Being the most recent person to start working at the Reindeer Centre I am experiencing the day-to-day workings of the Centre throughout the seasons for the first time. I thought I would write about one of my favourite “firsts” to date, which is finding the first calf to be born for the 2022 season. It was a beautiful day at the tail end of April, which happened to be my first day back at work after my usual two days off and Andi’s first day back at work after a holiday. We started our usual morning routine and set off from the house to head up to the enclosure to check on our pregnant cows and feed them, upon feeding the cows we realised that one reindeer was missing, so we grabbed our calving bag which includes: feed for the mother, spot on and antibiotic blue spray for the calf’s naval and made a start on searching the enclosure. For anyone that hasn’t been to our enclosure it is a vast amount of space to search, the perimeter line is 8km in length alone! The missing reindeer was the lovely, four year old, Dante.
We headed along the top ridge of the enclosure to check a well-known calving area up there, but the missing reindeer was nowhere to be seen so we continued climbing to the summit of Silver Mount in search of Dante. Keeping with the theme of many “first” experiences, this was also my first time being on and seeing the summit of Silver Mount, which has glorious views of the Northern Corries, Loch Morlich and down onto Glenmore. Luckily for us, Dante was also at the summit of Silver Mount.
With the easy part over we had to try and see whether Dante had calved or not and for the untrained eye this was a lot harder than it sounds. We could see that the reindeer was focusing on a specific ginger looking spot, but was this a new-born calf or a rock? A question that all herders ask themselves on a regular basis when looking for full grown reindeer, never mind a tiny calf! We were lucky though and the ginger mound began to move which confirmed that we had officially found the first calf of the season! Andi headed over to feed the mother, treat the naval of the calf and give spot on to give it protection from those dreaded ticks. Once we had checked that all was ok we headed back down to reindeer house to share the amazing news that our calving season had begun!
At the end of May Dante and her one month old calf headed out to the hills for the summer, along with around half of our other mums and calves. We caught up with them a few times whist they roamed freely in the hills, both mum and daughter seemed to have a great summer as they were always in excellent condition. The pair are now back in our hill enclosure for the autumn where we’ll begin to train Dante’s calf to wear a halter and get to know her personality. Hopefully she’ll grow up to be a big strong girl like her mum, and big sister Mangetout.
A while ago I wrote a blog about how Reindeer House managed to cope with its temporary hitch back in the summer, when its resident staff caught Covid. I mentioned then that Andi and I (who live outside of Reindeer House and managed to stay unaffected) were responsible throughout for the 8am morning check of the herd on the hill, so I thought I’d perhaps explain a little more about what we do in the mornings, before visitors arrive, in another blog. So I have put fingers to keyboard and here we are.
Throughout the whole summer we run the guided Hill Trips up to meet the reindeer in our hill enclosure at 11am and 2.30pm, but the herd are actually fed 3 times a day. By doing the first feed bright and early, it gives us time to check everything is shipshape and ready for the day, allowing us to then concentrate on making sure our visitors have as good a visit as possible, with us safe in the knowledge that all the reindeer are happy and healthy.
Usually 2 or 3 of us will head up early doors, and in the summer there is usually only one group of reindeer in the enclosure to deal with. By comparison right now as I’m writing this (early October), there are reindeer in 5 separate areas of the enclosure, all needing checking and feeding at least twice daily! One group only is much more straightforward and seems like a distant dream right now.
The very first job of the day, before heading to the hill enclosure, is to drive up to the ski centre to check none of the free-ranging reindeer are nearby. Right in the middle of summer this would be unusual, but they do sometimes surprise us, so it’s always worth a check! A convenient layby also gives us a bird’s eye view of much of the enclosure, so we have a quick scan over it too.
The hill enclosure is around 1200 acres in size; about 2km in length. The nearest end of it consists of several smaller areas, and our first job of the day is to bring the herd through to the nearest area, the ‘bottom corridor’, and to see if everyone walks through cheerfully and willingly. A reindeer who is off colour will lose their appetite and is quite likely to trail through a distance after the others, less enthusiastic about the prospect of breakfast, so that is the first clue of someone feeling under the weather.
If we are suspicious any reindeer is not quite themselves, the first thing we do then is to check their temperature – so it pays not to be the last reindeer through the gate, otherwise there could be a thermometer up your bum before you know what’s happening! However, a high temperature indicates a tick-borne fever, and a shot of antibiotics is the next step, which should nip any infection in the bud.
Once every week or so in the summer we’ll get the whole herd up to our shed and work our way through the whole herd, checking temperatures, as some reindeer are very good at not showing any symptoms at all even when they have a roaring fever. This type of fairly intensive routine monitoring isn’t necessary in the winter months as there are no ticks about then, but the warmer weather brings them out and so reindeer do get very used to regular violations of their dignity…
Something else that needs doing regularly of a summer’s morning, even daily at times, is fly-spraying. Like with any animal, flies will buzz around the reindeer on sunny days, and whilst they don’t generally cause any real problem, they drive the reindeer mad at times. No-one likes having flies buzzing round their face! With the reindeer, the flies tend to aim for the antlers, clustering around the soft growing tips where the blood supply is richest. If a tiny nick in the velvet skin is made, the flies will feed on the blood and this brings with it the risk of infection.
So we spray the antlers to help keep the flies off, using a DEET-based spray that is designed for horses. But unfortunately we can’t wipe the spray on with a cloth as reindeer hate their antlers being touched whilst they are growing (and also it would take forever to do 40-odd reindeer this way!), so we have to just spray it on, accepting that – from a financial point of view at least – an upsettingly large percentage of it is lost or misses it’s target. Reindeer very rarely stand quietly to have their antlers sprayed, either doing their best to pull away from us, or rushing around in circles if contained in the shed. But there’s no way around it – antlers need spraying and it’s better for the herd to be rather flustered for a few minutes each morning than spend the day charging around to get away from the flies.
On an average summer’s morning, at this point it’s breakfast time! Just like on the Hill Trips, we tip the bag of feed out into small piles in a big long line, count to check every reindeer is present and correct, and make sure every is eating enthusiastically. And then – just as importantly – head back down to the Reindeer Centre and stick the kettle on…
This first couple of hours of the morning is also when we do any ‘movement’ of reindeer if needed, such as letting reindeer out to free-range on the mountains outside the enclosure, or swapping over the reindeer in the Paddocks with those up in the hill enclosure. We also regularly poo-pick the nearer areas of the enclosure where the reindeer congregate, or do maintenance jobs on the fencing and boardwalks. I suspect people sometimes wonder why we don’t open any earlier than 10am, but these couple of hours are sacred to us – the time flies by all too quickly and we’re still often left scrabbling around trying to get finished and back to the Centre in time to open on schedule!
Whilst we’re lucky enough to live here in the Cairngorms, the only area of sub-arctic ecosystem left in the UK, and generally associated with snow and winter sports, we do (occasionally!) get some glorious sunny weather too. Loch Morlich beach turns into a resort, people are braving a dip in the water, and ice creams are being consumed.
But what happens to those arctic survival specialists that we look after, the reindeer? I have to say whilst I look forward to the sun, my heart also sinks a little that the herd are going to be unimpressed.
Reindeer are native to this area and habitat, as well as being found right across Scandinavia and Russia. And although those areas experience extreme cold, the summer temperatures rise to a similar level as here at Cairngorm. I actually looked up some average temperatures of prime reindeer herding locations in Sweden (Kvikkjokk by Sarek National Park) and Norway (Tromso) and compared them to Cairngorm.
It was interesting to see that their average summer temperatures actually exceed ours here, though they have much colder, and longer, winters. So, reindeer are definitely able to cope with the warmer temperatures – how do they do this?
Firstly, the reindeer have a much shorter, cooler summer coat than their insanely thick winter coat. From May they are moulting rapidly, looking like shaggy beasts with bad hair-dos, though with so much fur to lose it can take them until July to be fully into their sleek summer outfit. This must be much nicer for the sunny days – like when you’ve had a haircut and can feel the breeze on your neck!
Whilst reindeer don’t sweat like humans, they instead act like (large, overgrown, funny looking) dogs – flopping down and panting. This can look quite dramatic as their whole body moves with each breath, but it does seem to work. They do like the shade and will often sardine themselves into the shed in our Hill enclosure!
Another technique is to pee… a lot! By peeing, hot liquid is expelled from the body, and is replaced with cooler water as they drink to replace it, almost like an internal cooling system.
Reindeer also become “Beasts of the Bog” and disappear into muddy ditches and hollows, often lying down to cool their bellies. They will occasionally wade into pools and have even been known to swim in the loch – they are of course marvellous swimmers with their huge hooves.
The herd also tend to naturally choose the higher ground on hot days – in general there is a 1ºC drop in temperature for every 100 m gain in height (due to the lower air density), and this, along with the greater likelihood of a breeze to cool them, means the ridges and high tops of mountains are preferred when the sun is out. Up there, there is also more chance of late-lying snow drifts – even as late as August here in the Cairngorms, which are the ultimate cool bed to lie on!
So, while I do feel sorry for our reindeer on hot cloudless summer days, as they would much prefer the snows of winter, it turns out that they are pretty well adapted to cope with whatever the weather throws at them!
Recently one of our supporters posted us two Sámi flags. He wrote explaining that he had been hoping to come and visit the reindeer in February, and on Sámi day, take the flags up to the herd, and make a toast to the Sámi people, culture, and way of life. He had originally been planning a trip to visit the Sámi people but when it was apparent this wouldn’t be possible, he had planned to visit us instead. So, you can imagine how disappointed he was to find out that his trip to the Cairngorms also wasn’t possible. He asked if we could take the flags on the hill and raise a toast in his place, of course we were delighted to do this.
For the week around Sámi national day, when Dennis had been hoping to visit the reindeer, the weather was so wild that we couldn’t even get to where the reindeer were, let alone fly a flag. We’re talking snow drifts across the road as tall as me! This was serious winter weather. The reindeer were of course totally fine. When the weather gets wild and the snow gets deep the reindeer head up onto the ridges where the wind has blown the snow off and it’s easier to dig through to the grazing underneath. There was a couple of days when we forgot to take the flag out to the herd. The day we were finally able to was pretty wonderful. Me and Fiona headed out to find the herd, we had spied them quite a way away and were hoping to call them a bit closer. In the end we met somewhere in the middle. It was beautiful sunshine and certainly felt like spring was on it’s way. We flied the flag with the reindeer around it, it got me thinking a bit about what the Sámi flag represents.
The Sámi flag is a relatively new flag, it was first designed in the 60s. The colours in the flag, red, green, yellow and blue, are the most common colours used in Sámi clothing. The circle symbolises the sun in red and the moon in blue. The yellow and green in the middle are to symbolise the animals and nature.
The sun is incredibly important in Sámi culture and the sun symbol appears in lots of traditional Sámi artwork. The sun is worshipped in Sámi culture in particular due to the lack of sun in winter and the life that it brings in the summer. In the Sámpi, the area where the Sámi live, in the winter the sun doesn’t reach the horizon. Beaivi is the name of the Sámi sun deity. On the winter solstice a ceremony is carried out for Beaivi and a white reindeer is sacrificed to ensure that the sun returns, and the long winter ends. In spring when the sun arrives, the plants start to flourish and so do the reindeer which brings prosperity to the Sámi people. In order to give the sun more strength to rise in the sky, Sámi people leave butter on their doorsteps which melts and provides energy to the sun.
The moon is also important in Sámi culture, unlike the sun however, in Sámi folklore people are very suspicious of the spirit of the Moon. Supposedly in December the evil spirits wander among the people and the moon is thought to be the leader of them. Traditionally in February there would be a festival under the full moon in which people would bang drums and make a lot of noise to scare the moon away so that the sun can return. The sun and the moon are often shown to be battling in folklore. I would imagine that people are suspicious of the moon as it always comes out at night when it is dark.
The Sámi flag is a beautiful array of colours and wonderfully represents how the Sámi way of life revolves around the seasons and nature, much like the lives of the reindeer themselves.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Fergus was quite the star last year, ending up in the Press and Journal, our local newspaper. He was even on the front page!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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….