Photo Blog: September 2023

I love September! The reindeer look super, we’re busy with free ranging reindeer, we name the calves and we start learning their individual personalities, plus the rut kicks off. Having said that, I planned a two week holiday in one of my favourite months – must remember not to do that again! So there is a big gap in the photos for this month’s blog, but I’ve made up for it by just sharing more from the same day.

Just a reminder – we don’t reveal the names of the calves online until our adopters receive their newsletter next month.

2nd of September- Sambar (in the background) and Okapi. Both now 15 years old and looking great for their age. This was taken on one of my reindeer retrieval missions.
3rd of September – Brie and her wee daughter. Back in the enclosure and both looking good after a summer free ranging.
4th of September -Mangetout looking beautiful on a lovely autumnal afternoon. Her daughter and her new sister (belonging to mum Dante) are the calves behind her.
19th of September (a) – After a TWO week holiday, I’m back to work and the first job is to split the reindeer for the rut. Exciting times! Here is Fiona putting some cows out on Silver Mount, an area within the hill enclosure.
19th of September (b) – Step two is to add the bull! Fiona and I took Sherlock for a walk to the enclosure. Here he is off to find his girls – a man on a mission!
19th of September (c) – Our other breeding bull is three year old Jelly. He looks a bit less sure about the situation compared to Sherlock but he quickly got the idea.
20th of September – Holy Moley and her calf behind. Holy Moley is delighted to be back in the enclosure after the summer in the hills. Here she is on the hunt for more hand feed.
21st of September – Sherlock with some of his girls – Bordeaux, Pip and Jenga.
22nd of September – Trying to get a nice pic of Mushy and Jenga but Bordeaux wants in on the action. Or maybe it’s the white bag under my arm.
22nd of September – Christmas Reindeer, Frost and Adzuki, looking handsome in the late afternoon sunshine.
26th of September – Emmental is the first to the feed bag on today’s Hill Trip.
26th of September – Girls out free ranging! These are some of our single ladies, either too young to breed or retired from breeding. From L to R: Vanilla, Sorbet, Diamond, Sambar, Lolly, Solero and Suidhe (sticking her tongue out!)
26th of September – Catching up with this old lady on the free range! Diamond is now 11 years old and looking super. She is stripping the velvet off her antlers.

Ruth

Memorable reindeer of the past: Chelsea

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

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

Chelsea with mum Glacier, back in 2009

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

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

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

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

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

So much attitude! Picking a fight with bull Pera

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

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

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

Chelsea and Diamond. Or is it Diamond and Chelsea?

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

Such a beautiful girl!

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

Hen

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

All the single ladies

Back at the end of April when we brought our pregnant reindeer into our mountain enclosure for calving there was a herd of around 30 reindeer who either were very old, weren’t in calf or too young to calve so there was no need to keep them in so back out onto the free range they went.

Malawi and Addax on the 26th of April. Both cows are now retired from breeding at the ages of 17 and 14 years old respectively and so will now free-range for the vast majority of their retirement.

Over the past few months we have caught up with them on a number of occasions to check on them. Their antler growth is way ahead of the cows who came in for calving as they didn’t have the same demand on their bodies to look after a youngster so they were looking fantastic. Also as they weren’t pregnant and no calf to look after when we did see them from a distance all we’d have to do is call into the distance our special and unique reindeer call and they would come running! There is plenty of grazing out there but they acted like they were starving.

Ryvita on the 18th of May growing wonderful antlers, now 14 years old and retired from breeding.
Fly on the 18th of May. Now 15 Fly is also in her retirement and is growing beautiful big antlers.

In this group are old girls Malawi (17 years old), Dixie, Lulu and Enya (16 years old) and Fly and Fern (15 years old). But, you’d never know they were as old as the hills because they are looking fantastic. Some of the youngsters in this group are Fez and Trilby (1 year old) and the ever famous Holy Moley as well as others her age Flax, Borlotti, Mangetout, Lima, Turtle, Sunflower, Mushy and Pumpkin (all 2 years old). Some days we’d go out to give them a feed and they’d be hanging out around the building works going on up at the Cairngorm funicular. But with a bit of careful herding around tracks and roads they weaved their way through the building site.

Amy checking in with the “single ladies” on the 8th of May.
All the “single ladies” on Cairngorm Mountain at the end of May. Very keen for a free meal!
Pumpkin on the 26th April . Pumpkin is only 2 years old and not one of our breeding girls just yet so she remained free-ranging all Spring.
Holy Moley on the 18th of May. The TV star is also now 2 years old and her one antler is growing well. It’s hard to believe but next year she could become a mother, but she’s got one more year of freedom ahead of her to enjoy first!

One of the days we went out to feed them we had some ex-herders from over ten years ago visiting. We headed out into the northern corries, gave them a call and the herd came running. It was lovely to see the ex-herders interact with the reindeer they knew so well once upon a time. And even where they didn’t necessarily recognise most of them because they were too young one ex-herder turned to me and asked if Diamond (10 year old female) was related to Lilibet who she knew well in the time she worked here. And the answer was yes, she was related. So it just shows that there is a strong family resemblance even a few generations in.

Diamond, a non-breeding 10 year old cow, on the free range on the 18th May – a relative of Lilibet.
Our herd of non-breeding cows on the 27th of June. Fly closest to the camera.

We’re looking forward to catching up with them again soon. Seeing these old reindeer doing so well in the Cairngorms just really shows how this mountain environment really is home to them.

Fiona

My first winter as a reindeer herder

This past year has been my first full year as a reindeer herder. Despite becoming a reindeer herder seven years ago in 2014 (remember then? simpler times!), I was very much a seasonal herder. I would arrive for a few months in the summer whilst either my university course was having a break, or in-between travels abroad.

Therefore, last winter was my first winter as a reindeer herder. And what a memorable winter it was! Firstly, it was lockdown, so it was very different to how things usually operate which was new and exciting whilst also being unpredictable and slightly chaotic. But also, there was the snow. So. Much. Snow. And I thought it would be a good opportunity to share a couple of videos and photos from the crazy weather, including this short clip of Joe and I leading the herd downstream in blizzard-like conditions at the start of February.

Pony and I trying not to sink!

Leading Feta and Diamond along the path on a snowy day

And it’s not just reindeer that we fed throughout the winter! Opportunistic snow buntings joined in most days too:

I am writing this at the start of May where we have had quite a bit of fresh snowfall over the past couple of weeks, so maybe we are not through all the snowy weather just yet. But I am sure it won’t be anywhere near as much as the volume of snow that fell this winter. Overall, it was a lovely first year as a reindeer herder, albeit very unusual as the whole country adapted to changing circumstances. Now I look forward to my next year and hopefully getting to see all the ‘normal’ activities such as Christmas events and parades.

Snowstorm armour!

Ben

Then and now…

With all these photos of calves over the last few weeks on our social media pages, I thought I’d dig out some photos of adult reindeer in our herd when they were just a week or two old, as a way of demonstrating their colouration and it’s changes with time. Reindeer are born in an extremely warm winter coat to protect them from the elements, but this calf coat isn’t necessarily the same colour as they will end up.

There’s a very short window from when they are born in May, to when they first moult in July, when they have this lovely calf coat. By July they have a short, darker summer coat, although their legs often retain their calf coat for a few extra weeks, and then their adult winter coat grows in for the first time in early September. At this point onwards they look like mini adults, and have lost the ‘cute’ factor.

We’ll start with Aztec. He was the most common colour for a calf, a gingery brown that we just call ‘normal coloured’. As an adult he’s still ‘normal’ – as common as muck! (But only in colour, not character!).

Roman was also a ‘normal coloured’ calf, although a much richer red colour (NB. it’s not so noticeable in this photo as it was taken on a different camera to the other pics) than the gingery colour of many calves. The rich red look is one of my favourites amongst the calf coats!

Still ticking the ‘normal coloured’ box is Hamish, although you’ll notice the blacker back he had. This photo popped up on my Facebook ‘memories’ for 10 years ago recently – where has the time gone?! Hamish had to be pulled out by Fiona after getting stuck being born – hence the rather weak looking little calf knuckled over and two herders in attendance (trying to assess whether there’s any milk in that udder…).

‘Chocolate brown’ is the next category, darker all over than the others so far. Olympic has grown in to a dark coloured adult, but by no means as dark as they get….

….unlike Lace! Jet black as a calf, she’s always been one of the very darkest reindeer in the herd. Note how dark her bum is compared to Olympic above!

And at the other end of the scale is Mozzarella. If a calf is pure white, whether they are actually leucistic or literally just very white, they will stay that way their whole lives, regardless of the changing of the seasons. Their summer and winter coats are both pretty much the same. Mozzarella has a couple of dark markings on her, and these will change in darkness depending on the season, but not her white hairs.

Olmec and his mum Emmental are both ‘white’ reindeer too, or at least what we would refer to as a white or light coloured reindeer. In August, on the right, (and 3 years later!) they are much greyer, about halfway from summer to winter coats, but reindeer’s coats bleach in the light throughout the winter months, turning them much whiter by spring.

Many light coloured reindeer also have white face markings, as Svalbard demonstrates here. The darker markings on calf coats tend to be much less obvious as adults though – you have to peer closely to see Svalbard’s dark leg nowadays! While he’s not a light coloured reindeer as such now, he’s still on the pale side.

Not all light coloured adults start out light though, as LX and Diamond demonstrate here. White foreheads on a brown calf generally signify a calf will turn white in adulthood though! It’s not a particularly common colouration though – I think these are the only two I remember in my time here (or at least the only two who survived to adulthood – there may have been others).

Finally, there’s always one or two odd ones each year. Above is Brie, a sort of slate-grey colour as a calf with a little white nose, but generally she’s pretty much normal coloured now as an adult, albeit still rather greyish. She was a very pretty calf!

And finally Spartan, again slate grey as a calf but on the darker side as an adult. His pale eyes are a giveaway for his slightly odd colouration though, and as a breeding bull he’s thrown some equally unusual looking calves this spring!

There’s nothing more exciting than walking towards a cow who just calved, having eventually tracked them down – knowing you’re the very first human to lay eyes on that calf. At 8am when reporting from the hill down to Reindeer House, having been on the early shift and out for two or three hours already, I’ve squeaked “You’ll never guess what colour so-and-so’s calf is!” down a phone excitedly many times in the past. Freezing toes, soaked clothes and rumbling belly temporarily forgotten.

Hen

Visiting the Cromdale reindeer

Before we went into lockdown I had one last day of fun catching up with with our boys and girls free-ranging on the Cromdale Hills. The ‘Christmas Reindeer’ (males who are trained to harness) are generally fairly lazy and don’t stray too far but every now and again the females, accompanied by the young bulls, wander off a bit further away than we like.

I headed off into the hills with Tip, herd owner Tilly’s son Alex’s (and his wife Emily’s) dog, to help them find their way back to where they should be. By walking into the hills towards the reindeer and making her bark it is usually sufficient to get the reindeer to head swiftly back in the opposite direction. As the Cromdale Hills form a vaguely straight rounded ridgeline the reindeer – usually – head in the right direction easily enough. Once within a few hundred metres of the reindeer they spotted Tip and myself before promptly turning round and making there way back in the other direction.

With Part 1 of our job done Tip and I made our way back to the van and headed off to the farm. Tip’s work for the day was done, but not for me. Back up onto the Cromdales, this time powered by a quad bike to carry the feed. I caught up with all the reindeer, some of which I hadn’t seen in about five months, giving them some food to reinforce which part of the hills are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad’ to be on. It’s always good to catch up with them. They all seemed in good health and a few antlers starting to grow amongst the bulls. Roman looks to have got a bit of a head start on the other boys!

Hope you enjoy a few of the photos below

Chris

Frost and the boys waiting expectantly by the quad bike (i.e. buffet on wheels).

Diamond enjoying the afternoon sunshine!

Dr Seuss enjoying the wonderful views from the Cromdale hills.

Galilee showing off her beautiful beard, proving once again that females look great with beards too!

Spartan – one of our lovely young bulls.

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