What a Motley Crew

At this time of year the reindeer look really scruffy and it’s all down to their thick light coloured winter coat falling away to reveal a short dark summer coat underneath.

There’s many an adjective I could use to describe them, moth-eaten, scruffy, hairy, shabby and when taking to people to see the reindeer at this time of year I always apologise in advance for their appearance.

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Arta.
Bingo.
Caesar and Spider.

This recent long dry, windless, hot spell we have been experiencing here in the Highlands of Scotland actually hasn’t helped the process, because it’s really wind and rain that speeds up the process of moulting. Once ready to truly moult the winter coat comes off in handfuls

Elvis – the oldest reindeer in the herd at 17!

It’s a long process because while the new summer coat grows in underneath there are two layers of winter coat to fall off at the same time.  This close up of Anster’s shoulder shows quite nicely the ‘three’ coats. To the left the thick light coloured winter ‘top coat’ . Then the slightly darker and shorter winter ‘undercoat’. And then finally the new very short and dark summer coat.

Anster.
A close up of Anster’s shoulder.

It occurs to me that there must be an awful lot happening in the skin of a reindeer at this time of year! The two winter coats cannot start moulting until the new summer coat is growing, so while old hair follicles are falling out new ones are being created.  Very complicated!

And so I couldn’t resist this little rhyme!

The moult of a reindeer is a complicated affair

With old coats making way for lots of new hair

The process can sometimes take many a week

With the full summer coat making them look so sleek 

I always knew I had the ability to be a poet!!

Parfa.
Svalbard.

Tilly

Sleeping Reindeer

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…

Here’s the loveable Celt (mid-moult) sleeping directly on his nose. A popular sleeping posture for many reindeer! July 2021.
An arty picture of Stenoa, also having a kip on his snozzle – October 2021.
This is Clouseau demonstrating the curled in a ball method of sleeping, right next to a visitor’s feet – July 2022.
Here’s Kipling in the ball position – March 2022.
Hobnob is using the ball technique in December 2022 during a blizzard.
During a Christmas event in Langholm, December 2021, Bond opted for the ball technique.
Another sleeping position is with a head on one side and an antler flat on the ground. Dr Seuss is displaying this beautifully here – September 2022.
Here’s Spartan demonstrating the head on one side technique – August 2021.
Busby found a nice comfy tussock here to use as a pillow – December 2021.
Dr Seuss snoozing again, this time using a mossy pillow to make sure he’s extra comfortable – October 2021.
Another position is the completely flat-out, and in this case soaking up as much sun as possible! Here is Texel and her calf (now named 99) in early June 2022.
Busby in the middle of this group of dozing reindeer is also displaying the flat-out method! Meanwhile, his mum Hopscotch (closet to the camera) is choosing to sleep on her nose. December 2022.
Sunny often used the flat-out method in our kitchen by the washing machine – May 2022.
At an event in Aberfeldy, Sunny opted for the flat out method again, whilst his team mates are mostly using the ball strategy! December 2022.
Legs out with a head curled back was Sunny’s preferred napping choice here – July 2022.
Morse (closest to the camera) is also choosing the legs out, head curled back method for his post-Hill Trip nap in this picture. Meanwhile, Spider (middle) is in the ball position and Spartan (back) is on his chin – August 2021.
And the grand finale – my ultimate snoozy reindeer photo! Topi having a wee nap on Fiona’s shoulder mid-parade on Christmas Day 2017.

Ruth

All the colours of the rainbow (Part One)

Visitors often ask if the different coloured reindeer in our herd are different breeds, or even different species. The answer is no, they’re all reindeer just the same – they can vary in colour like horses, dogs and cats do. I thought I’d show a range of the colours found in our herd. Through the process of domestication, humans tend to select for colour variation, leading to a greater variety in domesticated species than wild ones. They stay the same colour throughout their life, though the colour is richer in their summer coat and lighter in winter.

Reindeer can also have white markings – I’ll look at this in a future blog!

Blondie – as white as they get, with blue eyes

Matto – white with a dusting of darker hairs

Chelsea – what we call a “white” reindeer (as opposed to “pure white” like Blondie)

Emmental – light coloured

Silk – creamy hint to her normal colouration

Elvis – normal coloured with silver highlights

Hopscotch – “normal” coloured

Druid – a dark coloured reindeer

Spider

Pratchett – so dark even his beard is dark!

Andi

Winter free range days

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

Oslo leading the herd over for breakfast.

Glorious views out over Aviemore on a beautiful day.

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

Origami and the herd on an icy morning.

Ochil wondering if the food is ready yet

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

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

Santana sporting one of her antlers.

Handsome Rubiks posing!

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

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

Olympic is always one of the first to see us.

LX on a grey day…

… and again on a blue sky day!

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

Ryvita and her calf Berlin.

Beautiful Dixie.

Dixie, Fly and Lulu, stalwarts of the herd.

Young Dante.

Camembert, what a star!

Brie, Inca and Meadow.

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

Blyton and Camembert.

Baffin.

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

Hen, Lotti and Dave – feeding mission completed!

Happy reindeer eating their feed.

Celt on a windy day.

Little Kiruna.

Andi

Adopter’s 65th Anniversary Weekend: Part 2

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Adopters and reindeer relaxing in the garden (Photo by Andi Probert)

Here’s a wee round up of day two of our 65th Anniversary weekend…

After a good night’s kip we were all up bright and early (well, early at least, not sure about the bright!) for another day of fun, this time over at our Glenlivet hill farm. We have a second base there, about an hour’s drive from the Reindeer Centre, where some of our male reindeer spend the summer months, and which also gives us access to the Cromdale mountains for brilliant winter grazing.

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Hamish looking at the view (Photo by Barbara Butters)

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It’s a tough life! (Photo by Andrew Smith)

Hen and myself headed straight over to help Tilly set up at the farm, collecting some fallen branches covered with lichen for visitors to feed to our reindeer on the way. We arrived to find everything already looking quite organised, but the first big job was to move some of the reindeer from their normal daytime area – a sloping field with access to a large airy barn – down to the garden ready to meet their adopters. Hen was primed with a list of which reindeer had someone coming to see them, and we both made our way through the reindeer, who were munching away at their breakfast, popping head collars on the first 10, who we distributed between the various helpers we had, before we led them down the yard and let them loose in the fenced garden. The reindeer thought this was thoroughly exciting, and Blue in particular went leaping and bucking off down the hill! We went back for a second run, and a partial third run, before leaving the shier and older reindeer to relax in the peaceful barn for the day.

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Reindeer socialising in the garden (Photo by Yvonne Bannister)

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Aye Coffee providing caffeine and sugar to keep everyone warm! (Photo by Andi Probert)

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Happy iron age pigs delighted to have fresh ground to root around in

By now, much to my delight, Aye Coffee had arrived to provide me with my vital caffeine intake for the day and were setting up their van, Derek was prepping the meat for the BBQ (low food miles indeed!) and Alan had moved a group of the Iron Age pigs down to a pen near the garden for the day, which they were cheerfully rooting up. Alan then quickly made himself scarce, not to be seen for the rest of the day (probably busy running up a hill somewhere!). The first adopters were arriving and the drizzle was just starting to dry up. There was a roaring fire going in the BBQ hut, which was the perfect antidote to any chilly fingers.

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Lovely toasty BBQ hut(/sauna!)

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Derek (background) serving up burgers and sausages from the farm.

As adopters arrived, we tracked down reindeer for them and made introductions. October is peak rutting season, so all of our young bulls were in a separate pen, and we mostly headed in ourselves and brought adopted reindeer down to meet their adopters at the gate, to save anyone accidentally getting caught between teenage bulls who were full of hormones!

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Young bulls tussling.

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Feeding lichen lollipops to greedy reindeer! (Photo by Andi Probert)

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“I’ll have that!” says Scrabble

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Oryx meeting his adopters

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Spider delighted to meet adopters! (Photo by Linda Hoejland)

In the garden, everyone was handing out lichen lollipops, and the reindeer were very relaxed – by the afternoon most of them were lying down fast asleep between groups of visitors. Tilly had arranged tractor and trailer tours, but had underestimated their popularity, so the first tour was one tractor and trailer, but by the last tour there was a progression of tractor and trailer, landrover, and quad bike and trailer! Despite our slight lack of organisation with them, everyone seemed to have a blast and most people who wanted to go on it did (possibly with the exception of myself!).

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One of the tractor and trailer tours setting off (Photo by Carola de Raaf)

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Inquisitive red deer hinds and calves (Photo by Colin Brazier)

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Beautiful setting for our red deer herd (Photo by Andrew Smith)

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There was even cake!

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Busy making badges to show who their adopted reindeer is.

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Highland cattle wondering what on earth is going on! (Photo by Yvonne Bannister)

By 4pm, the BBQ was finished, the coffee van packing away, and the last adopters were heading home. There wasn’t too much to do except pack away the information boards, run the reindeer from the garden back up to the hill, lead the herd up onto the open hill for the night, and feed the bulls. And then, most importantly, head out for a celebratory meal ourselves! (Thanks Tilly!)

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Puddock bonding with herders Fiona and Morna (Fiona just may have been plaiting his beard…)

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Reindeer licking lichen off the walls! (Photo by Joanne Jewers)

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It’s all too much for Moose! He was mid-dream at this point!

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One of this year’s hand-reared red deer calves (Photo by Kirstin Kerr)

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Big pig! (Photo by Yvonne Bannister)

We certainly had a lovely weekend, and great to meet so many people (old friends and new). We hope you all enjoyed yourselves too. We’ll do it all again for our 70th (once we’ve forgotten how much organisation it all took…)

Andi

What reindeer would you…?

Over the summer during a rather (tipsy) evening, us herders got on to the topic of which reindeer would make good plumbers, friends, travel companions etc… It turned out to be illuminating and hilarious, so here are four of us giving our thoughts – hopefully it’ll be an entertaining insight into our beloved reindeer characters!

…go on a round the world trip with?

Abby: Erm…

Hen: It would have to be a northern hemisphere trip because they’d get too hot otherwise.

Abby: I would take a Swede because they’d know the country so you’d get to see local sights.

Hen: Maybe Bovril, but he might get lost. He gets lost on the free-range now sometimes…

Abby: Maybe Hook. He’s quite sweet but I think he feels quite worldly. I like Hook.

Hen: I like Hook. I think maybe Strudel, he loves to see new places!

Abby: You might have a fun holiday with Magnus but he’s a bit lazy.

Hen: It’d be more like a beach holiday with Magnus.

Andi: I think I’d take Gloriana, because she’d friendly, and attractive, and looks a bit different, so you’d meet lots of new people and have interesting conversations.

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The very beautiful Gloriana

…be trapped on a desert island with?

Abby: Puddock! No, Strudel. Puddock would be good fun. Wapiti would tell you a lot of tales.

Hen: Somebody fat who I could eat…

Andi: I wonder about somebody ingenious… Houdini, escape artist 🙂

Sarah: Somebody older and sensible who would be entertaining but not annoying… maybe Bumble.

Hen: But you’d have to eat your dinner before her as she’s so greedy…

Sarah: Oh yeah…

…get to be your interior designer?

Hen: Gandi!

Abby: Yea, definitely Gandi!

Hen: If any reindeer is going to know about wallpaper, it’s Gandi.

Andi: Yep, Gandi. Fashion, it’d be Bajaan because he’s very concerned about his appearance.

Hen: Yes he is!

Andi: When Emily took him out on Christmas tour, he got some mud on him and really didn’t like it so Emily had to brush him, which he really enjoyed!

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Gandi, interior designer extraordinaire!

…go camping with?

Hen: I reckon it would have to be a female reindeer. The males are too lazy, they’d expect the tent to be put up, and their dinner made.

Abby: Wapiti. She just likes to wander. I think she’d be quite quiet, maybe too sombre. Merida! She’d be good banter, and useful.

Andi: Lilac, because she’d know all of the best spots to go to.

Sarah: Anster. He’s chilled out and not as lazy as the other males so he’d be useful. He’d also be the sort to enjoy a good ale with.

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Lilac would point you in the right direction for a good camping spot

…least like to get in a fight with?

Hen: Lulu.

Abby: Yep Lulu. Even if you didn’t want to fight, she’d be like, ‘fight.’

Sarah: Parmesan. I just don’t think she’d give up.

Abby: She’d use words.

Andi: Bovril, because he’s just massive.

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Lulu (top) vs Parmesan (bottom): Lulu has the inner rage but Parmesan is definitely no pushover

…like to be your heart surgeon?

Hen: I think the lack of opposable thumbs would worry me.

Andi: Dragonfly, because he’s a thinker. He’s very clever, he thinks things through.

Abby: I think Dragonfly for me might be liable to have a hissy fit halfway through; maybe Topi.

Hen: He’s a bit of a joker at times though…

Abby: I’m really not sure on this one. I think Ryvita and Cheese could be the heart surgeon team, because they’re so in sync with each other. Cheese would be the anaesthetist.

Sarah: I think Spider.

Abby: I’d forgotten about Spider!

Sarah: I think he’d be focused with a flourish.

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Spider, apparently favourite to be heart surgeon. I would prefer someone (something!) with opposable thumbs, personally

…trust with a dark secret?

Abby: Shinty because he shies away from other people so he’d be too scared to tell anyone.

Hen: I was going to say an old reliable girl like Cailin but I suspect she’d gossip actually.

Sarah: Maybe Fern, I’m not sure she’d join in with the gossiping.

Abby: I think she’d gossip.

Andi: I’d say maybe Duke, he’s like a loyal hound, eager to please.

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Shinty being as shy and furtive as ever

…elect as prime minister?

Hen: Ooh.

Abby: Who’s got a good ministerial name… need someone a bit wise.

Hen: Need someone with a bit more sense than our current government.

Andi: Fly. Sensible. A good leader.

Hen: I’d agree, a good leader.

Abby: I’d say maybe Lilac. She’s been around long enough, she’s stern, and she’d get stuff done.

Hen: But does she speak to the people?

Abby: I don’t know. Probably not…

…would be you in a film?

Andi: This could be interesting..

Hen: Ladybird.

Andi: Because she’s small.

Hen: She’s quiet, she doesn’t like to make a fuss about things, she just gets on.

Andi: Okapi.

Abby and Hen: Ooh!

Andi: I love how people are judging here! Friendly, quite sensible. It’s funny how you view yourself! Independent, greedy, a little suspicious at times!

Sarah: Spy? She’s a pretty independent reindeer, knows her own mind, no nonsense, can be stubborn but also fairly willing to do things.

Abby: I think I would be Cheese. She’s a bit frantic at times. And she’s greedy. And she’s needy, she’s with her mum a lot. I don’t like to be alone! Who would Beyonce be?

Andi: Hopper? She’s a bit bolshy and a wee bit of attitude but she’s a really nice character.

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Filmstar beauty, Okapi

…go pubbing with?

Abby: You need like an old man reindeer, like Elvis.

Sarah: Elvis!

Andi: Elvis, yea. Or Paintpot.

Abby: Ooh yea! He’s a bit of a grouchy old man, he’d be like, ‘why’s my favourite beer no longer on tap?’

Hen: Topi. Old lad, good lad, he’d have all the gossip. Or Magnus.

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Topi, gossip King

…go clubbing with?

Hen: I don’t know, you’d have to pay me a lot of money to get into a club.

Abby: Fergus! I feel like he’d have a funny, mischievous night. You’d have a disaster of a night but it’d be amazing.

Sarah: Maybe Minute. He’d have the moves but he’d be pretty loyal!

Andi: I’d maybe take Chelsea because I reckon she knows the streets.

Abby: I reckon Chelsea might take me to a strip club…

Hen: She’d get you arrested.

Andi: It’d be a good night!

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Fergus being his usual rowdy self and waking up the inhabitants of reindeer house!

Sarah

Life on Tour

‘Christmas’ for us reindeer herders, doesn’t just mean Dec 25th, but rather the entire period of November and December. After 7-8 weeks of (organised) chaos, hectic days and usually less than desirable weather, Christmas Day itself always seems a rather incidental event at the end of it all! While tour is frequently great fun, it is also extremely tiring and by the end we’re all ready to heave a huge sigh of relief and pack away everything for another 10 months. Come January, should one more person jokingly ask a herder which one Rudolph is, then so help them God…

Topi has a quick nap on my shoulder whilst waiting for the parade to start
Topi has a quick nap on my shoulder whilst waiting for the parade to start

While up to eight teams of reindeer are away on the weekends in November and December, the weekdays are quieter, and most teams return home. We have around 45 big male castrate reindeer who are trained to harness, four of which will travel to each event along with two 6 to 7 month old calves, making teams of six. So even on the busiest weekends there are still reindeer at home taking their turn to ‘hold the fort’, and no single reindeer will go out to events week upon week. Many teams go out only for a night or two at the weekend, returning home straight away afterwards, while a few head away for longer but 2.5 weeks at a time is always the longest stint we ever do with the same six reindeer.

Spider looking incredibly relaxed at an event

Obviously, being based in the Cairngorms means that most trips away on tour for a ‘long stint’ start with the long haul down the A9 and onward, so a network of ‘bases’ across the UK to keep our travelling time down is a necessity. Our two main big bases are in the Lake District and South Wales, but we also have three in the central and southern Scotland, plus another five or so in England. Most are farms, so the reindeer are housed in a large, airy barn or undercover yard while we herders have accommodation on site too, usually in the form of a self-catering cottage. This then enables us to travel much shorter distances to our events, and (like us!) reindeer require days off while on tour, so the bases provide safe and secure locations for them then.

Origami, Duke, Hamish, Tanner, Aonach and Fyrish chilling out at our Welsh base
Origami, Duke, Hamish, Tanner, Aonach and Fyrish chilling out at our Welsh base

We’ve been visiting some of our bases for years now, so our hosts are well used to their unusual winter guests!
We’ve been visiting some of our bases for years now, so our hosts are well used to their unusual winter guests!

Grass is far too rich for a reindeer’s diet, so while we let them get some grazing each day while exercising them, we don’t leave them on grass for too long at any one time. Our usual routine is to get up and to take the reindeer out for a stretch of the legs first thing. At some bases this involves a run on halters, but at most we can let them loose in a field and they will hurtle around ‘dancing’ (reindeer don’t buck like excited horses, but will leap in the air, spin around and bounce about!). Then it’s back to the barn for their breakfast, while we poo-pick, refill water bowls and sort the lorry ready for the next event. Then it’s breakfast time for us!

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Hamish, Origami, Aonach, Duke and Fyrish (plus Tanner) burst out from the barn, down the field…

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… and away up the next one!

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It’s always reassuring when they come back! We pop their head collars on whilst out exercising in case anyone decides to adventure a little too far, but for the rest of the time at base we take them off.

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After a few minutes thundering around letting off steam, they like to settle down to graze and potter.

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Stalking whichever one of us has the bucket of lichen is their favourite pastime

Aside from looking after the reindeer, base days can go one of two ways, depending on your team partner is. Should it be Mel or Sally (among others) then it might become what has become known as ‘boot-camp’ – an energetic day of walking or cycling. For the lazier or less fit amongst us (primarily pointing the finger at myself here), a day of pottering around local towns, drinking coffee and sight-seeing seems more appealing! We do however, have to help out Reindeer House on occasion, who will sometimes send us lists of letters to write to go into adoption packs – Christmas is a hectic time for those left behind at base.

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Lotti, Hen and Abby on letter writing duty!

And then there are the events. They range from shopping centres to light switch-ons, town centre parades to private functions, and are a way of raising the money needed for the reindeer to continue their free-ranging lifestyle on the Cairngorms. Reindeer are a herd animal, hence why we never take less than four out together (usually six), and as they all go out to events as calves then they are very relaxed when we take them out and about again as full-grown adults, as they’ve seen it all before. They are great fun on tour and we always return home with endless stories from each event: how each reindeer behaved when pulling the sleigh, who fell asleep into their feed bowl, who kept trying to eat the tinsel on the sleigh, and who tried to eat nick a box of Celebrations from the Queen’s head groom at Windsor (stand up and take a bow, Fergus…).

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Fergus… never a dull moment…

Hen

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