Golden Oldies

A common question that we get asked on our Hill Trips is ‘how long do reindeer live for?’. The answer is usually anything between 11 – 15 years old with the females typically living a little longer than the males. The oldest reindeer we’ve ever had in our herd was a female called Lilac living to a grand old age of 19, while our oldest male Elvis is still currently living at 17 years old. The older generation in our herd have a pretty good life, the females spend almost the whole year free ranging on open mountain where they know all the best spots for grazing and where they can find the most peace. The older males do free-range on the hills for 3 – 4 months a year and then spend their days at our hill farm near Glenlivet, even with access to the hill they typically spend there time eating and sleeping but that’s totally fine by us. For me, some of the biggest characters in the herd are the older reindeer and even though I’ve only known them since 2017, I thought it would be nice to tell you a bit about some of my favourite females who are on the mature side of life.

Some of our golden oldies enjoying the free range – Diamond (aged 10), Sambar (15), Gazelle (15), Lulu (17), Silk (13) and Addax (15).

Fly – At 16 years old, Fly is the joint 4th oldest reindeer in our herd along with Fern. For years now she has come across as the natural leader and matriarch of the herd and will regularly be found leading the reindeer to a call or to the areas of best grazing. She’s always grown a cracking set of antlers too which have sometimes been the largest female set of the year and usually starts to grow her new set of antlers before any other female. Other herders have told me that Fly was quite an aloof reindeer when she was younger and even to this day she isn’t exactly tame, but she has maybe learned to trust us a bit more in recent years and will happily take handfeed from us now. Being such a big reindeer she’s unmistakable once you get to know them all as individuals and it’s always nice to see her doing so well at her age. These days she keeps herself on the outside of the bigger groups of reindeer not getting involved in the hustling and pushing of other aspiring females, but I feel like her presence is never missed. For her age Fly is in amazing condition and I hope that she can remain a key member of the herd for some time still.

Fly looking fierce! September 2022,
Fly leading the herd – April 2023.

Fern – Fern was one of the first reindeer I ever got to know, and she’s got such a sweet and friendly character. Also 16 years old, she is once again looking amazing for her age and growing another great set of antlers. I sometimes think that reindeer can give a sense of calmness to people in the way they are so relaxed and docile, and no reindeer acts more like this than Fern. I do feel like I abuse her easy-going nature sometimes, whenever I’m in need of catching out a reindeer to help lead the herd or pair a reindeer up with one that needs to come off the hill, I can always rely on Fern to easily put a halter on and help out in such situations, she never seems to mind ands always does a wonderful job. A couple of years ago Fern also did something I’ve never seen another reindeer do and that was to take on another calf while also raising her own, Kiruna had lost his mother on the free-range, he was adopted by Fern along with her calf Dublin and for some time we didn’t even know which young reindeer was her calf because she treated them both equally. All in all, she’s just a wonderful reindeer.

Fern in February 2023.
Both Fly and Fern together – April 2023. The food crumbs on Fly’s nose are a bit of a giveaway!
Fern growing lovely antlers – May 2023.

Okapi – Okapi turned 15 in May but in my mind I’ve always thought of her as one of the oldies, I sound so mean to write this but she’s always had older looking face compared to any other reindeer her age. She couldn’t be a more friendly reindeer and has very gentle personality. Very unfortunately when Okapi was 5 years old she prolapsed on several occasions and as a result was no longer able to calve. This meant that since then, she has spent a long life of predominantly free-ranging on the open mountains. It’s always great to come across her on the free-range as she usually heads straight toward us once she realises we have food. She’s quite a greedy reindeer but she doesn’t push it like some of the others in our herd. I like to give her little extra handfuls of food most times I see her because she’s always just so nice and I know she’s a reindeer most herders admire too. It’s also worth mentioning that Okapi’s older brother is Elvis, there must be something in the genes for Okapi and Elvis to be living for as long as they have.

Beautiful Okapi!
A more typical picture of Okapi – February 2023.

Ryvita – Everyone loves Ryvita! At 14 years old, she’s been a favourite among reindeer herders for many a year now and is the perfect balance of being friendly, cheeky and confident. She will always come over to say hello, or more likely see if there is any food, and will happily follow you around for as long as it takes until you give in and offer her a little hand feed. Over the years, Ryvita has been one of the most photographed reindeer in our herd. Like Fly she grows her antlers early and always knows how to strike a pose for the camera. She’s also quite distinctive for her having a very wide belly and I’ve regularly been asked if she’s pregnant, my usual reply is ‘no, that’s just Ryvita’. Ryvita is part of a large family group and all the reindeer from that line and very friendly and sweet.

Ryvita – August 2021.
Ryvita – May 2023. Growing lovely antlers already.

Joe

Photo blog: February 2023

It’s the last blog of the month, so here we have a selection of photos I’ve taken during February. The early part of the month was all about crossing jobs off the to-do list ready for us to re-open to the public on the 11th of February for the busy half-term holidays. The second part of the month has been all about locating the reindeer and moving the herd into a suitable position for our Hill Trips each morning, the Hill Trips themselves, and afternoon talks in the Paddocks. Plus all the usual shop and office work. As always, the holidays are over in a blur, but here are some photos of our beautiful reindeer, giving a small taster of February for you all.

6th of February -Mushy and her mum Hobnob looking alike. This pair are never too far apart.
6th of February – Feta posing beautifully!
7th of February – Andi doing a absolutely superb job of introducing our lovely reindeer to our followers on a Facebook live video.
8th of February – almost 16-year-old Fly leading the herd.
8th of February – Lotti and the white bag being followed by three old girls – Okapi, Lace and Sika.
11th of February – Open day!! These are our beautiful reindeer selected to be in the Paddocks for a short spell over February half-term. From left to right we have Pip, Camembert, Fern, and Florence.
12th of February – being “sheep dog” at the back of the herd whilst Hen leads them from the front. Moving the herd in place for the 11am Hill Trip.
12th of February – Beret posing beautifully, hard to believe she’ll be two in the spring!
13th of February – what a lovely day for a Hill Trip! Walking along at the back of our excited visitors.
13th of February – Beanie, being Beanie!
15th of February – acting sheep dog again. A windy and wet morning to retrieve the herd and deposit them in the right place for our visitors.
20th of February – Gelato, Christie’s calf, being cute.
20th of February – leading the herd to the correct location just in time! We made it to the visit location at bang on 11am, giving us 10 mins to spare before the Hill Trip arrived. I had the trusty white bag over my shoulder for bribery at the front of the herd and Lisette is “sheep dog” at the back in the red jacket.
20th of February – Paddock swap day! Pip, Camembert, Fern, and Florence went back in the hill, and were replaced with (from left to right) Kipling and her calf Tub, Feta and Hopscotch. They’ll spend the next 7 days in the Paddocks before heading back up the hill after the holidays are over.
21st of February – my favourite part of a Hill Trip – watching our visitors peacefully mingling with the herd after the hectic hand feeding session if over!
21st of February – a close up of Fly’s head. She cast her antlers earlier in the winter and has already developed velvety pads. Spring is coming!
21st of February – Suidhe just checking in with her calf Solero.
22nd of February – snow again! Rocket and his mum Gloriana.
22nd of February – Morven on the left with her two daughters Pinto and calf Mochi!

A final point – if you are wondering where all the young bulls and Christmas reindeer are in the photos, they spend the winter free ranging in a different herd that Tilly and other colleagues at the farm mostly look after. I’ve not been to visit them myself this month hence why it’s just photos of our beautiful girls and some male calves that you’ll find in this month’s blog.

Ruth

Winter/Spring Free Ranging Recap

Now that calving has come to a close for 2022, we are getting ready to send all the cows and calves out to join the rest of the reindeer already free ranging here on the Cairngorms. Once this happens we will only see them intermittently through the summer months as we leave the mothers be, to teach their young ones where all the best spots in the mountains are!

Meanwhile our boys will be in the hillside enclosure for visitors to come and see, and for us to keep an eye on.

So with all that being said, I wanted to round off our regular free range excursions with a little photo summary of some of my favourite moments out in the hills with the reindeer. 

Torch, with a fabulous view in the background.
The free rangers make their way down to a morning Hill Trip.
A beautiful evening panorama.
Very blue looking snow on Cairngorms eastern ridges.
Beanie… contemplating how much she loves food, probably!
Camembert…. (or BERT as Harry likes to call her).
Fern.
Morning reindeer retrieval – in time for them to meet our visitors.
Witch pauses to look back across a tiny lochan.
Feta posing in front of the Northern Corries.
Not everyday that you get to herd reindeer through a building site – the free ranging girls making their way under and past the funicular railway!
The cows on Fiacill ridge with the Northern Corries behind. What a life!

Harry

Long-distance adopting!

Our blog this week comes from Freya, a long-time supporter of the herd for, well, as long as she can remember! Freya now lives in Canada so visiting us isn’t quite as easy as it once was unfortunately, but she and her family adopt several reindeer and keep in touch with the herd via social media. Isn’t technology useful these days?!

When I say I’ve been visiting the Cairngorm Reindeer herd since before I can remember I am quite sure people think I’m exaggerating. Truth is, I have been visiting since before I can remember. It became a well-established tradition for my family (and often my extended family) to visit Scotland at least once a year from when I was about 5 years old. I couldn’t tell you when our first visit to see the reindeer themselves was, but I do recall seeing photos of a tiny little me wrapped up so much that you could barely make out arms and legs!

Jigsaw with her mum Doughnut

The year I will always remember was 2005, the year of the ‘countries’ theme. We had come up to Aviemore for the first time in the Spring and were delighted to be able to see the calves like never before. As luck would have it we finished the climb of the Hill Trip just in time to see a very fresh calf popping into the world! I’ll always remember watching the little calf, later named India (I believe), making all the effort to stand up on those very wobbly legs!

One of the other newborn calves in 2005

It took a single visit for the reindeer to become an essential part of every trip to the Highlands and we would make the trek at least once, sometimes twice, every time we visited – rain, shine, hail or snow! By the age of 8 I was obsessed with the reindeer and we had fallen in love with a family line – specifically Bell (born in 2000), her mother Shell and grandmother Tortoiseshell (Editor’s note: Bell, Shell and Tortoiseshell were descended from a lovely reindeer named Edelweiss, who was a prolific breeding  female in the ’90s and early ’00s. While this line of her descendants has now died out, another branch of her family tree stretches down to Scrabble and Strudel, still present in the herd today). To this day we all (parents and grandparents included) remember the Edelweiss line well!

Shell (right) with Bell in March 2002

Up until that point we had been admirers of the herd but never adopters. The special memories of 2005 changed that and my birthday present a year later in 2006 was to choose a reindeer to adopt. Sadly, by this point India wasn’t an option so instead I adopted Fiji, Bell’s cousin through Shell’s sister Coral. As nature has it, a couple of years later we received the heartbreaking letter that Fiji had passed (I am thankful that I met Fiji several times in the meantime). It was at this juncture that I discovered the Russia family line and Russia became my next adoptee from the ‘countries’ year. I adopted Russia for a few more years and visited lots more times over the coming year until moving away to Canada.

Fiji with her mum Coral in 2005

In 2006 since on a visit with my dad, feeding one of the calves born the previous year. It might have been Fiji but I’m not 100% sure now! (Editor’s note: the reindeer’s coat’s bleach in the light through the winter months, so by late spring, prior to moulting, they are a completely different colour from the previous summer).

A Hill Trip out onto the free-range rather than to the hill enclosure in 2007.

Life happens and I confess that we lost track of the reindeer herd a little in the chaos of emigrating. We liked the page of course, watched any clips we could get hold of, but visiting became much less of an option. The global pandemic brought us many things, most of them bad, but I think it also gave us the opportunity to stop and take the time to appreciate the little things we often forget in the chaos of daily life. In these hard times I made it a resolution to consciously spend less money on large organizations and more supporting smaller, family-oriented organizations. The first one that came to my mind (conveniently right around my birthday) was the Cairngorm reindeer herd and an adoption was the birthday treat of 2020. I got in touch with the lovely team who willingly helped me find a reindeer with a connection to one of my past favourites. I became the proud adopter of Scrabble who is a cousin of Shell and grandchild of Edelweiss.

A Hill Trip with herders Gill and Jack (potential for plenty of ‘Jack and Jill go up the hill’ based jokes!)

Young reindeer Caterpillar in 2012

Fern

During lockdown I completed my Master’s degree, leaving my housemates and I stuck at home with lots a plethora of spare time. My household loves a challenge so to keep ourselves busy we decided to try and work out the past themes and family links of the current reindeer. I can now officially say I’ve read every blog post available online! I may not be an official ‘groupie’ yet – but I think it’s safe to say I’m a groupie-in-training! Another sign – my family and I have adopted two more reindeer (Jonne and Svalbard) and are thinking about a fourth (Holy Moley being a strong contender!) Suffice to say that I am just as excited about supporting the herd now as I was when I was eight and I look forward to visiting again in the future!

Freya

As usual we’re always delighted to include your stories of meeting the reindeer in future blogs. Just get in touch with Hen via our main email address if you’d like to get involved 😀

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