December 2022: photo blog!

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!

3rd of December – Sunny making sure Fiona and I have all our bags before heading away on Christmas tour!
3rd of December – Later that day the reindeer enjoying a nap after a parade though Aberfeldy, Sunny completely flaked out!
8th of December – Feeding the free ranging herd. Okapi is always first over and is such a poser! What a beautiful lass.
9th of December – lots of shovelling and gritting every morning!
9th of December – Juniper and Fab enjoying the snow! Mother and daughter doing super well.
9th of December -Sorbet (Brie’s calf) digging through the snow. What a cutie!
10th of December – Joe and Emily-Kate feeding the herd their breakfast.
11th of December – at the back of a Hill Trip. What perfect winter conditions!
11th of December – Harry and Zoom being all cute!
11th of December – moving the herd from the ‘Bottom Corridor’, back out to the ‘East Enclosure’ after the last visit of the day.
11th of December – Santa in our Paddocks with the handsome Berlin! (Photo by Joe).
12th of December – blue skies and no wind! A spell of amazing winter wonderland conditions!
12th of December – Beanie seeing if we have anymore food going… she lives in constant hope there’s another morsel for her!
13th of December – the Reindeer House dogs waiting outside the enclosure. 15 year old Sookie in her lovely warm coat!
16th of December – Holy Moley and the free ranging herd brought themselves into the enclosure for a free lunch!
16th of December – Mardi making sure the Reindeer House dogs are also not neglected and get a wee treat!
17th of December – the reindeer were completely unfazed by a huge T-rex looming over their pen at Landmark, Carrbridge!
17th of December – Santa leading Poirot during the event at Landmark.

Ruth

Behind the scenes of our naked calendar…

As you will probably know by now, we have put together a Naked Reindeer Herders 2023 Calendar!

The photo belonging to each month, was taken on, or very close to, that month in 2021 or 2022 so the reindeer look appropriate to the seasons throughout the calendar. Joe had the difficult job of being photographer. It really was a hard task and I think he’s done an awesome job. He had to contend with many challenges including the weather, figuring out 13 different poses, directing the reindeer, generally being around to take the pics (he’s a busy guy and works away quite a lot), and the biggest challenge of all… directing the herders who mostly try to avoid cameras, even when fully clothed.

Oh and Joe (aka “Mr September”) also had another big challenge. He had to face a rutting bull for his photo so he definitely wins the bravery award!

This wee blog shows what went on behind the scenes at two of the naked calendar photo shoots… July and our cover picture.

July: Photographer Joe, leading Harry (“Mr July”) up to the top ridge of the enclosure for his photoshoot at 7am. Olympic and Sherlock look more keen than Harry.
July: this is me (Ruth) leading the herd up on to the top ridge of the enclosure – getting them in position for Mr July’s arrival.
July: Despite getting a summer month, the weather wasn’t on Harry’s side and was very windy and cold!
July: The reindeer are in position and look great – time for action Harry!
Cover pic: Believe it or not this was actually the second time that day we attempted the photoshoot as the earlier shoot was even snowier. This was the lovely “break in the weather” we were hoping for. Can you spot the dogs!?
Cover pic: Lotti and Fiona bringing in our selected reindeer models. Okapi, Ochil and Marple were our chosen girls. They are all very bonnie and have beautiful antlers.
Cover pic: I’m not sure why Lotti is smiling. We’re about to get our kit off in a blizzard for a SECOND time that day. Yikes! Thankfully this time was successful.

If these photos have persuaded you to buy our calendar, you can preorder one here: *PREORDER* Naked Herders Charity Calendar 2023 (cairngormreindeer.co.uk)

The profits will be split between ourselves, to help with the upkeep of the herd, and the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue.

Ruth

Naming Themes

It is now officially calving season!! As I write this blog it is the last day of April, and we already have two new calves in our ranks. All the calves will be named in September, as is always the case. In fact, every Cairngorm reindeer has a name, and this follows a designated theme each year. Whilst we have not yet decided on the theme for the 2022 calves, we will often be asked about previous themes. In this blog I’ll describe previous themes. Feel free to leave your ideas for themes in our comments section.

2021: Hats (blue coloured tag) – e.g., Fez, Sombrero, Trilby.

2020: Peas, seeds & beans (grey) – Chickpea, Mushy, Sunflower.

2019: European cities & towns (brown) – Berlin, Kiruna, Florence.

2018: Detectives, inspectors & spies (orange) – Marple, Bond, Poirot.

2017: Poets & authors (hot pink) – Dr. Seuss, Kipling, Christie.

2016: Ancient civilizations (green) – Spartan, Celt, Inca.

2015: Scottish hill races (white) – Ochil, Morven, Scolty.

2014: Bays, seas & oceans (purple) – none remaining alive.

2013: Cheeses (yellow) – Brie, Camembert, Feta.

2012: The year ‘2012’ was the theme (black) – Olympic, Diamond, Torch.

2011: Games & pastimes (red) – Jenga, Scrabble, Origami.

2010: Bugs & beasties (blue) – Caterpillar, Spider, Ladybird.

2009: Cakes, puddings & desserts (pink) – Strudel, Pavlova, Hobnob.

2008: Antlered & horned animals (orange) – Moose, Gazelle, Ibex.

2007: A theme centred around all things ‘Green’ (green) – Fern, Fly.

2006: Popstars (silver) – Elvis, Enya, Lulu.

2005: Countries (yellow) – Malawi.

Three white-nosed reindeer: Beanie (2021), Dr Seuss (2017) and Spartan (2016).
Fly named in 2007’s “green things” theme – so she’s named after a greenfly!
Jester (2021), Ochil (2015), and Feta (2013).
Oatcake (2009) and Scully (from the X-Files, 2018).
Okapi and Addax – both named after other “horned or antlered animals” (2008).
Mum and daughter pair, Hobnob (2009) and Mushy (2020). Sometimes we try to be clever and match the calf’s name with his or her mum’s name. In this cash Mushy (named after mushy peas) was linked to Hobnob (the cakes and biscuits year), because hobnobs go mushy when you dip them in tea!

So, there you have it, that is a list of the naming themes (with the corresponding tag colour and some examples of reindeer names) that are currently in circulation with our reindeer. Now, when you visit again you may have a better idea of how old the reindeer you are feeding may be. Although, as you can see, some colours are repeated which can cause confusion. For example, if you see an orange tag, you may not know if this reindeer was born in 2008 or 2017. Well, each reindeer also has a number on their tag and this number corresponds to the reindeer name on our systems. It is a legal requirement to have a tag on any animal that is transported within the U.K., so we’ve made it work for us with specific colours and numbers that help us identify the reindeer if required.

Juniper (2020) showing off her grey ear-tag.

It is worth noting that we also have just under 10 male reindeer still with us that were born in Sweden between the years of 2009 and 2011 and brought to Scotland to provide new genetics for our herd. These older boys were named individually and not within a theme. Spike, Caesar, Houdini, Bovril, and Hook are some examples of these boys’ names, and they have a range of numbers and colours in their ear tags.

Bovril (photo from 2020) was used as a breeding bull here on Cairngorm for several years after being imported from Sweden in 2011. He was named by Fiona, just because she likes the name!

It is not just ‘the Swedes’ that have names that don’t fit into a theme. Occasionally we will get reindeer where a nickname from early on in their life appears to stick and stay with the reindeer. Holy Moley, our television superstar, had such an eventful initial few days to her life that one herder exclaimed ‘holy moley!’ after being informed of events (she fell down a hole in a boulder field). Svalbard is another example. He was supposed to be called Meccano to fit in with the 2011 naming theme of Games & pastimes, but that name never stuck due to him looking incredibly alike a Svalbard reindeer (small and dumpy). Hamish is a final example of being an exception to the naming rule. Hamish was born in 2010 and unfortunately wasn’t being fed by his mother. This led to him being bottle-fed by the herders for the first part of his life so that he could grow into a big, strong Scottish reindeer and as such was given a big, strong Scottish name…Hamish.

Hamish in 2019 – still a big strong reindeer and character in our herd.

Previous themes, prior to 2005, yielded some great names. We have been naming the reindeer after a theme since 1971. It has gotten to the point where a lot of the more obvious themes have been chosen by now. Some examples of previous themes are: Musical instruments & genres (2000), Colours (1999), Sweets & chocolate bars (1998), Fruits & nuts (1992), Wines & whiskies (1991), Herbs & spices (1988), Scottish islands (1987), Fish (1984), Trees (1982 & 1971), Mountains (1980), Weather (1975 & 1996), and Birds (1972). Before 1971, Mr. Utsi and Dr. Lindgren (the original owners of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd) named the male reindeer after Scottish places (e.g., Aviemore) and the female reindeer had human names (e.g., Mary).

If you have ever visited the Paddocks and Exhibition you may have noticed the timeline of naming themes, starting in 1971.

In our office we have a folder with naming theme suggestions collected throughout the years. I have just had a look through it and some of the suggested themes are: Vegetables, Ice creams & lollies, Mushrooms & toadstools, Condiments & spreads, Indian foods, Teas & coffees, Cocktails (as you can see, we enjoy our food and drink here), Disney side-kick characters, Mountain ranges, Sea creatures, Gods & goddesses, Rivers of the world, and Dances. Who knows what themes 2022 and beyond will bring? Once we decide, the theme and each reindeer name are revealed to adopters in the autumn newsletter.

Ben

Elvis – the oldest male reindeer in the herd

Elvis strutting his stuff – September 2017.

Elvis will be 16 this year, born on the 7th May 2006. His mother was Esme who was a really sweet natured female in our herd, who also lived to a grand age. Although he is a beautiful ‘Christmas reindeer’ Elvis was a real ugly duckling when he was a youngster. He’s now got old man status and is well and truly retired from any duties, but in his prime he has been out and about on our Christmas tour, greeted our many visitors on the mountain annually and won the heart of many through our adoption scheme.

Esme and Elvis as a calf.
Malawi, Wham and Elvis.
Elvis as a teenager in September 2008.

I remember taking Elvis out on tour over a number of years and he was always a great role model to the younger, less experienced reindeer. He has visited Harrods in London, towns as far south as Cornwall and of course done many other events in Scotland, England and Wales. He grew a lovely set of antlers every year and still to this day amazes us with a great set of antler annually, even at his age!

Elvis on Christmas tour in 2016.
Fiona, Eve, Oryx and Elvis, with Judi Dench!

He comes from quite a small family and there are no longer any breeding females left in his immediate family line. Okapi, his sister is just like her mum and brother by having a sweet nature and of course like most reindeer is very greedy. She spends all her time on Cairngorm, unlike Elvis who spends all of his time at our Glenlivet site either free range on the Cromdale hills over winter or down at our hill farm during the summer months. Okapi has to remain here as quite a few years ago she had an injury which meant she was unable to breed ever again, however, being so tame and friendly she is a great leader of the herd and often when we bring them in from free ranging in the mountains she helps us herders to do this by following very willingly!

Handsome Elvis – September 2011.
Okapi, Elvis’s sister, in November 2018.

Over the past year Elvis has started to look his age… and fairly so! When getting up from lying down he is that little bit stiffer than he would have been a couple of year ago. The stiffness doesn’t last for too long but I’m sure many of you can relate to this when getting out of bed in the morning. We have put him up onto the Cromdale Hills again for the winter season with the rest of the herd and will catch up with them a few times throughout the week for a feed and check over. Elvis, a few times now, hasn’t shown up immediately when the herd call down off the top ridge, however, him and Bovril (another old boy in the herd) eventually come wandering down at their own pace so we’ve learnt to save a bit back now so the other greedy reindeer don’t eat it all!

Elvis free-ranging on the Cromdales – January 2022.

It will be a sad day when we don’t have Elvis around anymore but he has been a great ambassador to the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd and I’ve known him from my late teens and right through my 20’s and 30’s so he will be a reindeer that I will chat about in years to come so his spirit will definitely live on!

Fiona

Elvis

Elvis is now 15 years old and our oldest male reindeer in the herd so it’s about time he gets some recognition. As a youngster he was a real ugly duckling. In fact I remember when we had a visit from some Sami (indigenous reindeer herders of Scandinavia) people back in 2007, they pointed at Elvis and said he was ‘bad stock’. His winter coat was very scruffy/mottled and being a teenager at the time he was tall and lanky so probably didn’t look like he was in good condition.

From L to R: Malawi (now our oldest reindeer in the whole herd at 16), Wham and Elvis

Boy did he prove them wrong as he went on to become a big and beautiful reindeer putting on good condition and growing lovely big antlers annually. For about 7-8 years he was one of our trusty go to Christmas reindeer during our Christmas tour in November and December each year. He visited the likes of Harrods in London taking part in their Christmas parade, Windsor Castle, even just our local schools and nurseries. He was always such a good role model to the younger, less experienced reindeer so us herders loved having him in our team. With such an iconic name he was popular with our visitors and the public on Christmas parades.

Two year old Elvis (in 2008) in our hill enclosure
Handsome Elvis in 2011
Elvis in September 2015, now an old pro on Christmas tour!

His mum, Esme, was a very lovely reindeer. She lived to a grand age and was always one of the first down for an easy feed when us herders were up on the mountain. His sister, Okapi, is still with us and she is 13 years old. He’s not from a very big family and Okapi doesn’t breed anymore so they are the last two in that line.

Mum Esme and Elvis, as a calf

Elvis is well and truly retired now, and quite rightly so. He spends his winters with the herd free range on the Cromdale Hills where the lichen heath is fantastic. Come spring he is at our hill farm near Glenlivet where they go out to the hill each night and have access to a food filled shed during the day… life is pretty good for a farm reindeer! Recently he came over here to the Reindeer Centre to spend time in our paddock area for a few days while an adopter was visiting but at his age I’m sure he doesn’t want to spend too long in there so we were quick to put him back to the farm. He’s been there, done that. There is no need for him to perform to the crowds anymore, he can leave that to the younger reindeer.

Elvis looking fantatsic in September 2017

So we don’t know how much longer Elvis will be with us but his condition and antler growth this year is no different to the last few years. He can be a bit slower in the mornings, or a bit stiff when he gets up from lying down but that’s just like me and I’m only 34! For now though we will keep giving him extra lichen treats and keep him alongside the rest of the herd where he is happiest.

Fiona

Pedicures for reindeer

Hooves are important – got to keep them clean!

A common question we’re asked, usually after spending some time with the reindeer and noticing their beautiful big feet, is whether we need to trim their hooves. Reindeer are endowed with large feet with four toes to each hoof: two main weight bearing toes which do most of the work, plus two smaller and higher up toes which only touch the ground when on soft surfaces (snow or bog), when they spread out like a large snow shoe and mean reindeer can traverse snow drifts a lot easier than humans.

Okapi showing off how well her hooves serve her on snow.

Reindeer find snow way easier than us humans.

Fly says “It’s snow problem!”

In general our answer is no, we don’t have to routinely trim the hooves of our reindeer. Just like our own nails, the hard outer hoof continues growing constantly throughout their lives, but as they are roaming fair distances each day over rough, rocky and stony mountainous ground, the amount of wear tends to balance this out and means their toes stay nice and neat. Of course there is no one out trimming the hooves of wild caribou and other deer, who get through their entire lives with perfectly shaped hooves, and as our herd are in the correct habitat with plenty of movement, they are usually fine without intervention.

Wapiti grazing on short vegetation with gravel and rocks beneath it.

Spending much of their time on hard ground like this wears hooves down correctly.

Oatcake has beautiful feet!

However, there is always the exception to the rule. There are perhaps three reasons why we sometimes do need to dust off the hoof trimmers. First up is that we’re found our pure white reindeer (step forward Blondie and Matto in particular) have hooves that, for whatever reason, seem to grow faster than those of their darker coloured compatriots. Once or twice a year we’ll decide they are a little lengthy and have a trim to keep everything in place. Over-long hooves can cause all kinds of problems, especially putting pressure on their joints as their foot cannot sit correctly, so everything becomes misaligned. There’s an old saying “No foot, no horse”, and it applies equally to reindeer – without happy feet they can’t lead a happy life.

On white hooves you can see through to the bony structure of the foot beneath, and the hoof appears pink as you can see through to where the blood vessels are.

Matto joined our herd from Sweden, but despite not getting handled until he was a bit older he is an absolute star when we need to trim his feet. He’s busy moulting in this photo so looks a bit scruffy!

This hoof needs a wee trim…

Blondie barely needs a halter while her feet are trimmed as long as there’s a bag of feed. Olympic can’t believe that she is getting breakfast before him – the weariness has left him without strength to even hold up his head…

The second reason is if a reindeer has an injury or abnormality meaning a toe or whole hoof doesn’t receive the same amount of wear. Jute has one hoof which tends to grow a bit differently to normal, curving inwards instead of straight, which then prevents the edge wearing down in the usual manner. It’s no problem at all to him as long as we keep an eye on it and trim it as needed, but if we didn’t it could cause him difficulty walking as it grew.

And the third reason, embarrassingly, is pure laziness. This is where I’m going to point the finger squarely at some of our middle-aged males, the ones who can’t always be bothered to head off and graze as a real reindeer should, but who would much rather just lie waiting at the gate for their next meal to be served (Hamish, I’m looking at you). The straightforward reason that their hooves are too long is that they haven’t done anywhere near enough exercise to wear them down in balance with the rate that they’re growing. Perhaps we need to start a fitness club?! Funnily enough, there’s not a single female reindeer who falls into this category…

Hamish’s feet in his younger days (aged 4) when they were neat and pristine. Alas, in the last year or two laziness has caught up with him and they have a tendency to grow a little longer than this now…

Thankfully, trimming the hooves of our reindeer is stress free. Every single reindeer in our herd is halter-trained as a calf and is well used to being around humans. That means that if we spot their hooves need some TLC we simply catch them, pop a headcollar on, and whilst one herder occupies them with a bucket of tasty treats, another herder gets to work with a pair of snips to cut back the hard outer hoof. There is no feeling in this section of the foot so no discomfort is caused, and despite the fact that we never work at teaching reindeer to have their feet lifted like you would with a horse, they very quickly cotton on to the fact that nothing bad is happening and just let you get on with it. We never need to use tranquillisers in order to trim hooves, or hold the reindeer in place by force.

Hamish (mid-moult) contenting himself with a snack in the trough while I deal with his hooves. You may note that the lead rope has been abandoned entirely in order for the photograph to be taken!

Perfecting the crouch – balance their knee – trim action

My personal favourite technique is to crouch by a front leg, rest their knee on my knee, which leaves me two hands free to trim their hoof! Sometimes two hands are needed to cut through the tough hoof, especially on the old boys (hey, Elvis!) who have real “old man toenails”!

Sometimes two hands are needed!

We’re pretty proud of how good our reindeer are at standing to have their hooves trimmed.

Andi

Winter free range days

From January to May, our whole herd are out roaming free on the mountains, enjoying the wintry weather that they’re so well-equipped for. Whilst it can be ridiculously wild at times, on other days it is completely still, with glorious sunshine. I thought it would be nice to put up a selection of photos from the last month or two to give you a taste of our winter days…

Oslo leading the herd over for breakfast.

Glorious views out over Aviemore on a beautiful day.

Camus, Sika, Brie and Bordeaux. Sika’s not sure about what she just ate!

Origami and the herd on an icy morning.

Ochil wondering if the food is ready yet

Okapi has cast the main uprights of her antlers, leaving her looking a bit like a unicorn!

Spider has found a nice pool for an after dinner drink.

Santana sporting one of her antlers.

Handsome Rubiks posing!

Pavlova is easily recognised with her white tuft of hair on her forehead.

Parmesan with her white face marking, and old lass Fonn in the background.

Olympic is always one of the first to see us.

LX on a grey day…

… and again on a blue sky day!

Fonn is the oldest reindeer in the herd, at nearly 17 years old.

Ryvita and her calf Berlin.

Beautiful Dixie.

Dixie, Fly and Lulu, stalwarts of the herd.

Young Dante.

Camembert, what a star!

Brie, Inca and Meadow.

We always give the calves some preferential feeding out of the bags – it keeps their condition up and keeps them tame – here’s Bordeaux, Florence, Athens and Texel enjoying a snack.

Blyton and Camembert.

Baffin.

Angua and mum Tap. Both are quite shy reindeer but we’ve put lots of effort into feeding them extra feed each day and their confidence has come on in leaps and bounds.

Hen, Lotti and Dave – feeding mission completed!

Happy reindeer eating their feed.

Celt on a windy day.

Little Kiruna.

Andi

Memorable Reindeer: Esme

I’ve been well aware over the last couple of weeks that it’s definitely my turn to write a blog, and my justifications of going away on holiday, then having to catch up on work, and reorder stock for the shop, and organise the new adopt gifts, and… have started sounding a little too like excuses. Hen started a lovely series about memorable reindeer, and I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon.

Young Esme as a calf

In my first calving season, 2012, Esme was one of the pregnant females who was in the enclosure so we could keep an eye on her when she calved. Being a novice to the world of reindeer midwifery, I would walk out with a more experienced herder and learn the correct way to approach a new mum, how to check over the calf, and how to bring them back in to the herd.

As we neared the end of May, only one female was left to calve – Esme. She was the sweetest of reindeer – calm, docile, and an experienced mum. She was also beautiful, with a silvery sheen to her coat. So when the day came that Esme had left the herd to calve, we spied her with binoculars up on Silver Mount, and Fiona asked if I wanted the honour of going to find her and her new calf. I was apprehensive – What if I didn’t get it right? Or if she wouldn’t let me approach? – but still jumped at the chance. Hiking up from Black Loch onto Silver Mount, the “baby bag” with the essentials on my back, I still remember feeling the nervous anticipation. I needn’t have worried – as I came over the ridge and saw Esme, she looked up calmly and took a couple of steps towards me (well, the bag of food). I scanned around – had she calved yet? – before spotting the tiny bundle of new life at her feet.

I can’t claim to have done everything in a smooth polished fashion, but Esme was the most patient lass ever, standing whilst I fumbled with the headcollar, not quite having the right technique for holding her calf whilst I sprayed his navel, and talking myself through what to do (out loud!). Finally, we were ready, and we proceeded down the hill and back to the “nursery” area of the enclosure. She must have been rolling her eyes at my inadequacy, and I’m fairly sure she did actually yawn a couple of times!

Over the following years, Esme remained one of my favourite females – she was always a friendly face in the herd, dependable and happy to follow a bag of feed to wherever you wanted her to go, and easy to catch if you needed to put a headcollar on her. As she aged, she struggled a little at times to maintain her condition, and we’d slip her extra bits of feed, allowing her to join in when we fed the calves out of the bag. Throughout, she was never pushy, always waiting to be invited, though once her head was in a feed bag it was almost impossible to remove it!

Esme in her prime

Reindeer, like people, age at different rates, and whilst some of our charges still look in their prime at 13 or 14 years old, by the time Esme was 11 she certainly looked like an old girl. She was also spending more time alone, away from the herd, which isn’t uncommon for the older females – they have the confidence to enjoy their own company, and can sometimes be pushed out by the younger, stronger reindeer. In the 2014/15 winter, Esme was often away from the herd for weeks at a time, off doing her own thing, and there was a memorable day when we spied for the reindeer and saw one lone female marching across the Ciste flats towards the car park. Aware that the rest of the herd were a good distance away in the next glen, we peered through the binoculars trying to work out who it was, finally realising it was Esme!

She seemed delighted to see us, and, wondering if she was looking for the herd, thought we should join her up with them. Whilst we could have hiked over the ridge with her on a headcollar to reunite her with the herd, we wondered if we could save both her energy and ours (of course we were thinking about the fact that she’s an OAP rather than our own tiredness level…) and hop her into the back of the van…

Reindeer in the van
Supervising Esme in the van

Once we’d popped the back seats down to give her some more room, she gave no objections to following us into the van. She must have thought it was a definite upgrade on the usual trailer, with a much better view, and being allowed to munch her way through a bag of feed enroute was also an added bonus! A short 5-minute drive and it was time to emerge at the other car park nearer the herd. There was a car pulled up with a few people admiring the view, and the last thing they must have expected was for a reindeer to hop out of a van! Esme didn’t bat an eyelid at the whole experience, and was quickly reunited with the herd.

Enjoying the snow in her last winter

Esme had a good summer that year high on the Cairngorm free range, but when the females started coming down to lower ground in autumn, she was clearly feeling her years. We moved her over to our Glenlivet hill farm, where she could have access to the large straw-filled barn and ad-lib food in the day, with a gentle stroll onto the hill at night, and she settled right in – she was a funny sight – a little old lady amongst all of the big chunky castrates. She also completely won over the hearts of the men at the farm!

One evening, they went to move out the reindeer onto the open hill for the night, and for the first time, Esme didn’t want to go. With no wish to force her, they let her stay in the shed, and slipped her an extra bucket of lichen. In the morning, she had passed away in her sleep, peacefully tucked up in the straw.

Esme with her yearling daughter Okapi, a proper mini-me

It’s always galling when animals die, but I can’t think of a better end for one of the gentlest reindeer I’ve known. Esme’s family members are still in the herd – her daughter Okapi is a slightly less polite version of her, son Elvis is a dependable but enthusiastic fellow, and sister Sambar is a sweet lass who keeps to herself. All of them share the similar silvery coat colouring, and remind me each time I see them of lovely Esme.

Andi

A Jolly January!

As many of you know we close for 4-5 weeks between the school holidays in January / February. This year some of my colleagues had lots of exciting places to go lined up – Thailand, Namibia, New Zealand, Wales and for me just bonny Scotland! Myself, Hen and Andi were the (hard) core staff over this period and a few others roped in on the odd day to help feed the reindeer. Carrying 6 buckets of feed out on your own is impossible so Tilly, Alex, Olly, Andy and Sheena were around to help out as well.

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Olly and I leading the reindeer out of the mountain enclosure for the winter. Tiree, my collie, adding another skill to reindeer dogs by carrying a wee bit of reindeer food to help lighten my load.

Once we are closed we don’t use our mountain enclosure so Olly and I had the pleasure of taking the reindeer out onto the free range once we had shut up shop! We were seeing them pretty much everyday giving them a good feed to manage where they were during this time. They would move around a fair bit but never said no to a tasty bag of feed when we called them. With only the odd small dump of snow this was pretty easy to access the hills which meant we had some lovely walks out to find and feed the reindeer. On these walks out we could take the dogs, as long as they were well behaved! I was dog sitting for friends on holiday in New Zealand so Frankie was a new addition to being a ‘reindeer dog’ and she took to it very well. Our dogs are trained to sit and stay wherever we ask them for the duration we are off in the distance feeding the reindeer but Frankie had to be tethered, she wasn’t quite as savvy yet but she waited patiently. For ten days I was on my own with help from a crew of folk to carry feed onto the hill for me. Turns out with her paniers on Tiree (my collie) can also carry a wee bit of food… every little helps! It’s quite weird being the only one in work… extra tea breaks! Don’t tell the boss 😉

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Tiree and Frankie waiting while we go off to feed the reindeer (top left). Fiona leading Okapi with an improvised head collar (top right). Tiree and Sookie doing office work with me (bottom left). Three of the oldest girls in the her – Tambourine (17 years old), Tuppence (16) and Lilac (18).

On one occasion, it was actually a day off, we (myself, Tilly, Olly and Holly) went for a morning run up onto Cairngorm as it was such a lovely day. We took our pack of hounds and needless to say they had an absolute ball. On route we spotted a wee group of reindeer we hadn’t seen in a week or so, so Tilly and Holly carried on back to the car with all the dogs, being as reindeer and dogs don’t mix, while Olly and I went to see which ones they were and see if we could persuade them to follow us down, knowing we had no reindeer related useful items to catch or lure them with. We called them over and they came straight away, no questions asked. As they got closer they were a bit confused to begin with as we weren’t in the same reindeer herding attire they are used to, however we certainly sounded like reindeer herders so good old Okapi was first up to sus us out. All I had to pretend it was reindeer food was an empty packet of Haribo (of course it was empty) so I rustled it around, pretending it was reindeer food and low and behold she fell for it. So now I’m in the position to put a head collar on her… only problem was we didn’t have a head collar. So Olly whipped off his belt, I rolled up my jacket and she wore the belt like a collar and my jacket acted as a lead rope. It worked a treat and she followed like a lamb. The others followed too so we brought them a bit closer to home where Andi then met us with some actual reindeer food, not Haribo!

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Feeding the herd on a beautiful sunny day with the northern corries in the background (top left). Moskki, Tiree and Murdoch enjoying their mountain runs (top right). Fiona with Moskki in a rucksack as Moskki tries to have a lick of an antler while still attached to the reindeer’s head (bottom left). Hill running with the hounds (bottom right).

So we are back in business here at the Reindeer Centre. Shop and paddocks are open and we are doing our daily guided tour up to see the herd on the hill. The chosen reindeer to spend a couple of weeks in the paddocks are Sambar, Hopper, Hobnob, Jenga, Israel and Inca. They’ll be back on the hill once schools go back. Everyday we wander out to locate the herd and with our lack of snow at the moment that is very easy indeed.

Fiona

Memorable reindeer: Amber

Amber was one of the very first reindeer I remember meeting when I arrived back in 2007. At that time she was in the hill enclosure with her 6-month-old son, Go. Both were very tame and friendly, and with her distinctive curved antlers, I found her easy to recognise amongst the sea of reindeer I was frantically trying to tell apart. Amber was also incredibly pretty, with a delicate, dished face and a gentle expression.

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Amber in 2007 with her awesome antlers

Born in 1999, Amber was the final calf from her mum Trout. Trout and her compatriot, Tuna, lived to the grand old age of 18, which as far as I know is the record for any reindeer in our herd (Editor’s note: Lilac now holds this record, surviving to age 19 in 2018). No prizes for guessing the naming theme for their year of birth (1984)! Unlike Trout, who has 11 calves to her name on the family tree, Amber never proved to be such a successful breeding female, with her only offspring being Esme, Oasis, Go and Sambar, or at least those are the only ones that survived long enough to be named (we usually lose a calf or two each year in the summer months when they are very young and vulnerable). Esme managed a better job of breeding than her mum, with 7 calves to her name.

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Amber in 2009

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Amber looking out over the hills towards Meall a Bhuachaille

Amber was one of those lovely, gentle reindeer, but a fairly dominant character in the herd – a matriarch, if you will. She was a great reindeer to have around in the winter months when the herd all free-range completely as she so was easy to catch, and therefore an ideal candidate to be put on a halter and used as the ‘lead’ reindeer when needing to move the herd from place to place. I remember Fiona once leading her all the way from Eagle Rock back to near the Ciste carpark (where we were going to take the tour to that day) with her belt looped loosely around Amber’s neck, in place of a halter which we had managed to forget to take with us.

The continuation of Trout’s branch of the family tree now rests squarely upon the shoulders of Amber’s last calf Sambar, who is the sole remaining female in Trout’s descendants, other than Esme’s daughter Okapi. Unfortunately we don’t want to risk breeding from Okapi as she has had a prolapsed uterus a couple of times, so we think it’s better to not risk the chance of this happening again. We want it to stay firmly where it belongs! So Sambar has a lot of expectation on her, and is a lovely reindeer to boot, although a wee bit shyer than Amber was.

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Esme in 2009, with yearling Okapi

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Amber with Sambar on the left, in 2008

Amber herself passed away at some point in 2013, although we never knew exactly when as she just didn’t return from the summer grazing range in the autumn. She was over 14 by this point, so a very respectable age for any reindeer, and we are glad she finished her days out on the hills roaming freely.

Hen

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