The Story of Zoom

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.

Teenage Zoom this autumn, with buddy Rocket behind him

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.

The first photo of Zoom – taken when he was just a few hours old

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.

Zoom at two months old, roaming high on the mountain free-range with Angua. Both are mid-moult so look rather scruffy!

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!”.

Myself leading Clouseau and Lotti leading Olympic up on the rescue mission – look at our anticipation!

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.

Lotti replicating Richard’s reassuring touch, just a few minutes after first putting on Zoom’s headcollar

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!).

Up with two, down with three – Zoom pottering along as if he’d done this all before (in reality probably just utterly relieved to be back in reindeer company)

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.

Zoom settling into life with the herd on the hill… and knowing full well that he’ll get a bit of preferential treatment from us herders!

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.

Chickpea free-ranging this autumn – her and Zoom have almost identical markings!

2023 has been a much better year for both of them, and Zoom and Chickpea are looking fantastic.

Andi

2015 Scottish Hill Races naming theme

In the year 2015, we decided upon a naming theme of hill running races located in Scotland. Therefore, all the calves that were born in 2015 were subsequently given a name from this theme. Some of which I’d have had no idea how to pronounce had I not been told. These reindeer – who are now 8 years old – wear a white ear tag with a number between 900 and 950. Hill running appears to be a common activity amongst reindeer herders. Perhaps it’s an occupational hobby. A way to keep fit for the physical nature of reindeer herding, or indeed capitalise on the miles that are done on the job by trying to win a few competitions. In this blog I will explain a bit about the races that are responsible for five reindeer names.

Scolty is a tall and handsome chap. He’s a fantastic “Christmas Reindeer”, a highly experienced and reliable sleigh-puller. He’s named after a race in Deeside, located just south of the town of Banchory. At the top of Scolty Hill there is a tower – measuring 20 metres high – that was built in 1840. The race has a distance of 7.2km with an ascent of 396 metres.

Scolty looking a bit scruffy in July 2022, coming to the end of the moult.
Scolty looking looking more himself in October 2022, with a fresh winter coat growing though.

Morven is a beautiful breeding female who grows a unique set of antlers year after year. The Morven hill race occurs on Morven hill and is 8km long with an ascent of 640 metres. It is one of the favourite races of Alan Smith. It is located near to the village of Dinnet in the Aboyne area (Aberdeenshire). Dinnet is the first village along the River Dee to be located in the Cairngorms National Park.

Morven in autumn 2021.
Morven and her calf Mochi in the snow – March 2023.

Tap is a dark-coloured breeding female, she’s one of the shyer reindeer in the herd but very beautiful. She gets her name from the hill race Tap O’Noth which is a 7.9km race starting out from Rhynie, a village in Aberdeenshire. There is approximately 390 metres of ascent. With Tap’s athleticism, I’d fancy her chances if she was to compete in the race. What’s the prize? 7.9 kilograms of lichen?

Tap looking beautiful in August 2021.
Tap looking a bit of the scruffier side as she begins to moult her old winter coat – May 2023.

Ochil is a distinctive lass with a white patchy face and a big personality. She’s a good mum and is also a granny. Ochil is named after a long-distance hill race starting out from Stirling University. Its route travels through the Ochil Hills, hills formed from a thick wedge of Devonian age volcanic and volcano-sedimentary rocks. Reindeer herder Joe is planning to compete in this year’s race as it is one of the races selected for the 2023 Scottish hill running championships. He’ll have to navigate through 1200 metres of ascent over the distance of 31.2km. The etymology of the name Ochil – recorded as Okhel – is thought to be Pictish in origin and may derive from the old word ‘ogel’ meaning ‘ridge’.

Ochil free ranging in summer 2021.
Ochil in her thick winter coat next to her calf Vanilla – December 2022.

Suidhe (pronounced Sue-e) is a good mother but a rather shy lass, and can be fairly suspicious of what our intentions are but she can usually be won over by her greed! Suidhe is one of our local hill races. It starts from the Kincraig village green and has an approximate distance of 5km, with roughly 250 metres in ascent. The hill must be an important part of the local community because Kincraig’s pub takes its name from it.

Suide (closest to the camera) with her sister Feta, and her calf Solero in Feb 2023.
Suidhe in March 2023 after casting an antler.

Ben

Burns: Robert / Supper / Reindeer

Burns Suppers celebrate the life and work of the Scots poet Robert Burns. More commonly known as Burns Night the suppers take place on or around his birthday, 25th January and are effectively a second national day in Scotland. Here at Reindeer House we just love any excuse to get together and eat some fantastic food with some great company! For those of you that don’t know about the Burns Supper tradition here’s a brief overview of what we got up to last night at our Burns Supper, along with some tales of our reindeer named Burns, seeing as this is a reindeer blog after all!

Robert Burns 1759-1796. Photo from Wikimedia commons.

Robert Burns was born in 1759 in Alloway, Ayshire and lived until he was 37. He is known and celebrated worldwide for his poetry much of which was written in the Scots language or Scots dialect. Whilst many of his poems were of the Romanticism style he lived through a period of political repression. His work often reflected or commented upon this and some considered him to be a radical and revolutionary which perhaps helped give him such a huge following during and after his lifetime.

The poem and song “Auld Lang Syne” is sung all over the world on Hogmanay and is one of Rabbie Burns’ most famous works. Other well known work by him includes “Scots Wha Hae”, a patriotic song which became an unofficial national anthem for Scotland. It was written in the form of a speech from Robert the Bruce before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 where Scotland defeated England in Battle. Romantic work included (My Love is Like) “A Red, Red Rose” whilst “Tam o’ Shanter” and “To a Mouse” reflect on his upbringing as a tenant farmer. For us though at Reindeer House his “My Heart’s in the Highlands” seems most appropriate!

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains, high-cover’d with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green vallies below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods,
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.
My heart’s in the Highlands.

If you needed further persuasion of Robert Burns’ stature then did you know he won a contest run by STV to be called “The Greatest Scot” of all time in 2009? It is a rather impressive feat to have beaten Mel Gibson (William Wallace) to the title don’t you think? Perhaps he was aided by some of his extremely impressive nicknames that make him sound more like a cross between a rap artist and a boxer:

– The Bard of Ayrshire

– The Ploughman Poet

– Or just plain Rabbie Burns

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Here’s a photo of some of our cows and calves on the free range a couple of weeks ago for anyone desperate to get back onto reindeer!

Burns Suppers have been taking place for over two centuries with the evenings format barely changing over the years. There is usually a general welcome followed by the “Selkirk Grace”

Some hae meat and canna eat,

And some wad eat that want it;

But we hae meat, and we can eat,

Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Supper usually then begins with a soup dish such as Scotch broth or Cullen skink before everyone stands for the “Piping” of the haggis (this is exactly how it sounds). We stand whilst the haggis is brought into the room by the cook whilst a piper plays a tune such as “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” written by Burns. Before you can eat the haggis though, you must first address it! “Address to a Haggis” is a poem written to a haggis with the opening line of Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face” (translated as Nice seeing your honest, chubby face). At last we can eat the haggis! Served with neeps (swede) and tatties (potatoes) our meal last night was delicious! The evening concludes with an often amusing “Toast to the Lassies” and a reply for the laddies before a vote of thanks is given and everyone stands to sing “Auld Lang Syne”.

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Reindeer herders, spotted for once out of our scruffy clothes!

As you can see we had a fantastic evening, but back to the reindeer!

As well as giving us an excuse for a party at the end of January, Rabbie Burns is of particular importance to us because we have a reindeer named after him! This year our calves were named after authors, writers and poets so we obviously had to name one Burns. He has turned out to be one of the biggest, strongest and healthiest calves of the year. He is extremely tame and bold and quickly became quite a cheeky chappy. We have him marked down, along with Dr Seuss, as being one of the biggest characters of the next few year but hopefully neither of them will misbehave too much in the following years as young bulls like Fergus did.

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Burns, of the reindeer variety rather than his namesake Robert. Taken a few months ago he’s now substantially bigger!

When he came in off the free range in late summer with his mother Gazelle he had broken one of his antlers and it was growing over his face making it difficult for him to feed. We called out the vet who cut away the antler from his face and after a short while with a bandage in the shed he recovered well to become the strong healthy calf that he is. We are interested to see next year whether his antler will grow back in a more “normal” direction and shape or whether the pedicle from which the antler grows has been damaged and Burns will perhaps always grow one antler in a funny shape and direction.

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Fiona and Burns out on the free range this week showing off his forward growing antler.

Chris

The School of Tour

I added up how many years I’d been involved in Christmas tour with the reindeer the other day, and was astounded to realise that this was my eighth season. As I frequently tell visitors, “I only came for the summer!” but I seem to have fallen under the spell of the reindeer and the Cairngorms. Hen has been here even longer than me. So with several new herders this year, Fiona sent us off with Morna, with the idea that we’d show her the ropes as it were. Morna has been working with the herd all year, so knew the reindeer very well, but Christmas tour brings its own challenges which can take some adjusting to.

Over the months running up to Christmas, we’d been fairly entertained by the enthusiasm of Morna, Ruth and Olly about tour, and wondered how long it would take for the novelty to wear off! But spirits were certainly high as we got ready to set off for our week away, and we had great fun working out our team name: usually we’re just Handi, but this time we would be even MORHANDI!

I hope you enjoy the photos below – we certainly enjoyed our week, and it was really odd when we dropped Morna off to visit her family and were left with just two of us in the cab… it felt like we’d lost part of our team!

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Leading our team off the hill

Team
Quick pose for a team photo – unintentionally matching outfits!

Hen driving
As Morna couldn’t drive the truck, her task was to keep Hen and me entertained and hence alert, primarily through some good DJ and karaoke work!

Dinner
Reindeer happy in their overnight accommodation. Riding arenas aren’t just for horses…

Horse
We went for a look round the stables and met all the ponies and assorted menagerie that live there.

Haggis
One of the ponies, Haggis, is a legend amongst herders as he just loves to play with zips. Problem is, he’s small and brown, like most of the ponies. Our solution is to walk round offering our jacket to every pony until we find a taker!

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Hard frost the next morning.

Running boys
We exercise the reindeer loose every morning – here they are having a trot round the field. Sometimes they have more “bounce” than others!

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Why lead two reindeer each when Hen can lead the lot?!

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The drive down to Wales was all too much for Morna

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Lovely welcome from our hosts at the Welsh base

Morna Sheep
We took the reindeer for a run in the field, but first Morna had to escape the attentions of some grown-up pet lambs!

Cardiff
Ready for the parade! This was Matto’s (the white one) and Morna’s first ever parade in public, and he didn’t put a foot wrong. She did alright too!

Sleepy truck
The reindeer are always happy to load and travel brilliantly – they are loose in the back of the truck and frequently lie down and have a snooze, as seen here.

Breakfast
One of the perks to tour – you sometimes have time to cook a lovely breakfast!

Matto
Here’s Morna doing a great job (with Matto again) leading the parade at Stockeld park. Though she was trying to redeem herself after breaking the decorations and a (non-essential) part of the sleigh in the same morning!

Sleepy at Stockeld
The team were incredibly relaxed and loving their enormous pen at the event.

Differences and Similarities

One of our visitors recently decided to adopt a reindeer they’d met at the Centre, but called us up when they received their pack to let us know that we’d sent a photo of the wrong reindeer. The reindeer they’d met had been a pale brown, with a thick shaggy coat and small antlers, whereas the photo on their certificate was of a sleek black coloured reindeer with large bony antlers. Thankfully, we hadn’t got it wrong, but could totally understand their confusion, as the reindeer change in appearance a lot throughout the year.

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Bovril in his shaggy old winter coat in June, and looking smart in September

First, there is the coat appearance. From May, the reindeer start moulting out their long winter coat, which, with 2000 hairs per square inch, takes about six weeks. They look incredibly scruffy at this time, but by around mid-July the whole herd look glorious in their short summer coat. This summer coat is a richer colour than the winter coat, so the white reindeer are gleaming white, and the darker reindeer are virtually black. The short coat exposes all of their angles, so they can look a bit gaunt, with angular heads and shoulders.

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Olympic’s varied coat throughout the same year (2014) – in February, July and September

Summer in the Highlands is short-lived, however, so by September their long winter coat is growing through, softening their appearance and turning them into cuddly teddy-bear lookalikes. This coat is slightly lighter in colour, so the darkest reindeer are now a rich brown. Over the winter months, the sun gradually bleaches out the colour, so by April the whole herd are a similar washed-out shade, with only the pure white reindeer looking different. It is the worst time of year to become a reindeer herder, as the reindeer look almost identical, and I’ve had sympathy with Ruth, and previously Dave and Imogen, starting in April and trying desperately to work out who is who!

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Young Beastie throughout the same year (2011) – in full winter coat in January, darker summer coat in July, and new winter coat in September

Strudel
Young Strudel throughout the same year (2010) – in old winter coat in May, dark sleek summer coat in August and with new winter coat growing through in September

Whilst the colour of a reindeer varies depending on the time of year, a dark coloured reindeer will always be comparatively dark, and a light one will be light. There is one exception, in that some white calves are born a mousy brown or grey colour, with a white forehead. This white forehead suggests their future colour, and once they are a yearling they have changed into their adult silvery coat.

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Diamond as a brown calf with a white forehead, turning silvery later that year, and even lighter as a yearling

Origami
Origami as a calf with a white forehead, and as a silvery white adult

The other major change in appearance is relating to the antlers. Every year, each reindeer grows a full new set of antlers before casting them again at the end of the season ready to grow the next (hopefully better) set. From January to March, the male reindeer are antler-less, with the females usually losing theirs a little later, between March and May. Antlers are very distinctive, with each individual tending to grow a similar shape or pattern each year once they pass the age of about three. This is really useful for us herders, helping us to recognise the reindeer from year to year. Not much help in the period between casting the old set and the new set getting to a sensible size though! New herders are cautioned to try to “look beyond the antlers” and instead learn more permanent characteristics, such as the shape of their face.

Caterpillar
Caterpillar with very similar antlers over three consecutive years – 2014, 2015, 2016.

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Puddock with his familiar crazy branching antlers over three consecutive years.

There is a slight spanner thrown in the works though, as adult reindeer don’t necessarily grow the same size of antler each year. Antler size is determined largely by condition, so if reindeer are short of energy, they will grow smaller, more basic antlers – it’s pointless to waste energy on an amazing set of antlers if you don’t save enough energy for your body to survive! The three main reasons for sub-standard antlers are illness, rearing a calf, and advancing years. If a reindeer becomes ill whilst growing their antlers, the growth will be checked, and sometimes the new bone is weakened to the point that it breaks off, leaving the reindeer with short, oddly shaped antlers. Antler growth also checks when a female is about to calve, and the extra effort of producing milk to feed the calf can mean the antlers are considerably smaller than usual. Finally, once a reindeer is in their old age, their antlers often become distinctly short and basic – they are focusing their efforts on being alive rather than growing antlers for dominance.

Lulu
Lulu with impressive antlers in 2013, and a rather less impressive set the following year, due to rearing a calf.

Sequin
Beautiful Sequin in her prime with a large set of antlers, and with a simpler set in her old age.

It’s always entertaining for new herders watching the change in reindeer throughout the year, and sometimes peering in disbelief that the handsome reindeer in a photo is the same beastie as the scruffy fellow they know on the hill (as a side note, most of the photos for the adoption certificates are taken in September when they reindeer are at their smartest, with a fresh winter coat and recently stripped full-grown antlers). So if you do receive an adopt certificate with a reindeer looking a little different from when you met them, it is of course possible that we’ve got it wrong (we’re only human!) but if we check for you and confirm that it is them, hopefully this blog will help you to believe us!

Andi

Spring

As the year rolls from March into April, here in the Highlands we start to see more definite signs of spring. The snowdrops have of course been and gone, but now the daffodils are out in their full glory, along with primroses and crocuses. There is a noticeable difference in the grass too – during March there is very little colour in the fields, everything is a washed out browny-yellow. But as April approaches, I start squinting at the verges – is there just a hint of fresh green there? By now there is no doubt, the Paddocks and garden are looking almost lush and their first cut is fast approaching. For all of you down in England, I do appreciate that you’ve probably had the lawnmower out several times already, but we have the longest winters in the UK here – one of the reasons it is still a suitable habitat for reindeer.

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Relaxed reindeer with a glorious backdrop. Jenga has the best start on her new antlers of the females.

Up on the mountain, the deer grass is breaking through, and the first migrant birds are arriving back from their winter holidays – there were three ring ouzel squabbling their way along the path as I walked out to feed the herd this morning. I’ve heard tell that the first swallows are in Devon (it’ll still be a few days until they pass by us) and the distinctive osprey pair are back at Loch Garten – we popped along the other day and were glad to see EJ hanging out on the nest, and a brief visit from her long-term partner Odin. Last year I watched a pair circling over the hill enclosure, just checking out Black Loch perhaps before deciding it wasn’t suitable to nest at.

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Old girl Lilac still looking superb at nearly 18 years old.

April is a fun time to spend with the reindeer, with anticipation in the air. The females tend to be relaxed and lazy, with heavy tummies and enjoying the fresh grazing starting to come through. Their coats have lost their sheen and are starting to moult, and most of last year’s antlers have fallen off, with some making good progress on this year’s set. Slightly less relaxing (for us, but not the reindeer) is the start of the Easter holidays, with its associated rush of visitors. Having a limit on numbers for the Hill Trip has certainly made our lives less stressful though and hopefully improves the experience for our visitors too – just a reminder to come early if you’re coming for the Trip to make sure you get tickets!

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A group of visitors learning about the reindeer, who are delighted to pose whilst they wait for their dinner.

The other slight bit of stress is that all of us herders are assessing who we should pick for our calving “bet” – the annual game of trying to guess who will calve first. Us herders spend a lot of time peering at bellies and potential developing udders, trying to work out who is pregnant and who is likely to calve early. There isn’t any money put down, and indeed no prize for winning, but the person whose reindeer calves last has to swim in the loch! The decisions are mostly made now, but I’m already slightly apprehensive that I’ve made the wrong choice – suddenly everyone else’s choices appear much rounder in the belly department than mine… I’ll stick to my guns though with fingers crossed!

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Every time I look at Dixie’s belly I worry that I’ve picked the wrong reindeer for the calving bet!

Normally, spring is a welcome relief after a long hard winter… this year I can’t really claim that as it’s been a very easy winter with little snow, but it’s still lovely to see the lengthening days and warmer temperatures, with the promise of a (hopefully) long, glorious summer ahead. Fingers crossed that it’s warm to make for an easier swim if I end up losing the bet!

Andi

Back in business

Well, we’ve had our annual month of closure to the public and are now open again for hill trips! The weather hasn’t been too horrendous this winter and most of us here are really missing the snow; we are all considering going off to the Alps for our skiing and snow fix!

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Of course, it is now the February half term so we are back with a bang and having busy hill trips, even reaching our limit of numbers on some days. Most of us have had a slight panic at the beginning of our first visit: “What do I say again?” “Where do I go again?” “What is a reindeer?(!)” Luckily, once you are faced with a whole load of expectant tourists most of your talk comes flooding back to you and you manage to muddle through, getting the important safety and history information in.

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Although it is not that snowy at the moment, it is relatively cold and we have had some quite windy days too. Most folks have been well enough dressed that they’ve managed to keep the cold out and have enjoyed the trips. If you would like to come visit us in the near future, please remember to dress up warmly, and give us a call in the morning to make sure we definitely are going ahead with the trip. The reindeer are completely free-ranging at the moment, so both they and the weather mean that we can’t always run the trip!

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Imogen

Keeping Warm

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Reindeer facing resolutely into the weather.

Reindeer are the past masters at keeping warm. When you evolve to live in temperatures below minus 30 Celsius then you need all your wits about you to keep warm.

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Some of the boys toughing out a blizzard, ice plastered to their foreheads, including big Magnus (centre) who even has snow layering his antlers.

To begin with they have an extremely dense winter coat, 2,000 hairs to the square centimetre although I have to confess to not having confirmed that by counting them myself! Secondly, each individual hair is hollow for the same reason that we have holofil in our duvets. Air is a very good insulator so the combination of air in each hair and around each hair increases the insulation factor. In fact, reindeer are like a mobile thermos flask, neither allowing the cold in or indeed the warmth out. A bed of snow is a comfortable spot for a reindeer, and they can lie on it without even melting it.

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Caddis and her young calf Mozzarella (in 2013) – calves have even thicker coats than adults so they can stay snug in late snowfall.

You may have noticed that cows or horses out in fields in windy weather tend to put their backs to the prevailing winds (as well as look pretty miserable). That is actually not a very clever thing to do, as the wind lifts the hairs and takes away more of their body heat. They need to copy reindeer who face a blizzard. By doing this they keep the hair across their body flat and so do not lose heat. The only disadvantage to this is you end up with a ice pack on your face. Lucky that reindeer have hairy foreheads.

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Jenga in just a wee bit of snow, but not cold!

Actually if you study a reindeer closely from nose to tail you will find no bare skin anywhere and that even applies to the bottom of their feet. Yet another fine adaption to the cold, and with the added bonus of improving their grip on the ice and snow.

Finally, if you measure the temperature of the blood of a reindeer at its extremities you will find it is cooler. Once again this is to prevent heat loss. To do this a counter current system has evolved whereby the warm blood exiting from the main part of the body passes close to the colder blood coming back from the extremities. The net effect is the cold blood is warmed and the warm blood is cooled and the heat remains in the body.

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A reindeer’s perfectly designed coat beats all of the artificial layers us herders have to wear – no contest! Look at the snow sitting unmelted on top of the fur.

There are other heat saving aspects to reindeer but I think that’s enough for now. Food for thought however it does mean that they can get awfully hot in the warmer weather. I reckon reindeer would be the first to sign up to a programme to slow down global warming!

Tilly

January

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Caddis, Chelsea and Vandal enjoying the snow

In January, we are closed to the public, and it’s the time of the year when we all take the opportunity to take holidays and have a bit of a break. There’s still plenty to get on with though at the Centre – the reindeer are all free-ranging but we still feed them daily, if of course we can find them! At this time of the year their appetite is greatly reduced and the weather doesn’t always permit us to walk out onto the mountainside. If we can’t feed them, it doesn’t matter as they’re perfectly capable of finding enough food themselves, but its always nice to check them over and see that they’re all fine. On snowy days, this can take two or three of us two or three hours, as we’re often breaking a track through deep snow, whilst carrying feed, to get to where the reindeer are.

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Gorgeous views, spying for the reindeer

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Calling the reindeer – the better your call, the less distance you have to walk…!

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Not always the easiest of walks – reindeer may be designed for the snow but us herders aren’t!

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Hen’s call must have been good enough – the herd come to meet us.

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Follow the leader. This is on the outside of the enclosure fence line.

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Posers!

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Waiting expectantly for the food.

Aside from feeding the reindeer, there is plenty of maintenance to do at the Centre, which we can’t really do whilst we’re open. Painting the exhibition shed floor is a big job each January – it gets very worn over the course of the year so needs three coats of garage floor paint to smarten it up in preparation for all of our visitors over the coming year! It’s always entertaining reading the instructions on the paint can “Ensure the temperature is over 10*C”, then looking out of the window at the snow – anyone who’s visited will know that our exhibition shed is unheated, so it’s unfortunate that we have to do the floor in the coldest month of the year, when the temperature is mostly sub-zero. Our solution is to block off the doors and get a fan heater on, which helps, but I still wear a hat and gloves and take a cup of tea to help keep me warm!

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Coat one is well under-way, you can see how worn the floor gets.

The other big job for me is to oil all of our Christmas harness and make any necessary repairs before it is popped into storage for the year. If you’ve met me, you may realise that I absolutely love order and lists, so organising harness is one of my favourite jobs. It’s also a little warmer sitting oiling harness in the shop than most of the other tasks. The shop is the only place large enough to do this really, which is another reason that its done whilst we’re closed, along with the fact that we’d never get round to it if we left it until before Christmas!

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The shop in its January role.

There’s still also plenty of office work to get on with: making up adoption packs, answering emails, planning what gifts we’ll order to go in next year’s adoption packs, counting and reordering shop stock (again a delight for me as I get to make lists!). So whilst we may be a little quieter, don’t imagine we’re just sat around with our feet up!

Perhaps the most important purpose of being closed to the public in January is that after a hectic Christmas season (in fact all of 2016 was hectic…) it gives both us herders and the reindeer a proper break and change in routine, which means that when we reopen in February we’ll be bright and bushy tailed, and actually look forward to meeting our visitors and introducing everyone to the beautiful reindeer!

Andi

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. 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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