In the autumn, we move all of our entire males (apart from the 2 or 3 lucky chosen breeding bulls) over to our hill farm, away from the females and out of trouble for the duration of the breeding season. With no hint of love on the air, this keeps them calmer and easier to manage, though they still enjoy play-fighting. By December the rut is over and our breeding bulls have also joined them, so there is a slight vibe of an all-boys hangout. As Tilly is caring for these fellas every day, and she is less up on her social media, I thought I’d take the opportunity to grab some photos for you all this week when I was over at the hill farm.
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.
August has been a fun month. The first half of the month was super busy with holiday makers but as Scottish schools went back the second half of the month got slightly quieter with visitors and we’ve been having lots of free range action which I love. Generally we start to see the free ranging females more as they come down in altitude as the weather gets cooler. Towards the end of the month we also start bringing in the mums and their calves back into the enclosure. They spend June through to August/early September out roaming the hills learning how to be little wild reindeer and enjoying all the best grazing, but when the autumn rolls around it’s time for them to learn what a feed bag is and in time, how to walk on a halter etc. The following photos are a small snapshot of what’s been occurring…
July has been a good month with not a great deal of unusual things going on within the herd really – which is actually rather nice! The boys in the hill enclosure are generally eating lots and putting all their energy into growing lovely antlers and big bellies! Towards the middle of July the reindeer finally start to look themselves and some in particular look very smart in their short summer coats.
School holiday season is definitely upon us! We’ve got very busy with visitors, running three Hill Trips a day during weekdays and two on weekends. The Paddocks and Exhibition have also been popular and the reindeer here at the Centre have done a good job of ‘babysitting’ our two hand-reared calves (Winnie and Alba) overnight. They are now big enough to spend the daytime with the herd on the hill. This allows them to get some good exercise every day and lots of great grazing but they return each evening so they don’t miss out on their night time bottles of milk!
I’ve been lucky to see some of the free ranging females out on the hills too – all looked great and some stonking big calves out there. Well done mums, keep it up!
Hopefully the following photos will give more of an insight into what’s been going on this month.
This is the second installment of Emm’s fantastic blog. Read part one by clicking HERE.
The Breeding Season
Whilst I was there, there were 2 bulls with their girls in the hill enclosure separated in different areas. One group was Sherlock and his girls over on Silver Mount. He was laid back. Then the other group was Morse and his girls. Morse was a bit more aggressive and would pace the fence grunting. He was very protective of his girls.
Chilling With Reindeer
Fiona, Joe and Andi went to Sherlock and his girls over on Silver Mount, the big hill in the hill enclosure, to check temperatures and do some vaccinations. Lotti and I moved Morse and his girls to a different part of the hill enclosure. We separated him with a few of his girls into a separate pen area so we were safe. Reindeer bulls with their girls can be very aggressive and can charge at you. We had moved them so we could give them vaccinations. Mushy was being chased around by some of the reindeer but it is not good to have them running around before a vaccination so I helped Lotti separate Mushy and Pinto off together into their own area. Suddenly, a mountain hare ran out of the shed and stopped in the middle of the reindeer. It was about 2 metres away from me. It was so exciting. The mountain hare and the reindeer stared at each other for a few seconds then the reindeer charged at it and then it ran away. What a lovely experience. Lotti and I then had to wait for Andi, Fiona and Joe. Whilst we waited, we chilled with the reindeer. I got to spend some quality time with my adopted reindeer called Scully. It was so nice and special spending quality time with her. I hadn’t been able to see her much as she had been in with Morse. Some of Morse’s girls had calves with them and I hadn’t got to know these calves yet so I was able to get to know them whilst Morse was separated. When Fiona, Joe and Andi got to us, some of Morse’s girls got vaccinations. Andi and I put Morse’s and his girls’ breakfast down in their usual part of the hill enclosure and then Morse and his girls were let back out to have their breakfast.
Walking Calves and Reindeer Around Glenmore
To get the calves used to being handled and having head collars on, we take them away from their mums in the hill enclosure for a few days and keep them down in the Paddocks. We take about 2 calves at a time. In the mornings before the Reindeer Centre opens, we take some of the Paddock adult reindeer and the calves out on a walk around Glenmore. We sandwich the calves between the adult reindeer. The adult reindeer are the role models for the calves. One morning, I walked Dr Seuss, Bond and the 2 calves Popsicle and Vanilla to the Pine Martin Bar and back with Hen and Amy. I led Bond. On another morning with Mel and Lisette we walked Athens, Clouseau, Frost, Dr Seuss and the calf called Zoom. This time I led Dr Seuss and Frost.
Reindeer Centre and Office Jobs
There were always lots of jobs to do at the Reindeer Centre. On some afternoons, I poo picked the woods where the Paddock reindeer go at night. If reindeer have been changed in the Paddocks, I switched the reindeer ID cards over in the exhibition so visitors would know who was who. I checked the adopters gift packs to make sure everything was there, tidied and restocked the shop. The magnets and glass reindeer were very popular. Some afternoons, I tidied the exhibition and antler making area and wiped down the surfaces. I put strawboard in the adopters envelopes to protect the adoption gift packs. For the October Newsletter, they put a photo of the reindeer in with the newsletter with a sticky label on the back giving update of what the reindeer have been up to so I stuck the sticky labels onto the back of the photos.
I also talked to visitors in the Paddocks and answered their questions. One afternoon I was talking to a visitor and a child ran to get me as Popsicle the calf had got her antler in a wire mesh bit of the fence. I untangled Popsicle’s antler and she was ok.
Reindeer Off to the Free-range
With Lotti and Cameron we led 5 older girls from the top corridor in the hill enclosure back on to the free range. This was the time of year that the reindeer would be moved to the free-range for the winter. The reindeer were Dixie, Lulu, Fly, Wapiti and Pavlova. Lotti put spot on (protecting from ticks) on to Fly. The other 4 reindeer had already had it. Lotti took a photo of Wapiti for their adoption photo and Dixie came and ate out of the hand feed bag I was holding. When we let them go it was so lovely seeing them go out onto the free-range.
Splitting Calves from their Mums
One morning I helped to move some of the calves around between the Paddocks and hill. First, we took Frost, Clouseau , Sunny and Zoom out of the paddocks and took them up into the hill enclosure and I led Clouseau and Zoom on this occasion. The 2 calves we wanted to take back down were with their mums and the bull Morse so we had to split Morse and his girls first to get the 2 calves and their mums. The 2 calves were Popsicle and Vanilla. Popsicle’s mum is Caterpillar and Vanilla’s mum is Ochil. After we managed to get them we put Morse and the rest of his girls back into their part of the hill enclosure. We took Caterpillar and her calf Popsicle, Ochil and her calf Vanilla, as well a 2 other reindeer Bond and Olmec off the hill. When we got to Brenda we loaded Bond, Olmec and the 2 calves into Brenda whilst Andi took the calves’ mums back up the hill to Morse. We then took the reindeer to the Paddocks at the Centre. In the Paddocks, Popsicle and Vanilla grunted for their mums for a bit as it was the first time they had been away from their mums. They would see their mums in a few days time after getting used to be handled and walked on a head collar.
On the Hill Trips, I often would escort the back of the line of people whilst we walked to the hill enclosure and reindeer. I would sometimes put some food out for the reindeer and then count them to make sure all the reindeer were there. I would sometimes give Sunny his milk.
I sometimes did the hand feed talk to the group of visitors so they knew what to do in hand feeding and what to expect. I gave out the hand feed so they could hand feed the reindeer. I talked to people and answered their questions. I sometimes took photos of visitors if they wanted photos taken with the reindeer.
This all gives you an idea of the many things that I do when volunteering with the reindeer and herders. It is such a special place and I love my time no matter how busy I am. I am really looking forward to my next trip.
Following on from the blog last week, with lots of silly photos of reindeer yawning (click here to see that) I thought I’d post a blog show-casing the various sleeping postures of reindeer!
It does seem like the perfect time to post this blog as with the busy Christmas season now over, and the Reindeer Centre shutting on Monday the 9th of January until Saturday the 11th of February, most reindeer herders are generally looking in need of a decent sleep too!
So, for no other reason than hopefully to make a few folk smile, here comes lots of photos of snoozing reindeer…
Having been here for a long time, the logistics of sending out the bi-annual newsletter that is posted to all our reindeer adopters has, almost by default, become Andi and I’s domain. The two newsletters are sent out in June and October, so for the 6 weeks or so beforehand I spend my time in a bit of a flap, trying to coordinate everything at the same time as doing all the other, day-to-day work (I would say ‘we’ spend our time in a flap, but realistically, it’s probably just me. I’m not known for calmness under pressure. Andi is much more unflappable than I am).
Work on the June newsletter is very much intermittent in May, as May is the calving season for the reindeer and we are usually rushed off our feet, so by the first half of June I am tearing my hair out over it. It needs to be out in the post to all 1800(ish) adopters by around the 20th June, so I am liable to getting a little bit frantic at times! Once upon a time we used to handwrite some additional information about each person’s adopted reindeer that was sent out with the newsletter, but those days are long since passed as our number of adopters has grown significantly over the last 15 years or so. Nowadays, for the June edition, we type a section of bumff about each reindeer, count how many need printed for each individual, and print them on 1/3 A4 sized slips. Much easier. Except that actually it takes ages to write them in the first place as almost every single one of the ~150 reindeer in the herd have adopters – years ago I wrote the entire lot myself, ran a word count and the overall total was longer than my university thesis had been! (I’m confident I know more about reindeer than limpets these days though…) In recent years I’ve managed to palm this job off on Andi, who does the bulk, with myself, Lotti and Ruth taking occasional turns.
The October newsletter goes out with a photo of the herd instead of individual info about each reindeer, with some more general info about how the year is going printed on the reverse. September is a hugely busy month for us too, with the start of the rut, vaccinations and free-ranging reindeer all over the place generally getting in the way, along with calves to halter train and handle for the first time. We just don’t have time to write 150 blurbs anymore, so a photo of the herd is the next best thing. God knows how we ever hand-wrote anything for the newsletter in the past – madness!
One day I guess we may get to the point of sending out newsletters digitally, but I, for one, hope those days are far in the future. Everyone prefers getting actual physical post, don’t they? I certainly do. It also means we don’t discriminate between folks who do/don’t use the internet. Our rather idiosyncratic system of working our way through the folders of adoption forms one by one, and cross-referencing the details on the form with the address label that has been printed is time consuming, but does pick up any mistakes that we have made when entering details on to the database. Labels print alphabetically by surname, within each adoption year, and one person’s job is to find the relevant label whilst the other reads out the details on the form. No problem for the long-standing adopters, where there are only a few in each year, but by the time we get down to the folks in their 1st year of adoption that person is on their feet the whole time, dancing back and forth up and down around 900 names. It’s quite a tiring job, mentally in particular!
Nothing pleases me quite as much as carting all our boxes of completed newsletters off for the postie to collect – job done for another few months. It’s a good feeling! I can go back to my normal level of flustered confusion finally rather the super-charged fluster I exist in during May and September of each year.
I have been here at the Reindeer Centre (on and off) for eight years now, the last three has been the longest stint I have done with the Reindeer Centre. Now admittedly this is mostly due to Covid, but if it wasn’t for the Reindeer Centre’s generosity in keeping me around as the world went in to lockdown the week that I was meant to be leaving, I probably would never have stuck around and got more involved with the surrounding area.
I’m not one for talking a lot, so here are some of my favourite photos from the past three years with some words.
Many years ago, a reindeer herder made a Badge. This Badge was pink, and he wore it with pride. In time he decided to pass it on to another herder, who had done a Worthy Thing that day (what the Worthy Thing actually was has since been lost in the mists of time). However, that herder then took it upon themselves to pass it on once again, to another Worthy Person, and so it is that the Pink Badge of Worthiness came into being.
Or something along those lines anyway. The badge maker at Reindeer House was a very good investment of ours, many years back, and has churned out thousands of the things over the years for kids visiting the Paddocks and having a go at a quiz (we use different quizzes through the year and not all have a badge to make on them, before you get your knickers in a knot about why your family didn’t get the option of badges on a visit…). We have, of course, made plenty of badges for ourselves too, and this is how the pink badge started off – it was made from a bright pink post-it note upon which one of us had drawn a smiley face.
I can’t quite remember the full details of exactly how the tradition of passing on the badge came about, but the essence of it is exactly as I’ve written at the start of this blog. The owner of the badge can hold on to it (usually pinning it on their t-shirt/jumper) for as long as they want, and when they feel someone else has gone above and beyond the call of duty, they award them the badge. And then the next person continues, and so on. There are no real rules, no limit on how long you can have it, or how many times; the badge is an item of supreme simplicity.
As I write this the current holder is Ruth, awarded it for managing to get our ancient and decrepit Landrover into 4WD mode on a early morning reindeer retrieval mission! The badge itself is currently in it’s second incarnation, after one too many accidental trips through the washing machine; but I’m not even too sure where Pink Badge 2 came from, as it’s not the size our own badge-maker produces. We’re also not colour blind – we’re well aware that this model is not pink! But in the best tradition the name endures regardless.
At times the badge has been lost, or forgotten about, or unearthed months later on an old jumper in the back of a cupboard. Sometimes it’s just been found on the office pinboard, and no-one has appeared to know how it got there, or who was responsible. Our boss Tilly got it once, but was banned from taking it home with her as we were worried that once it disappeared into the depths of her farmhouse it would never, ever be seen again!
Fiona wishes me to point out that for the first five years she was only ever awarded it once a year, at the end of December, after organising (and surviving) the Christmas tour season, traditionally the busiest time of the year. I myself have been given it for a range of activities, most of which I can’t remember now, but the most memorable was the time I was given it for managing to not throw a printer through the office window. You may laugh, but deep down everyone reading this knows the deep-rooted and boiling fury a malfunctioning printer can incite – what does ‘general error’ even mean?! – so really I feel it was justified. I have had a hate-hate relationship with every single printer that has ever lived in the Reindeer House office.
Later that same day, however, Andi managed to extract a section of old fencing wire that had somehow become entangled around the antlers of one of our biggest breeding bulls, Kota, and this was right in the middle of the rutting season when he had morphed from a gentle giant to a raging testosterone-fueled beast. To this day I am therefore still the record-holder for the shortest ownership of the badge.
A lot of the other reasons for receival have been forgotten over the years, but have often included epic catches of ‘wilder’ reindeer, or memorable displays of herding. Olly received it last year for a stupendous and skillful effort of getting Rain and her newborn calf Jimmy into the right area of the hill enclosure after she had led Nell and myself on a merry (and ultimately unsuccessful) dance the previous day until a good two hours after we should have finished work. Then there was an interesting episode last Christmas when Sherlock got his antlers caught in the fairy lights of our Paddock shelter, and Joe spent about 45 minutes de-tangling him – again no mean feat with an enormous bull. One antler had come off already, but much to Joe’s annoyance when finally freed, Sherlock wandered out the shed, shook his head and the other promptly fell off! It’s completely normal for a bull to cast his antlers at this time of year, but 45 minutes earlier would have saved everyone a lot of hassle.
So if you visit us and notice a herder with the Pink Badge pinned to their shirt, then note that this is a Worthy Person, and should therefore be due the utmost respect. Or maybe it’s just me, and I’ve refrained from throwing another misbehaving electronic item through a window.
The spring here is extremely busy, as life at the Reindeer Centre revolves around the female reindeer and the calving season, and no day passes particularly peacefully – both for good and bad reasons. Herders scurry up and down the hill all day long, visitors arrive hopeful of seeing newborn calves, and there is almost always some sort of drama going on behind the scenes… Is that calf sucking properly? Was that reindeer looking a bit peaky this morning? Help – so-and-so has just calved and promptly turned feral… Why does that cow appear to have no calf – it was with her 5 minutes ago! There is never a day where I get to 5pm, and think ‘well, that was a boring one’.
In contrast, June is a time to draw a few breaths and take stock. In the first week of the month the cows and their calves are led out on to the mountains and they head off to free-range themselves, and then calmness finally returns to our lives. While admittedly June does sometimes feel a bit lacking in excitement after the chaos of the previous few weeks, it also brings with it a welcome lull – generally all is quiet on the reindeer front, and all is calm at the Centre itself too.
The spring tends to be a time when reindeer pick up more illnesses as ticks are more prevalent, but by the time we reach June this settles down a bit, and we have less occurrences of high temperatures and out-of-sorts reindeer. Us herders can therefore relax slightly – less worried that someone is about to expire unexpectedly. We do, of course, keep our vigilance levels as high all through the summer as through the spring, but June, July and August are undoubtedly a little calmer on the veterinary front. September brings with it a spike in ticks – and therefore illnesses – once again, but for now all is relatively quiet.
As well as the reindeer influencing our level of busy-ness very variable throughout the year, the other major factor is our visitors. Being a tourism-based business, the number of people through our doors goes up and down like a yo-yo throughout the season, with spikes coinciding with school holidays. As the saying goes we ‘make hay whilst the sun shines’, soldiering on though hectic spells with millions of people around, but it is countered by the quieter periods. Our reindeer apparently consulted a calendar in organising their yearly cycle – as spells when we are busiest with the reindeer themselves (calving in May, the rut in September/early October, Christmas tour in November) tend to coincide with school term times. How considerate of them! Until… the Christmas holidays, when everything goes out of the window and reindeer chaos and visitor chaos collide. This is one of the reasons the Reindeer Centre closes for a few weeks each January – us herders are so frazzled that we need to recuperate.
But I digress. Back to June. All kids, in the UK at least, are still at school in June so it is one of the quieter months to visit – the afternoon Hill Trips in particular this year tended to be quite small. It felt a bit like ‘old times’ back before the area – and Scotland in general – became much, much busier with tourists. I started working here in 2007 and at that point Hill Trips with a dozen or less people were completely normal but in more recent years much bigger groups have become the norm – by 2019 we were occasionally taking tours of 70 or even 80 people. In 2020 however, we put a cap on the maximum number of people to 50 in an attempt to go for quality over quantity (as in a quality tour, as opposed to quality visitors!), so now it never gets quite that crowded. But – speaking as a guide, at least – this June was wonderful. Busy morning tours but then smaller ones in the afternoon; I even did a tour with just 5 lovely visitors on one occasion. So peaceful! Plus it gave me time to catch up on all the office work that had been cast aside throughout May…