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.
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…
A few months ago I wrote a blog about how we choose the names for the individual reindeer in the herd, and the themes we use each year. I mentioned, however, that there are always exceptions to the rule, so I thought I’d explain a few of the odder names in the herd, which don’t fit their theme. Most names do fit – even in a rather vague roundabout manner – but sometimes they just don’t at all!
First up, Hamish. Hamish was born in 2010, the product of his mother Rusa’s teenage pregnancy. Teenage in reindeer years that is, at 2 years old. Reindeer generally don’t have their first calf until 3 year olds, but some will calve as 2 year olds occasionally, especially if they are of decent body size already during the preceding rut, triggering them to come into season. Rusa was one such female, but unfortunately Hamish was also a large calf, and he got stuck being born. This resulted in a bit of assistance needed from us, and then a course of penicillin for Rusa, which interrupted her milk flow. We therefore bottle-fed Hamish for the first 2 or 3 weeks of his life, and any calf who we work so closely with at such a young age either requires naming, or ends up with a questionable nickname that sticks (a la Holy Moley!). In Hamish’s case we hadn’t already chosen the theme for the year, so just decided we’d choose a nice, strong Scottish name. And Hamish went on to grow into a nice, strong Scottish reindeer!
Svalbard next. While we’ve used both ‘Scottish islands’ and ‘foreign countries’ as themes, we haven’t technically done ‘foreign islands’. So where does his name come from? In fact, he was originally named Meccano, in the Games and Pastimes year. But at around 3 months old he was orphaned, and while he did obviously survive, it will have been a struggle, stealing milk from other females but never quite getting enough (this was while out free-ranging, so we weren’t around to help). As a result when we came across him a month or so later his growth had been stunted a bit, and he was very pot-bellied – a sign of inadequate nutrition.
On the Norwegian-owned island of Svalbard there is a subspecies of reindeer (imaginatively called Svalbard reindeer). Without any need to migrate anywhere, over time Svalbard reindeer have evolved shorter legs and a dumpy appearance, and Meccano resembled a Svalbard calf. Never one to like diversion from a neat list of themed names, I tried in vain to call him Meccano but eventually gave up. ‘The Svalbard calf’ had become ‘Svalbard’. Oh well. It does suit him.
And then there’s Stenoa. He was born in 2012 when our theme was ‘Things that happened in 2012’ (being as quite a lot of things did that year – the Olympics, the Queen’s Jubilee and most importantly, our 60th anniversary). Most of that year of reindeer have names with rather tenuous links to the theme, but Stenoa’s is probably the most obscure. Taking part in the Thames flotilla for the Jubilee was the Smith Family onboard the boat Stenoa, which belonged to Tilly’s dad and was given her name from the first name initials of Tilly, her three siblings and parents.
Every now and then we import some reindeer from Sweden, bringing them into our herd to bring in fresh bloodlines and to therefore reduce the risk of us inbreeding within the herd. There are currently about a dozen ‘Swedes’ in the herd, and while most have Swedish names, some don’t. In 2011, when they arrived to join our reindeer, we were all allowed to name one each, with Alex (out in Sweden with the reindeer while they were in quarantine), named the others – mostly after people they were bought from. So we have Bovril, Houdini and Spike still amongst the more traditional names… ‘My’ reindeer was named Gin (read into that what you will…) but sadly isn’t with us anymore.
Other than Holy Moley (explained in Fiona’s recent blog), the only calf who doesn’t quite fit last year’s Seeds, Peas and Beans’ theme is Juniper. On the day we named the class of 2020, Tilly’s long-time favourite (and ancient) Belted Galloway cow, Balcorrach Juniper, died, and her one request was that we name a calf in her honour. No point arguing with the boss! And juniper plants do have seeds I guess.
There’s been plenty more in the past (Paintpot for example, born with one black leg which looked like he’d stepped in a pot of paint) but I think that’s the main ones covered in today’s herd. But no doubt others will come along in time, and the cycle of constantly explaining a reindeer’s odd name to visitors on a Hill Trip will continue.
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!