On the last Friday of each month throughout 2023 I have shared photos that I’ve taken on my phone to hopefully give everyone an idea of the goings on at the Reindeer Centre. What a complete mix bag of photos this is to finish the year off! December has seen me up and down the A9 and dotting around locally with beautiful teams of reindeer for lots of Christmas events. I’ve done the odd day at the Centre too catching up with the goings on here, with just enough office time to put together this blog. My wonderful colleagues have also been ridiculously busy on events and at the Centre keeping everything going. Getting through gazillions of adoptions packs, leading fully booked Hill Trips and of course Christmas Fun in the Paddocks. This selection of photos doesn’t really do December justice, but it’s a snap shot of what I’ve been up to at least.
I was over at the hill farm recently helping to feed our bulls and was pleased to see how good yearling Zoom was looking. And that reminded me that I’d promised Ruth I would write a blog telling the story of when we found him last year.
Zoom was born on the 8th May 2022 to mum Angua, one of the shier members of the herd. He had white face markings, like dad Spartan, and in fact was almost identical to full sister Chickpea. After a couple of weeks bonding with Angua in the enclosure, the pair of them headed to the high tops of the mountains for summer.
We get out as often as possible over the warmer months to check on the cows and calves, but inevitably the weather and other factors sometimes get in the way of this, and as the reindeer move around a lot too we can go for weeks or months without seeing a particular individual. I saw Angua and her calf high on the mountains in mid-July – both looking very scruffy as they were moulting out their winter coat, but otherwise looking grand.
As the autumn came round, cows and calves started returning to the hill enclosure, and we went out to different areas too to fetch back some who had wandered too far. Whilst we don’t worry too much about not seeing a reindeer for a few months, by late September, the main stand out reindeer we hadn’t seen were Angua, her calf (now newly christened Zoom) and also her 2-year-old daughter Chickpea.
October rolled round and we were rushed off our feet preparing for the Adopter’s Weekend, celebrating our 70th anniversary. Typically, it was on the Friday, the day before the weekend, when we received a phone call from a hill walker, Richard, letting us know that his group had met a lone reindeer, and it had started following them. Reindeer are a herd animal so it is unusual to find one alone, and as we knew there were very few out on the mountains, Lotti and I scrambled to head out and try to catch them. We loaded up two of our steady Christmas reindeer, Olympic and Clouseau, from the Paddocks and drove the 35 minutes or so to the walkers’ car park nearest to Richard’s location. He called to update us that he had been up near the summit but had turned round to escort the reindeer back down to meet us – “Please hurry!”.
Olympic and Clouseau were delighted to be out on an adventure and we hurriedly popped their headcollars on, unloaded them and set off up the path through the forest. As we walked we debated which reindeer it could be. Richard hadn’t been able to spot an eartag, which suggested it may be a calf, but a calf was unlikely to have had enough exposure to humans to choose to follow one… We wondered how we would go about catching them too. The idea behind bringing along two tame lads was that even a shy reindeer was likely to want to come up and join other reindeer if alone, and this would hopefully give us a chance to get hold of them – sometimes this involves reaching beneath the tame reindeer’s belly to get hold of a leg, then holding on until your colleague can pop on a headcollar – not the way we’d prefer to do things but sometimes the only option. But if the lone reindeer was very wild it would be hard to get that close…
Much sooner than anticipated, we spied movement ahead, and all of our assumptions were blown out of the water. Not only was the lone reindeer in question indeed a calf, Richard was hurrying down the path literally with his arm over their neck, hand gently guiding on their shoulder. For a species that tends not to like contact, and for a calf that was basically unhandled, this was incredible! No need to worry about how we were going to catch them! We could immediately see from the white face markings and size that this was Angua’s calf, Zoom – rather scrawny and a little underweight, but otherwise looking healthy. It was a simple matter to pop a headcollar on Zoom (for the first time in his life) and after thanking Richard profusely, we headed our separate ways – us back down the track with our extra reindeer, and Richard back up the mountain.
Reindeer usually protest a little the first time they are on a headcollar, but wee Zoom just seemed relieved to have found some friends, and Lotti & I had an easy walk back to the truck, still both astounded at the turn of circumstance. We arrived back at the Centre before the end of the day and Zoom quickly looked at home. Any adopters who visited us that weekend might have seen him, already friendly and confident. He buddied up with Sunny, who had been orphaned and hand-reared, and was often closely following Clouseau, latching onto him perhaps because he was the first reindeer he’d seen after being all alone. We joked about how Clouseau had got a calf of his own (despite being a castrate!).
Sadly we never saw Angua again, and the probable explanation is that she must have died at some point in the autumn, leaving poor Zoom to wander on his own. But animals are resourceful and he did exactly the right thing – putting his trust in the right kind human – thankfully Richard was good enough to get in touch with us and go out of his way to get Zoom down – we still talk of the special “Richard Ruffle” that he used to guide Zoom at his side.
The other good news was that Zoom’s sister Chickpea made it home too, though it wasn’t for several months. There was the occasional report, and even a photo of her, at the far extent of the reindeer range, but every time we went out searching, there was no sign. Then in February, when we called in the free-ranging herd for breakfast, there she was – she’d found her own way back. She had clearly been unwell at some point – her coat was scruffy and she’d already cast her antlers – but she was otherwise her normal cheeky self.
2023 has been a much better year for both of them, and Zoom and Chickpea are looking fantastic.
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.
June has whizzed by in a cloud of reindeer hair – it’s definitely scruffy reindeer month! Not their most photogenic season but a wonderful time of year nonetheless. After a couple of days off the antlers have noticeably grown – even after six years of working with the herd, I still find it amazing just how quickly it all happens.
The last batch of cows and calves left the enclosure on the 5th and we’ve brought more male reindeer over from the farm to increase our number here to keep our visitors happy on Hill Trips. It’s also the time of year we start harness training – both the reindeer and the herders! It’s a fun way to spend the morning. Another lovely way of spending a morning is walking our two hand-reared calves, Alba and Winnie. This month we have started taking them on daily walks allowing them access to good grazing meanwhile getting all-important exercise.
Lastly, I can’t write a blog post about June 2023 without mentioning the loss of our old reindeer herding collie, Sookie. A very sad time at Reindeer House, but what an amazing life she had and I feel grateful to be part of it. She’ll be missed.
Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.
I was up volunteering with the herd at the beginning of October for 12 days last year. It was really great fun as always.
I got to meet Sunny the hand-reared reindeer calf. He was born in May and his mum Rain had died when he was 6 days old. He was 5 months old when I met him in the kitchen at Reindeer House. He slept down at the Reindeer Centre in the Paddocks with the other reindeer at night and in the daytime he went up to the hill enclosure to spend the day with the reindeer in there. His mode of transport was mainly in the back of the reindeer van where there was some food for him to eat. Sometimes Sunny travelled up with the dogs in the morning. He had 3 bottles of warm goat milk a day; one was first thing in the morning, one was on the 11am hill trip and the 3rd one was either on the afternoon hill trip or when he got back down to the Reindeer Centre for the night.
When we walked him to the hill enclosure and down to the carpark, it was funny to see the hill walkers surprised faces. Some wanted to stop and chat to us too. At the end of the afternoon Hill Trip, Sunny would be often found waiting at the gate waiting to come off the hill knowing he was going to go back down to the Paddocks for the night. One time when Sunny came back to the Reindeer Centre, he was in the outdoor area where the reindeer feed and hand feed are kept and he kept trying to get to it so I had to guard the feed whilst his milk was being made for him. Lol. One day on a Hill Trip, Sunny was so chilled out and lay down. He let people sit down next to him and have photos with him. On my second to last day the decision that Sunny was old enough to stay with the rest of the reindeer in the hill enclosure was made. That day, we found him as usual after the afternoon visit waiting at the gate to come off the hill and it was so hard leaving him up there. When we walked away he looked at us and started walking up and down by the gate and fence grunting wondering why we were going without him. He however did very well spending the first night up in the hill enclosure and got used to spending his nights up there.
The Calf Found On It’s Own
One day, a man phoned up The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre saying there was a reindeer calf who was on its own and was following him whilst he was out walking in a nearby area. Andi and Lotti took Clouseau and Olympic to the man’s location to see if they could catch the calf. They managed to catch him and identify him as Zoom. Zoom’s mum was nowhere to be seen and they hadn’t seen her for while. They took Clouseau, Olympic and Zoom back to the Reindeer Centre and put them in the Paddocks. Lotti and I took Zoom on his first ever walk with Clouseau and Athens with Zoom in the middle of the 2 older reindeer to make a “calf sandwich.” The older reindeer are good role models for the calves and they make the calves feel calm. Also reindeer love to stay as a group as they are a herd animal. We walked to Glenmore Visitor Centre and back to the Reindeer Centre. We had to wait for a bin lorry but the reindeer were all really good and waited patiently. Over the next few days, Zoom got attached to Clouseau and followed him around lots even when they went into the hill enclosure. In the hill enclosure Zoom got confident and was feeding out of the feed bag and hung around with us herders and the visitors.
The Special 70th Adopters Weekend
Whilst I was up, it was the special 70th Adopters Weekend where the reindeer herd was celebrating 70 years of the reindeer being in Scotland. The Saturday was based at the Reindeer Centre in the day and at Glenmore Lodge in the evening and the Sunday was based at Tilly’s farm in the day. Lots of reindeer adopters from all over came to this special weekend.
On the Saturday people could go on the hill to see the reindeer. There were 2 Hill Trips and an ‘open hill’. The open hill trip is where people could make their way up to the reindeer on their own to spend time with their reindeer. I helped on the open hill trip based in the hill enclosure with the reindeer welcoming adopters and talking to them. There were sleigh training sessions throughout the day and I helped out with one with reindeer Dr Seuss, Spider, Clouseau and Rubiks. I wore a reindeer herders’ Christmas jumper and we stopped halfway, whilst on route, and the adopters got to sit in the sleigh for a photo. I got to sit in the sleigh with my mum for a photo and also had a photo with me at the front of the sleigh and mum at the back of the sleigh. Near the end, I got to lead the sleigh pulled by 2 reindeer with 2 reindeer at the back which was very exciting.
There were activities people could do down at the centre. There was guess the weight of Sunny the reindeer calf, a silent auction for Holy Moley’s antler, lasso a reindeer’s antlers, make their own reindeer adopters badge and a memory board where adopters could write down their memories or put photos on. There was also tea, coffee, cake and biscuits and a Cairngorm Gin stall. People could walk to Utsi’s hut in their own time and explore it.
At the end, we tidied things away and put things in Tilly’s van ready for the Tilly’s farm the next day. On the Saturday evening, Tilly did a reindeer talk at Glenmore Lodge. She did 2 sittings. There was a 5:30pm one and a 6:30pm one. Tilly did a very good talk with lots of lovely photos and a lovely video.
On Sunday, Fiona and Lotti and me took Spider, Olympic, Anster, Rubiks and Sunny to Tilly’s farm. Tiree and Fraoch the dogs travelled with us in Brenda the lorry cab. We stopped off near some woods near Tilly’s farm to get some lichen lollipops (sticks covered in lichen) in the woods so the adopters could give the reindeer some at Tilly’s farm. We put Spider, Olympic, Anster, Rubiks and Sunny with the rest of the older male reindeer in Tilly’s garden at her farm. Adopters could walk amongst the reindeer and give them the lichen lollipops.
Tilly did farm walks around her farm for the adopters to see the Soay sheep, the pigs, the Belted Galloway cows, the 2 hand-reared Belted Galloway calves, the Red deer and her other animals. The walks ended going into an enclosure to see the young reindeer bulls where people could walk amongst them. There was a BBQ, some handmade soup, tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. Whilst setting up, I had to guard the cake and biscuits from the chickens who were roaming around, lol. There were also some items from The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre shop in a gazebo. There were some activities from the Saturday too. At the end the day, we started putting the reindeer from Tilly’s garden to a big barn. I led Olympic and Hamish. Sunny and some other reindeer went back to the Reindeer Centre in Brenda. Moskki, one of Tilly’s dogs jumped onto Tilly’s quad bike and looked like she was driving it.
Free-range Reindeer Turn Up
One of the days when we got to the hill enclosure gate for the afternoon Hill Trip visitors, a group of 20 reindeer who had been free-ranging on the mountain were waiting by the gate. Cameron and I continued with the visit whilst Sheena, Shona and Stuart led them into the hill enclosure through another gate so they could check on them. A calf was running back and forth along the fence as it had to get use to going through a gate, eventually it got through. In the group was Morven and her calf called Mochi which was amazing because a few weeks before, Morven had turned up without Mochi. She still had an udder so the herders knew she still must have her calf so they sent her away to go and find her calf. Hey Presto, Morven had found her calf came back together so we were all very happy. What amazing mums they are. Andi and Lotti came up to check on the group of free-range reindeer and put 10 reindeer back out onto the free-range and keeping 10, including Morven and her calf Mochi, in the hill enclosure.
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.
This week’s blog is written by Candice, one of our long standing adopters, who has become something of a obsessed follower over the years! We regularly tell her she’s mad…
My interest (or rather obsession!) with reindeer started in the early 90’s when holidaying with my parents, I was 11 and animal mad (I’m now 40 and still as besotted). So, one visit to see these wonderful creatures and I was hooked! I started adopting reindeer in 1995 and have now just signed up to my 26th year of supporting the scheme. Being from Kent, my visits only occurred 3 -4 times a year but no holiday was complete without a Hill Trip!
As the years went on and life progressed with exams, new jobs and house moves reindeer were never far from my thoughts, and relocation in 2004 resulted in me being only 80 miles from the herd instead of 580…RESULT! I was able to visit much more frequently and became a familiar face at Reindeer House, even though I know they all think I’m completely bonkers (Editor’s note: you’ll not find us arguing 😉 ) ! In 2008 I married Cameron and managed somehow to keep the reindeer obsession to a minimum until he’d signed on the dotted line, but of course we HAD to visit the reindeer on our honeymoon and then the extent of my addiction came to light!
In 2009 our daughter Pandra was born and our visits continued so inevitably she fell head over heels in love with the furry critters. At the age of 3 she took part in a series for CBeebies “Time for School” and for the Christmas episode the reindeer visited her school, Pandra proudly walked a little white calf on a lead rope into the playground in front of the cameras and the whole school. What we hadn’t realised that this was the making of a beautiful “friendship” between her and Blue, this pure white cutie. Three years later we were approached again by CBeebies to film more footage but this time in their natural environment of the Cairngorms for a programme called “The Let’s go Club”. Again it was the Christmas special and we spent a whole day filming out in the hills. By this time Pandra had a little brother, Oakley, who of course has HAD to love reindeer, luckily he does.
Oakley made his first visit to the herd at 2.5 weeks old and at 9 months refused to be carried on the Hill Trip and crawled all the way! Making frequent visits, we visit every month, and being an active contributor to the social media platform you start recognising like-minded people and friendships form, sometimes you even stumble on each other on a Hill Trip, and you hear that terrifying phrase…”Oh so you’re Candice”….cringe!!! Mind you with reindeer vinyls plastered up the side of my car, I’m not easily missed! So, I decided to create a group where we reindeer enthusiasts (that’s the posh name!) can share pictures, stories and everything reindeer. We call ourselves the Reindeer Groupies and are all as mad as a box of frogs!
The group is 20+ strong and we meet up in smaller groups throughout the year either on the Hill Trip or with Tilly at her farm near Tomintoul (the second site for the reindeer herd) but we always try and have a large ‘Groupie Meet’ in October. This wonderful group of people from all over the UK, Holland and Denmark has all come about because of reindeer, of course Reindeer House think we’re all crazy but saying that on one of our October “get-togethers” Dave (reindeer herder) arrived for our private Hill Trip dressed as a reindeer so I’m not sure they have a leg to stand on!
At Christmas the reindeer usually visit town centres around the UK spreading Christmas cheer, of course the Groupies are always there (not all together!) lending a hand, chatting to the public and educating people about these superb creatures. Every November/December in ‘normal years’ I travel over 2,000 miles to various reindeer events which I have done for many years, I’m very lucky to be able to and even luckier to be trusted to do so. It is a great privilege to have had reindeer in my life for this long and I’m even luckier to have found a group of like-minded (even if slightly crazy) group of people that I can call lifelong friends! Long live the Groupies!
Other than the few reindeer still out free-ranging who I haven’t seen lately, I’ve otherwise managed to get nice ‘adopt’ photos of everyone in the herd in the last few weeks. These photos are to go on the certificates that go out to all the lovely people who support us by adopting a reindeer, and as autumn is when reindeer look at their best, it is therefore when I take all the photos.
I realise (after sitting down to write this) that I’ve actually written a blog about photos before (to be fair, that was 5 years ago and I have a rubbish memory at times…) but hey, what’s wrong with repetition?! But actually I thought I’d just show you some of the ‘outtake’ photos, ‘cos everyone likes to see photos of reindeer looking daft, don’t they?
Most photos that don’t make the grade are just because of open mouths or closed eyes:
But after my trip over to our farm last month to photograph the reindeer there, I realised that I’d mainly just taken photos of Olympic looking ridiculous!
Then there’s just the odd ones:
Reindeer often need encouragement to look alert for their photo, with ears pricked. This results in my photography assistant (Andi) doing a lot of dancing in the background while making a lot of noise, or sprinting back and forth shaking a feed bag…
And sometimes we resort to throwing things at the reindeer (well, nearby anyway) to get their attention!
Most of the time it seems, this is what the reindeer think of me and my camera!
With all these photos of calves over the last few weeks on our social media pages, I thought I’d dig out some photos of adult reindeer in our herd when they were just a week or two old, as a way of demonstrating their colouration and it’s changes with time. Reindeer are born in an extremely warm winter coat to protect them from the elements, but this calf coat isn’t necessarily the same colour as they will end up.
There’s a very short window from when they are born in May, to when they first moult in July, when they have this lovely calf coat. By July they have a short, darker summer coat, although their legs often retain their calf coat for a few extra weeks, and then their adult winter coat grows in for the first time in early September. At this point onwards they look like mini adults, and have lost the ‘cute’ factor.
We’ll start with Aztec. He was the most common colour for a calf, a gingery brown that we just call ‘normal coloured’. As an adult he’s still ‘normal’ – as common as muck! (But only in colour, not character!).
Roman was also a ‘normal coloured’ calf, although a much richer red colour (NB. it’s not so noticeable in this photo as it was taken on a different camera to the other pics) than the gingery colour of many calves. The rich red look is one of my favourites amongst the calf coats!
Still ticking the ‘normal coloured’ box is Hamish, although you’ll notice the blacker back he had. This photo popped up on my Facebook ‘memories’ for 10 years ago recently – where has the time gone?! Hamish had to be pulled out by Fiona after getting stuck being born – hence the rather weak looking little calf knuckled over and two herders in attendance (trying to assess whether there’s any milk in that udder…).
‘Chocolate brown’ is the next category, darker all over than the others so far. Olympic has grown in to a dark coloured adult, but by no means as dark as they get….
….unlike Lace! Jet black as a calf, she’s always been one of the very darkest reindeer in the herd. Note how dark her bum is compared to Olympic above!
And at the other end of the scale is Mozzarella. If a calf is pure white, whether they are actually leucistic or literally just very white, they will stay that way their whole lives, regardless of the changing of the seasons. Their summer and winter coats are both pretty much the same. Mozzarella has a couple of dark markings on her, and these will change in darkness depending on the season, but not her white hairs.
Olmec and his mum Emmental are both ‘white’ reindeer too, or at least what we would refer to as a white or light coloured reindeer. In August, on the right, (and 3 years later!) they are much greyer, about halfway from summer to winter coats, but reindeer’s coats bleach in the light throughout the winter months, turning them much whiter by spring.
Many light coloured reindeer also have white face markings, as Svalbard demonstrates here. The darker markings on calf coats tend to be much less obvious as adults though – you have to peer closely to see Svalbard’s dark leg nowadays! While he’s not a light coloured reindeer as such now, he’s still on the pale side.
Not all light coloured adults start out light though, as LX and Diamond demonstrate here. White foreheads on a brown calf generally signify a calf will turn white in adulthood though! It’s not a particularly common colouration though – I think these are the only two I remember in my time here (or at least the only two who survived to adulthood – there may have been others).
Finally, there’s always one or two odd ones each year. Above is Brie, a sort of slate-grey colour as a calf with a little white nose, but generally she’s pretty much normal coloured now as an adult, albeit still rather greyish. She was a very pretty calf!
And finally Spartan, again slate grey as a calf but on the darker side as an adult. His pale eyes are a giveaway for his slightly odd colouration though, and as a breeding bull he’s thrown some equally unusual looking calves this spring!
There’s nothing more exciting than walking towards a cow who just calved, having eventually tracked them down – knowing you’re the very first human to lay eyes on that calf. At 8am when reporting from the hill down to Reindeer House, having been on the early shift and out for two or three hours already, I’ve squeaked “You’ll never guess what colour so-and-so’s calf is!” down a phone excitedly many times in the past. Freezing toes, soaked clothes and rumbling belly temporarily forgotten.
Whilst I’m normally based over at the main visitor centre in Glenmore, with the current chaotic situation I’m spending a lot more of my time at our second base, the hill farm at Glenlivet. The Smiths have farmed there since 1990, specializing in native breeds such as Belted Galloway cattle, Soay sheep and Wild boar crosses, plus of course extra summer hill grazing for our lovely reindeer herd. I thought I’d give all of you wonderful folk a snapshot of one of my typical days at the farm…
7.15am: Up bright and early, it’s a glorious sunny day outside. Breakfast, pack my lunch (leftovers from last night, win!) and plenty of snacks, just like the reindeer my appetite is never satisfied!
7.55am: Out of the house to head over to the farm. It’s about a 35 minute drive for me, and at the moment it’s rare for me to pass more than a couple of cars. Not a bad commute!
8.30am: Arrive at the farm and make a plan for the day. The morning is usually spent feeding the animals. I load up the quad bike, a lifesaver when lugging heavy feed up hilly fields!
9am: First stop, the pigs. We have a mix of Wild boar and Tamworth, also known as “Iron Age” pigs. They get fed first because if you leave them too late they make a pretty big effort to break out and come and find the food themselves! When I first met the pigs years ago, I was a little daunted as they charge up and down grunting and slathering ready to eat, but actually they’re pretty well behaved and haven’t attempted to nibble on me yet!
Next up are some of the Soay sheep and Red deer. Soays are quite wild in nature, a lot more skittish than most sheep you’ll meet, which also means they’re hardy and self-sufficient, rarely needing any assistance lambing or seeking much shelter from the weather. But they do enjoy some extra feed! The red deer are very different from the reindeer, much livelier and jumpier, but come charging after the quad in expectation! Their antlers are growing at an insane rate – every time I see them they seem to be a few inches bigger…
10am: After reloading the quad with more feed, it’s up the hill to check on the reindeer. Throughout spring we have the male reindeer in what we call the “French” enclosure, as it’s where we initially housed our reindeer who joined us from France in 1995 (original hey?!). There is a large shed which is handy for providing shade and also for handling the reindeer for vaccinations etc, and the enclosure extends right up onto the hillside, providing natural grazing.
The reindeer have pretty good body clocks and are ready and waiting, and cheerfully come in to eat their food from the troughs round the shed. This gives us an opportunity to check everyone looks happy and healthy – we’re already into tick season, and these biting pests can make our reindeer poorly. Today though, everyone is fine, so after chatting to everyone and admiring their lovely antlers, also growing fast though nowhere near as large as the ones on the red deer, it’s back down the hill.
11.30am: Powered by a good cup of coffee (essential!) and a snack, my next job is mixing up a big batch of reindeer feed. We have worked out a good combination which is perfect as a supplement to the natural grazing our reindeer have on the hills. They do love their feed, it helps them put on body condition in the summer and maintain condition through winter, and means they’re pleased to see us every day – in the same way that I like to see people who have a habit of bringing me cake! We use a repurposed cement mixer to do the hard work for us, and bag it ready for the next few days of feeding the herd.
1pm: Lunch! Working outdoors makes you hungry, a great excuse to eat plenty of food! (I think I just take after the reindeer…).
1.45pm: I hitch up the snacker trailer to the back of the quad and fill it with feed for the Belted Galloway herd. The cattle were in fields in the glen, across the river, so getting there involves a bit of hopping on and off the quad to open and close gates. Once there, I run out the feed in a line and count the cattle to check they’re all present. It’s calving season and the new calves look incredibly fresh and clean, like they’ve just been through the wash!
3pm: The rest of the afternoon is taken up with odds and ends, sorting out a delivery of burgers and sausages into the appropriate freezers ready for sale, packing firewood into storage, and folding up tarpaulins… there is never a shortage of things to do on a farm, even when I can’t drive a tractor!
5pm: Homeward bound. I’m tired after being on my feet for most of the day, but I’m so grateful that I can spend my time like this – I’m appreciative of how lucky I am to be out in the country, working with animals and able to pretty much forget what is going on across our planet. The reindeer, cattle and sheep have no idea that our lives have changed so much in the past couple of months – they are still living life as normal and expect us to feed and care for them as normal. It’s a welcome break from the news and social media updates which can be pretty worrying at present. Whilst you may not be able to escape to a remote hill farm, I hope you can find your own escape if you’re finding things hard, whether that is in a good book, taking a new route for your daily exercise, or deciding to turn off your laptop and phone for a day. Take care all!