Reindeer Internationals!

International herders

We’ve got a new Dutch reindeer herder! No, not me (Manouk), yet another one, we’re taking over 😉.  From the start of May, Lisette has been part our team for 2 days a week. Having lived in Fort Bill for 5 years, experienced with sheep, shepherding and dealing with the public, we thought she’d make an excellent addition to the team. That now brings the team to 2 Dutchies, as I’m back doing Mondays again. This left Hen to wonder if there are more Dutch reindeer herders than Scottish ones, but we quickly realised that that wasn’t the case. The Scots are definitely out-Englished though!

Lisette on a snowy hill run

Lisette and I are not the first Dutch herders in Scotland. Decades back, there was a Dutch ultra-runner, Jan Knippenberg, who would fly from the Netherlands to Inverness and continue on to run to the Cairngorms. When he ran the distance from Braemar police station to Aviemore police station through the Lairig Ghru (now known as the popular Lairig Ghru hill race), Mikel Utsi asked if he fancied helping him herd his reindeer from time to time. Knippenberg inspired current owner of the herd Alan Smith to get into (long-distance) running too, and thereby left his mark by starting an era of hill running reindeer herders. It won’t surprise you to read that both Lisette and myself are also hill runners (as are many herders in the team), Lisette often even crossing the finish line as the first lady! Read more on reindeer herders and hill running in my previous blogs, where I go over why reindeer herders run in the hills and about running from Scotland to the Netherlands.

Jan Knippenberg, back in the 80s

Besides these Dutchies, we have a large variety of nationalities amongst our present and past teams of herders! Ben was born in Australia, though spent most of his life in the UK. We occasionally get American herder Bobby over and look forward to seeing him soon again when it’s possible. Ex-herder Dave is from New Zealand, his kiwi accent still present after years in the Highlands 😊. Both Olly and Lotti both are ¼ Greek, and this shows in them being slightly less pale than your average Brit and for Lotti in part of her last name too (Papastavrou). We’ve had way more but as it’s a relative newbie writing this blog (I’ve only been involved with the herd for 4 years), I won’t be able to mention them all.

Herders Lotti and Ollie, who are both part-Greek!
American Bobby a couple of winters ago
Kiwi Dave, completely surrounded by calves!

There have also been many international volunteers too over the years, but the list is too long to go over everyone. Double thanks for coming over all the way from wherever you live to come and help us here!

International reindeer

Not all our reindeer are Scottish either! Most of you will know from visiting, BBC programmes, or reading about the herd that reindeer were reintroduced to the Cairngorms in the 50s, after having been extinct for +/- 1000 years. That means the origins of our herd lie in Sweden. To keep the gene pool diverse, we’ve introduced new bulls every few years too. At the moment we only have ten Swedish reindeer, none of which are still being used to breed from.

Amongst these ten Swedish boys, there are a few all-time favourites. We have the lovely ‘dark bull’ Bovril. Bovril is a favourite amongst (ex-)herders and a tv star as well! He featured in the BBC’s Four Seasons documentary, where he can be seen fighting a younger, light bull, trying to win the battle for the right to mate. Long after his tv premiere he could be seen striking a pose to visitors, I’m sure he knows he’s handsome.

Myself with handsome Bovril, during my first week of reindeer herding!

Another well-known Swede is Matto, who is white in colour. This makes him stick out like a sore thumb when you’re looking for the herd on a hillside, making the life of a reindeer herder a lot easier! He’s also a firm favourite ‘Christmas reindeer,’ looking extra festive with a red harness and bells contrasting nicely with his white coat.

International visitors

Amongst the many sad consequences of Covid19, was the fact that we’re hardly getting any international visitors anymore. We love the wide range of people we get, from all over the world. It’s always exciting to ask where people are from and realise that, at times, within one group of people, every continent (apart from maybe Antarctica) is represented! Herders have a habit of asking people where they’re from, and with Covid restrictions this may have sounded as if we were harassing you to check you weren’t breaking any rules. So sorry if we made you feel that way – and, honestly, we just love to hear where people are from!

We are so looking forward to getting people from overseas again (as well as British people of course 😊) – please do come and visit us once it’s allowed to do so!

Manouk

How reindeer herding changes me

My name is Emm Cassidy and I come and volunteer at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre for a week at a time which happens normally about once or twice a year.

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I live in the county of Worcestershire in a little village called Astwood Bank with my mum and dad. I am normally a very anxious and shy person who gets mentally tired very easily. It takes me more time to process things  e.g. what is being said to me. I have a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. It also affects how I interact with people and I find it very hard socializing. I normally work as Teaching Assistant at a local school teaching children to read or helping the children who have special education needs, but usually can only work part time as full time work is too much for me.

However, when I get into Reindeer House and become a reindeer herder, I become a totally different person. Being at Reindeer House is brilliant; the herders are like my second family. Everyone is so friendly and it is like seeing your very old friends again and I fit in perfectly.

It is a very special feeling and I feel I am understood. I feel I don’t have the same challenges as normal, and that I can be myself with the herders – even saying jokes and speaking much more than I normally do at home. The reindeer herders bring the best out of me and my mum and dad are amazed with the change in me.

I really love reindeer and everything I do as a reindeer herder has given me so much more confidence.

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The changes in me are huge. As a reindeer herder I do things that I can’t do at home.

These include:

  • Working 9 hours a day every day for 7 days
  • Being around and speaking to large groups of new people
  • Being myself at reindeer house and not masking how I am feeling
  • Trying new things, going into new situations and adapting to changes in the life of a reindeer herder
  • Answering the phone
  • Taking parts of the tour, explaining things to a group of new people
  • Being able to say if I am confused or don’t understand an instruction or don’t know what to do
  • Working in a team and feeling comfortable and confident
  • Going out for a meal with my colleagues

My time at Reindeer House this time was in my October half term for a week. The Saturday and Sunday was the 65th Adopters Weekend which was very busy and had lots of activities going on during both days (see last week’s blog). This included one day at the reindeer centre and one day at Tilly’s and Alan’s farm. It was a very special and lovely weekend meeting different adopters and hearing their stories and finding out who they adopt. I felt very honoured to help out and even had my own name badge!

Afterwards, me and the reindeer herders went out for a meal at Glenmore Lodge to celebrate which Tilly had treated us to it to say a massive thank you for working hard at the 65th Adopters Weekend!

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Our lovely meal out at Glenmore Lodge with some of the reindeer herders.

A couple of examples of reindeer herding duties, that I really improved on:

Teamwork and Achievement

After a hill visit, me and Morna went to the bottom of Silver Mount as the female reindeer Chelsea and her calf Shakespeare didn’t want to come in with the herd.  Shakespeare also looked thin and had a history of having a leg injury.

When we got to the bottom of Silver Mount, Chelsea wasn’t interested in the food Morna had. Chelsea is a very shy reindeer and has a wild side to her. So the only option was to herd Chelsea and Shakespeare to the temporary holding pen. Firstly we herded them through the gate into the bottom bit of the East Enclosure. By using our body language, speed and movement, me and Morna herded them across the East Enclosure. It was very breath-taking as one false move could startle them and they could have ran off into the wrong direction. I felt like a sheep dog and I found it amazing that we managed to herd them where we wanted them to be by just using ourselves.  Morna and me were so happy and felt we have both achieved such a massive thing, it was such a very special feeling.

After getting Chelsea and Shakespeare in to the temporary pen, we had to take Shakespeare’s temperature as he looked thin and didn’t come in with the rest of the herd. That could be a sign that a reindeer is poorly. Earlier that day I had learnt to take a reindeer’s temperature and I had taken Bovril’s temperature with Morna’s help whilst Olly held Bovril in place. But now came the real test.

Catching a calf who has a mother who has a wild side could be difficult. Both of them wasn’t interested with the food Morna had so Morna decided to put the food on the floor. Morna managed to get close to Shakespeare and then get hold of him. It was up to me to independently find Shakespeare’s bottom hole to put the thermometer in so we can find out his temperature. I managed to do it and held the thermometer in place till it beeped which meant it was ready. I felt a huge sense of achievement and was so proud of myself.

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Happy faces after a successful morning with Morna on the hill!

Having an Audience of Lots of People

I have never done a sleigh training session with the reindeer so I was excited to see how it was all done. For part of the Adoption Weekend, I helped out with 2 sleigh training sessions.

I helped to catch the reindeer in the paddocks and I led the male reindeer North out. There were lots of people waiting to watch the sleigh training session. I felt a bit nervous of the amount of people but it was ok as we had the reindeer and I was there to help and learn. It was lovely to see the people’s reactions when they saw the reindeer getting their harnesses on and then pulling the sleigh which then relaxed me.

I passed the harnesses to Fiona and Tilly who put them on the reindeer. I got to hold 2 reindeers lead ropes whilst the harnesses were being put on. I then tied North to the back of the sleigh. Bovril was being a bit stubborn pulling the sleigh so I walked behind him and Fiona had taught me to touch his tail to get him moving again if he stopped. Tilly and Fiona taught me how to detached the reindeer from the front of the sleigh and then attach them to the sleigh and also take the harnesses on and off.

I also got a turn of being behind the sleigh with 2 reindeer and also led the sleigh which was such an amazing feeling. It was so brilliant being part of the sleigh training team doing a display to show how we train the Christmas Reindeer.

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Me leading a sleigh, giving rides to 6 children!

Answering the phone

I also tried to get my confidence up with answering the phone which I find terrifying as I don’t know who is at the other end.  If I am not sure what to say, I now know I can pass the phone on to someone else. I decided to give it as go a few times.

The first time was an enquiry about the 11am hill trip. Unfortunately I had to tell them that it was fully booked and that we couldn’t take any more cars on as we had 30 cars going. I also told them that there was a paddock talk which was happing in the paddocks at 11am. Olly had heard me on the phone and said afterwards I was a superstar. He said that I said what I had to say about the hill visit being booked up.

The second time I answered the phone, it was a person asking for Fiona who wasn’t working that day. I told the person that Fiona wasn’t working and that I could take a message or a name and number.

New People and Busy Groups

I normally find meeting new people and busy crowds terrifying. The groups we take up to see the reindeer are quite busy and are full of new people.

I found it scary on my first day the first time with the amount but then I got use to it. Taking people up to see the reindeer is amazing as some people haven’t seen reindeer before. I love seeing people’s reactions when they see the reindeer or are hand feeding them and it is so lovely being part of their magical experencice being with the reindeer.

As everyone loved reindeer, I found it so much easier to relate to people. It is great as I could answer their questions and it was lovely to see people’s reactions when I had taught them some new facts about reindeer!

It was so interesting to find out where people had come from as lot was in Scotland on holiday. One trip, I found out a family lived near me and I found out that they have the same dentist as me! It is such a small world!

In the past I have taken part of the tour and given the starter talk and the herd history talk to the hill visit people. A very massive achievement for me which gave me lots of confidence.

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A large group on the tour, stopped down at Utsi bridge to listen to Dave.

Being around the reindeer and being around the brilliant company at reindeer house brings the best out of me and makes my anxiety go away and makes my thoughts more manageable. It makes me reach goals and achievements which would be harder for me to achieve at home.

I feel I can relate to life and things become less daunting for me! I become a happier person too! It is also like living my mindfulness which I do a lot of at home!

It is such a very special feeling when you have a herd of reindeer following you up the board walk whilst carrying their breakfast on your back or a herd of reindeer running down the mountain towards you responding to your call as they know that you have got their breakfast to give them!

I learn so much from everyone at reindeer house about handling reindeer, being around reindeer and dealing with people. It makes me realise the good in life and makes me realise that I can achieve things when I push myself!

Fiona said people come and people go from Reindeer House but Reindeer House is always an open door for everyone and that everyone is welcome back anytime!

On my last day I was really sad to leave and it was so hard to say goodbye to everyone, Mo (my adopted reindeer), the reindeer and dogs! Fiona said that Mo, the reindeer, the dogs and everyone will be waiting for me to come back again which will be hopefully soon!

Emm

All you ever want to know about leucism

So what’s the deal with leucism?

Are all white reindeer leucistic?

Are all leucistic reindeer deaf?

How is leucism passed on?

How is leucism different to Albinism?

These are questions I have pondered while fixing the boardwalk, closely accompanied by Blue, our male leucistic reindeer. The subject of leucism is quite hotly debated and seems only those with a Doctorate in Pathology may comment, but here goes:

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Blue inspecting my handiwork.

Leucism (pronounced loo-kiz-im) is a genetic peculiarity which gives a white colour. The condition is recessive. It is a defect in the skin, not the pigment cells. Leucistic animals are all perfectly white. It seems however that there are differing levels of the condition – partial and full.

One other characteristic of leucism is deafness, however is seems that this is not always the case. Leucism is developed during the early stages of embryonic development and can influence the central nervous system. It therefore most commonly affects sight and hearing.

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Blondie, a leucistic (and deaf) female, sleeping peacefully and completly unaware that the rest of the herd has walked away and we are standing nearby.

If a condition is recessive it means that the offspring must receive the leucism gene from both parents to develop the condition. We have leucism in the herd. It doesn’t affect the carriers at all but if they breed with a carrier there is 25% chance that their offspring with have leucism. We currently have two leucistic Reindeer that are both deaf – Blue and Blondie.

Blondie’s(ll) father was Sirkas (Ll) and mother was Glacier(Ll) both carriers, therefore there was a 25% chance that Blondie was born with leucism. Glacier had nine calves of which only one was born with leucism but of course several carriers.

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Blondie and her calf Lego, both pure white.

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Blondie nicely camoflauged against the snow. Leucism does have its advantages!

Blue’s(ll) father is Lego who had leucism (ll), Blue’s mother is Lulu who was a carrier (Ll). There was therefore 50% chance that Blue would be born with leucism.

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A baby Blue, very obviously un-camoflauged against the heather (but very cute).

Albinism is a total deficiency of melanin producing cells in the skin. It is a skin mutation. There is a total lack of pigment. Albino animals have pink/red eyes. The pigment (colour) that would normally be seen in our eyes is missing so the blood vessels behind are seen in the eye, given the appearance that the eye is red in colour.

As I do not have a Doctorate in anything (except drinking tea) these are not comments but merely my interpretation of several articles written by Doctors of Science.

Dave

Who’s who at Reindeer House (Part 1)

Times are a-changing and we thought we’d keep all you lovely readers informed with who is working here at Reindeer House. People have left, people have arrived, but the reindeer herding goes on…

So here goes:

Imogen and Abby (aka The Fierce and The Fluff) who both worked here for a few years have left in the last couple of months, moving on to new places and new adventures. We miss them both greatly (and their banter!), and for all of you out there who knew them as herders, we know you’ll miss their characters too..

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Abby on a beautiful day with Lace.

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A sunny winter’s day surrounded by reindeer is enough to make anyone, Imogen included, smile!

Ruth is our newest member of staff, who joined us during May. As a redhead she has gone through so much sun-cream since arriving that we’ve decided there should be a redhead grant from the government to cover the cost of this, so you can wish us luck on this venture. Ruth has a fantastic knowledge of the plants and animals of Scotland, and makes tours out to see the reindeer a whole new learning experience for both visitors and others herders!

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Ruth with one of our calves from this year.

Olly is back! Olly has worked at the reindeer centre on and off seasonally over the last few years, but is finally here to stay (we just can’t keep him away). Known for his flamboyant shirts and braces and excellent (and probably early-morning-sleep-related) comments, Olly is just great. Full of enthusiasm, knowledge, practical skills and creativity, Olly keeps us amused and is an excellent man to have about.

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Olly amongst a hungry herd of reindeer.

After having been here only four months Morna has proved she can handle the most difficult of situations. She wears many hats – equally skilled with hammer or pen, paint brush or calculator. Her calmness is appreciated by the reindeer who are at ease in her presence and us herders appreciate her love for life. Growing up on the Orkney Isles she is at home in wild places (but whatever you do don’t start a snow ball fight with her as she is likely to hurt herself).

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Morna enjoying her first calving season.

Dave has been here now for just over a year, so is a well-known bearded face at Reindeer House. Our only resident New-Zealander, Dave has worked on his Scottish reindeer call to make sure the reindeer can understand him, which makes us all chuckle here at the Centre. Dave never seems to get fazed or frazzled, and is one of those genuinely lovely people who calms the rest of us down simply by being around, and visitors seem to come away from the hill trip in a much more relaxed mood than they began in. And although he has been here for over a year, the secret finally slipped out that Dave has never mixed a bag of hand feed…

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Dave finds time for a moment of quiet contemplation on the hill.

Hen and Andi have both been here for a good number of years, and make sure everything runs smoothly here at the Centre. They are in charge of everything from our whole reindeer adoption database, to creating new road signs, to making sure the reindeer get the right amount of food, and to keeping us newbies in line. As Hen has been confined to crutches for the next few months, she is currently being our office-extraordinaire and we are all on orders to take photos of the reindeer down so she can keep up with how they are doing. Andi has taken up the slack of the missing Hen’s ID knowledge on the hill, and is providing a fountain of knowledge and tips for who is who. Andi is the herder to go to for all our stupid questions, and keeps us in line with her patience and loveliness.

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Hen on Christmas tour, with a sleepy Topi on her shoulder.

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Andi leading the herd of calves and other females out onto the hill.

Catriona is the oracle: our accountant, organiser, keeper of records, and all other hosts of jobs that need an experienced hand. She has been keeping the reindeer centre in line for longer than a few of us have been alive, and I’m not sure how the centre would work without her.

Sheena is a friend of the Reindeer Centre and has been around for over 25 years. She works on and off, filling in days here and there. She is the master of badge-making and incredibly full of energy at all times.

Stella and Ann are our long-term regular volunteers. They have helped out in many a sticky situation, have known the Reindeer Centre and all the staff over the years, and never fail to cheer us up with an odd packet of jaffa-cakes or biscuits turning up on the table.

And last, but of course by no means least, come the rest of the Smith family. Tilly and Alan, the owners of the company, are kept busy both here at the Reindeer Centre and over on their farm, working with not only reindeer but a whole host of animals, including Soay sheep, Wild Boar and Belted Galloway Cows. Over on the farm there is also Derek and Colin (brothers of Alan), and Alex (son of Tilly and Alan). Emily is Alex’s wife and, showing the reindeer centre to be a true family business, also works here for the odd day here and there.

Fiona, as many of you will know, is the backbone of the Reindeer Centre. Along with her brother Alex, they make the first native Scottish reindeer herders and her knowledge of the reindeer and how to work with them is long-ingrained. Fiona ensures that the whole of the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre organisation runs smoothly and the reindeer are happy and healthy all year round. Fiona also takes on much of the behind-the-scenes work, along with the hectic job of organising the whole of the Christmas period…

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An inquisitive girl!

We have too many volunteers and occasional staff to mention by name who turn up and massively help us out on a weekly basis, but who without, many jobs would go undone. So a big shout out to them all, for their fantastic help over the years. And of course, there are a whole host of others, family and friends of the Reindeer Centre, who work on and off or just help out, and are there to cheer us up if the occasion arises!

Reindeer of the Southern Hemisphere

I’m from New Zealand so anything Southern Hemisphere-related reminds me of home..

I have been doing some research about any reindeer activity in the Southern Hemisphere. As we all know reindeer are native to the Arctic region but it appears they quite like the Antarctic region as well. Though animals introduced outside their native land always have some sort of impact.

In 1911 Norwegian whalers introduced reindeer onto South Georgia. South Georgia is a sub-Antarctic island situated in the South Atlantic about 1000 miles off the western coast of Argentina. It is almost exactly the same distance from the equator as we are here in Scotland. It is a remote and inhospitable collection of islands and just what reindeer like!

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An old whaling map of South Georgia (maked as Unknown Land) and the Falkland Islands, shown as close to South America. Photo taken from Mick Roger’s blog.

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HMS Leeds Castle in Stromness Bay, Falkland Islands, with introduced reindeer on the shore. Photo taken from Mick Roger’s blog.

The reindeer were introduced to provide recreational hunting and for fresh meat for the numerous people working in the whaling industry at the time. Since the end of the Whaling industry in 1960s the reindeer population had been growing uncontrollably.  In 2011 it was noted that their numbers had exploded and the islands habitats were being destroyed. Fears of forcing some birds into extinction it was decided to eradicate the island of its reindeer population.

As these reindeer were introduced outside of their native range they were having significant impact on flora and fauna. Their range on the island was limited by natural glacial borders meaning their density increased to much higher than normal levels. In the Cairngorms we have a density of approximately one reindeer per square kilometre. On South Georgia the density had swollen to between 40 and 80 reindeer per km2. Imagine the northern corries here in the Cairngorms with 3000 – 6000 reindeer! The available land on South Georgia couldn’t support this many reindeer leaving many to die of starvation in the winter. Another common cause of death was falling from cliffs while trying to access ungrazed areas.

Over two years from 2013, 6,690 reindeer were culled on South Georgia. Animal welfare professionals were involved and 7500kg of meat was recovered.

In an attempt to diversify agriculture on the Falkland Islands around 50 reindeer were translocated from South Georgia prior to the eradication.  I couldn’t find much information about this farming enterprise online but let’s hope it doesn’t end in another ecological nightmare!

Reindeer were also introduced to the sub-Antarctic Kerguelen Islands in 1954 this time however from Swedish Lapland. The Kerguelen Islands are a French territory in the southern Indian Ocean. In the 1970s reindeer numbers were recorded at 2000. Unsuccessful attempts to introduce reindeer to Chile and Argentina also occurred in the 1940s.

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Southern Rockhopper penguins on the Falkland Islands, the new island-mates of the introduced reindeer. Photo by Ben Tubby.

So where does all this info leave us? It seems reindeer are extremely well suited for the sub Antarctic climate but without close and continued management is a very risky game as they are not native to the region. And for me, it seems I may be able to continue my career as a Reindeer Herder in the Southern Hemisphere, if I ever go back.

Dave

The Kincraig Fayre

Recently we attended the Kincraig Fayre. We threw a few reindeer in the trailer and drove down the road. Kincraig is only 15 miles from the Centre so we headed out for the afternoon. Kincraig is a small highland village in the Strathspey, and every year we attend the Kincraig fayre; it is a great way to meet some of the local people.

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Preparation for a reindeer event needs to happen first thing in the morning. We need to bring the reindeer down from the hill so we head up first thing to hand pick some friendly reindeer. We decided on four reindeer to bring down from the enclosure. All of our reindeer are trained to walk on a halter. So we shepherd Strudel, Jonas, Cambozola and Aonach into a small pen, where we put a halter on each. We can now walk them along out of the enclosure and down the path to the road. It is quite funny walking a reindeer, imagine you are out walking your dog, now imagine your dog is three feet tall, with giant antlers and wants to eat all the leaves off the trees! Once we are at the road we can load the reindeer into our special transport truck. Then the short drive down to the centre to unload the reindeer into the paddocks where they will spend the time socialising with the tourists and the paddock reindeer until it is time for the fayre.

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So as it happens we decide to load the paddock reindeer into the truck and take them to the fayre for a change of scenery. The paddock reindeer on this day were Fergus, Scrabble, Sooty and Matto. With the reindeer loaded, we gathered some food for them, along with buckets for water. We loaded several hurdles which we will use to build a temporary fence to enclose the reindeer. Down the road we drive, past Loch Morlich and on towards Aviemore before joining the B Road south. We shortly arrive in Kincraig and are greeted with waves and children shouting excitedly “Look, the reindeer are here!”

We spent a lovely afternoon in the sun, speaking with local people about our reindeer. The four reindeer are enclosed on a patch of grass next to the Community Hall. The reindeer curiously wondered around the enclosure munching grass and occasionally allowing people to pat them and feel their warm coats. The reindeer ate plenty of mix and had water to drink, while we made sure to sample the cake and the candy floss. The event passed by without drama. We did keep a pretty close eye on Fergus though as we half expected him to try and jump over the fence. But even Fergus behaved and event came to a close around 4.30pm.

Dave

Luciferous Logolepsy

Exploring the meanings of unusual words and the Reindeer hoose Office wall…

To explain this rather dubious title, in our humble office here at Reindeer House there is a list of rather obscure words stuck to our wall: things like Jargogles, Apricity and Twattle. the latter meaning to gossip or talk idly – a lot of that goes on in our office to be sure!

Quite a few of these words we feel are quite apt for a few of our fluffy friends up on the hill so I’m going to introduce you to a few choice selections!

Snoutfair – A good looking person.

I feel this would obviously be quite apt for all the reindeer as they are such gorgeous beasts but Cheese obviously thinks very highly of themselves here!

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Cheese being silly!

Cockalorum – A little man with a high opinion of himself.

If there was ever a reindeer that fit this description it would be Mo, Mo is a cheeky little fella and at four years old he’s definitely one of the smallest males in the herd and he more than makes up for it in attitude!

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Handsome little thug, Mo

Lethophobia – The fear of oblivion

So this is a tad dramatic but definitely applies to one of my favourite reindeer Shinty. Shinty is originally Swedish and was imported back in 2011. He’s a super sweetie (I think) but painfully shy and often looks apologetic for just turning up in the morning. If any reindeer were to fear oblivion it would be him!

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Shinty looking a little wide eyed and worried, as usual

Hugger mugger – To act in a secretive manner

To be honest this applies very well to the female reindeer during the winter months – at this time of year we have to find the reindeer every day and we do all of our visits out on the open hillside. The amount of times we’ve walked out for miles to then turn around and have an entire herd of reindeer smugly behind you is definite hugger muggery if you ask me!

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The girls in winter, sneaking off to hide for the night

Jollux  – Slang for being a wee bit on the chubby side.

Without a doubt the Jollux of the herd is Magnus, the lovely magnus loves nothing more than chowing down – unfortunately it’s rather hard to put a reindeer on a diet as the hillsides are covered in lovely grazing. This also brings me onto another great word – Callipygian: to have beautifully shaped buttocks. Magnus most definitely gives Beyonce a run for her money!

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Magnus looking majestic and pretty tubby!

The final word, one used almost daily here at Reindeer House is Groaking – To silently watch someone eating, hoping to be invited to join them. Every time lunch hour hits there’s some person with a fantastic looking lunch….

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Dave groaking…

 Abby

Romford Retailer becomes a Cairngorm Reindeer Herder: Part 3

This is the third and final installment of Sonya’s blog about her week volunteering with us and the reindeer. Thanks so much again to Sonya for all of her hard work and we hope you have enjoyed reading all about what our volunteers and staff get up to on a daily basis!

(Here’s a handy link to the first and second parts of Sonya’s blog)

Day Five of an Romford retailer becoming a Cairngorm reindeer herder

I only worked a half day today and started at 2pm, it looked like it could be a dry day in Aviemore but by the time I got to Glenmore it was raining as usual. Fiona was making buttons out of slices of antler, to sell in the shop, first she saws the antler into tiny slices, a bit like you would a cucumber, I’m amazed she still has all her fingers. Then she thoroughly sands each tiny piece on both sides until it’s as smooth as glass, then drills two tiny holes in the centre so it can be sewn on.

I started by sorting out the hire wellington boots today, we try to keep them on racks in size order so that it’s easy to find a suitable pair to hire out to visitors. Bizarrely there are three odd boots, a size 5, 6 and 10 with no partner. We have all looked everywhere for the missing ones to no avail.

Only four people are booked on the 2:30 hill trip so Dave suggests I do some of the talking, He says its less intimidating if its a small group but I am just concerned they won’t hear me over the noisy, raging torrent of water at Utsi’s bridge where we pause for the history segment but they huddled close and it was fine. We had to take more feed up than usual today so Dave and I had a sack each and asked for a volunteer to carry the hand feed, which they were only too happy to do. When we put the feed down, only 28 reindeer arrived which means 10 are missing and two are separated in the sick pen because they have upset stomachs. This is probably because they have over eaten and gorged themselves on grass. One of the greedy grass eaters is Gandi so I am especially worried, Dave shakes his head when I express concern which I take to mean there is no hope for Gandi’s recovery, but Dave quickly reassures me that Gandi is likely to recover in 24 hours, just like we do when we have an upset stomach. Must be an antipodean thing, shaking your head when it’s not bad news, but the frequent misunderstandings keep us entertained. I think I am mostly to blame for these as I have often misunderstood foreign tourists, much to Dave’s entertainment. I don’t easily recognise accents but it seems a good conversation starter to ask people where they are from, the problem is they ask me the same question back and we try to answer each other too soon and it gets very confusing to the point where I thought a young couple were asking me if I was from Paris when really they were telling me that’s where they were from. I am learning it’s safer to just listen and nod, and not ask too many questions.

Day Six of a Romford retailer becoming a Cairngorm reindeer herder

Back to the early morning start today which was a struggle, but at least it wasn’t raining. Dave and I were on paddock duty i.e poop scooping, and we cleared up the shed where the paddock reindeer have sheltered while it’s been so wet, then we did some weeding before going on the 11.00 hill trip. I think I can say Dave and I have now got a well practised routine, I do the ‘welcome’ at the car park and the ‘history’ at Utsi Bridge and he does the ‘health and safety’ at the enclosure and the ‘reindeer characteristics’ at the herd. At feeding time today we were trying to get all the reindeer from the bottom corridor into the east enclosure and about 15 of them were well spread out and comfy in the bottom corridor so Dave suggested I go and get them so they don’t miss lunch. If I was better at it I suppose I should have been able to get them all in one go but they were so far apart I found it difficult to keep them all moving so I resorted to doing small groups of three or four at a time. I went up and down the hill in the bottom corridor many times and I think it was me who needed lunch more than the reindeer by the time I got them all. By the time I was able to bring up the rear with the last of the stragglers, the first visitors were leaving, but they all seemed to have had a good time so no worries. When I join Dave he tells me he thinks we only have 39 instead of the requisite 40 reindeer. I am seriously dismayed and set about my own count but they are moving around now as the food is mostly gone. It takes me two attempts but I count 40, twice, just to make sure.

In the afternoon I do the hill trip with Julia, the weather is glorious and we have a few small children in the group, I am leading the first part and Julia is bringing up the rear. I end up waiting ages at the bridge for the back end of the group to join us. Julia has really aching legs from running up a mountain yesterday. She cleverly disguises her slow progress by making it look like the small children are holding her up! But this photo reveals the truth, as she hobbled back down once the tourists had gone.

Julia
Julia hobbling down after the visit

At the end of my penultimate day I’ve already had to say goodbye to Hen and Abby. It will be difficult to part company with everyone else tomorrow, when my placement comes to an end.

Day Seven of Romford retailer becoming a Cairngorm reindeer herder

Ah the last day…….awoke to a lovely morning and I thought you might like to see the tough commute I’ve had each morning, the traffic has been heavy as you can see and the views along this road can be distracting on a bright day, as you can see by the view of Loch Morlich below.

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The extremely busy road

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A flat calm morning on Loch Morlich

So my last morning began with a trip up the hill with Fiona and Dave to give the reindeer their breakfast. The sun was quite warm even though it was early in the day so the reindeer took a lot of rousing to make their way up the hill, they like to lounge around when it’s warm and it takes a lot of coaxing and shaking of the feed sack to get them going. Fiona asked me to put my half of the feed out to coax the other stragglers up so this is the first group lined up for breakfast.

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Boys lining up for breakfast

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Fiona and Dave checking the reindeer

Gandi seems to be poorly again because he doesn’t express any interest in breakfast and stays sitting at the gate far away. Upon closer inspection it turns out he has a very upset stomach. We try to usher him into the sick pen for Fiona to check his temperature but it’s risky getting too close behind him because his ‘issues’ are non-stop. The unflappable Dave accuses me of being squeamish and shoves Gandi onwards and upwards with little or no regard for his own hygiene. Gandi’s temperature is a little high but not dangerously so, Fiona thinks he’s just been gorging on too much grass again. I wondered why he does it if it makes him ill and Fiona thinks its because it tastes so nice. I guess it’s a bit like us having so much ice cream we get a headache or so much chocolate we feel sick, but we just can’t resist it. Well it seems Gandi has no will power, little sense and a weak constitution. “Sorry Gandi, does that sound harsh? You’re still my favourite but to be fair, you been poorly for more days than you’ve been well, this week”. Despite being so handsome, it’s certain he will be castrated this year. It’s uncertain if he ever did father any calves but if he did, they will be three years old this year and ready to start breeding themselves. Therefore, to avoid any possible in-breeding, Gandi’s new career path will involve being a Christmas reindeer, which I am sure he will excel at. I am a little sad he’ll never grow those lovely graceful silver antlers again so here’s one more photo of them as he munches on some lichen with Moose. For any fans of Moose, he’s fine and well, he’s just keeping Gandi company. Wherever possible, reindeer are never in a position where they do anything alone, it would just distress them more to feel like they were being singled out and not part of the herd.

Gandi and Moose
Moose (right) keeping Gandi comany

After a few more busy hill trips throughout the morning, including one at 11:00 that I did completely alone, it was time for lunch and then manning the shop single-handedly for the first time. I’ve not really done much in the shop, beyond clean it, up to this point. But Dave and Julia are the only other herders working today and they really need to do the last hill trip of the day, in case Gandi needs an antibiotic injection.

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The old fashioned till

Dave has christened me the retail queen due to my previous work and assumes I will be fine to just step in and run the shop. I am quick to point out that the tills I used were computerised and not quite like this one. After a quick lesson from Julia, they’re off and the shop is all mine. In case you shopped here on Sunday 19th June, I would like to apologise to any customers who had to wait while I wandered round the shop with a calculator checking the prices and adding up their purchases. In case I worked with you in the past, I would like to point out, in my defence, that there are no barcodes and this beautiful vintage till does not actually add up, nor work out the change! Several postcards, pens, souvenir bags and one expensive reindeer hide later, the day is suddenly over and after closing the paddocks for the last time, its time to go home. It’s been very hard work but the MOST rewarding time I have had, so immense thanks to the Reindeer Centre for this amazing experience and for being the subject of this blog, hope to see you again soon.

Sonya

Romford Retailer becomes a Cairngorm Reindeer Herder: Part 2

The second installment of Sonya’s blog about volunteering is here! The weather isn’t so great in this blog but Sonya’s enthusiasm shines through. If you missed the first installment, here’s a link to days 1 and 2 of Sonya’s week with us.

Day Three

The weather is dreadful today, I have become obsessed with the weather forecast so I am aware the rain is due to last at least two days or more, this calls for waterproofs and a certain strength of spirit to face heading outside and up the hill. Fiona and Abby take me to help separate six reindeer from the rest of the herd. There is a pre-booked trek the next day so we are getting the trekking reindeer in a separate enclosure, we must be sure to include Bingo in the smaller group as his adoptee is one of the trekkers. As the reindeer head through two gates, my task is to count them to ensure they all come in for breakfast. A simple task you’d think. Well it would have helped if they stood still, or even if they moved at a steady pace in an orderly manner. A few times they stop, then rush through two or three at a time, or occasionally shove their way through the wrong gate and have to come back and be encouraged through the correct gate. I’m aiming to reach a total of thirty five. By the time I’m up to seventeen or was it fifteen….., I’m hoping Abby or Fiona are double checking me and counting too. By the time we get to the last reindeer, I’m only up to thirty two but not feeling too confident about my total.

After settling the smaller group of six, we set about feeding the larger group which means we can more easily recount them. I’m not sure what to wish for at this point because if there are twenty-six it means my count was accurate, but if there are twenty-nine it means all the reindeer are here and we don’t have to walk the 1200 acre enclosure in this downpour, looking for them. There are twenty-six. Three are missing and one of them is my Gandi. Fiona thinks they’re likely to turn up for the 11:00 feed to we don’t rush into looking for them, we will have to do that if they’re not hanging around by then. Apparently it’s not unusual for them to miss the odd feeding session at this time of year as there are such tasty nibbles available elsewhere in the form of a variety of new green shoots all across the hillside.

With all this counting of reindeer and trying to identify which ones are missing, I’ve learnt another name today. I had noticed Puddock’s antlers before, without knowing his name. They are many branching but he is castrated so they don’t grow so tall. They end up in a tangled mass going every which way. He was born in 2007 when calves were named after green things like Fern and Meadow. I didn’t know what a Puddock was but I’m reliably informed it’s an old Scottish term for a frog. My education continues.

Puds
Puddock

I spent quite a lot of time in the shop today as a rainy day is a good opportunity to wipe everything down and have a general tidy up and restock. Some hardy individuals are still out and about in this awful weather and there is a steady stream of bookings for the 11:00 hill trip so the waterproofs are back on and up we go again. Despite the weather I’m eager to see if Gandi has turned up since this morning and sure enough, when we get up to the hill, he’s there at the gate with two companions, all indignant at missing breakfast. We have an adopter on this hill trip who is eager to see Dragonfly but he is not on the hillside at the moment. Dragonfly is due to arrive later in the afternoon as he is currently on the farm and coming over to take his turn in the paddocks. So his adopter can have a leisurely lunch and pop back to see him later on.

Fiona’s brother Alex arrives at lunch time with the reindeer from the farm. He has Ross with him who I haven’t met before. I remembered Imogen’s suggestion about how to look like a local and wear less clothing, so I guess Ross is a true Scot as it is the coolest and wettest of days and Ross is wearing the flimsiest of shorts! I began to share the joke with him and merrily tell the tale of Imogen’s advice…. At the end of my story, Ross looks at me in a confused way and simply says “Sorry?”.

He hasn’t understood a word of what I said, in what must sound to him, like a broad southern accent. My joke is wasted and he thinks I’m crazy! Oh well, you can’t win them all, so we get back to the reindeer.

The plan is to put them in the paddocks and take the current paddock reindeer up to the hill enclosure. I’m not sure how we managed to achieve this swap over but it seemed a well-practised opening and closing of multiple gates and trailers until eventually the right reindeer were in the paddock and the others were stowed in the trailer to go up the hill. We all squeezed in ‘Brenda the truck’ for the short journey but there aren’t quite enough seats so Fiona bravely gets in the back with the reindeer. It’s a big novelty for me to lead them along the public footpath, over Utsi’s bridge and up to the enclosure, I find myself hoping a walker will come along the path as I’d love to see the look on their faces as five reindeer on halters are lead past them, but nobody comes by to witness the incongruous sight of reindeer using a footbridge and they are reunited with the herd without further incident.

Utsi bridge
Dave approaching Utsi’s Bridge

Day Four

Today is the day of the trek for a pre-booked party and I am heading up in the rain again, with Andi. It’s lovely to meet Andi as she was the herder I made contact with to seek this volunteering placement and it’s good for both of us to put a face to the name. Our fellow trekkers are Bessie and Joyce from Glasgow, Bessie has adopted Bingo for a few years and is keen to see him again. Our other companions are Susan and her granddaughter Mira from Whistler in Canada. They are on an extended trip to Scotland in an attempt to track down some family graves as they know their ancestors were from Scotland many generations ago. Susan has a deep love of all hooved animals, she has goats and sheep as pets at home in Canada, and Sooty the reindeer is her best friend within minutes. It’s a cold damp morning but at least it keeps the midges at bay and we ascend through low cloud to the peak of Silver Mount.

Trek
Low cloud on the trek

I am walking Camus, as a non-paying trekker it’s only fair that I take a reindeer that needs the practise and training, rather than the nice quiet obliging ones that the tourists get. Camus was a jittery boy for the ascent, jumping and prancing around until at one point it took all my strength to hang on to him. Until that point I had been trying to bring up the rear of the group so we didn’t leave anyone behind but Andi quite rightly suggested I bring him into the middle of the group. Reindeer are herd animals and nothing is more comforting to them than a bit of company and by this time I was keen to try anything to calm him down, I just hoped we didn’t end up losing any of the group in the mist on the mountain. When we reached the peak of Silver Mount we stopped for photos and a soggy snack before descending. When the rest of the herd were in sight we removed the reindeer halters and let them re-join their companions. Some other reindeer came to meet us, tempted by Andi’s stash of lichen. More photos were taken and sweet nothings were murmured to all our favourites and as we headed out of the enclosure the reindeer proved themselves to be in a friendly mood and followed us all along the boardwalk as far as the gate. I know they were just hopeful of more food but it looked for all the world like they were waving us off.

boardwalk2

Sonya

The final installment will be out in August!

 

The Springtime Recruit

Hello. I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Dave. Yes I am male. I am the first male Reindeer Herder for 100 years and it shows! (Editor’s note: This isn’t true...)

“If you fancy using your man skills and fixing something around here, we’d be pleased.”

I heard this line four times on my first day. Jokes aside, this is a marvellous place to work and I am getting to use my man skills a lot.

The Boardwalk

As most of you will know there are a few hundred metres of boardwalk in the enclosure. This needs constant maintenance. Usual maintenance tasks are simply replacing the boards and wire mesh, however large sections of the boardwalk have needed replacement in recent years. I’ll look forward to that job in the future.

The Office

The shed with the tin roof on the left side of the enclosure is affectionally referred to as the office. After the long winter the office was looking rather neglected as well as emitting a terrible stench. I have taken this project on with some muster. First of all – the stench. Sometime during the winter a mountain hare decided it would RIP behind some boxes. The stench thankfully left when I removed the remains of the hare. Next job in the office was to build a new desk. Using nice old recycled lumber the office now has a new desk.

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Early on during the office project I found a wagtail nest with four chicks in it. Over the next couple of weeks I watched these chicks grow up fast. On one morning when I arrived I found one dead chick on the floor and the other three were stood on the edge of the shelf waiting to fledge! One was in the front and clearly wanted to get off shortly. I could hear mother or father outside tweeting encouragement and sure enough the little chick took flight and slammed straight into the window. While the chick was seeing stars on the floor I picked it up and it flew out the door to join its parents. After covering up the window and leaving the door wide open, the next morning the other two were nowhere to be found. Hopefully another happy young family in the sky!

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Without the worry of disturbing the nest I could continue with the office refurb. General shifting and sorting of the equipment and medical supplies in the office have made for a much more usable space.

The Paddocks

Any and all available spare time is spent in the paddocks. There is always a lot of weeding to be done at this time of year. Mainly nettles and docks but also some bramble! The usual suspects! Yes, they can manage the sub-arctic climate as well. When it rains here, and it often does, the paddocks can become quite muddy. We are trying a new technique to support the soil and improve drainage. We have buried plastic frames into the topsoil where it is prone to becoming muddy. We are hoping we can establish grasses in the frames and that it will improve the mud problem. Now we just need to wait for it to rain. Shouldn’t have to wait too long.

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This is the end of my introduction blog. I hope you enjoyed reading about my ‘man skills’. Looking forward to meeting you all here at the Reindeer Centre.

Dave

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