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
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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
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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.

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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.

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

Emm Cassidy Volunteer Day 2

The second installment in Emm Cassidy’s volunteering blog. This is the second of three and this week Emm got to meet lots of dogs as well as the reindeer!

Day 2

I turned up at Reindeer House at 8am forgetting it was an 8:30am starts as it was a week day and I met Dave who is originally from New Zealand. When Imogen arrived she started doing some knitting, which I found interesting and I enjoyed talking about knitting with her as my Granny had knitted clothes for my teddies.  With Imogen, I did poo picking in the paddocks whilst the others went to check the reindeer on the hill and give them their breakfast. Some reindeer had been in the extra paddock on the Saturday when it was the changeover day where they had been swapping reindeer from Tilly’s farm, the hill enclosure and the paddocks. One was Boris, a lovely reindeer with an odd shaped nose who is Mo’s cousin. We put out breakfast for Beastie, Ost, Aonach and Nutti (the 4 paddock reindeer) in 4 bowls and then put lichen on top of each. Imogen said we don’t mix the reindeer feed and the lichen together as the reindeer don’t like that.

I went with Dave on the 11am hill trip. He wears a really cool green hat with a ptarmigan feather sticking out of it. When Dave did the introduction talk in the carpark, I realised that different reindeer herders had different sayings when they gave their talks. I thought that is really nice and makes the hill tour their own. When most people had gone, we started to make our way down to the enclosure gate. We found the reindeer relaxing and lying down again by the fence sunbathing! I was slowly identifying a few individuals too as I had been making notes on my herd list every time I go up there.

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Glenshee and Sargasso chilling out in the sun

 

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Mo sunbathing

I ate my lunch in the front garden looking out on to the mountains and trees with Fiona and we talked about lots of things. I then played fetch with the 3 dogs and they barked with excitement all wanting the toy – bless.

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Blue, the leucistic reindeer
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Selfie with Glenshee

On the 2:30pm hill trip, which I did with Abby, we met Fran and her mum. Fran is a research student doing a study on where the reindeer graze each day, with radio collars on 6 reindeer in the hill enclosure. It was very interesting and I was there when we took the radio collars off them and she showed me them and how they worked. She also had made them reindeer proof and weather proof. Fran found out why Bourbon (who had a radio collar on) had a poorly tummy by looking back at the data where he had been the night before. It turned out Bourbon was down in the forest eating the wrong type of mushrooms.

I found out my mum and dad had seen me through binoculars and when I got back to my car, they had left a note saying:

3:30pm, lol! Saw you leading them up! Ha Ha! We were up the top looking down!! Mum, Dad xx

Me and Fiona were on duty to give the paddock reindeer their tea and put them to bed in the woods. I put the dark grain pellets in their trough in their stable then went to get some buckets of reindeer feed and lichen. The reindeer were getting very excited as there was food so they followed me up to their troughs. Whilst I put out the reindeer feed and their lichen on top I had to dodge their massive antlers. It was quite funny as one reindeer was trying to eat from the bucket whilst I poured the reindeer feed in the trough.  We then closed the paddocks for the night.

Day 3

Met Imogen’s dog called Brock, Dave’s dog called Tui and Alex (Fiona’s brother) and his dog Tip. At one point, there was 6 dogs in Reindeer House. I put Dave’s hat on Brock and took a photo of him, he looked so cute. I met Sarah who is a part time reindeer herder. Later we separated 8 reindeer from the herd and Fiona showed me how to put a head collar on a reindeer which I enjoyed learning about. I put a head collar on Blue and Duke. In the shed, we had 5 yearlings which included Scolty and Bhuachaille, then a 2 year old called Baltic and the 2 older reindeer called Blue and Duke (the role models) who will show the younger reindeer how to be led and behave on a head collar. For training, we went on a walk around the top enclosure. I led Duke and Baltic up the hill.

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Sleeping Tiree
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Broc with Dave’s hat on

Baltic was stubborn at first but then Duke started trying it on as I was new to this. But by the top of the hill, Duke knew who the boss was and Baltic was happier with being led as he was getting used to it. The training is important for the reindeer as this will get them used to being handled, health checked and to become brilliant Christmas Reindeer.

On my 2 hill trips today, I herded all the reindeer out the shed as they were all cooling off in the shade. The shed doesn’t look like it can fit 41 reindeer in but it does, it is like Doctor Who’s Tardis! One time when I was herding them out of the shed, I realised that I hadn’t seen Blue, I found him by the shed asleep. Blue, who is deaf, didn’t hear his reindeer friends move on – bless him. Near the end of the hill trip, the reindeer leisurely make their way up to the shed gate knowing they will be let back in soon. I really like this time as it is just us reindeer herders approaching them after everybody has left.

We are met by reindeer lying down relaxing and sunbathing. I really enjoyed that quality time relaxing with them and sitting by them giving them some fuss, talking to them and getting to know them more. This is where I did my selfie with Mo!

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Selfie with Mo!

We then let them into the shed for shade if they wanted it before we went back down to Reindeer House. I also learnt the reindeer language today which Utsi did with the reindeer.

Day 4

In the morning, we counted and herded the reindeer into the front enclosure and gave them their breakfast. Kota and Boxer didn’t seem themselves as they were very slow about moving into the front enclosure with the herd so we took them into the shed to check them over. They had their temperatures taken which revealed they both had high temperatures. That can be a bit dangerous for reindeer so Hen gave them both injections to bring their temperature down. Boxer then had an infected antler treated and then had sun cream on to protect his antler. We rewarded Boxer with some lichen. Kota and Boxer were so brave. We then put them out in the pen near the shed enclosure making sure they had plenty of food and where we can keep an eye on them.

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Poor Boxer with an infected antler

We then let the reindeer into the shed as Hen needed to fly spray (citronella) them to keep the flies and midges off their antlers. Hen did the spraying in two groups as it would be chaos if all the reindeer were in at the same time. Mo stood quietly in a corner behind me after he had his done as he realised if he kept running around that he would get more spray on him. I gave him a big fuss and talked to him saying he was a very clever reindeer.

I did the introduction talk at the start of the 11am hill trip and the herd history talk at Utsi’s Bridge on the 2:30pm hill trip. That was such a massive thing for me to do. I was so proud of myself.

Whilst I was poo picking the paddocks, mum visited and Imogen told my mum how well I had done that day with doing the two talks. Everyone was so proud of me and I was very proud of myself and I was getting so much more confident dealing with new people.

 Emm

 

Emm Cassidy Volunteer Blog 1

As a little winter treat to remind us of the better weather we had in the summer, we now have a series of blogs from volunteer and adopter Emm Cassidy who came to visit us in August. This is the first of three installments. We hope you enjoy!

My name is Emm Cassidy and I was a volunteer reindeer herder for 6 days at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. It was such an amazing experience and meant so much to me and I really enjoyed it.

I have known The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre for 9 years now since my family stayed at Wild Farm Cottage in Glenlivet in August 2007 which is owned by Tilly Smith. I was in my element meeting all the reindeer, feeding them and stroking them. I fell in love with a yearling called Dylan who then I went on to adopt for 6 years until he died suddenly of an undetected heart problem in September 2013.

We came to the 60th Reindeer Anniversary Adopters Weekend in October 2012 and I had sat with Dylan fussing him in Tilly’s back garden at her farm and he was talking to me by grunting at me! It was such a brilliant, special and magical time.

I now adopt Mo who is 4. I met Mo last year on my summer reindeer trek and fell in love with him too. The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is so special to me so when I found out I could volunteer there, I was so excited!

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Dylan and Me at teh 60th Reindeer Anniversary Weekend
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Meeting Mo on the reindeer trek. Mo and I are on the right

Working as a reindeer herder was extra special to me as I felt I fitted in perfectly with the reindeer and herders. When I first entered Reindeer House, I felt like I had been there for years and felt I was part of the family. I could just be myself and everyone is so friendly, special and understanding! I even made jokes which I normally don’t do! I have Aspergers Syndrome (a form of Autism) and Anxiety so being a reindeer herder was a very massive thing to me but being part of the team, I felt I hadn’t got any challenges and that I felt normal!

I couldn’t believe how quick the days went! I was really sad when it was all over. I have gained so much from being a reindeer herder and I wish we live closer to the reindeer herd and reindeer herders.

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Ready for my first day as a reindeer herder

Day 1

Went into Reindeer House and it was really brilliant seeing everyone and the dogs again. I met Andy who is originally from Kansas and Paddy (Abby’s boyfriend) and properly met Julia (who I had only seen from a distance last year). I helped Fiona fill up the reindeer feed sack with reindeer feed which is the reindeers’ breakfast then with Fiona, Abby and the 3 dogs called Sukie, Tiree and Murdo went to the ski carpark in the reindeer van to find any free ranging reindeer near the road. Sukie had jumped from the boot to me in the back and snuggled up to me and enjoyed lots of fuss and attention. She had remembered me from last year when me and my brother David had thrown sticks for her outside the reindeer centre. When we had got to the ski carpark, Sukie immediately sat up and looked intently out of the window looking at the mountains with her ears up and very alert. Then we then went to check the reindeer herd in the hill enclosure. The reindeer were in the East Enclosure and followed us up the board walk. The midges were very bad up the hill that morning and they were swarming around us. Abby and Fiona fed the reindeer and then I was able to feed the last bit to them. We counted them very quickly to make sure that all the reindeer are there and ok or identify who is missing.

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Fiona leading the reindeer up the boardwalk

I spotted Mo and went to say hello and I was very excited to see him. Abby and Fiona identified some yearlings (reindeer who were born last year) who had been brought over from The Cromdale Hills the day before and they hadn’t seen them for ages. They were really pleased to see them again and were trying to recognise them and guess who they were as they had changed quite a lot since they had last seen them. They had got much bigger, had antlers and got their summer coat on.

Back at Reindeer House Imogen was hoovering up. Murdo started to play with the hoover by trying to get it which annoyed Imogen who sent Murdo to bed.

Julia showed me how to poo pick the paddocks which we both did together. The 4 reindeer in their sleeping enclosure in the woods were coming near the fence knowing it was nearly their breakfast time. We then let the reindeer into the paddocks and they headed straight for their breakfast. Julia introduced me to the reindeer who were Beastie, Ost, Aonach and Nutti. We then had to get out of the paddocks as it was time to open it to the public.

I was so excited to go in the reindeer office where lots of information is up around the room about each individual reindeer and which ones are in the hill enclosure. I had a herd list so every time I went up there, I could make notes on every individual reindeer till I got to know them all individually.  They store all their paperwork and adopters folders in the office too with individual reindeer photos which is organised alphabetically and this is where the herders organise their Christmas events, do the adopters packs, answer emails, keep up to date with the social media pages and organization of the reindeer centre. I was amazed.

Later  I went on the 11am hill trip with Imogen. I was a bit nervous of the people at first but then slowly got more confident with them. I carried the hand feed up in the rucksack and went at the back to make sure nobody got lost or went the wrong way as the line can be sometimes broken up as going up a steep hill. I started to get to know each individual reindeer and making notes on them on my herd list. Noted their antlers shape and size, any markings, the coat colour, something that made them stand out, their personality etc.

We all had lunch at the big long table at Reindeer House and it was lovely as everybody talked to each other and asked how their day was going and what they had been up to. Everyone was interested in each other. There wasn’t any sugar for my tea so Fiona said that you can also put a teaspoon of honey into tea to make it sweeter and it was very nice. I was also very interested of the defrosting milk on the draining board. It turned out they freeze the milk as it is used up so quickly as there is lots of people in the house so they don’t have to keep going to the shop every day to get more milk.

We filled the reindeer feed sacks and the reindeer hand feed bags for the hill trips. We put 2 scoops of reindeer hand feed in each bag. On the 2.30 trip Julia the herder was telling the people about the characters of the herd and health and safety when hand feeding, I loved the feeling when they tried to nibble on your clothes or bag and how they got close to me when I had the feed bag. Some reindeer followed you as they knew what you have got in the bag and knew what was coming out of the bag.

Nearer the end of the hill trip, we found all the reindeer just chilling and lying down at the bottom of the east enclosure by the gate. They were so laid back and it was really brilliant and special to sit and relax with them. Julia put out most of the reindeer feed and she let me give out the last bit which was brilliant.

When everyone had gone, me and Julia was really surprised that it was 4:45pm. It was a very lovely sunny day and people had just loved being with the reindeer and loved finding out about them.

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Putting the reindeer feed out

Emm

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

 

 

 

 

Fergus

Well, he stole the hearts of many a visitor last year and we are often asked for updates on the boy, so I thought I’d do a quick blog about the naughty man. I am, of course, talking about the darling little Fergus!

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Fergus looking angelic on the hill

In June 2015, Foil gave birth to a baby boy. She was a relatively old mother at 13 and unfortunately became ill only a few days after having her calf. We did our best to look after her, but sadly she passed away. The average life span of a reindeer is around 12-14 years, and the vet thinks that Foil had a heart problem, probably linked to old age. This left us with a baby reindeer to hand rear and the prospect of it both excited and dismayed us. Looking after a little reindeer is great, but when they need constant feeding and they decide to poo in your living room, sometimes it can be a little trying. I’m sure you parents out there are scoffing at our patheticness but none of us herders here at the centre have babies, and after this experience I’m sure it will be a while before any of us are having our own!

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Fergus sleeping in a feed bowl, inside reindeer house.

So, from 10 days old, Fergus lived at the Centre with a few of the herders. Luckily for them he spent most of his time in the paddocks, but herder Mel took a real shine to him and he was often found napping in her room on her rare days off. Fergus needed feeding 5 times a day, and he soon got to know the times to expect a bottle. He would often be found at the end of the paddocks closest to the house, grunting his little heart out for 5 minutes before his goat milk and growth powder formula arrived. It was always fun for our visitors to see him getting his bottle.

Fergus grew up with dogs around him so is not too worried by the resident reindeer house dogs – Tiree, Murdo and Sookie – who used to cuddle up with him. Murdo always loved to lick Fergus, making it look like Murdo had adopted the little reindeer! Fergus loved to sleep in the dog beds too.

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Fergus and Tiree guarding the door
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Murdo and Fergus on a ride up to the hill
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Trying some different beds out for size

Fergus was quite the star last year, ending up in the Press and Journal, our local newspaper. He was even on the front page!

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Fergus in the news and up on the hill

In the autumn, Fergus spent more time up in our hill enclosure, eventually living up there full time and just getting a few bottles a day whilst we were doing visits and feeding the other reindeer. Our other calves came back off the free-range and we started to train them to wear a headcollar. Fergus was already adept at this as we had been leading him on and off the hill earlier in the year, and he was a good role model for some of the other calves who were a little shyer around us.

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Little Fergus ‘helping out’ on a trek in 2015

Fergus then went off on Christmas tour and of course, he went in Mel’s team. He is pretty naughty and managed to steal mince pies on one of his events, and was trying to nab some Celebrations chocolate on his posh Windsor event as well!

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Fergus having a cuddle with ‘mum’ Mel

Then the day came when Mel had to say bye to Fergus, at least for a little while. He had tried bonding with the females way back in autumn, but didn’t really have any success, so had to go onto the Cromdale hills with our other boys to free-range for winter. Fergus had been living in the hill enclosure for a while before we took him and the last remaining boys from the enclosure over to the farm to be led onto the free-range. Mel was upset to see her baby boy head off, but it was the best thing for him.

Soon enough the winter was over and Fergus came off the free-range with the other boys, not a care in the world and ready to get fat over summer. He’s grown a lot since he was a calf, so has spent most of the year over at the farm as he has a tendency to jump on unsuspecting children and give them a fright.

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Cheeky devil!
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Fergus looking great at 1.5 years old

He has been to the Centre for a couple of flying visits, staying in the paddocks, and delighting our visitors. In April, Mel ran the Paris marathon and as a surprise Fergus was brought over here as a well done for her. We made him a little paper collar, congratulating Mel on her run and I’m sure she enjoyed having him round again! He’s been in the house a couple of times over the summer, but he is now far too big for the dog beds he used to sleep in. It’s also not quite so cute anymore when he does his business in the house!

Now Fergus is a cheeky reindeer as you know. His level of foolishness was put up a notch a few weeks ago while we were out painting. Dave was out in the paddocks painting the posts a new and shiny coat of red. Well, you guessed it; he turned his back for only a few moments and Fergus is rubbing his big nose up and down a freshly painted post. And sure enough he turns his face, proudly exhibiting a bright red nose. Though apparently, even with a red nose, Fergus cannot fly. Thanks for the entertainment Ferg!

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He’s a hilarious little reindeer who will no doubt make us laugh for many a year to come. Hopefully he’ll get to come up on the hill in a few years, once he’s learnt some manners!

Imogen

Luciferous Logolepsy

Exploring the meanings of unusual words and the Reindeer hoose Office wall…

To explain this rather dubious title, in our humble office here at reindeer house there is a list of rather obscure words stuck to our wall: things like Jargogles, Apricity and twattle. the latter meaning to gossip or talk idly – a lot of that goes on in our office to be sure!

Quite a few of these words we feel are quite apt for a few of our fluffy friends up on the hill so I’m going to introduce you to a few choice selections!

Snoutfair – A good looking person.

I feel this would obviously be quite apt for all the reindeer as they are such gorgeous beasts but Cheese obviously thinks very highly of themselves here!

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Cheese being silly!

Cockalorum – A little man with a high opinion of himself.

If there was ever a reindeer that fit this description it would be Mo, Mo is a cheeky little fella and at four years old he’s definitely one of the smallest males in the herd and he more than makes up for it in attitude!

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Handsome little thug, Mo

Lethophobia – The fear of oblivion

So this is a tad dramatic but definitely applies to one of my favourite reindeer Shinty. Shinty is originally Swedish and was imported back in 2011. He’s a super sweetie (I think) but painfully shy and often looks apologetic for just turning up in the morning. If any reindeer were to fear oblivion it would be him!

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Shinty looking a little wide eyed and worried, as usual

Hugger mugger – To act in a secretive manner

To be honest this applies very well to the female reindeer during the winter months – at this time of year we have to find the reindeer every day and we do all of our visits out on the open hillside. The amount of times we’ve walked out for miles to then turn around and have an entire herd of reindeer smugly behind you is definite hugger muggery if you ask me!

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The girls in winter, sneaking off to hide for the night

Jollux  – Slang for being a wee bit on the chubby side.

Without a doubt the Jollux of the herd is Magnus, the lovely magnus loves nothing more than chowing down – unfortunately it’s rather hard to put a reindeer on a diet as the hillsides are covered in lovely grazing. This also brings me onto another great word – Callipygian: to have beautifully shaped buttocks. Magnus most definitely gives Beyonce a run for her money!

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Magnus looking majestic and pretty tubby!

The final word, one used almost daily here at Reindeer House is Groaking – To silently watch someone eating, hoping to be invited to join them. Every time lunch hour hits there’s some person with a fantastic looking lunch….

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Dave groaking…

 Abby

Reindeer, anthrax and climate

Recently via Twitter we were moved at the news of an anthrax outbreak in Western Siberia, the Yamalo-Nenets region, which has hospitalised over 90 reindeer herders and caused the deaths of almost 2,500 reindeer. The nomadic families herding reindeer across the area were evacuated or vaccinated – authorities are aiming to vaccinate over 40,000 reindeer. In the last few days, a 12-year old boy and his granny have both died.

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It is thought that melting permafrost exposed the carcass of a long-dead reindeer, and dormant anthrax contained within it was exposed and became active. In cold temperatures the spores contained within the ground are capable of surviving up to 150 years; in warmer temperatures they morph into a more infectious state.

The melting of the permafrost is unusual, both in its location and its extent. Warming of the tundra this year has been unusually high, with temperatures of 35 degrees. Climate change is something you hear of more and more in reindeer literature and research around the world.

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The habitats are changing – flora and fauna increase or decrease as ecosystems fluctuate due to climate, disease or human influence – for example, millions of hectares of birch forest are defoliated by outbreaks of moth now confined to northern latitudes due to climate; wildfires are more common as habitats’ defences weaken; lichens are reduced due to increased pressure on remaining areas and competition; more oil is piped out, disrupting migratory patterns; politics confine reindeer to particular boundaries; and as a way of life reindeer herding becomes more economically challenging.

In Yakutia, to the east of Yamalo-Nenets, there are around 200 burial grounds of cattle which died from anthrax. Perhaps hoping that they won’t be affected isn’t enough.

As a small Scottish reindeer ‘family,’ it is sobering to wonder about the slowly unfolding systemic impact on reindeer and herders around the world – but of course this is just a small part of a very large story, and we mustn’t lose sight of this larger picture that affects us all.

Read more:

New Scientist article: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2099486-child-dies-in-anthrax-outbreak-linked-to-thawed-reindeer-corpse/

Washingon Post article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/07/28/anthrax-sickens-13-in-western-siberia-and-a-thawed-out-reindeer-corpse-may-be-to-blame/

BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-36951542

Sarah

 

It’s a strip-tease!

Autumn is definitely here now, even if we have tried to ignore the fact the leaves are turning and days getting shorter… however it’s not all bad cos it’s the time of year that reindeer are looking at their absolute best. The past 5 months have been full on for the bulls growing these enormous antlers. Bovril, Balmoral, Bandy (not all bulls begin with ‘B’), Ost, Houdini, Pera and Kota (there we go) are a few of our main breeding bulls this year and they have all got a fantastic pair of antlers to complement their voluptuous curves (fatties!).

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Moskki shedding his velvet

So we get to the end of August and wait with baited breath to who will be first to strip their velvet. Ost was number one. He is a 3 year old bull, just a youngster, so this will be his first year of being the main man. The others took a few days but then we were well underway with velvet hanging off left, right and centre. Balmoral stripped his velvet in the paddocks so with visitors going around we had to pre warn them of his gory state as it can look quite bloody, even though there is no feeling in the antlers at this point. He is now back on the hill with the others. It was fairly amusing walking this huge, quite terrifying looking bull out of our livestock truck, across the Sugarbowl trail to our mountain enclosure and he walked like a true gent. Makes us so proud of them!

The first to strip velvet are the main breeding bulls, then young bulls and females are next in line. The gelded males don’t always strip their velvet clean and end up with velvety antlers over the Christmas period which is fine and means they don’t look so terrifying with big bony antlers, even though we all know they are far from terrifying.

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Bovril in full velvet
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Bovril stripping his velvet
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Bovril looking amazing with his antlers fully stripped

Antler is an amazing thing and there hasn’t been much study on it. For so much bone to grow over such a short period of time, it is incredible! Another cool antler fact is if a reindeer damages or breaks an antler one year, the antler that grows the next year (keeping in mind it’s a whole new antler) will remember the break/damage and it will have a scar in that same spot. At that point it will always be slightly weaker… Hmm, that’s pretty weird you have to admit.

Fiona

Grunter, The Monsterful (meaning wonderful and extra ordinary)

I remember the day Grunter was born. Dixie, his mum, was only two years old at the time and rather than taking herself away from the herd to find a nice wee spot to calve she stuck with them and joined in with our daily guided tour. Things all happened very fast for her and before she knew it, mid hand feeding time for our visitors, Dixie popped out a tiny wee bundle which was Grunter! Much to her surprise she really didn’t know what to do next, instinct didn’t kick in and she legged it off up the hill in panic. Sally and Kathleen were on the visit that day so they reported down for a contingent of herders to come onto the hill to help out.

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Connor feeding Grunter one of his many bottles

Alex and Emily first came up to help out getting Dixie back and taking herself and Grunter (who obviously wasn’t named at this point) back to our shed and penned area on the hill. I then joined them to help get Grunter to suckle as it is very important for them to get their first milk which is the colostrum. This plays an vital part in their immune system at the very beginning but also for the rest of their life! Dixie was extremely unsettled and actively using her feet to shoo Grunter away from her so we had to use a bit of brute force as Grunter needed to get the milk. We also supplemented with some formula from the vet, just in case he didn’t get a full quota.

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Emily feeding Grunter and Hippo, another hand reared calf that year

For the next few days we didn’t want to keep them separate in case there was a small chance Dixie would take to having a calf. We left the two of them up in the shed area for a few days but also went up early mornings and late nights to give Grunter a bottle of milk. It was at this point he got his name as Sally and I were walking up towards their pen one morning and the demanding sound of ‘grunt… grunt… grunt’ was echoing. It was a nickname which of course stuck, as most nicknames do with the reindeer. It became very apparent over the next few days and weeks that Dixie was not going take on Grunter so we decided it was best for her to head for the summer free range with the other cows and calves and we would hand rear the wee man ourselves.

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Grunter getting his much anticipated bottle

Another few days passed and then we sadly lost a female, called Maisie, who had a female calf of 10 days old so now we had two! Its unusual enough having one, let alone two to hand rear in one year – we were left well and truly holding the babies… We named her Hippo as she was as hungry as a hippo when it came to giving them their bottle of milk. The two of them were thick as thieves however it was definitely Hippo leading Grunter astray, he would follow along like a lost little brother. Everyday they would go up and down the hill with us spending the day up there and then back down to our paddocks here at the Centre at night. Not only did we have two reindeer to hand rear but we also ended up with two red deer (from our Glenlivet farm) to bottle feed so it was a right wee crèche out there.

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Grunter and one of the red deer

As always they grow up far too fast but it was such a great summer with them.  They were full of fun and mischief. Usually reindeer wean off the bottle of milk round October time but Grunter (not Hippo) was very much still enjoying his bottles of milk right into December and even had them while out and about on Christmas events. As a teenager Grunter was a bit of a handful as he loved jumping on people. He has managed to include most of us reindeer herders in that too. Reindeer herder Anna will remember Grunter’s hooves reaching her shoulders in the paddocks and I remember once I was calling the reindeer down and Grunter decided that was his time to pounce (literally) therefore during those younger years Grunter was sent to the farm for the summer months where he couldn’t pick on the general public… or reindeer herders! However he did mellow when he got to about 3-4 years old and he turned into the most amazing reindeer – he didn’t have a malicious bone in his body.

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Grunter and Hippo eating out of the feed bag

When out on Christmas tour I have taken him into old peoples homes and children’s hospitals where patients have been bed bound. The delighted looks on their faces to meet Grunter was priceless. We went to visit my Grandpa when he was fairly frail at his home on the south east coast and we got Grunter right in his conservatory to meet and greet, needless to say my grandpa was delighted! I have had very young children lead him around as he is totally trust worthy. Candice and Pandra (long term supporters of the herd) will have fond memories of Grunter on tour, I think he was a bit of a guardian in the pen when little Pandra would walk round, the other reindeer wouldn’t give her a hard time if Grunter was by her side. That was the only slightly naughty thing about Grunter was that he was so tame and used to humans that he didn’t think twice about giving the other reindeer a bit of a hard time… or was it keeping them in check within the herd, not sure. When we stopped at service stations to fill with fuel Grunter would make himself known by grunting to seek a bit of attention, which let’s face it if he was in my team he always got… I did spoil him rotten!

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Fiona holding Grunter, who doesn’t seem fazed at all!

When back at home he was always used as a role model, whether it be training new reindeer to pull the sleigh, to lead the herd in or moving them round on the hill side. When loading into the livestock truck Grunter wouldn’t even break his stride to go up the ramp which showed how comfortable he was and gave the younger inexperienced reindeer comfort in travelling. He definitely had a cheeky side though and sometimes when pushing the herd in Grunter would leap around dancing and refusing to go through gate ways… he was playing like a naughty child and avoiding doing what we wanted him to do because he knew us so well.

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Grunter, September 2014

Grunter died almost exactly eight years to the day after he was born. He was over at our hill farm having spent the winter free ranging on the Cromdale Hills. Over the past year he hasn’t seemed to put on weight quite as much as we liked however his spirits were always high. On his last night with us Tilly shut him in so he could get a good pile of lichen to himself and as she left she just pushed the gate to, not quite latching it shut. In true Grunter style he finished up the yummy stuff and then pushed his way out the pen. He headed to the top of the hill beside a birch woodland and that’s where he died. Tilly found him in the morning so we buried him up there in the woodland with a good view of the Cromdale Hills. We suspect his shortened life may have been from not getting the best start to life in the first place and maybe not having as strong an immune system, but this is just speculation, maybe he had something underlying that we didn’t find. The main thing was he was never in pain or horrifically ill, he was the same old Grunter from beginning to end.

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Grunter, September 2015

Reindeer like Grunter are rare and he has no doubt crossed paths with many of you whether it be here at home in the Highlands of Scotland, out and about on Christmas tour, or both! Feel free to write your story / memory of Grunter and let’s share the antics of this amazing reindeer!

Fiona

Grunter in 2008, the year he was born, followed by him in 2009, 2011 and 2015.

Dinner Date

So there is often great confusion over what reindeer like to nom on and if you ever find yourself in that special situation where your dinner date is a reindeer we would hate for you to be unprepared!

The key to any nice dinner is of course a nice accompanying beverage; reindeer love fresh water from a mountain burn or pool… or even an upland lochan – they turn up their noses at tap water so that’s a big no no, I’ve seen reindeer lap up rain droplets up instead of lowering themselves to drinking the tap water we provide them on Christmas events!

As you guys all know by now from reading all our previous reindeer centric blogs, reindeer themselves are an arctic animal so they like their salad with a northern twist! These guys need arctic/sub-arctic habitat and plants to have happy tummies (think actimel for reindeer!)

Reindeer LOVE lichen… I mean L.O.V.E lichen! Although partial to a bit of tree lichen (you could add it in for flair!) the mainstay for the reindeer are ground growing lichens, they are the only animal excepting gastropods (snails/slugs) to have evolved the digestive enzyme to break down lichen.

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Lichen covering the forest floor

Lichen is the main source of food for reindeer in the winter when the rest of the grazing has died back for the year and forms springy carpets at the bases of heathers and sedges up on the mountains here. However, interestingly enough lichen contains barely enough nutrients and energy to sustain a gnat let alone a reindeer. Thus in the winter the reindeer very cleverly slow their metabolism right down and the young stop growing – being a reindeer is very much a feast and famine business.

NB. It may be best to plan a summer dinner with your chosen reindeer.

The summer diet is much more varied, it’ll make for a multi-course experience! Once spring hits, the mountains turn green and all the lush grazing once again unfurls. Reindeer will eat almost anything montane, chewy and fibrous (reindeer have adapted to live off low nutrient arctic plants) – there is a common misconception that a lovely field of grass would float their boats but in actual fact it would be the equivalent of us living off a complete diet of clotted cream and would end in some unhappy digestive systems!

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Lilac and Hornet, roaming around in the lush grazing

Reindeer will graze on an array of montane sedges and heathers as well as leafier vegetation such as birch and blaeberry (wild blueberry) leaves in the summer months. In the autumn reindeer will do anything for a wild mushroom; their digestive system allows them to eat even the super poisonous Fly agaric mushroom, however mushrooms often  = drunk reindeer which is more than hilarious!

Reindeer will also eat some rather unusual things to gain nutrients if they are lacking, such as cast antler bone (full of great minerals!) as well as the velvet skin they shed from their antlers in the late summer – yum! We have ascertained that while they will eat their own velvet, they draw the line at anyone else’s!

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Kate shedding the velvet from her antlers
Sambar Velvet Shedding
Sambar shedding velvet

Whilst this is the mainstay of a natural reindeer diet, if you’ve visited us here you may know we provide a supplementary feed for the reindeer for several reasons – reindeer are greedy and it ensures we have a lovely visit, we give them a wee bit of a helping hand at times of year when grazing is scarce and finally for half the year we use a 1200 acre enclosure and providing a supplement mix ensures all of our yummy natural grazing can re-grow.

First things first if you’re going to make a mix for your reindeer you’ll need to acquire a cement mixer. It is the sure fire way to make a yummy and well mixed batch, your dinner won’t go well if items are poorly distributed! We like to mix with a tonne of hay-mix (chopped up hay) which is covered in garlic molasses. The garlic is great for the digestive system but it does mean us herders have a garlicy scent most of the time. It can be a very lonely existence this reindeer herding! Next a splash of barley and sugar-beet alongside a general sheep feed full of good grains and our last ingredient is rather special. It’s called dark grains and looks pretty boring BUT is by far the coolest thing in the mix.

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Dark Grains

It’s a by-product of alcohol distilling (malt whisky production), obtained by drying solid residues of fermented grain to which certain solubles (pot ale syrup or evaporated spent wash) have been added. Unfortunately all the alcohol is all gone by this stage and the dark grains themselves are rather bitter so maybe mix them in well!

One final word of wisdom if you want to posh up your dinner is to sneak some seaweed in there – we discovered the reindeer loved the stuff after it was used to fertilize a patch of tree saplings and they ate it all. It’s now something we regularly provide for the reindeer in our paddocks and enclosure over the summer months.

We wish you the best of luck and hope if you ever have a reindeer date dilemma we’ve provided some key tips to a great evening or you!

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Gandi and Puddock with their main course of lichen!

Abby