Wanna buy some antlers? It’s a complicated business…

Over the years I’ve established myself as ‘chief of antler sales’ here at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. As with most reindeer related things, it’s not really a job that is straight-forward but one that has evolved with time, and I’ve tweaked and tweaked each year until it is as workable as possible. But – in usual fashion – the devil is in the details, much of which are in my head and memory and it’s therefore not a job that I will delegate to anyone else at any point.

The dream set of antlers everyone wants… (thanks Spartan).

We’ve always sold antlers from the reindeer herd. But is it as easy as 150 reindeer equals 150 pairs of antlers per year to sell? Of course it isn’t…

Firstly, we only find around 30-40% (at a rough estimate) of the antlers each year. This is because the reindeer roam on a huge area of rough, upland land, and the time of year when most antlers are shed – January to April – is exactly the time that almost the entire herd are roaming completely freely and are not enclosed at all. The proverbial needle in the haystack. (In fact sometimes finding the herd itself can be a needle/haystack situation, let alone their cast antlers!).

So many antlers, so few of them found.

Secondly, whilst around half of our herd are males, we tend to castrate them at around three years old. This means the bone of their antlers doesn’t calcify to the same extent, and they will usually break their antlers off in pieces as a result. So instead of a nice, clean antler, we get broken sections of – to be quite honest – often rather manky antler, still partly covered with the velvet skin that covered it whilst it grew. Smaller pieces disappear into deep vegetation, never to be seen again, far more easily than a whole antler.

A classic bit of antler from a castrated male. This one’s from Frost – the top third of his right hand antler, still with remaining skin and a little velvet hair. But it’s still a bit of Frost none-the-less, regardless of it’s appearance.
Classic antlers from a castrate male in around February – the upright sections have broken off and only the points at the base remain, still with the remnants of the velvet skin and hair. Not particularly glamorous, eh Caribou?!

Once castrated, males also tend to grow relatively smaller antlers than they did as a bull. So we really only get two or three big, mature bull sets of antlers each year. But some of these we keep – for example we have almost all of Sherlock’s antlers, and most of Crann’s. Crann holds the record for the biggest antlers ever in the herd, and as such we’ll never sell them as they are of great nostalgic value to us, even though Crann himself is long gone.

Crann with his 2009 antlers (his second biggest set). They are the ones currently in our shop window that we hang stuff for sale on! COPYRIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY: LES WILSON

Antler selling starts in January each year. The mature bulls have dropped their antlers in November/December, and some of our immature bulls then have their antlers cut off in December before they are let out to their winter grazing up on the mountains. This is done for the safety of hill-walkers – a testosterone-charged ‘teenage’ bull could really inflict damage. It’s done long after the feeling in the antler has gone, so causes zero pain.

Two year old bull Domino, looking mighty miffed with his antler stumps.

From (usually) around March onwards the cows start dropping their antlers, but life gets very busy in the spring with the calving season, followed by writing/editing the June newsletter, so it’s often well into the summer before I pick up the antler list once again.

So… here’s some info for those of you now imagining a nice set of antlers adorning your wall.

Firstly, I give members of our reindeer adoption scheme priority for purchasing antlers over ‘unconnected’ members of the public. I feel it’s a privilege someone who supports our business should get. My method for this is to have a waiting list for adopters to add their name for dibs on ‘their’ reindeer’s antlers, which I work my way through gradually as and when I have something suitable. Should you want to add yourself to this list, drop me an email through the contact form on the website FAO Hen (please don’t just comment on the blog/social media – email means I can keep everything together, and gives more chance of a reply one day from me actually reaching you, rather than disappearing into spam).

If you’ve asked to be on the waiting list in the past, no need to get in touch again – you’ll still be there. Well you will as long as your adoption is still current. I’m afraid that I always double-check someone is still an adopter before emailing them, and you’re scratched off the list if your adoption has lapsed. My list, my rules.

If I have no-one on the waiting list for a particular reindeer’s antler(s), then I will send a letter to all of their (UK based) adopters in one go – and it’s first come, first served. Miss out, and you go on the waiting list. This does mean sometime multiple people are all waiting for the same reindeer to shed his/her antlers – which we might never find from year to year anyway. I’m well aware some poor souls have been languishing on the waiting list for years… sorry.

If you aren’t an adopter of a reindeer and are reading this in despair, wondering whether there’s ever a chance of you getting anything, then all is not lost. Email me anyway, and I have a password-protected webpage with any available antlers on that I can give you details of, and on which you can sign up for occasional email alerts when new ones become available (if I get my arse in gear, this is still only about twice a year, so don’t worry about me flooding your inbox. Also, I hate Mailchimp – it’s totally user-unfriendly). I have separate webpages for single antlers and for pairs, and usually have a much better range of single antlers, since finding both sides of a pair is rarer in the first place.

A small, single antler can be very beautiful – size doesn’t always matter 😉

Final info:

Yes, they do cost a lot. The biggest sets we ever get to sell are in the region of (at time of writing in 2024) £300. The single antler in the photo above was about £60. I guess other places with reindeer in the UK maybe also sell their antlers, but I’ve never actually heard of them doing so. I do my best to price antlers fairly though – every single one is utterly unique and in someway it is a snapshot of that reindeer at that particular point of their life. I’m sure I could push up the prices hugely and they would still sell eventually, but that isn’t the point. It’s a balancing act to try and get it right.

If you perhaps can’t afford the antler(s) you been contacted about, it’s still worth going on the waiting list. I might have a glorious £200 set of beautiful antlers one year from him/her, and a single broken-off half antler the next year. But hey, it’s still a piece of antler that your reindeer actually grew, and really it means just as much.

Conversely, you miss out on something small that you had your heart set on. But hey presto you might then be first in line for the potentially much more impressive effort from your reindeer next year. It’s all utterly unpredictable and there’s definitely an element of luck involved.

I can’t post abroad, sorry.

If you can collect your antler(s) rather than me having to package and post them, a) it’s cheaper and b) I love you.

Postage nightmare.

If you receive an ‘antler letter’ through the post – read it properly! I always do my best to describe the antler fully before you phone up to buy it – but have never forgotten the lovely couple who arrived to pick up a set of antlers from their adopted reindeer. The bloke was a bit worried about fitting them in the car. The antlers were about 30cm tall.

Antlers come in all sizes but all shapes too. Forget that classic set of ‘perfect’ shapely reindeer antlers you’ve got in your mind’s eye – they probably aren’t going to look like that… If I’m emailing you directly I’ll attach a photo, and if I’ve sent you a letter, you can ask to see a photo before you decide.

Tall and thin…
…or short and wide?

As mentioned before, we keep some of the biggest bull antlers. Herders also usually have first dibs on their favourite reindeer’s antlers (I’ll add that (depending on the size of antler) we do usually still have to pay for them!), so there are certain reindeer in the herd whose antlers will come up for sale very rarely, if ever. Huge apologies, if you also adopt one of those reindeer… let’s mention no names.

I do also try to be fair to people – if I know you already have multiple antlers from a certain reindeer but are keen for more, I will usually try and give their other adopters a look in at some point.

And if you adopt Juniper, well don’t give up hope. Ferrari was also a ‘polled’ reindeer (one who doesn’t grow antlers at all) and suddenly sprouted one when she reached 9 years old, so all is not lost. But I wouldn’t get your hopes up too much.

Ferrari in her latter years. Just one antler! But what a nice antler, after 8 years of baldness.

And finally, I’m only human so bear with me as the old brain doesn’t get everything right every time. Apologies again to the lovely lady who I posted the entirely wrong set of antlers to a couple of years ago, and then had to go through a whole rigmarole of getting her to post them on to the correct new owner (Editor’s note: we did get permission to pass on the address first!), whilst I sorted out the right set for her. And years ago I died a little bit inside when I realised we’d sold the same antler to two separate people, and I was going to have to make a very awkward phone-call (although in my defence, it wasn’t actually me that forgot to mark that antler as ‘sold’ on the list). Oh, the horror.

Hen

Photo Blog: December 2023

On the last Friday of each month throughout 2023 I have shared photos that I’ve taken on my phone to hopefully give everyone an idea of the goings on at the Reindeer Centre. What a complete mix bag of photos this is to finish the year off! December has seen me up and down the A9 and dotting around locally with beautiful teams of reindeer for lots of Christmas events. I’ve done the odd day at the Centre too catching up with the goings on here, with just enough office time to put together this blog. My wonderful colleagues have also been ridiculously busy on events and at the Centre keeping everything going. Getting through gazillions of adoptions packs, leading fully booked Hill Trips and of course Christmas Fun in the Paddocks. This selection of photos doesn’t really do December justice, but it’s a snap shot of what I’ve been up to at least.

30th of November: Couldn’t resist including this one from November. Moving our free ranging herd in the snow!
1st of December: Cassie feeding the calves out of the bag.
2nd of December: Very chilled out reindeer in Aberfeldy after a short parade. In the team we have Dr Seuss, Frost, Haricot, Lupin, Colorado and Limpopo.
4th of December: After two nights away here’s the same team as above returning to the snowy hills.
10th of December: Stenoa and Olympic posing at the front posing with Santa and a pantomime crew.
11th of December: Seven month old calves Colorado and Ob sharing the same puddle.
12th of December: Amazon needing a chin rest.
12th of December: Bordeaux’s beard blowing beautifully in a cold Cairngorm breeze!
15th of December: Walking a team of reindeer out of the enclosure for a local event at the Aviemore Ice Rink.
16th of December: Herder Melanie and I attend a wedding with reindeer at Raemoir House near Banchory. Here they are eating lunch before meeting the bride and groom.
17th of December: A day at Reindeer House for me and spending as much time on the hill as possible! This is the gorgeous Marple and her daughter Mekong with matching billowing beards on the afternoon Hill Trip.
17th of December: The lovely Chickpea has had an excellent year and is in fab condition.
18th of December: Olympic showing off his lack of top teeth at a visit to a primary school in Aberdeen.
22nd of December: Our team very settled at Gleneagles Hotel. From left to right we’ve got Mississippi, Aztec, LX and Olympic.
23rd of December: Mississippi being especially cute!
25th of December: Before spending a few hours in the display pen each day, we take the the the boys for a good walk each morning so they can stretch their legs. For reindeer this means stopping at every tree to have a nibble at the lichen! Here’s Aztec getting some tasty Christmas Day snacks.
28th of December: Turtle and her calf Amur on the hill.
28th of December: Isla’s last day of work (although I’m sure she’ll be back at some point!) so here she is spoiling Alba, one of our hand-reared calves.

Ruth

Photo Blog: November 2023

November has been a busy month. We’ve had the first decent snow higher up on the hills, the free ranging reindeer have been showing their beautiful faces at the hill enclosure every few days, adoptions are coming in thick and fast so lots of letters are streaming out of the office, sleigh training has continued in Glenmore and the first Christmas teams have been on the road! The ‘Christmas reindeer’ have all been totally super and have made us very proud. So this truly is a mixed bag of pics that I’ve taken over the past few weeks! Enjoy…

1st of November: Feeding a herd of free ranging cows. Caterpillar is closest to the camera.
3rd of November: Brie looking very soggy!
3rd of November: Poirot looking very handsome.
6th of November: Dante getting a close-up.
7th of November: Winnie and Cameron! Cameron did a lot of bottle feeding of Winnie and Alba (our han-reared calves) over the summer months and is particularly fond of ‘his girls’.
8th of November: For Isla (back of sleigh) and Cassie (front of sleigh) this is their first Christmas season, but they are total naturals already. Frost is the reindeer with the patchy white face at the front.
12th of November: No reindeer in this pic but what a wonderful office we have above the clouds! You can just make out the thick layer of cloud hanging over Strathspey.
15th of November: 6-month-old Orinoco being gorgeous! She’s a sweet-natured lass who is growing in confidence. She’s definitely not as pushy as some of our calves this year!
16th of November: Marple and her lovely calf Mekong.
18th of November: My first Christmas event of the year. Here’s LX resting his chin before he pulls the sleigh.
19th of November: Another Christmas event for me. Here’s Olmec licking the rain off our sign.
22nd of November: Dr Seuss flanked by Haricot and Adzuki.
23rd of November: The free ranging herd brought themselves into the enclosure looking for a free lunch! Torch closest to the camera.

Ruth

Photo Blog: A Typical Sleigh Training Session

Our adult ‘Christmas reindeer’ (castrated males) are trained to harness at around 3 or 4 years old, so they can take part in a few events and parades in November and December each year, bringing in part of the income that then supports the herd for the rest of the year. About 25 of our males are trained so this enables them to take their turn at events, most of which are at weekends, and no-one is overworked at Christmas time (except, perhaps, us…)! Between weekends all the reindeer are back on the mountainside getting some good grazing and some downtime.

What happens during a training session? This photo blog will hopefully give you a taster of what we get up to during afternoons in October and early November here in Glenmore in preparation for Christmas tour.

These photos have all been collated over the past few days over several training sessions involving different reindeer and reindeer herders.

Step 1: Ready the sleigh! Here Lisette and Sheena are unloading the sleigh and trace. We also get the harness all laid out, ready to put straight on.
Step 2 (a): Retrieve your reindeer! We bring down reindeer from the hill enclosure and they spend a short spell in the Paddocks whilst we undertake sleigh training. At least two of the adults will be highly experienced sleigh-pullers who show the new recruits how it’s done. Here is a Christmas team (four adults and two calves) chilling in the Paddocks just before a training session.
Step 2 (b): Catching the slightly shyer reindeer in order to put halters on often involves a bucket of lichen! Thankfully their greed usually wins them over very quickly.
Step 3: Reindeer are caught, herders are attached to their ropes and off we go… Athens is the owner of the very wide antlers closest to the camera.
Step 4: Take them for a wee walk and jog to get rid of any extra energy they may have before putting their harness on.
Step 5 (a): Harness gets put on outside the shop. The “trainer” is the most experienced reindeer who stands next to the less experienced reindeer. In this photo 8-year-old Scolty is teaching 4-year-old Athens that all is calm and there’s nothing to worry about whilst Hen puts on their harness.
Step 5 (b): With Scolty’s harness on, it’s now Athens’s turn.
Step 5 (c): Reindeer like to be together in herds so whilst Scolty and Athens are getting their harness on the other boys and calves are right behind, patiently waiting for their turn.
Step 5 (d): After getting used to wearing a halter and going for wee walks around Glenmore, we can put harness on the calves too. Having their heads in a bucket of tasty lichen definitely helps the process! This is 6-month-old Yangtze having harness on for the very first time – completely unfazed!
Step 6: Once all reindeer are wearing their harness we go for another short walk to give the reindeer the opportunity to get used to their bells and how everything feels. Alba is the calf at the back wearing her harness for the second time.
Step 7: Attach the two sleigh-pulling reindeer to the ‘trace’. Here Frost is closest to the camera. The trace then gets attached to the sleigh.
Step 8: The four ‘back reindeer’ now get tied to the sleigh. Here Sheena is at the back with Morse and Jelly (both of whom have cast their antlers already). The calves are sandwiched between the big boys to make them feel safe.
Step 9 (a): All attached and ready to go! But Clouseau is asleep already!
Step 9 (b): Off we go! Here we have Clouseau pulling closest to camera, and Frost at the back.
Step 9 (b): The view from behind – lots of lovely bottoms! Along with the two herders who walk at the front and back of the sleigh, one person walks ahead and one person walks behind in hi-vis slowing down any traffic.
Step 10: Having a pause. Practicing patience is equally as important as practicing walking. Here Lupin is closest to the camera and is doing a super job for his 4th ever go at pulling the sleigh.
Step 11: Add weight to the sleigh! If we have a fifth person helping us out, we sometimes get them to sit in the sleigh to make sure the front reindeer are actually pulling. On a real event they will have Father Christmas in the sleigh who can weigh quite a lot!
Step 12: All done for Lupin and Clouseau – time to get unattached from the trace. At this point, we usually switch the back boys to the front so all four adults can have a go at being the sleigh pullers.
Step 13: Once all the reindeer have had their go and we’re back at the Centre then the harness can come off, and the boys do their “Christmas shake”!
Step 14: Back to the Paddocks they go! Well done boys and herders! The adults usually have around three or four goes of this over several days and then head back to the hills. Such wonderful animals to work with!

Ruth

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 2: Christmas 2022

For Part 1 of this blog please click here: Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 1: Christmas 2022 – The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd

Christmas trips begin…

Fiona letting Druid, Frost and Sunny enjoy some lichen before visiting a local nursery.

My first big trip out was when I went with Fiona and we took Sunny, Frost and Druid to a local nursery school in a big lorry. When we got there we took them for a walk in the woods by the car park and found some lichen lollipops which are broken off twigs covered in lichen which the reindeer love. We then took the reindeer outside the nursery and held them on lead ropes so the children were able to come out in small groups to see them. It was so lovely to see their faces when they saw the reindeer. My job was to look after Sunny and we were wearing our Herders’ Christmas jumpers.

Emm and Sunny – our hand-reared calf of 2022.

On Christmas Eve we went to the Ski car park to find the free-rangers and found them on the mountain so we went over to feed them. We had to jump over a few burns to get to them. I was given the job of doing the reindeer call and they all came over. It was particularly special as my adopted reindeer Scully was there and she came running over. It all felt very special as it was Christmas Eve and I was with the reindeer in their natural surroundings.

Later that day there was a big evening parade in Aviemore starting up at the top of the town. We had to load our Christmas reindeer for the event, Olmec, Scolty, Berlin, Poirot, Sunny and Popsicle into the big lorry outside the Reindeer Centre and take them to start of the parade. They were kept there with a tether line and given food. There were many people who came to say hello to them on the way to the parade. When Santa arrived he got into the sleigh along with the children who were travelling with him. Then we connected up the reindeer to the harness with two adults at the front and two at the back with the two calves. The pipe band started the music which was very loud and made poor Popsicle jump! We paraded down the high street all the way to the Cairngorm Hotel and my job for that night was to walk by the side and make sure no-one let their dog get near and scare the reindeer.

When we had finished we loaded all the reindeer and Santa’s sleigh back onto the lorry and headed for the next parade at Kingussie. On the way we stopped for some fish and chips and I had sausage. It was raining very hard at Kingussie but we still managed to get them all out of the lorry and connected up again to the sleigh for the parade. Everyone was very interested and excited to see and learn about the reindeer and Father Christmas. I stayed at the back of the sleigh to keep all the reindeer in line and not get tangled up.

When this was finished we loaded them all up again and travelled to Newtonmore for the last parade of the night. We went down the whole length of the high street and half way down Fiona surprised me by calling me forward to the front to lead the parade with Olmec and Scolty. This was an absolutely fantastic experience and I felt so honoured to be leading the whole parade with the reindeer. It was such as surprise. We finished the parade at one of the hotels and we all had a warming drink and soup while everyone could meet the reindeer and Santa. One funny time was when my dad was asked to hold all the reindeer whilst still drinking his mulled wine so he had six reindeer leads in one hand with a sleigh and his cup of mulled wine in the other!!! We finally reloaded them back into the lorry. Each time we did this we had to lead them up the ramp and take their head collars off and then load the sleigh into the lorry as well. It was very tiring but brilliant experience. We headed home for a well-earned sleep.

Emm leading the sleigh through Newtonmore – Olmec on the right.

On Christmas Day there were four visits to do to local hotels where the guests could meet Santa with his Elves and the reindeer and have photos taken and Fiona had invited us along to help again. The first one was Coylumbridge Hotel and when I arrived  I had a big surprise as Fiona had tied Scully’s antler, which she had shed earlier, to Sunny, and she walked him up to me with it and gave it to me as a present. That was very special to be presented with my adopted reindeer’s antler. We then did McDonald’s Resort Hotel, Nethy Bridge hotel and then one in Kingussie. It was the same team as Christmas Eve as well as Rocket. At each event we had to unload the reindeer and sleigh, harness them up then parade with Santa. The herders were Tilly, Fiona, Joe and Carol as well as me my mum and dad. We were able to have a break in Nethy Bridge and Tilly had arranged for soup and sandwiches for our lunch. It took most of the day but it was such a magical experience taking the reindeer to see lots of people celebrating Christmas and we were all exhausted at the end but very happy. We had a drink back at Reindeer House to celebrate with everyone. They were having their Christmas Dinner with about 20 people afterwards and everything was cooking and smelling very nice

Christmas Day parade! Fiona leading Scolty (closest to camera) and Joe at the back with Olmec (closest to camera).
Emm leading Sunny.

Boxing day was again very snowy and the ski road was again shut due to snow drifts and the herders couldn’t get through till after 10am. It was snowing heavily when we went up the mountain and I couldn’t believe how quickly the snow settled and became very deep. It was great again to see the reindeer in proper snow. We had to do more digging and gritting to clear the paths. The car parks at the top were very very slippy with the ice and we had to be careful not to slip over. The reindeer made it look easy. The free-rangers were on the road so Cameron led them away out of sight and fed them. Sunny the hand-reared reindeer had his final bottle of milk as he moved completely on to normal food.

Poirot back on the hill after his Christmas duties.

The following day our trip was over and we headed home through snow blizzards. It was really really kind of Fiona and all the herders to let us spend this special time with them and the reindeer and I loved every minute of it. We must also say a big thank you to Katie, Scott, Alan and all the team at the Pine Marten Bar for putting up with us over the week, kept us fed and watered well and who made our stay in The Treehouse so special as usual. It was such a fantastic and magical time which I will never forget.

Emm with Druid and Sunny.

Emm

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

Training Reindeer

During the summer months it’s a good time of year to work on our reindeer handling for both reindeer and herders. With a fair few new faces this summer with seasonal staff picking up a few weeks here and there it’s not just good practice for the reindeer but really important that us herders know the best way to approach, put on halters, putting on harness and generally knowing how to act and move around the reindeer in close proximity.

Andi, Hen and Hannah on a walk with a bunch of harnessed reindeer – some very experienced, others more new to this morning routine!

First of all we pick which reindeer will go through the ropes that morning then we split them off into a separate enclosure at their morning feed and bring them up to our shed on the hill. This is where we do all our handling, whether it’s taking temperatures, tending to unwell reindeer or doing a bit training where the reindeer have a halter on and wear a bit of harness. From our shed we can walk out into a quiet enclosure so they get a feel for wearing the harness while walking. Within the group of chosen reindeer there is always an ‘old boy’ who has done lots of training before so already knows the drill and therefore gives off the right vibes. We stand any newbies next to him so they have a calming influence. As well as being the role model to younger reindeer our older trained reindeer are good ones for new staff to learn how to put harness on as they don’t fuss or move around making it a lot easier to explain and learn. Some of our older boys who are trained are: Aztec, Dr Seuss, Poirot, Sherlock, Frost, Clouseau and Athens. We then train anything who is 1, 2 or 3 years old next to them. The 2 and 3 year old have of course done this for the past few years so it tends to be the yearlings who are a bit more twitchy doing it for their first summer. Of course as 5-6 month old calves they went out and about at Christmas so its not completely new to them.

Cameron and happily, completely unfazed trainees – Jelly and Jester.
Andi with Cicero and Scoop – training no matter the weather!
Harry, Amy and Fiona with very scruffy reindeer – June 2022.

Once we put some harness on we walk them out into another enclosure to get used to it. Our two hand reared calves Winnie and Alba sometime join us for this little excursion each morning so they can get a bit of extra hill grazing. Being the size of a medium dog sometimes the young trainee reindeer forget that the calves are actually reindeer and decide to unnecessarily have a brief panic, before realising how silly they are worrying about a little reindeer calf… or two. It’s quite funny watching them work it out. The old boys are pretty savvy to the calves and just ignore them.

Working closely and being able to handle our reindeer is really important for them and us. As many of you know we run a Christmas tour through November and December so any extra handling prepares our reindeer for some of that work they do. We also handle our reindeer should they need any treatment, vaccines or antibiotics and the more used to this they are the less stressful the situation for both animal and human. Some take to it quicker than others, like us they all have their individual personalities and characters. We change our handling sometimes depending which reindeer it is you’re working with. It’s really important we know our reindeer so if there is one ‘off colour’ then it’s picked up quickly and dealt with.

Here are some photos of us training our reindeer in the summer and also in the autumn time when we are getting ready for our Christmas tour.

Lisette at the front of the sleigh with trainee Poirot in October 2022. Sheena at the back with Athens – also new to the job.
A training display during our Adopter’s Weekend – October 2022. Fiona, harnessing Dr Seuss and Frost whilst Tilly holds them.
Andi at the front of the sleigh with Svalbard and Druid. All three have done it lots before but a good refresher for everyone. October 2022.
Ben and Poirot at the front. Poirot’s first time in trace but acting like he’s done it for years!
Scolty and Frost – October 2021 – having a practice in Glenmore. Dr Seuss at the back.
Mr Whippy wearing harness for the first time as a 5 month old calf – getting used to the feeling at a very young age.

Fiona

Photos through the seasons…

These are a selection of my favourite photos taken over the last couple of years showing reindeer throughout all the seasons…

3rd February 2021: Lots of snow. It’s hard work treading a path, in fact Pony almost looks like she’s doing a spot of breaststroke. My beard, and Pony’s face, become covered in falling snow in the blizzard like conditions.
12th March 2022: “Make sure you photograph my good side”.
1st April 2021: Breakfast with a splendid view of the Northern Corries as the clouds seamlessly blend into the snow-kissed mountains.
14th May 2021: I treat Cowboy (who is just a couple of hours old) with anti-bacterial spray on his exposed umbilical cord and some insecticide to reduce the risk of being bitten by a tick at a vulnerable time in his life.
20th May 2021: Wee Beanie, less than an hour old.
30th June 2022: Sherlock is trying to investigate my pockets for any extra food. “I’m a growing boy” he pleads. At this stage of the year, he has been growing his antlers for roughly 3 and a half months, with another two months of growth still to go. His coat is malting in preparation for the hotter summer months.
25th October 2021: Frost appears to be producing a rainbow by means of flatulence. Gazelle can’t quite believe it either.
14th November 2021: Four castrate reindeer (Left to right: Frost, Aztec, Dr. Seuss, and Clouseau) pull Santa’s Sleigh, supervised by Colin and Olly.
20th December 2021: Beanie (exactly 7 months on from her earlier photo) looks a bit surprised that I’d consider taking a photo in this frosty weather.

Ben

Christmas 2022

I know you will look at the title of this blog and think… What?!?! Christmas is ages away. However, this isn’t about Christmas itself, more about our tour and what we will be doing this year with regards to Christmas events across the country.

Over the past 33 years we have covered the length and breadth of Great Britain and Northern Ireland visiting various town and shopping centres as well as garden centres, schools, hospitals, care homes… the list goes on. When it comes to Christmas everyone loves seeing our reindeer, and our trained Christmas reindeer are an honour to work with. Their naturally friendly nature and ability to remain unfazed in most situations makes us feel so proud of them. Of course extensive desensitising training has taken place over many years to prepare them for these moments, but nonetheless they make us feel so proud of them.

Harness training in July 2022 – desensitising begins early for our reindeer.
Sleigh training in the autumn – getting ready for tour! Scolty and Frost at the front.

Times are changing and our business changes with it. Once upon a time the income from Christmas events was a crucial part of the year to help maintain the reindeer herd in the Highlands of Scotland for the rest of the year. Like every business we have bills to pay. Whether it’s paying the lease for the land the reindeer roam or staff wages, naturally there are plenty of outgoings, and Christmas events helped to support this. However, The Reindeer Centre itself here in the heart of the Highlands has really grown into itself and with a great team of herders with many visitors to the area to entertain we are becoming much more self sufficient here at home. As a result we have re-evaluated how much ‘Christmas’ we actually need to do.

Santa even comes to visit the Reindeer Centre on weekends in December!
The Paddocks and Exhibition are often very busy on the run up to the big day!

Some of our longest standing events are in the far south. Basingstoke, Windsor, Llanelli, Carmarthen, Cowbridge and Usk to name a few. Some of these events have been going ahead for over 25 years. They are fantastic events and always well organised with the organisers and public giving our reindeer the up most respect. For some of the people visiting these events when they were children 25 years ago are now attending with their own children so it really is lovely to see and be part of. With COVID making the last two years tricky for everybody whether it be budgets being cut or just the fact that event organisers didn’t want to be attracting big crowds of people for public safety meant that some of these events didn’t go ahead. Naturally there was huge disappointment, but everybody understood. Off the back of less demand to travel further south we have taken this opportunity to look at our own business and where we are going and have now decided that we won’t be taking part in events south of Manchester. Obviously I feel terrible for the fantastic events that these venues have put on over the years but with such good relationships with them all I have explained our situation and they have all replied and completely understand our situation. They have thanked us and our lovely reindeer for being part of their Christmas festivities and wished us well going forward. We couldn’t have asked for nicer comments from them all.

Volunteer Paul and herder Mel with a team of 6 reindeer in Wilmslow – November 2021.
Slioch and Dr Seuss at the front of the sleigh in Bradford – November 2021.

So going forward we are still doing Christmas events but we will be sticking to Scotland and the north of England. We will run less teams as a result and concentrate much more of what we do at home. We hope you can visit us either here in the Cairngorms or while we are out on tour in November and December but for now I just want to say a massive thank you to all of our events based further south than Manchester for all your support over the years. We will miss working with you and we wish you all the best going forward.

Reindeer walking off the hill – ready for a weekend of parades and events. Frost and Bond at the front.
Christmas lorry hitting the road!

Fiona

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 2: April 2022

Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.

This is the second installment of Emm’s blog. Read part one by clicking here.

Dogs

It was my first time meeting Reindeer House’s new Border Collie puppy called Fraoch. It was also my first time meeting Ben H’s dog called Dug and Amy’s dog.

One evening after work, me, Sheena, Amy and Innis took the dogs on a walk. With Elsie and Ginger (Sheena’s dogs), Fraoch and Amy’s dog we walked up the hill on the track and we walked down through a forest near Meall a’Bhuachaille just behind Reindeer House.  It was a lovely special walk.

Elsie, Ginger, Dug and Tiree.

Reindeer

Sherlock was growing his antlers so fast when I was there. It was so amazing how much they had grown since I had arrived. It was one of the fastest antler growth the herd has ever seen and could be on par with Crann who had the biggest ever set of antlers in the herd.

Emm hand feeding Sherlock.

Some of the reindeer were losing antlers at this time of year. Lulu lost an antler when she was in the paddocks. In the hill enclosure, Cannellini was eating from a pile of food. Sambar came over to Cannellini and kicked her hoof at him to say it was her food now. But when she kicked her hoof, it hit Cannellini’s antler and it came off. It was the first time I had ever seen a reindeer’s antler being kicked off. Fava lost an antler in the forest paddock where the paddock reindeer sleep at night down at the centre. Me and Amy went on a mission to find it and managed to find it near the stream when poo picking!

Emm being mobbed by Dr Seuss, Sherlock and Butter.

Reindeer Herding

In the hill enclosure, there are different areas used to separate the reindeer. Sometimes the reindeer are in the bottom corridor in the day and in the east enclosure at night. One morning, me and Hen moved the hill enclosure reindeer from the east enclosure part to the bottom corridor part. It is really lovely as we get to call them and they come running down as they know it is breakfast time. I led them through with my food bag whilst Hen pushed them from the back. Then we fed them and counted them. Most mornings, I got to go up and help move them and give them their breakfast.

One afternoon, me and Lotti moved the hill enclosure reindeer from the bottom corridor to the east enclosure. I led them through with my food bag whilst Lotti pushed them from the back. We fed them and counted them. Most afternoons after the hill visit, we move them and give them their tea which I helped with most of the time. It was so lovely to spend some time quietly with the reindeer. On one afternoon visit, after we spent some time with the reindeer and visitors in the bottom corridor, Ruth and me moved the reindeer whilst the visitors were there and the visitors came along and watched us give the reindeer their tea.

Ruth, Dr Seuss and Emm.

One morning, the free-rangers had split into 2 groups a bigger group and smaller group. The next day, after the hill visit in the afternoon, Andi went in search of the smaller group of free-rangers and found them. She managed to get the smaller group of reindeer to follow her and she managed to join the 2 groups together so the free-rangers were all together once again.

Tilly’s Farm

On my last day, Olly and me went to Tilly’s farm where we met Tilly. The Reindeer Centre has a base there. We went in ‘Brenda’ (the livestock truck). We took Cannellini, Butter, Fava, Dr Seuss, Celt, Kiruna and Spartan to the farm. We filled up bags of dark grains (a by-product from the whisky industry used for animal feed) from a massive funnel in one of the barns as the Reindeer Centre needed some more bags of dark grains and got some more lichen from the shed as the reindeer needed more lichen. We loaded Brenda with the dark grains and lichen. We moved the reindeer to the other reindeer at the farm, they followed me and Tilly on the quad bike which Tilly was driving and Olly herded them from the back. We checked all the reindeer at the farm temperatures and injected them if they had a high temperature.  We put some Spot-On on to protect them from ticks.  I helped with holding the reindeer. Legume had a really high temperature so we separated him and Jelly from the rest of the reindeer in the shed and gave them some lichen so Tilly could keep an eye on them. Jelly was there to keep Legume company.  We picked out 2 reindeer to take back to the Reindeer Centre who were Frost and Olmec. I led Frost and Olly led Olmec to Brenda. The older male reindeer were free-ranging on the hills by the farm so I didn’t see them. Tilly, me and Olly went on the quad bike which Tilly was driving and Tilly took us to see the pigs, wild boars and piglets which was great fun. Tilly and Olly fed them. We also saw the red deer and the Belted Galloway cows. We also saw the Soay sheep with their lambs and Tilly fed them. Eventually we took Frost and Olmec back to the Reindeer Centre in Brenda.

Emm leading Frost.

Opening the Gate onto the Free-range

When we got back from the farm, we did a paddock reindeer swap. Frost and Olmec went into the paddocks and Me and Amy took Lulu and Gazelle up to the hill enclosure and I led them both. That morning, my herder friends went to the hill enclosure and they split all the pregnant females off from the non-pregnant reindeer ready for calving. The non-pregnant reindeer went into the top corridor in the hill enclosure ready to go out on the free-range.  Me and Amy took Gazelle and Lulu into the top corridor with the others and Amy opened the gate on to the free-range. When the reindeer were ready, they would go out on to the free-range. Ben H had realised that Roule had lost an antler that morning in the bottom corridor when splitting the reindeer up, so Amy and me went and had a look for it which Amy found.

Emm with Lulu and Gazelle.

Other Exciting Things I Did

On Easter Sunday, the Easter Bunny had put mini eggs all around Reindeer House which was very exciting. I kept finding mini eggs.

I helped restock the shop. I put price labels on the photo frames for the shop.

I talked to visitors in the paddocks and I identified a reindeer for one of its adopters.

Me, Mum and Dad went out with my herder friends and Sookie for a meal at the Pine Marten Bar which was really lovely and I really enjoyed it.  I once again had such a fantastic 10 days with my lovely friends, all the animals and of course the reindeer.

I am so looking forward to my next trip in October 2022 !!!!

Emm

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