We reopened to the public on the 10th of February. With no Paddocks and Exhibition available (the site is currently a very big hole) it feels rather strange! But the Hill Trips are running as usual, in fact for the February half term we brought some of our free ranging cows and nine month old calves in to our hill enclosure allowing us to do two Hill Trips a day. So, we’ve been busy looking after our the herd in the enclosure and checking in with the free rangers once every few days. February has so far been rather mild so far with not very much snow so we’ve been having a relatively easy time, and the reindeer are finding easy grazing. We’ll be back to free range visits very soon (Monday 26th Feb) so if anyone is visiting us between now and the end of April be prepared for potentially much longer walks out to find the herd.
Editor’s note: The lovely Hannah wrote this blog when she was here back in August 2023 but I have only just found it lurking in a folder on the computer. Sorry Hannah! Read Hannah’s first blog here about her time volunteering with us here: Hannah’s Volunteer Blog – The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. And then try to imagine you’re reading this current one in the warm summer month of August!
It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a year since I was up on the hill – it always feels far too long! As usual I signed up for my now annual volunteering stint and was met with an even better offer to come and help for three weeks rather than one! Obviously, this was too good an opportunity to pass up and I quickly abandoned my long-suffering partner (and our impending house move) to come and stay at Reindeer House for the month!
A lot can change in a year – last July I was hand rearing Sunny, now one of our yearlings and a fully-fledged reindeer – antlers and all! My hand rearing days were not over, though – as we had two new calves to meet – Winnie and Alba! Being resident in Reindeer House means extra quality time with these two lovely girls, including late night feeds and mornings taking them up the hill. It’s been amazing watching them progress even over the past few weeks, gaining weight as they should and spotting some antlers beginning to appear.
I’ve been lucky enough to come at a different point of the year which has included adventures with the free ranging females and tracking the discovery of new calves flourishing out on the hills. Having not had much time with our girls, being mostly a summer presence, it was great to finally put faces to the names of the lovely females I have heard so much about and meet some of their new arrivals.
I count myself very lucky to have quadrupled my usual stint here and be a part of the team. Hopefully the next bit of time goes speedily, and I’ll be back out on the hill before I know it!
Visitors often ask how on earth we tell apart the 150-strong herd of reindeer. Whilst there is variation in colour, markings and antler shape, one of the biggest distinguishing features is actually character. Just like people, reindeer come in every shade of cheeky, shy, friendly, stand-offish, bolshy, greedy, intelligent, daft… I thought I might mention a few stand out character types, past and present!
Step up, Aztec! Always the first to be involved, always wanting to “help”, very friendly, lovable, and not a manner to be seen if there is a mere sniff of food… Fun, but a bit of a liability.
Also falling into this category: Kipling, Bumble, Eco
Reserved and steady, not always the easiest to catch but utterly dependable when out on tour. Olmec, I’m looking at you.
Also applies to: Dragonfly
Introducing the one and only Holy Moley… who knows full well that she basically had her own TV documentary and hence feels that every visitor is there to see her and her alone.
Also: Dr Seuss appears to feel that his minor starring role in the same show entitles him to extra food portions every single day too.
Sweet as Pie, Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly
Beautiful light-coloured Diamond has to be one of the gentlest souls in the herd. She walks with a slight limp after an injury back in her younger days, which of course means we all (needlessly) slip her extra bits of feed.
Also: Amber, Esme, Sunflower
Loyal and True
Certain reindeer can always be relied upon when we’re moving the free-range herd – they’ll be near the front, they willingly have a headcollar put on, they trustingly plod behind you whilst the rest of the herd debate whether your bribe is worth coming for. Okapi, you’re the star here.
The Boy Band Pin-Up
Sherlock has to be one of the most impressive looking reindeer in the herd today, and he also knows how to work it. Some reindeer naturally prick their ears for a photo, and seem to offer their best side!
Also: Elvis, of whom there was never a bad photo taken!
Grumpy Old Men (and Women)
Bond may only be 5 years old, but he definitely ticks every box for “grouchy” – you only need to look at him and he rolls his eyes at the thought that you might try to interact with him. Likewise, walking too near Lace or Turtle is likely to extract a swing of the antlers and a snap of the mouth as a warning. Turtle is Pony’s daughter, who was perhaps the grumpiest reindeer we’ve ever had in the herd, so it’s definitely inherited!
Also: Addja once implanted his antlers into my leg when in a bad mood, only to cast one, which definitely didn’t make him any more cheery (though it did make me chuckle at the instant karma).
Big Friendly Giant
One of the tallest, heftiest reindeer in the herd, Scrabble was a bit of a liability in his youth as he was just so keen to meet everyone, and somewhat unaware of his sheer size. It almost seemed that his bum was so far away from his brain that he couldn’t keep track of the children he was wiping out as he turned around… Now he’s an old fella so a bit steadier, but just as friendly and enormous!
Don’t Mess With…
Brie may look little and cute, but her first instinct if she doesn’t like something is to beat it/them with her antlers, and whilst she both she and her antlers may be small, she is ANGRY. As Mel once found out when leading Brie, and Brie decided she did NOT want to be there…
Also: Spy. If Spy has calved, it usually takes about four herders, all hiding behind gates/fences to move her where we want her to be.
Here’s a selection of pics taken throughout the month, hopefully giving a snap shot of what we’ve been getting up to. It’s been full on with the rut taking place in the enclosure, our breeding bulls do now seem a bit less enthusiastic after a busy six weeks for them! We’ve also been bringing two calves at a time down to the Paddocks to halter train them. They usually spend around four days here in which we take them out on morning walks to get them used to seeing traffic, bikes, their own reflections in shiny windows and whatever else Glenmore can throw at us at 8am! Christmas sleigh training for our three year old Christmas Reindeer begins too. So far Adzuki, Haricot and Hemp have been trained and they’ve all been total pros. During the October holidays when our 11am Hill Trip sells out we’ve been putting on an afternoon Hill Trip too. Funnily enough, during the rain and wind of Storm Babet we did not require this attentional visit. But after the storm we’ve been treated to some gorgeous autumnal weather and the first decent snow on the hills of the season.
Amongst all of this we’ve also managed to get the October newsletter written, printed and sent out to our lovely adopters! Until it’s safely in the hands of our adopters I’ve left all calf names out of the blog.
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.
I was recently looking back over photos from the calving season in 2020. This was the first calving season I had worked and it was in the middle of lockdown with fewer staff working so I was very lucky to be totally immersed in what was a very busy month! The calves born in 2020 are now three years old and some of them have had their own calves for the first time this year. I thought it would be nice to look back on a few favourites and how they have changed over the last few years.
Note: This started out being a fairly short blog just going through a couple of my favourite calves but very soon became longer and longer… Turns out I have a real soft-spot for the 2020 calves with lots and lots of favourites amongst them! I decided to split the males and females and make it into two blogs otherwise there was no way anyone would read all the way to the bottom. Part 2 is now online too.
First and foremost, Holy Moley was the first calf born in 2020, the first new-born calf I had ever seen, and still to this day, I maintain she was the most beautiful calf ever to be born. Not that I’m biased.
Anyone who watched ‘A Baby Reindeer’s First Christmas’ (Channel 4, first broadcast on Christmas Eve 2020) will be well aware that Holy Moley didn’t have the easiest start but she’s done really well over the last couple of years and has grown up into a strong, feisty and very cheeky young reindeer! Her name is often accompanied by the word ‘diva’ which I think explains a lot.
The most distinguishing feature I remember about Sunflower when she was a calf was the perfect arrow pointing along her back towards her head. We joked that the arrow was to show to ‘insert food here’.
Sunflower’s arrow sadly didn’t stay longer than her calf coat but luckily we’re pretty well practiced at which end reindeer food goes! Sunflower has grown up to be such a lovely lass. She’s tame but not pushy. She’s also one of the tallest of the female reindeer her age, go Sunflower!!
When Pumpkin was a day or so old it was time to bring her from where she was born to a bit closer by and into our creche area to keep an eye on her. Me and Olly went to fetch Pagan and Pumpkin but about half-way through the walk Pumpkin was getting tired, as it was a long walk for brand new legs, so instead I had to carry her in, what a hardship!!!
Pumpkin is very greedy much like the rest of her family. She’s usually one of the first in line for handfeeding, so if any of you reading this have been on a hill trip in the winter, you’ve probably met her.
Ibex, Flax’s mum, was another experienced mum who was totally chilled out around us as we treated and checked her calf. She was also the first reindeer who I’d watched eat her afterbirth which was amazing to see! Flax was born on a beautiful sunny day so we enjoyed ten minutes or so hanging out with the two of them before leaving Ibex to finish her lichen in peace.
Flax is Ibex’s last calf, so she’s not been pushed away after the birth of a younger sibling. As a result, Flax and Ibex are as thick as thieves and usually still at each other’s sides. Flax can be bossy and greedy just like her mum!
Pip was Kipling’s first ever calf and motherhood definitely took a little getting used to for Kipling. For the first couple of days when we went to feed them Kipling would come charging over for the feed and we would spend the next five minutes searching for her calf who would be left behind somewhere totally unaware that her mother seemed to have chosen feed over her. After the first week or so, Pip was mobile enough to stick with Kipling easily though. Kipling is Joe’s favourite reindeer and he caught and treated Pip when she was first born so when it came to naming Joe asked if he could name her Pip in memory of his dog who had had the same name.
Pip has grown up into a very independent young female, she’s rarely with the rest of her family and is quite different from them in personality. Her mum Kipling is probably one of the tamest reindeer in our herd whereas Pip has a wee bit of a wild streak. Ruth thinks that if Pip was a human she’d be a real party girl and I think she’s right!
At the end of calving in 2020, Angua was the only cows left to calve. When we went to feed the herd one morning she wasn’t with the herd, so we set off around the enclosure to try to find her and her new-born calf, unfortunately no luck! She was nowhere to be seen! We continued to search for the next few days without any success and were all getting more and more worried, particularly as it was Angua’s first time calving. A couple of days later, after lots of searching, we were bringing the herd in for their breakfast and suddenly realised there was one extra calf than the day before!
Chickpea is fairly shy in nature, so we’ve spent lots of time over the last three years bribing her with food. This has definitely worked; you can now see her licking her lips whenever one of the herders approaches with a bag of extra tasty food.
Now Peanut came as a bit of a surprise. We hadn’t actually thought that her mum, Roule, was pregnant. Then as we were splitting the pregnant females to stay in the enclosure and the non-pregnant ones to go back out we took a second look at her and decided that her belly looked rather wide, sure enough a few weeks later, Peanut was born.
Peanut has become tamer and tamer over the last three years and in 2022 she also surprised us by having her first calf who we have named Nuii. Nuii is definitely one of my favourite of our ice-creams – she’s a real sweetie!
This year I will endeavor to make the last blog of the month a photo blog with a collection of pictures taken over the month. So here’s some highlights from January! A month when the Centre shuts and we crack on with lots of office work and general maintenance tasks such as painting the Exhibition floor and oiling the Christmas harness. But inevitably, I don’t take any photos of that stuff, so instead it’s just lots of lovely pics of reindeer!
For this week’s blog, I’ve uploaded a heap of photographs found on my phone during this particularly busy month to give a brief snapshot of what goes on in the life of a reindeer herder. Turns out I don’t take many photographs whilst I’m sat in front of a computer answering emails so the photos are quite biased to all the fun times I’ve had out and about. Thankfully this makes for a much more enjoyable blog… lots of pictures of reindeer!
We are always getting asked to take part in various filming and photography projects so nothing really surprises us anymore when someone sends an email or gives us a call with a slightly quirky request.
A lot of you will have seen ‘A Baby Reindeer’s First Christmas’ starring Holy Moley. This is by far the longest stint of filming we have ever done in one go taking three months. Most of the time a crew will just come up for one day, or even half a day to get a quick piece to fit into their program. Sometimes we are asked to go on location somewhere else with the reindeer. Andi and I worked for a while down south at a private zoo which as well as caring for the animals it involved taking them onto film sets so we are quite used to it. There can be a lot of sitting around so now that I make the rules I am pretty ‘on it’ with our timings as the last thing I want is for the reindeer to have to sit around all day waiting for the actors to be ready so they get a set time frame now to work with us.
Some of our sets have included an Ann Summers photoshoot with models in the Christmas wear. Luckily the reindeer just had to stand nearby and look pretty, which they did beautifully may I add! Last year we were asked to an American short film where the reindeer were portrayed as ‘wild’ so we were in some lovely woodland on the west of Scotland. We did mention to the producers that reindeer aren’t natural to this area but I think the film was just a Christmassy crowd pleaser so they weren’t picky when it came to native species. We’ve worked with fashion models both up on the mountain and also out on location. If I’m totally honest I can’t remember what they were advertising but I can tell you the clothes they were wearing weren’t exactly in keeping with reindeer and their natural habitat… in fact the models must have been freezing!
For a kids TV drama I drew the short straw and had to dress up as a Viking, or at least I think it was a Viking. The show was about a Viking Princess and my colleagues took great delight in having a good laugh at me with some fairly random clothes on! Our reindeer have been part of photoshoots advertising cars. Audi, Landrover and Jaguar have had our reindeer pose next to their fancy pants vehicles.
On the whole, however, we tend to do a one-on-one chat with a presenter who is visiting the area. In the past we’ve worked with Ben Fogle, Ray Mears, Bill Oddy, Susan Calman, Matt Baker, Katy Hill, Michaela Strachan, Gordon Buchanan, Elain Smith, James Martin, Bear Grylls and many more. We try to get Tilly to do these chats as she’s so great on TV but inevitably either myself or one of my colleagues will be roped in. We don’t tend to have to chat about anything out of the ordinary, just aren’t they lovely and tame, we mention some adaptations, their names and in general just enjoy spending time with the reindeer on the hill.
So, there is a bit of insight to another part of our work with the reindeer. I love working closely with the reindeer like this as you get to know them really well individually and we already know what great characters they are so it’s easy to show them off and be proud of them!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.