Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 1: Christmas 2022

I was very lucky to be volunteering with the herd for 8 days in December last year over Christmas. Fiona had said I could help with the Christmas parades that they were due to do. It was my first Christmas working with the reindeer and it was really magical and special experience.

A Fantastic Surprise at the start.

Once we got to Scotland, I had a few days off before I started work with the reindeer. There was so much snow so I was very excited. One of the days we went to Landmark in Carrbridge and my Mum and Dad said it was one of my early Christmas Presents and that there was going to be a surprise.

The surprise was that the reindeer were there!! I was so excited when we found the reindeer pen with Ruth and Mel the herders and the reindeer were Druid, Olmec, Poirot, Berlin and the 2 calves were Sorbet and Lolly. I think we also surprised Ruth and Mel with us turning up. Lol. It was funny to see the pen was next to dinosaur land and there was a gigantic T-Rex looking over the top but thankfully Fiona had made sure the noises were turned off otherwise the reindeer could have been very scared. We took all six reindeer for a walk around Landmark with Santa. I was allowed to help and led Druid whilst Santa led Poirot. It was amazing to see Poirot so calm as it was the first year Poirot was one of the Christmas Reindeer having been a breeding bull in October 2021. He used to charge at the fence protecting his girls and was very aggressive then. He was castrated in August 2022 and he became much calmer and became a Christmas Reindeer. I helped load the reindeer into the back of the lorry at the end and it was such a brilliant day and a fantastic surprise.

Poirot and Santa.
Emm helping out at Landmark!
Sorbet and Lolly – the calves at Landmark, with T-rex looming in the background.

Snow, Ice and Tamer Calves

A snowy Utsi’s Bridge.

It was very snowy, cold and icy in the first few days once I started and on my first morning, we took reindeer who had come back from Christmas events up onto the hill from the paddocks. There were adult reindeer and calves. I led Poirot, my first time leading a reindeer in snowy and icy conditions.  Andi had to dig a massive snow drift away from one of the gates in the hill enclosure as we couldn’t get through. When you walked on the snow, you didn’t know how deep it was so you had to be careful that you didn’t suddenly sink in! It was so icy Andi gritted some of the path for the Hill Trip visitors then I helped Andi worm the reindeer which was giving medicine to keep them healthy and clear of worm infection. I held onto the lead rope and put a few head collars on to the calves who were much tamer than when I was up last in October. They had grown lots too. Zoom the calf (the one who had been found on it’s own on the free-range) was so tame and would follow me and Andi around with the hand feed bribery bag whilst we were trying to catch the calves and put them on head collars. Zoom is best buddies with Sunny the hand reared reindeer calf.

Walking up to the enclosure in the snow.

In the few days before the big Christmas parades I did lots of duties in the paddocks and Reindeer House, made up the first-year adoption packs, helped file adoption leaflets away and packed adoption gifts and made feed mix with Lisette. Poo picking in the ice and snow was a new experience (you had to make sure you didn’t slip over and fall in the poo!). One morning Tilly was on Zoe Ball breakfast show on Radio 2 and we all listened to it on the radio. She was talking about the reindeer and Zoe Ball was very interested. Tilly was very good giving lots of information. Another day Joe had an interview for a BBC radio show in the paddocks before we opened. It seemed everyone wanted to know about the reindeer this time of year and our Cairngorm Reindeer Herd were very famous. There were still Christmas events happening and I helped Cameron mix the food then bagged it up for one event that Ruth was doing in Gleneagles.

The BBQ hut already for Santa’s arrival.

There were also things happening at Reindeer House with Christmas fun in the paddocks. I talked to people in the paddocks telling them all about the reindeer and also did meet and greet at times explaining what was happening during the Christmas fun. There was a Christmas quiz for people to do and all the herders wore their Christmas jumpers. Santa was in the BBQ hut where he could meet and talk to the children. There were herder talks and people could see the reindeer. The paddocks were decorated for Christmas and children were able to write letters to Santa and post them. Joe was making Christmas jokes all the time and advertising the Naked Herder’s Charity Calendar as well which went on to make a lot of money for the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. When I restocked shop there was Christmas music playing in the office.

The hill trips were also really magical. On one trip Gloriana was cleaning her calf by licking it when lying on a snow patch which was really lovely to see. I was able to do the hand feed talk on a few occasions and it was so special that the herders trusted me to tell everyone the important information. Some hill enclosure gates had massive snow drifts so we had to use other gates and walking on snow drifts was difficult as you would sink in suddenly knee deep in snow. One day the snow gates were closed on the main road but we were allowed up to the Sugarbowl car park. This was the first time I had seen them closed. The snow gates opened an hour later. When we got up to the enclosure we moved the ice and snow cleared the path of ice and snow with shovels and our feet.

Emm and Lotti!

The reindeer on the free-range could come and go as they wanted. We left the gate to the top corridor open so most of the free-rangers could come in to feed and we could count and I.D them. I did this one day with Cameron and Lisette. We wrote their ear tag numbers down and checked herd list in the shed. It was lovely to see that the mum’s and calves stay together a lot of the time eating the same pile of food and lying down together. The mothers looking after their calves like Christie licking Gelato. Another day the free-rangers had moved to the top ski car park and I went with Sheena and Cameron to find them. One day Hen and Andi had to go to the top of Silvermount to get the reindeer as they were not coming down to the usual calls.

Iskrem and Emmental in the snow.

The other thing we had to do was split off the reindeer for the paddocks and Christmas events from the herd when they were needed and move them down from the hill enclosure and then bring them back up when they had finished so we were very busy. On one of the days I took Frost, Dr Seuss and Nuii up the hill with Andi. I was leading at the front with Dr Seuss and my job was to look out for dogs as the reindeer are very scared of dogs as they think they are wolves. I had to make sure the others stayed close behind me as they like to stick together in a group. When we were at the hill enclosure we let Nuii, the calf, off the head collar first before the adults so that they didn’t panic.

Dante and Glacée.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Emm’s Christmas blog!

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

Photo blog: March 2023

It’s the last blog of the month and so time for another photo dump! March has been a relatively quiet month, with the Paddocks shut and fewer visitors around, but it’s still felt very busy for us herders! Generally only four members of staff work each day throughout March. The mornings are taken up by two herders heading out to find and move the free ranging herd, and the other two herders lead the Hill Trip at 11am. So, by the time we’ve all had lunch the afternoons seem to totally fly by. We also had some very snowy and wintery weather in the middle of the month, making our lives a little more interesting and keeping us on our toes! Hopefully, we’ve managed to tick off all the important jobs in time for the Easter Holidays which kick off on the 1st of April.

1st of March: Sunny has spent the majority of January and February free ranging in the hills with the big boys. He and a few other youngsters were brought off the hill on the last day of February and spent a few days in the Paddocks. So of course it was only right Sunny got an invite to dinner!!
2nd of March: Sheena and Lotti take some routine temperatures. Whilst we don’t expect any at this time of year, it’s good handling practice for the reindeer to make sure we can still catch them whilst they’re out free ranging. In this photo it’s Beret’s turn, but Holy Moley is patiently waiting for her go, anything to be allowed into the white bag!
3rd of March: Can you spot Fiona leading the herd at the front? Meanwhile I’m being “sheep dog” at the back, making sure everybody follows. Vienna and her calf Kulfi are the last two reindeer… as usual!
6th of March: Snow again! This time I’m at the front of the herd leading them in to the visit location, whilst Andi is gently encouraging them at the back. Here we have the beautiful Lace and if you look VERY closely you might be able to spot a golden eagle in the sky above the herd!
7th of March: After demolishing lots of hand feed, Pumpkin is in need of a wee rest!
7th of March: 99 and Tub, two ten-month-old calves having a play fight!
8th of March: What a day!! Popsicle and her mum Caterpillar looking gorgeous in the snow.
9th of March: Another cracking blue bird day! Here’s Merida and Beret saying hello,
12th of March: Solero chilling out after a Hill Trip whilst people enjoy milling around the herd in the background.
13th of March: A very wintery Hill Trip for me and Cameron! This is why we tell people they need full waterproofs and walking boots/wellies at this time of year.
14th of March: Moving the herd in a snow storm.
14th of March: The morning ritual of allowing the calves to feed out of the bags first, whilst we prevent older reindeer from sneaking in (yes you, Holy Moley).
15th of March: Can’t resist including this picture of Lolly (Oatcake’s calf). What a cutie.
18th of March: Leading the herd in to position for the Hill Trip, the fab trio at the front leading the way as always- Lace, Fly and Sika!
19th of March: Sorbet, Cornetto and his mum Helsinki posing in the sun!
20th of March: What a glorious morning to go retrieve and deposit the herd ready for the Hill Trip!
23rd of March: Sisters Suebi and Turtle hanging out together, strong family resemblance between these two!
24th of March: Moving the herd with Hen on a very atmospheric morning. The reindeer were particularly lazy today, they did not come to our call, so we got a great morning work out walking up to them!
27th of March: There are a few cows on the hill who are now beginning to grow their antlers for 2023. This is Ryvita who is showing off her wee velvet buds.
28th of March: Morven (currently looking a bit lopsided) and her calf Mochi waiting for the food to be put out.

Ruth

The curious case of Lolly and the blue jacket

At the end of each summer, we bring the cows and calves, who have spent all summer free-ranging in the mountains, back to the enclosure. For most of the reindeer this involves spotting a small herd of reindeer somewhere relatively near the enclosure and using a bit of bribery to lure them into the enclosure. That means the calves, who aren’t used to people, will just follow their mums through the gate and we can then spend the next couple of months training them and getting them used to us.

Zap was one of the first calves to come into the enclosure, ten days later he was very relaxed around people!

Every year though, there are a couple of cows and calves who like to keep us on our toes and wander to the wrong side of the hills which means we have to drive around in our wee truck, find and catch the reindeer, and then drive them back again. This just leaves the one small task of catching the calf, who has never worn a halter and has spent all summer avoiding people. Usually the easiest way is to catch their mum, then spend a little time walking with the mum on a halter and getting the calf used to your presence. Once they are settled and are coming back close to their mum then you can use their mum as a shield to hide your body as you get close enough to the calf to catch them. Once you have caught them, the second herder will very speedily put a halter on and lead them down off the hill.

Hen and Andi midway through a calf catching mission.

At the end of September last year there were still a couple of reindeer who hadn’t come in yet after free-ranging for the summer. September always ends up being a very busy month but on one, very rainy, day we found ourselves with enough staff on for two of us to head out searching for the last few reindeer. So, Ruth and I rummaged around for the most waterproof of all our jackets before heading off. The jackets that we decided on were both Rohan jackets given to us after Fiona was featured in their magazine, Ruth’s jacket was navy blue and mine was bright turquoise. The colour of our jackets might seem trivial but it is relevant to the story.

If you look very closely you can just spot Lotti camouflaged against Fiona’s van…

We set off walking and fairly quickly spotted three reindeer, two cows and a calf. During our walk up the rain had stopped, and I had taken my jacket off. Once we got closer we realised it was Wapiti, Oatcake and Oatcake’s calf who had recently been named Lolly. We caught both the cows fairly quickly and Lolly seemed unusually tame, she was very happy to be close by to us at which point I thought we were going to have a very easy job!

Lolly following closely behind Ruth, Oatcake and Wapiti.
Oatcake and Lolly – now just to catch Lolly!

We walked down the hill and into the trees and at this point it had started to rain again so I put my raincoat on again and we tied Wapiti onto one of the trees to give us an extra set of hands for catching. At which point Lolly ran at high speed up the hill away from us. This isn’t that unusual for a calf who has spent all summer avoiding people so we waited for her to settle and come back to her mum, but she didn’t…. We waited a while and then decided that she clearly had become nervous after we stopped so we would keep walking and hopefully she would come back over. So, we continued walking with Oatcake and Wapiti but Lolly wouldn’t come anywhere near us. I was getting more and more worried that we wouldn’t be able to catch her and our mission wouldn’t be successful at which point I realised that the moment she ran off was when we stopped which was also when I had put the blue jacket on.

It sounded totally ridiculous that a reindeer might be scared of a jacket but I thought it was worth a try, so I took off the jacket, at which point she came charging back down to us. I am very glad Ruth was there too otherwise the story would have seemed quite improbable!! From that moment on, she was a total star and we managed to catch her and walk her off the hill. It rained the entire way back I think but I had to walk back in my t-shirt as we didn’t want to upset Lolly again!

Mission accomplished – Lolly on a halter and walking back to our truck!
Within minuets Lolly is halter trained and walking beautifully next to her mum.

I spent the walk down the hill wondering if the fact that reindeer can see in the UV spectrum (for more information on this read Ruth’s blog here) meant that the blue part of the colour spectrum was accentuated so the jacket looked extra bright. More likely as none of the objects that Lolly had seen on the plateau all summer were blue seeing a walking bright blue jacket was a bit of a surprise. One thing is for sure, that jacket will be used for dog walking and not reindeer herding in the future.

Lolly and Oatcake back in the enclosure a couple of days later.
Lolly in the enclosure getting much braver!
Lolly at a local Christmas event at Landmark, Carrbridge – so used to handling and people she’s totally unfazed about the huge T-rex looming over the display pen!
Lolly back out free ranging in the hills for winter after all her Christmas duties and training are complete!
Lolly and Oatcake free ranging.

Lotti

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