I had taken my jacket off. Once we got closer we realised it was Wapiti, Oatcake and Oatcake’s calf who had recently been named Lolly. We caught both the cows fairly quickly and Lolly seemed unusually tame, she was very happy to be close by to us at which point I thought we were going to have a very easy job!

Lolly following closely behind Ruth, Oatcake and Wapiti.
Oatcake and Lolly – now just to catch Lolly!

We walked down the hill and into the trees and at this point it had started to rain again so I put my raincoat on again and we tied Wapiti onto one of the trees to give us an extra set of hands for catching. At which point Lolly ran at high speed up the hill away from us. This isn’t that unusual for a calf who has spent all summer avoiding people so we waited for her to settle and come back to her mum, but she didn’t…. We waited a while and then decided that she clearly had become nervous after we stopped so we would keep walking and hopefully she would come back over. So, we continued walking with Oatcake and Wapiti but Lolly wouldn’t come anywhere near us. I was getting more and more worried that we wouldn’t be able to catch her and our mission wouldn’t be successful at which point I realised that the moment she ran off was when we stopped which was also when I had put the blue jacket on.

It sounded totally ridiculous that a reindeer might be scared of a jacket but I thought it was worth a try, so I took off the jacket, at which point she came charging back down to us. I am very glad Ruth was there too otherwise the story would have seemed quite improbable!! From that moment on, she was a total star and we managed to catch her and walk her off the hill. It rained the entire way back I think but I had to walk back in my t-shirt as we didn’t want to upset Lolly again!

Mission accomplished – Lolly on a halter and walking back to our truck!
Within minuets Lolly is halter trained and walking beautifully next to her mum.

I spent the walk down the hill wondering if the fact that reindeer can see in the UV spectrum (for more information on this read Ruth’s blog here) meant that the blue part of the colour spectrum was accentuated so the jacket looked extra bright. More likely as none of the objects that Lolly had seen on the plateau all summer were blue seeing a walking bright blue jacket was a bit of a surprise. One thing is for sure, that jacket will be used for dog walking and not reindeer herding in the future.

Lolly and Oatcake back in the enclosure a couple of days later.
Lolly in the enclosure getting much braver!
Lolly at a local Christmas event at Landmark, Carrbridge – so used to handling and people she’s totally unfazed about the huge T-rex looming over the display pen!
Lolly back out free ranging in the hills for winter after all her Christmas duties and training are complete!
Lolly and Oatcake free ranging.

Lotti

Bringing in the cows and calves

Late summer/autumn is always a very exciting time of the year for a reindeer herder. It’s when we start seeing the cows and calves more regularly after they’ve spent the summer free ranging in the hills.

Each morning we drive up the ski road to Cairngorm Base Station and have a spy for any free ranging reindeer. One morning in mid-September Fiona, Sheena and myself were checking the roads when we spotted a small herd of reindeer. Exciting! Even from a distance we instantly knew there was a calf in the group, and we knew she had to belong to a lovely female called Ochil.

Ochil had a white (leucistic) calf back in May, and even though we had three white calves born this year, the other two were already safely in the enclosure with their mums so it just had to be her – our ID skills of calves from over a hundred metres away are not usually that good!

Ochil and calf on the 4th of June – the last time I saw them!

Fiona dropped Sheena and I off to try to get the small herd into the enclosure, whilst she headed back down the hill to carry on with feeding the herd in the enclosure. Mission on!

As we got closer to the herd we were able to identify them all. Three cows (Ochil, Vienna and Roule) and their lovely calves, plus a yearling female called Beanie. I’d not seen any of these reindeer since we let them out to free range back in June, so it was lovely to see them again. They all looked great! The enclosure was about 1.5km away from where we were, across a ridge, over a road, across a burn and up a hill affectionately known by the herders as “Killer Hill”. You can see how our mission unfolded in the following photographs….

Sheena with Ochil on a halter and her leucistic calf following beautifully behind. At this point I had Vienna on a halter with her calf also following very closely behind his mum and me.
Beanie (just behind Ochil) was also following beautifully. As a herd animal they generally follow quite merrily (plus Sheena’s white bag contained something particularly tempting!)
This is Vienna on a halter about mid-way through the walk over to the enclosure, with Ochil’s white calf and Vienna’s grey calve not too far away.
Beanie following nicely not too far behind us. And what about Roule and her calf?! Well, you can just spot them on the skyline. Roule is an independent lass and couldn’t be persuaded to come into the white bag to have a halter put on, so we left her to it and crossed our fingers she just followed the rest of the herd! She played it very cool – this is about as close as she decided to get to us.
Sheena leading Ochil and Vienna with their calves still following well. Just one burn to cross and “Killer Hill” to climb, and we were almost there!
Yes!! We got them in to the enclosure! Now just to get them down to the shed. More free ranging reindeer joined us on route, they were waiting for us at the top of “Killer Hill”. 14-year-old Ibex is closest to the camera, who happily followed us in with her two-year-old daughter Flax.
Ochil and calf safely in the enclosure.
Vienna’s calf also in the enclosure, looking very well after a summer in the mountains.
And yes! Roule and her calf also followed us in. We weren’t sure if they would until the final moment. She was very reluctant to follow us up “Killer Hill” but after losing sight of her for around 15 minutes she finally decided to follow the others and come in (with a little help from Ibex). Success! Here they are later that afternoon chilling out after a Hill Trip.
Beanie later that afternoon on the Hill Trip – clearly not camera shy after a summer spent free ranging.

Ruth

Finding Dante’s calf

Being the most recent person to start working at the Reindeer Centre I am experiencing the day-to-day workings of the Centre throughout the seasons for the first time. I thought I would write about one of my favourite “firsts” to date, which is finding the first calf to be born for the 2022 season. It was a beautiful day at the tail end of April, which happened to be my first day back at work after my usual two days off and Andi’s first day back at work after a holiday. We started our usual morning routine and set off from the house to head up to the enclosure to check on our pregnant cows and feed them, upon feeding the cows we realised that one reindeer was missing, so we grabbed our calving bag which includes: feed for the mother, spot on and antibiotic blue spray for the calf’s naval and made a start on searching the enclosure. For anyone that hasn’t been to our enclosure it is a vast amount of space to search, the perimeter line is 8km in length alone! The missing reindeer was the lovely, four year old, Dante.

We headed along the top ridge of the enclosure to check a well-known calving area up there, but the missing reindeer was nowhere to be seen so we continued climbing to the summit of Silver Mount in search of Dante. Keeping with the theme of many “first” experiences, this was also my first time being on and seeing the summit of Silver Mount, which has glorious views of the Northern Corries, Loch Morlich and down onto Glenmore. Luckily for us, Dante was also at the summit of Silver Mount.

Looking down the top ridge towards Black Loch and Coire Cas in the distance.
The view from Silver Mount looking across our enclosure towards the Pass of Ryvoan.

With the easy part over we had to try and see whether Dante had calved or not and for the untrained eye this was a lot harder than it sounds. We could see that the reindeer was focusing on a specific ginger looking spot, but was this a new-born calf or a rock? A question that all herders ask themselves on a regular basis when looking for full grown reindeer, never mind a tiny calf! We were lucky though and the ginger mound began to move which confirmed that we had officially found the first calf of the season! Andi headed over to feed the mother, treat the naval of the calf and give spot on to give it protection from those dreaded ticks. Once we had checked that all was ok we headed back down to reindeer house to share the amazing news that our calving season had begun!

Dante and calf looking epic with the snowy Northen Corries behind.
Close up of Dante’s calf – the blue colour on her navel is the antibiotic spray.

At the end of May Dante and her one month old calf headed out to the hills for the summer, along with around half of our other mums and calves. We caught up with them a few times whist they roamed freely in the hills, both mum and daughter seemed to have a great summer as they were always in excellent condition. The pair are now back in our hill enclosure for the autumn where we’ll begin to train Dante’s calf to wear a halter and get to know her personality. Hopefully she’ll grow up to be a big strong girl like her mum, and big sister Mangetout.

A big moment when the first batch of cows and calves are let out of the enclosure to free range for the summer.
Dante’s calf enjoying the tasty lichen whilst out free ranging at the end of August – 4 months old to the day!

Amy

It’s going to be a Sunny summer!

On the whole, calving season back in May went really well with between 25-30 calves born. There were a few, new, young mums in the group but also some of our older girls who have been there, done that when it comes to calving. At the end of May / beginning of June the whole lot went out onto the summer free range where that’ll be them now for the next few months hopefully getting the best of the summer grazing on the Cairngorms.

Some of the cows and calves heading out of the enclosure for the summer months.
The best start in life for our new additions is out on in the hills with their mums.

One calf who didn’t join them is Sunny. He was born on Friday 20th May and his mother was Rain. At 5-6 days old unfortunately we lost Rain. We suspect there was an internal infection, from calving, which she hid from us and as a result she passed away. This rarely happens but in this case we were left holding the baby! He came straight down here to our Centre where we could start the hand rearing process. We knew there was no other option at this stage and we have hand reared lots of reindeer calves in the past so were confident that although we wouldn’t do as good a job as Rain would have we would manage nonetheless.

Sunny’s first day adjusting to life at Reindeer House.

It’s been a good few weeks now and Sunny has become part of the Reindeer house family of humans, dogs and now baby reindeer! He joins us for dog walks, where we know it’ll be quiet and we won’t bump into other walkers with their dogs, he makes himself at home on our kitchen floor on the odd occasion when he comes into the house. His favourite spot is beside the washing machine. In fact he is so comfortable in ours and the dogs presence that he’s the ultimate ‘lazy boy’ and he pees while he is lying down! Needless to say we’re all quite used to mopping up after him now. It’s a good job we have an easy to clean floor and aren’t fazed by a bit of pee and poo!

Fast asleep by the washing machine – his favouite spot within Reindeer House.
He quickly made friends with herders and dogs. Our dogs are very good with him, and basically completely ignore him.
The two youngest members of our household – Sunny and Fraoch.
One of Sunny’s first walks with us.
Joining herders on a post-work walk. Good exercise for Sunny, and an opportunity to find nutritious grazing.
Sunny enjoying a paddle… he even went for a swim, calmly following us herders in as we went for a dip!

Every morning he gets in our reindeer van and joins the herders and dogs for the walk over to our enclosure. Getting some tasty grazing along the way it’s also very good exercise and socialising for him as he comes in with the main herd. The first time we took him up the reindeer on the hill acted like they had no idea what he was… Is he a dog?!?! They sniffed him and with sudden movements Sunny made they darted off, tail in the air worried he’d do them harm. Little did they know he was just a very young version of them. They are now accustomed to him and he mixes in just fine.

Sunny in the van on his way up to the enclosure for his morning exercise.
Sunny enjoying some tasty grazing on his daily walk to the enclosure.
Start ’em young! Sunny assisting Andi with harness training.
Stephanie, one of our volunteers, giving Sunny a bottle of milk.
Nom, nom, nom.
Sunny now spends his afternoons and evenings in with Paddock reindeer. Here we have Beastie, Druid, Jonne and Haricot keeping him company.
He still comes into the house most evenings, he may have grown a lot in the month we’ve been looking after him, but his favourite location in the house hasn’t changed.

So here you have it, Sunny our hand reared calf of 2022. We named him Sunny as his mother was called Rain and his brother is called Jimmy so for the Scottish folk out there you’ll know the saying ‘Sonny Jim’! We’ve just tweaked the spelling. I cannot predict the weather this summer but I know for sure that we will have a Sunny summer!

Bring on a Sunny summer!

Fiona

Ever changing reindeer – a photo blog

Whilst sorting through the photos on my phone recently, I thought it might be fun to show how the reindeer change in appearance over the summer months so I put together this little blog. This could have turned in to the longest blog ever but I have tried to restrain myself picking just a handful of reindeer; Camembert, Dr Seuss, Kiruna, Sherlock, Gloriana’s calf, and Christie and her calf.

Camembert 1 – on the 21st of June (Summer Solstice) Lisette and I walked Camembert and some other cows out on to the free-range for the summer. Here she is growing her antlers, still to moult last year’s winter coat, and determined Lisette still has some food for her!
Camembert 2 – This was the next time I saw her, on the 14th of September after my lovely colleagues successfully brought her and a large group of cows back in to the hill enclosure. She’s clearly had a great summer free-ranging, she looks totally fantastic and is still fat as butter.
Dr Seuss 1 – it’s no secret that I have a wee soft spot for Dr Seuss so my phone is predominantly full of pictures of him! Here he is on the 20th May, he’s just beginning to moult his winter coat from around his eyes, and his lovely antlers and growing well.
Dr Seuss 2 – here’s the big boy again on the 5th of July looking almost ready for summer in his short coat, with a slightly pink nose!
Dr Seuss 3 – how smart does he look here?! This was the 8th of September. His winter coat is now beginning to grow through around his neck and he’s had a busy summer growing lovely big antlers, and a big tummy after hoovering up all that tasty hand-food!
Kiruna 1 – Here’s two year old Kiruna after hearing one of Ben’s jokes. This was on the 8th of July, his antlers are rapidly going and he’s moulted most of last year’s winter coat.
Kiruna 2 – Here’s Kiruna stripping the velvet on the 28th August. His paler winter coat is growing through quickly on his neck and flank.
Kiruna 3 – What a handsome lad! Here he is leading the herd in for breakfast on the 7th of September.
Sherlock 1 – Three year old bull Sherlock on the 11th of June, rapidly growing his antlers and just beginning to moult his winter coat from around his eyes and on his nose.
Sherlock 2 – 1st of August, looking smart in his short, dark summer coat. He’s grown enormous antlers for a three year old!
Sherlock 3 – 29th of August, just before his velvet started to strip.
Sherlock 4 – Just one day later, here he is midway through stripping his velvet on the 30th of August.
Sherlock 5 – Handsome boy on the 1st of September, with beautiful clean antlers.
Gloriana’s calf 1 – The palest calf of 2021, this picture was taken on the 20th May, just one day old. What a cutie!
Gloriana’s calf 2 – What a fantastic job Gloriana has done! This was taken on the 15th of September. After a summer spent free-ranging Gloriana and her daughter are now back in the hill enclosure. She’s already getting used to being around people on our Hill Trips and quickly learning big green bags = food!
Christie and calf 1 – Christie in the background with her thick winter coat, you can still make out her freckly nose. Photo taken on the 27th May when her calf was just over three weeks old (born 4th of May).
Christie’s calf 2 – I was delighted to catch up with Christie and her calf on the free-range on the 15th of August. Christie has done a fabulous job and has produced a nice big strong boy, well done Christie!
Christie 3 – Looking beautiful on the free-range with her huge calf on the 15th of August.
Christie 4 – Photo taken on the 15th of September midway through stripping the velvet from her large antlers. Not only has she produced a large calf this summer, she’s also grown big antlers herself and is in excellent condition. Go Christie! Her winter coat has grown in a lot over the last month.

Ruth

The difficulties of reindeer location at calving time

Most of the time our reindeer give birth in our 1200 acre mountain enclosure, not requiring any assistance or shelter whatsoever. Calves are born with a thick, waterproof calf coat, so anything the Scottish weather throws at them is not an issue. Our enclosure can be segmented into several different areas, so what we do is to have the herd of pregnant females in the main, largest, bit, and create a ‘nursery’ in a smaller area, known as the ‘Bottom Corridor’ (as opposed to the ‘Top Corridor’, unsurprisingly further up the hill). Pre-natal and ante-natal, if you will.

Cows and their calves in the Bottom Corridor ‘nursery’

When a cow is ready to calve she will generally head away from the herd, wanting her own space and peace and quiet. This may be a few hours before calving or it may be a couple of days, depending on the individual. We always count the reindeer each time we feed them, so can work out if a cow has suddenly gone AWOL; and will then head out round the enclosure to track them down (usually the following morning). However, 1200 acres is the size of 1200 football pitches, part of it heavily wooded, and finding a lone reindeer can be a real mission. If they are out in the open somewhere then generally it’s not too hard to track them down, but if they disappear into the depths of the woods then it’s much harder.

A photo to give you an idea of the rough size of the enclosure – the boundary fence goes right around behind the mountain in the centre of the picture, Silver Mount, and right down into the forest at the right.
A closer view of Silver Mount in the enclosure, and Black Loch which is hidden from view from most of the enclosure.

This calving season in particular felt like the reindeer were running rings around us, with hardly any of the cows being easy to find. In fact the very first cow who headed away from the herd to calve wasn’t found until two days later, and most of the following few reindeer calved down in the woods too, necessitating long searches, sometimes fruitless and sometimes fruitful.

Let me make this clear too, we’re not talking a pleasant stroll along nice easy footpaths. The forest in the enclosure is proper Caledonian pine forest, complete with a dense understory of juniper, blaeberry and heather, and VERY boggy. Oh, and some of it is extremely steep. And there’s no proper paths, only narrow, muddy deer tracks (made by the reindeer, but also wild red and roe deer). Several hours of trawling through the forest is utterly exhausting, and if emerging eventually empty handed with boots squelching, also utterly demoralising.

A tiny proportion of the enclosure woods…
The enclosure encompasses a large area of Caledonian pine forest, complete with dense understory of juniper and blaeberry – ideal for concealing reindeer!
Dense birch woodland in the enclosure too – a reindeer’s eye view!

In 2020, thankfully the reindeer were kind to us during the calving season, as it fell right in the middle of the first lockdown and most staff were furloughed. Reindeer calved mostly out in the open, were found quickly and easily, and brought through to the bottom corridor ‘nursery’ with little hassle. This year however… Sika was the first reindeer to head away from the herd to calve, but it was two days later by the time we found her. And in fact that’s not even really true, we didn’t actually find her at all – she joined up with another cow who had calved by that point and we found both together, Sika’s calf at least 48 hours old by that point.

Pagan was the hardest of the lot – it wasn’t until the fourth day of searching before she was eventually located – tucked into the forest in a hidden spot. I was on my day off and very glad to receive a message to say she’d been found – it had been long enough that I had started to think she must have died giving birth. Normally reindeer won’t stay in the spot where they calved for longer than a couple of days, re-joining the herd of their own volition and making finding them eventually more straight-forward. Heading out to the woods with the prospect of several hours of searching ahead, after several days when you think you may actually be looking for a body rather than a newborn calf, is no-one’s idea of fun. But in this case, Pagan was completely fine, and probably rather smug that she’d managed to waste many, many hours of our time over four days!

A rubbish photo as it’s really zoomed in – but my moment of triumph this calving season was seeing Feta’s head pop up out the deep heather, after a couple of hours of plodding back and forth through the forest…
…who promptly tried to lead her calf away from me, but the wee one didn’t make it up this bank, being only a few hours old and not yet wobble-free!

At least it was a small calving this year, so the continual trudging around the enclosure only went on for so long. And the reindeer appeared to finally take pity on us as a couple of the later ones to calve did so in a much more open, agreeable area where they were plainly visible. In fact first time mum Blyton calved right beside the Bottom Corridor fence, right beside the cows and calves, and did so right before we did a Facebook Live video (https://www.facebook.com/182577928433967/videos/517342392958642), meaning she could be seen in the background throughout, and making Andi’s life nice and easy as all she had to do was pop over the fence once the camera stopped rolling to check out the new arrival!

Hen

Memorable reindeer of the past: Eco

Featured Image: Eco and Santa having a moment at one of our Christmas events. Eco probably wanted to know where Santa was hiding the lichen!

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Young bull Eco

Every reindeer herder working here remembers the calves here when they first started, who tend to go on to hold a special place to them in the herd as the years go by. When I first worked here in late 2007, the ‘green things’ were calves. Not actually green, I should add (although we did give them all green ear tags), but ‘green’ was our naming theme for reindeer born that year, so some of the very first reindeer I got to know had names like Kermit, Go, Ever, Fern and Uaine (Gaelic for ‘green’). And there was also Eco (as in eco-friendly!). Eco wasn’t the prettiest of calves, having a big bulky head and slightly roman nose, but he was very friendly and greedy. I also remember that by the end of the first winter he had become slightly annoying, due to his habit of occasionally jumping up at people when he wanted feeding.

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10 months old

The ugly duckling grew into a swan though, and Eco morphed into an extremely handsome young bull, and a big one at that. Not for very long though, as in 2009 we castrated many of our two year old bulls as they were all so enormous rather than waiting until they were three, and Eco was one of the ones who found himself suddenly slightly lacking in a certain department. But the flip side of the coin (for us at least!) was that we gained a fabulous ‘Christmas reindeer’, who could be trained to harness and join the teams of reindeer out and about at Christmas time.

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Hen and Eco on a Christmas event together

Anyone who knew Eco didn’t have a bad word to say about him, or not seriously anyway. He was a lovely character, always cheerful and always delighted to be involved in whatever was going on, whether it be hand-feeding, greeting people in a pen at a Christmas event or taking part in one of the half-day treks that we used to do with visitors.

Always inquisitive and up to something!
Always inquisitive and up to something!

Eco entertaining the crowds at an event
Eco entertaining the crowds at an event

He was a bit of a handful at times however, and certainly not a reindeer to hand over to a novice or nervous person to lead. He spent much of his life slightly like a child who has been given too many blue smarties and is bouncing off the walls – he could be completely hyperactive. Without doubt he was the Labrador of the reindeer world. I once tried to take him out for a walk around Glenmore when halter-training a calf, which turned out to be a real mistake as the calf, five months old and untouched by humans until the previous day, behaved far better than Eco. Why walk calmly forwards in a straight line when you can leap in the air, jump up a bank or down into a ditch, and spin round in a circle, preferably all whilst ‘knitting’ the lead rope around your antlers??? I never tried to use such a nutcase as my steady ‘training reindeer’ again… I also had a battle with him at the back of the sleigh at an event in a garden centre once, trying to negotiate the parade without him beheading every plant he could reach en route – and surreptitiously removing leaves from his mouth at the end.

Eco looking incredibly handsome as a two year old
Eco looking incredibly handsome as a two year old

He was fab, and one of my all-time favourite reindeer. Sadly he died when only middle-aged which was a huge pity, but these things happen and that’s the way the world works. It sometimes feels like it’s always the ‘good ones’ that die younger than average, but when there’s 150 reindeer in the herd at any one time it’s easy to forget the shy background characters as they come and go, remembering only the reindeer who stand out for one reason or another.

A slightly telling fact of how long I’ve been working here is that the green tags are now mostly no longer with us. It was a small calving that year anyway, but only five remain now, females Hopper, Fly, Fern and Meadow and male Puddock. We now have the ‘new green tags’: all the 2016 calves. I’ve come full circle through the lives of an entire generation of reindeer, which is a thought that makes me feel old.

Hen

Memorable reindeer: Amber

Amber was one of the very first reindeer I remember meeting when I arrived back in 2007. At that time she was in the hill enclosure with her 6-month-old son, Go. Both were very tame and friendly, and with her distinctive curved antlers, I found her easy to recognise amongst the sea of reindeer I was frantically trying to tell apart. Amber was also incredibly pretty, with a delicate, dished face and a gentle expression.

Amber
Amber in 2007 with her awesome antlers

Born in 1999, Amber was the final calf from her mum Trout. Trout and her compatriot, Tuna, lived to the grand old age of 18, which as far as I know is the record for any reindeer in our herd. No prizes for guessing the naming theme for their year of birth (1984)! Unlike Trout, who has 11 calves to her name on the family tree, Amber never proved to be such a successful breeding female, with her only offspring being Esme, Oasis, Go and Sambar, or at least those are the only ones that survived long enough to be named (we usually lose a calf or two each year in the summer months when they are very young and vulnerable). Esme managed a better job of breeding than her mum, with 7 calves to her name.

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Amber in 2009

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Amber looking out over the hills towards Meall a Bhuachaille

Amber was one of those lovely, gentle reindeer, but a fairly dominant character in the herd – a matriarch, if you will. She was a great reindeer to have around in the winter months when the herd all free-range completely as she so was easy to catch, and therefore an ideal candidate to be put on a halter and used as the ‘lead’ reindeer when needing to move the herd from place to place. I remember Fiona once leading her all the way from Eagle Rock back to near the Ciste carpark (where we were going to take the tour to that day) with her belt looped loosely around Amber’s neck, in place of a halter which we had managed to forget to take with us!

The continuation of Trout’s branch of the family tree now rests squarely upon the shoulders of Amber’s last calf Sambar, who is the sole remaining female in Trout’s descendants, other than Esme’s daughter Okapi. Unfortunately we don’t want to risk breeding from Okapi as she has had a prolapsed uterus a couple of times, so we think it’s better to not risk the chance of this happening again. We want it to stay firmly where it belongs! So Sambar has a lot of expectation on her, and is a lovely reindeer to boot, although a wee bit shyer than Amber was.

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Esme in 2009, with yearling Okapi

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Amber with Sambar on the left, in 2008

Amber herself passed away at some point in 2013, although we never knew exactly when as she just didn’t return from the summer grazing range in the autumn. She was over 14 by this point, so a very respectable age for any reindeer, and we are glad she finished her days out on the hills roaming freely.

Hen

 

 

 

 

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