August has been a fun month. The first half of the month was super busy with holiday makers but as Scottish schools went back the second half of the month got slightly quieter with visitors and we’ve been having lots of free range action which I love. Generally we start to see the free ranging females more as they come down in altitude as the weather gets cooler. Towards the end of the month we also start bringing in the mums and their calves back into the enclosure. They spend June through to August/early September out roaming the hills learning how to be little wild reindeer and enjoying all the best grazing, but when the autumn rolls around it’s time for them to learn what a feed bag is and in time, how to walk on a halter etc. The following photos are a small snapshot of what’s been occurring…
July has been a good month with not a great deal of unusual things going on within the herd really – which is actually rather nice! The boys in the hill enclosure are generally eating lots and putting all their energy into growing lovely antlers and big bellies! Towards the middle of July the reindeer finally start to look themselves and some in particular look very smart in their short summer coats.
School holiday season is definitely upon us! We’ve got very busy with visitors, running three Hill Trips a day during weekdays and two on weekends. The Paddocks and Exhibition have also been popular and the reindeer here at the Centre have done a good job of ‘babysitting’ our two hand-reared calves (Winnie and Alba) overnight. They are now big enough to spend the daytime with the herd on the hill. This allows them to get some good exercise every day and lots of great grazing but they return each evening so they don’t miss out on their night time bottles of milk!
I’ve been lucky to see some of the free ranging females out on the hills too – all looked great and some stonking big calves out there. Well done mums, keep it up!
Hopefully the following photos will give more of an insight into what’s been going on this month.
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.
April has been a busy month with some glorious spring weather and some incredibly wild winter weather too. The first half of the month saw the Easter Holidays so we had lots of visitors around – some days we put on an additional Hill Trip in the afternoon when the morning visit sold out, and in the afternoons we ran “Seasonal Herder Talks” in our Paddocks. The second half of the month was busy with moving reindeer around getting them in the right places for the fast-approaching calving season… exciting! Pregnant females were brought into our hill enclosure and the “single ladies” (mostly the old girls retired from breeding or ones having a year off motherhood) were put back out to free range after a quick health check in the enclosure.
It’s been a fun month watching antlers casting and growing, and bellies widen on our pregnant females! Bring on calving season!
Following on from the blog last week, with lots of silly photos of reindeer yawning (click here to see that) I thought I’d post a blog show-casing the various sleeping postures of reindeer!
It does seem like the perfect time to post this blog as with the busy Christmas season now over, and the Reindeer Centre shutting on Monday the 9th of January until Saturday the 11th of February, most reindeer herders are generally looking in need of a decent sleep too!
So, for no other reason than hopefully to make a few folk smile, here comes lots of photos of snoozing reindeer…
I have been here at the Reindeer Centre (on and off) for eight years now, the last three has been the longest stint I have done with the Reindeer Centre. Now admittedly this is mostly due to Covid, but if it wasn’t for the Reindeer Centre’s generosity in keeping me around as the world went in to lockdown the week that I was meant to be leaving, I probably would never have stuck around and got more involved with the surrounding area.
I’m not one for talking a lot, so here are some of my favourite photos from the past three years with some words.
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.
2007: A theme centred around all things ‘Green’ (green) – Fern, Fly.
2006: Popstars (silver) – Elvis, Enya, Lulu.
2005: Countries (yellow) – Malawi.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The reindeer I’ve chosen to talk about in this week’s blog is a reindeer who I like a lot. I met him when he was just hours old and he has now become one of the breeding bulls for the herd. His name is Spartan. He was born in 2016 and was named after that year’s naming theme of ‘lost civilizations’. This means he’s about 5 years old and is coming in to his prime. In this blog I’d like to talk a bit about Spartan’s journey from unassuming calf to sweet-natured breeding bull as well as his heritage and his offspring.
During Spartan’s first year of life he was always an unassuming calf. He wasn’t exactly oozing in character and was a relatively quiet calf. He was always polite and never pushy, and he grew very simple antlers. However, as you can see from the photo below, his antlers are far from simple nowadays. They are one of the largest and most beautiful in the herd.
From a personality point of view, Spartan really grew into himself over the years. He has a sweet, lovely nature, even during the rut. For those who don’t know, the rut is a period in autumn – about a month in duration – where reindeer come into season and the breeding occurs. Breeding bulls are known to alter their nature and become more territorial which can lead to these bulls being more scary and aggressive (hence why we don’t visit the breeding bulls on hill trips in October/November). However, Spartan remained well-behaved despite being swarmed by hormones. Compared to our other breeding bulls he is definitely on the well-behaved end of the spectrum. Perhaps this was due to his much-loved mother, Bumble, being incredibly sweet-natured and passing on those genes to her son. If you wanted to read more about Bumble, you can read a blog on her by clicking here.
Spartan had his first experience of being a breeding bull in 2019 and is believed to be the father of 10 calves that were conceived that year and later born in 2020. However, the selection of Spartan as a breeding bull wasn’t an obvious selection. Each year we have to make the decision of which young adult male reindeer we want to pass on their genetics for the future of the herd, and which reindeer we want to castrate. This decision is made when the male reindeer is at least 3 years old and is integral in keeping the number of reindeer in our herd to a sustainable amount. Moreover, by controlling the breeding it means that we never have to cull any reindeer. When it came time to select which reindeer were to be castrated from the 2016 year we decided that we would keep 2 reindeer as breeding bulls that year. Roman was the first choice and after lengthy discussions, Spartan’s genes seemed to win out over other contenders such as Aztec and Celt. He kind of snuck through the castration net, so to speak.
Spartan comes from a blood line that had almost become lost within our herd. And now that he is one of our few breeding bulls, it means that the blood line has a new lease of life. Spartan’s father was the popular breeding bull Nutti who was imported as a calf from Sweden in December 2011. We imported a large amount of young male reindeer from Sweden around that time as we wanted to diversify the genetics in our herd and introduce more blood lines. Nutti unfortunately died in April 2018 whilst free-roaming in the Cromdale hills but as you can see from the photo below, his genetics live on in Spartan whose looks, and indeed nature resemble that of Nutti.
In 2019, almost immediately after the decision that he would become a breeding bull, Spartan was put into the rut and introduced to his own group of females that were coming into season. It turned out that the other breeding bull contenders were related to more of the eligible cows than Spartan. Therefore, we believe he is father to a group of 10 lovely calves (now yearlings) all of whom were named after ‘peas, seeds and beans’. The calves that we think are probably Spartan’s all appear to be very sweet natured and endearing. They are Cannellini, Lupin, Hemp, Chickpea, Mushy, Pinto, Edamame, Adzuki, Borlotti and Haricot. And with only a few exceptions, many of the calves have distinctive white face markings, just like Spartan. These are most notable on Pinto, Edamame, Hemp, Borlotti and Adzuki, the offspring of Morven, Emmental, Addax, Clootie and Gazelle respectively.
Although we didn’t use Spartan in autumn’s rut of 2020 he retains his ‘equipment’ and his name is being discussed as a potential breeding bull for this year’s rut. He is currently in great condition and is having a very peaceful year! In the early months of 2021 Spartan has been free-roaming on the Cromdale hills.
So there you have it! The story of Spartan – one of our friendliest breeding bulls.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about a “Memorable Reindeer” and I thought we were overdue a bit of reminiscing. And who better to talk about than Bumble?
Bumble was born in May 2010, to mum Tjakko. Jack had just started volunteering with the herd, and managed to film the whole birth. By the time the other herders arrived, they found the new mum and calf, along with Jack, all curled up asleep in the heather. It set the scene for how tame Bumble would be for the rest of her life, completely at home in the company of people. Indeed, most of her family are similarly friendly and greedy – including older sisters Dixie and Ibex.
That autumn, as the cows and calves began returning from the high tops of the mountain free-range, one unknown little calf came in without her mum. Alone though she was, she didn’t seem scared of us, and was straight into the food. A process of elimination quickly identified her as Tjakko’s calf, orphaned over the summer. We named her Bumble – fitting in the “Bugs and Beasties” theme – and following on from Tjakko’s 2009 calf Crumble. With her silvery legs and confident character, she quickly won us round and stole my heart.
Bumble was a marmite reindeer – her confidence and persistence in trying to break into every bag of food either frustrated or amused herders. I found her hilarious. She never grew a “good” set of antlers – they were always simple with basic points pointing in every direction like radio antennae. It just added to her air of goofiness. In general, reindeer aren’t keen on being touched, but Bumble had no sense of personal space and was quite happy being scratched and petted. She even had a starring roll in a commercial we did for Tuffphone, pawing at a food bag and standing squarely on the phone to prove how sturdy it was as if on cue.
Like her mum, Bumble had a real stubborn streak, and leading her on a headcollar could be… interesting. Indeed I remember several times being told, “She’s your favourite, you have to lead her”. Thankfully as she got older she became better behaved, but it was definitely unwise to starting a tugging war with her, as she would just dig in her heels!
Bumble had several calves in her life, the first being Biscay, in 2014. While most cows head away from the herd to calve in private, Bumble didn’t think it was worth risking missing a feed, and tended to give birth within sight of the enclosure gate. Her carefree attitude about human company meant she was utterly unphased by us being nearby during and immediately after the birth, and I was lucky enough to watch her give birth to her second calf, using binoculars from a discreet distance.
It’s always fun catching up with the females on the free-range in summer, and one year I found a group including Bumble, who was at the “extreme moulting” stage of the year, and whilst she occupied herself with the bag of food I’d brought, I proceeded to groom off virtually all of the loose fur, leaving her rather lighter and cooler for the hot summer days! If any walkers came across the pile of discarded fur, goodness knows what they’d have thought!
Bumble was last seen on the free-range in late 2018, in great condition and her usual cheeky self. The next time that group was seen she wasn’t with them, and whilst I held out hope that she was just off doing her thing and would turn up, it wasn’t to be and, despite searching, she was never seen by us again. It was one of those frustrating occasions where we will never know exactly what happened – she was a big strong lass in the prime of her life and not a reindeer we would expect to lose – but there are risks on the mountains, and it is the payoff for the wonderful natural life our herd lead that occasionally one is unlucky.
For me, Bumble was one in a million and there is a little less joy in the herd without her – when I decided to get a new tattoo it was her crazy antlers that I chose to have tattooed on my side. But her line continues through her son Spartan, who ran as a breeding bull in 2019 and fathered a lovely batch of calves. Among them are several unexpectedly tame calves (from shyer mums) who I see a little bit of Bumble in. Life in the herd goes on.
Following on from my previous blog about reindeer coloration, I thought I’d highlight some of the funky face patterns in our herd today. White face markings are super helpful at aiding us in identification of the reindeer, as they don’t change much throughout the year (or their lives). Though they can be harder to make out when the reindeer are in their late winter coats, as they are less distinct.