Our adult ‘Christmas reindeer’ (castrated males) are trained to harness at around 3 or 4 years old, so they can take part in a few events and parades in November and December each year, bringing in part of the income that then supports the herd for the rest of the year. About 25 of our males are trained so this enables them to take their turn at events, most of which are at weekends, and no-one is overworked at Christmas time (except, perhaps, us…)! Between weekends all the reindeer are back on the mountainside getting some good grazing and some downtime.
What happens during a training session? This photo blog will hopefully give you a taster of what we get up to during afternoons in October and early November here in Glenmore in preparation for Christmas tour.
These photos have all been collated over the past few days over several training sessions involving different reindeer and reindeer herders.
Bingo is one of our older Christmas reindeer now at the age of 12 years old. He has always been a pretty, what’s the polite way of saying it, aloof reindeer. He’s not timid, cos he has plenty of confidence but he’s certainly had his moments over the years where he falls into the category of being very head strong or independent. Lets just say when working with him out on the open hill some swear words may have been passed amongst herders when trying to herd Bingo!
The days of bringing the herd down from our winter grazing at Glenlivet usually involved a few of us on foot pushing the herd down to our corral on the hill ready to bring them back to our hill farm for the summer. Without fail for years Bingo would always double back and for anyone who has tried to chase a four-legged animal, flat out going up hill you’ll know it’s a losing battle. On the odd occasion we did either turn him, or he decided to go in with the herd (this was rare), he was first to be brought off the hill to avoid the risk of him somehow finding his way out!
As I said earlier he’s one of our Christmas reindeer. This means he’s trained to harness and pull the sleigh and to be fair to him he’s a total pro. Having done some pretty big events over the years including the very prestigious Windsor Castle he doesn’t put a foot wrong and being so handsome he of course looks great too. When I had him in my team Christmas 2019 my team mate, Joe, had to do lots of sweet talking and bribery with Bingo. For whatever reason Bingo took a dislike to Joe. Whenever we had to go about our normal handling of catching, loading, putting on harness Bingo always showed his antlers to Joe. Never me, I could walk up to him and he’s act like a well behaved dog and not put a foot wrong but he did not like Joe. Joe would find himself trying to win him over… extra lichen treats and giving him lots of personal space but more often than none he’d just find Bingo poking him with his antlers… Needless to say I found it very amusing! So much so that when Bingo cast his antlers before Christmas 2019 on Christmas Day I said to Joe I had a present for him but he had to close his eyes. Then I proceeded to poke him with Bingos antlers, this was Joe’s special Christmas present for Joe and now Joe has them mounted in his room, never to forget the wonderful friendship the two of them had…
However, I think Bingo has slightly mellowed over the years. Maybe running in the opposite direction every time we want to bring the herd in has worn thin and is maybe just a bit exhausting now in his older years. A couple months ago when we brought the free range herd into out hill corral for some annual management we were handling reindeer and low and behold Bingo come down to the corral of his own accord. I got myself a small bag of feed and halter and open the gate. He comes waltzing in, head in the bag of feed and I pop his halter on… Does that mean we no longer have to chase him around the hill side anymore, I do hope so.
I’ve definitely got a soft spot for Bingo. As lovely as it is having a well behaved Christmas reindeer who never puts a foot wrong and always obliges when we’re doing any handling there is something about a challenge and Bingo has certainly provided us with a challenge over the years. He’s got a spark to him which I love and he didn’t poke me with his antlers so maybe we have a mutual agreement between the two of us? Who knows…
At 12 years old I can’t believe how time has passed and Hamish is now an ‘old boy’! I remember the day he was born as I was the very first person to see him. This includes his mother Rusa because while she was calving she couldn’t manage on her own and I had to assist in pulling him out. A combination of Rusa only being a young mum herself at just 2 years old she wasn’t fully grown and Hamish being a big boy meant he got a little stuck on exit! This was the first ever time I had to assist a reindeer cow calving so with strict instructions from the vet I felt my way around and managed to pull him out, and even better he was un-scathed but the whole ordeal. Because of the nature of our herd the reindeer calve out on the mountain so for a vet to come out to help too much time would have passed and either cow or calf would then be at risk, so I had to crack on, there was no other option!
In Hamish’s first few weeks he spent a little time here in our paddock area so we could keep an eye on the two of them. This is when he got his name. We don’t name the calves until the autumn but as we spent extra time with him Hamish got his name sooner than the others. He then joined the herd free ranging on the Cairngorms for the summer and came back looking great. Rusa was a good mum, very attentive and they were never far apart from each other.
Hamish has grown into a real character in our herd and one of our trusty old pros when it comes to Christmas events. In his hay day he looked fab with great big antlers and always fat as butter… Hamish LOVES his food! A trait passed down from Rusa for sure. But now he is 12 years old he’s starting to look his age. He’s mainly based at our hill farm over the summer months or on our hill grazing during the winter, Hamish is enjoying the easy life. He does pop over here now and again, but his visits are brief nowadays just lasting a few days.
With Christmas just around the corner we may well call on his expertise to help train the new, younger Christmas reindeer. This requires being harnessed up alongside a newbie and pulling the sleigh. This is done next to our Centre in Glenmore, so the reindeer get used to seeing lots of people and cars. Hamish is the perfect role model for this and if the new Christmas reindeer take a leaf out of his book then they will be great!
Moose is one of our 14 year old Christmas reindeer. For those of you that have met him you’ll know that he’s got such a sweet nature and loves human company. He’s never been a very pushy reindeer so naturally isn’t at the top of the pecking order so this is probably why he likes humans so much as we don’t push him around as much as the other reindeer. He now spends most of his time over at our Glenlivet site free ranging on the hills during the winter and spending the summer months at our hill farm where life is pretty easy indeed.
When Moose was a calf he was a bit smaller than the others his age. His mother Meas was a lovely female and came from a notoriously greedy family of reindeer. During November and December 2008 Moose was in my team when we went out on Christmas tour. I remember visiting a town near London and while the other reindeer were having their breakfast tethered in ‘set up’ before an event, Moose was completely loose doing his own thing. He’d go up and down the line of feed bowls belonging to all the other reindeer helping himself to their food. We weren’t worried that he would walk away as the herd instinct is very strong and he just wanted to be with his reindeer and humans. When we were in display pens and the public could visit us, Moose would walk around the pen greeting folk (or most likely looking for food). So, from moment one he was a little sweety!
He is now 14 years old which is a great age for a reindeer. But despite old age he is still one of the first down at feeding time and definitely first over when a bucket of lichen shows up. In his hay day he was a good Christmas reindeer trained to harness and pulling the sleigh but he’s too old for that now. He can leave that to the younger boys. He did however join a small team of reindeer and do a couple of local Christmas events in 2021. He joined a wedding party for a renewal of vows in local village Nethy Bridge and he also joined another team of reindeer to take part in an event in Tain. Being an old pro at these types of events he knows the drill. Travel up, walk beautifully at the back of the sleigh, eat his bowl of feed then lie down for a few hours while people enjoy his company… Such a celebrity! He’s definitely got it easier than Santa nowadays…
So there you are… meet Moose or if you’ve already met him then you can smile at the fact that you know him. What a character he is, he certainly makes me smile every time I see him 😊
Houdini is 11 years old now. He joined our herd when we brought reindeer over here from Sweden in 2011 as a way to boost the genetics in our own herd. At the time he was a calf and the way he got his name was during his time in Sweden while my brother Alex was there training them ready for their journey over to Scotland. On a number of occasions when Alex would head to the corral in the morning all the reindeer were securely inside the fencing… except for one. After a good bit of persuasion with food he’d coax that calf back in to join the herd in the corral. The weird thing was he couldn’t work out where he was getting out… and that is how he got his name, Houdini! He must have eventually watched him and worked it out because Houdini did come over to Scotland and didn’t remain in Sweden.
For his first few years with us he was too young to breed but with a quiet and greedy nature we soon realised that he’d be a good one to use as a main breeding bull in the future. His antlers were always a good size but never had much shapeliness to them. As a bull he was an interesting character. Sometimes when bulls are quite tame when they rut they can see us as part of their herd and in the rutting season this meant fending us off from trying to steal his females! Not that we actually wanted his females but he wasn’t to know that. So feeding him and his hareem had to be done with caution. Other bulls such as Kota, and Spartan never gave us a second look… nature of the beast I guess, they are all very different. Houdini over the years fathered many calves, including Olmec, Texel, Holy Moley, Jelly etc… Like their dad, as well as mums influence too, they all have a very sweet nature.
In 2020 Houdini was 9 years old and we’d used him as a main breeding bull for a few years so we decided to give him a break now. This meant he had a visit from the vet to be gelded so Houdini will live out his life in our herd as a Christmas reindeer. We couldn’t possibly have a herd full of bulls or going into the rutting season would be complete chaos and very difficult to manage. We would risk relatives breeding with one another so we must geld reindeer that we don’t want to breed from. This would happen at the youngest of 3 years old, or like Houdini at the age of 9. It is our Christmas reindeer that would take part in events and are trained to harness and pull the sleigh.
As Houdini was already a good age we did train him to wear harness and pull the sleigh but the reality of him actually doing many events are pretty slim. As a big reindeer who has had a lot of stress on his body over the years with rutting he also needs to take it easy. We trained him at the Reindeer Centre in Glenmore and he did really well. For a big, old boy who hasn’t done anything like that before he was great. With our normal Christmas tour not happening in 2020 due to COVID we did a few local events. Houdini joined the team that did a local hotel on Christmas day but he just had to walk at the back of the sleigh, nothing too tasking. In 2021 he went through the training again and he joined my team and for the first time since he came into Scotland, he came south of the border to the north of England.
We were doing an event at Stockeld Park in Yorkshire. It was a two day event so both days we turned up for 11am into a huge grassy pen and did a parade around their enchanted forest at 3pm. The parade loop went around their cross country ski route and passed lit-up animals, ogres, Little Red Riding Hood’s house, a wicked witch riding on her sleigh as well as a lake with fountains and a few enormous lit-up unicorns with fairies dancing on top… I know I couldn’t quite take it all in either! We set off on our first out of four loops in total we were going to be doing that weekend, two each day. I thought it was a bit much to ask Houdini to pull the sleigh on the first day as it was his first event and discovering unicorns on his first ever event should be done while walking at the back of the sleigh and not having to concentrate on the sleigh as well. So he joined myself at the back of the sleigh with Anster, Beret and Beanie. Frost and Celt were pulling it with Lotti leading. As we enter the enchanted forest it was great seeing Houdini take it in but not reacting. Each lit-up animal we passed he’d stare at, but by the fourth round on day two he barely even gave each display the time of day, even the huge unicorns.
After the weekend we headed north again and before he knew it he was back on the hill with the herd. I wonder if he spread his knowledge of unicorns in Yorkshire onto the other reindeer? Houdini was an absolute star! He took everything in his stride and over the years has brought so much to our herd, we are very proud of him. He might do the odd local event now but leave the ones further afield to the younger reindeer. Stockeld was perfect for him as a big comfortable grassy pen was good on his older joints. It’s a bit like me, when we stay at farm bases across the country now I need a comfy bed at night or I wake up a bit stiff!