Characters

Visitors often ask how on earth we tell apart the 150-strong herd of reindeer. Whilst there is variation in colour, markings and antler shape, one of the biggest distinguishing features is actually character. Just like people, reindeer come in every shade of cheeky, shy, friendly, stand-offish, bolshy, greedy, intelligent, daft… I thought I might mention a few stand out character types, past and present!

Overexcited Labrador

Aztec leading the herd – look at that expectant face

Step up, Aztec! Always the first to be involved, always wanting to “help”, very friendly, lovable, and not a manner to be seen if there is a mere sniff of food… Fun, but a bit of a liability.

Also falling into this category: Kipling, Bumble, Eco

The Thinker

Olmec paying careful consideration to all potential outcomes

Reserved and steady, not always the easiest to catch but utterly dependable when out on tour. Olmec, I’m looking at you.

Also applies to: Dragonfly

TV Diva

HM with her adoring fan Lotti

Introducing the one and only Holy Moley… who knows full well that she basically had her own TV documentary and hence feels that every visitor is there to see her and her alone.

Also: Dr Seuss appears to feel that his minor starring role in the same show entitles him to extra food portions every single day too.

Sweet as Pie, Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly

Sweet Diamond, with Hopper in the background

Beautiful light-coloured Diamond has to be one of the gentlest souls in the herd. She walks with a slight limp after an injury back in her younger days, which of course means we all (needlessly) slip her extra bits of feed. 

Also: Amber, Esme, Sunflower

Loyal and True

Okapi in her usual position – right in the footsteps of the herder

Certain reindeer can always be relied upon when we’re moving the free-range herd – they’ll be near the front, they willingly have a headcollar put on, they trustingly plod behind you whilst the rest of the herd debate whether your bribe is worth coming for. Okapi, you’re the star here.

Also: Olympic

The Boy Band Pin-Up

Sherlock, admired by all!

Sherlock has to be one of the most impressive looking reindeer in the herd today, and he also knows how to work it. Some reindeer naturally prick their ears for a photo, and seem to offer their best side!

Also: Elvis, of whom there was never a bad photo taken!

Grumpy Old Men (and Women)

That look in Pony’s eye which was the precursor to antlers being aimed at you! We were always grateful when she cast her antlers each year, though she would then resort to using her front feet!

Bond may only be 5 years old, but he definitely ticks every box for “grouchy” – you only need to look at him and he rolls his eyes at the thought that you might try to interact with him. Likewise, walking too near Lace or Turtle is likely to extract a swing of the antlers and a snap of the mouth as a warning.  Turtle is Pony’s daughter, who was perhaps the grumpiest reindeer we’ve ever had in the herd, so it’s definitely inherited!

Also: Addja once implanted his antlers into my leg when in a bad mood, only to cast one, which definitely didn’t make him any more cheery (though it did make me chuckle at the instant karma).

Big Friendly Giant

Scrabble, our very own BFG!

One of the tallest, heftiest reindeer in the herd, Scrabble was a bit of a liability in his youth as he was just so keen to meet everyone, and somewhat unaware of his sheer size. It almost seemed that his bum was so far away from his brain that he couldn’t keep track of the children he was wiping out as he turned around… Now he’s an old fella so a bit steadier, but just as friendly and enormous!

Also: Comet

Don’t Mess With…

Brie acting like butter wouldn’t melt… until she disagrees with the program

Brie may look little and cute, but her first instinct if she doesn’t like something is to beat it/them with her antlers, and whilst she both she and her antlers may be small, she is ANGRY. As Mel once found out when leading Brie, and Brie decided she did NOT want to be there…

Also: Spy. If Spy has calved, it usually takes about four herders, all hiding behind gates/fences to move her where we want her to be.

Andi

Photo Blog: December 2023

On the last Friday of each month throughout 2023 I have shared photos that I’ve taken on my phone to hopefully give everyone an idea of the goings on at the Reindeer Centre. What a complete mix bag of photos this is to finish the year off! December has seen me up and down the A9 and dotting around locally with beautiful teams of reindeer for lots of Christmas events. I’ve done the odd day at the Centre too catching up with the goings on here, with just enough office time to put together this blog. My wonderful colleagues have also been ridiculously busy on events and at the Centre keeping everything going. Getting through gazillions of adoptions packs, leading fully booked Hill Trips and of course Christmas Fun in the Paddocks. This selection of photos doesn’t really do December justice, but it’s a snap shot of what I’ve been up to at least.

30th of November: Couldn’t resist including this one from November. Moving our free ranging herd in the snow!
1st of December: Cassie feeding the calves out of the bag.
2nd of December: Very chilled out reindeer in Aberfeldy after a short parade. In the team we have Dr Seuss, Frost, Haricot, Lupin, Colorado and Limpopo.
4th of December: After two nights away here’s the same team as above returning to the snowy hills.
10th of December: Stenoa and Olympic posing at the front posing with Santa and a pantomime crew.
11th of December: Seven month old calves Colorado and Ob sharing the same puddle.
12th of December: Amazon needing a chin rest.
12th of December: Bordeaux’s beard blowing beautifully in a cold Cairngorm breeze!
15th of December: Walking a team of reindeer out of the enclosure for a local event at the Aviemore Ice Rink.
16th of December: Herder Melanie and I attend a wedding with reindeer at Raemoir House near Banchory. Here they are eating lunch before meeting the bride and groom.
17th of December: A day at Reindeer House for me and spending as much time on the hill as possible! This is the gorgeous Marple and her daughter Mekong with matching billowing beards on the afternoon Hill Trip.
17th of December: The lovely Chickpea has had an excellent year and is in fab condition.
18th of December: Olympic showing off his lack of top teeth at a visit to a primary school in Aberdeen.
22nd of December: Our team very settled at Gleneagles Hotel. From left to right we’ve got Mississippi, Aztec, LX and Olympic.
23rd of December: Mississippi being especially cute!
25th of December: Before spending a few hours in the display pen each day, we take the the the boys for a good walk each morning so they can stretch their legs. For reindeer this means stopping at every tree to have a nibble at the lichen! Here’s Aztec getting some tasty Christmas Day snacks.
28th of December: Turtle and her calf Amur on the hill.
28th of December: Isla’s last day of work (although I’m sure she’ll be back at some point!) so here she is spoiling Alba, one of our hand-reared calves.

Ruth

Photo Blog: August 2023

August has been a fun month. The first half of the month was super busy with holiday makers but as Scottish schools went back the second half of the month got slightly quieter with visitors and we’ve been having lots of free range action which I love. Generally we start to see the free ranging females more as they come down in altitude as the weather gets cooler. Towards the end of the month we also start bringing in the mums and their calves back into the enclosure. They spend June through to August/early September out roaming the hills learning how to be little wild reindeer and enjoying all the best grazing, but when the autumn rolls around it’s time for them to learn what a feed bag is and in time, how to walk on a halter etc. The following photos are a small snapshot of what’s been occurring…

8th of August – Fab and her mum Juniper out on the free range. Juniper is currently the only reindeer in the herd who doesn’t grow antlers.
9th of August – Okapi out free ranging. I had her on a halter as she was my chosen ‘Judas reindeer’, helping me move a small herd of cows from one hillside to another.
11th of August – The herd in the enclosure relaxing in between Hill Trips.
12th of August – Sorbet, a yearling female, grazing between the big boys! Behind her is Dr Seuss and Morse, and she’s sandwiched between Spartan and Poirot.
14th of August – Joe feeding the herd in the enclosure their breakfast. Vanilla is the white reindeer at the back.
17th of August – The herd on the move in the beautiful late afternoon sunshine.
18th of August – After finding a few too many holes, Amy B and Cameron decide to replace the tonne bag that sits underneath the cement mixer where we mix the reindeer food. But which one to go for? Big dilemma to discuss in the office.
20th of August – Andi and a sea of velvet antlers. Dr Seuss and his distinctive white face at the front.
21st of August – After finding a bunch of cows and calves up on the Cas car park on her day off, I roped Fran in to helping me bring them in to the enclosure. Was a very fun and successful afternoon.
22nd of August – Another busy morning, bringing yet more cows and calves into the enclosure. Here’s Hopscotch and calf.
26th of August – Lupin looking incredibly handsome even on a soggy day.
27th of August – Lovely to have males, females and the calves all in the enclosure. The cow lying down is the lovely Marple and Sherlock is in the big bull in the background.
28th of August – Turtle back in the enclosure after a summer out. Both her and her calf are looking good.
29th of August – Another free range mission to go and retrieve this little cutie and her mum Pinto. They are both looking super and are now back in our hill enclosure for the autumn,
29th of August – Sherlock stripping his velvet. The next day we brought him down to the Paddocks.

Ruth

Photo Blog: July 2023

July has been a good month with not a great deal of unusual things going on within the herd really – which is actually rather nice! The boys in the hill enclosure are generally eating lots and putting all their energy into growing lovely antlers and big bellies! Towards the middle of July the reindeer finally start to look themselves and some in particular look very smart in their short summer coats.

School holiday season is definitely upon us! We’ve got very busy with visitors, running three Hill Trips a day during weekdays and two on weekends. The Paddocks and Exhibition have also been popular and the reindeer here at the Centre have done a good job of ‘babysitting’ our two hand-reared calves (Winnie and Alba) overnight. They are now big enough to spend the daytime with the herd on the hill. This allows them to get some good exercise every day and lots of great grazing but they return each evening so they don’t miss out on their night time bottles of milk!

I’ve been lucky to see some of the free ranging females out on the hills too – all looked great and some stonking big calves out there. Well done mums, keep it up!

Hopefully the following photos will give more of an insight into what’s been going on this month.

3rd of July – Lupin and Bond relaxing after a Hill Trip.
4th of July – The herd heading up to the shed for a routine temperature check. We try to do this around once a week at this time of year.
5th of July – Sunny leading the herd through for their breakfast. What a good boy!
6th of July – Jelly strutting his stuff.
7th of July – 99 (named after the ice cream) is one of our leucistic reindeer. He was one of the first reindeer to moult into his smart summer coat and is in excellent condition.
10th of July – The herd on the move.
11th of July – Wafer and Haricot looking soggy after a wet morning.
13th of July – A hill walk on a day off and was lucky to bump into a herd of our free ranging cows and calves. This is three year old Turtle who was looking very well.
16th of July – Cicero, Andi and Scoop on a VERY wet morning harness training. Both boys happily grazing not fazed by the situation and Andi is still smiling despite the downpour!
17th of July – Sunny (last year’s hand-reared calf) still looking a bit scruffy!
18th of July – Alba and WInnie on their way up to “Reindeer School” for the day. They spend the evenings and nights here at the Centre in the Paddocks and the day time on the hill with the herd – good grazing and exercise.
20th of July – Yearlings Calippo and Kulfi.
23rd of July – So much antler! Morse, Spartan and Kernel.
25th of July – LX and Busby. I think they both thought they were missing out on their breakfast!
26th of July – Blue skies above the hill enclosure! Summer returned for a day!

Ruth

Photo Blog: May 2023

May! What a month! Calving began on Sunday the 29th of April and was done by Sunday the 14th of May. A two week, action-packed blur. After the first few calves were born we were expecting a bit of a lull, but nope, they just kept on coming. As well as many experienced cows we’ve had eight first-time-mums and all are doing a super job and have taken to motherhood very well. On the whole everything went well, however, calving season sadly does tend to bring some sad moments as well as lots of highs. In addition to looking after the new-borns, we’ve also been running two Hill Trips a day and the Paddocks and Exhibition have been popular with holiday-makers so looking back this month has been a bit of a whirlwind!

This month’s photo selection is biased towards the cute calves but I’m sure that’s what we all want to see anyway. Just a reminder – we won’t reveal the names of the new mothers until after we’ve let our adopters know in the June newsletter so I’ve tried to be deliberately vague. Enjoy… !

1st of May – Ben walking some lovely females in from Silver Mount in the cloud, Black Loch behind.
3rd of May – The oldest calf of 2023, already very bold at 4 days old (born on the 29th April).
4th of May – Druid waiting for hand feed, please!
7th of May – Another gorgeous new addition to the herd!
8th of May – Choosing which picture to select has never been so hard! But this is today’s cutie which won!
9th of May – On searching for a cow and calf in the enclosure I found these lazy boys, late in for their breakfast! Dr Seuss was clearly having a lie-in on his 6th birthday!! Happy birthday Dr Seuss.
9th of May – Trilby, Fab, Borlotti and Viennetta. Now Viennetta and Fab are not the youngest cohort in the herd we have to get used to calling them ‘yearlings’…. no longer the calves!
11th of May – The first pale calf of the season! Hiding behind mum’s legs!
12th of May – I was lucky to find this new mother and calf. It’s always a total privilege to be the first person to see a new addition to the herd!
15th of May – Motherhood is clearly very tiring for this mum. But she’s doing a super job!
17th of May – Some of the oldest and boldest calves are now mingling with our visitors on Hill Trips. Meanwhile, Aztec in the background is enjoying his absolute favourite time of the day – hand feeding!!
18th of May – It was great to catch up with this old girl whilst out on a free range mission with Sally! This is Diamond who is 11-years-old and very sweet-natured.
19th of May – We did routine temperature checks on all the cows and calves. We have only two black calves but they still managed to get us completely confused at one point. Who do you belong to?!
22nd of May – Druid again! He’s been busy growing his antlers since the previous pic of him (4th of May).
23rd of May – Turtle on “World Turtle Day”. She’s actually named after the variety of bean, rather than the sea creature, but it’s a good opportunity to put her in the limelight.
24th of May – Beanie trying to break in to a food bag. What do you mean this isn’t stashed here for me?!

Ruth

Photo blog: March 2023

It’s the last blog of the month and so time for another photo dump! March has been a relatively quiet month, with the Paddocks shut and fewer visitors around, but it’s still felt very busy for us herders! Generally only four members of staff work each day throughout March. The mornings are taken up by two herders heading out to find and move the free ranging herd, and the other two herders lead the Hill Trip at 11am. So, by the time we’ve all had lunch the afternoons seem to totally fly by. We also had some very snowy and wintery weather in the middle of the month, making our lives a little more interesting and keeping us on our toes! Hopefully, we’ve managed to tick off all the important jobs in time for the Easter Holidays which kick off on the 1st of April.

1st of March: Sunny has spent the majority of January and February free ranging in the hills with the big boys. He and a few other youngsters were brought off the hill on the last day of February and spent a few days in the Paddocks. So of course it was only right Sunny got an invite to dinner!!
2nd of March: Sheena and Lotti take some routine temperatures. Whilst we don’t expect any at this time of year, it’s good handling practice for the reindeer to make sure we can still catch them whilst they’re out free ranging. In this photo it’s Beret’s turn, but Holy Moley is patiently waiting for her go, anything to be allowed into the white bag!
3rd of March: Can you spot Fiona leading the herd at the front? Meanwhile I’m being “sheep dog” at the back, making sure everybody follows. Vienna and her calf Kulfi are the last two reindeer… as usual!
6th of March: Snow again! This time I’m at the front of the herd leading them in to the visit location, whilst Andi is gently encouraging them at the back. Here we have the beautiful Lace and if you look VERY closely you might be able to spot a golden eagle in the sky above the herd!
7th of March: After demolishing lots of hand feed, Pumpkin is in need of a wee rest!
7th of March: 99 and Tub, two ten-month-old calves having a play fight!
8th of March: What a day!! Popsicle and her mum Caterpillar looking gorgeous in the snow.
9th of March: Another cracking blue bird day! Here’s Merida and Beret saying hello,
12th of March: Solero chilling out after a Hill Trip whilst people enjoy milling around the herd in the background.
13th of March: A very wintery Hill Trip for me and Cameron! This is why we tell people they need full waterproofs and walking boots/wellies at this time of year.
14th of March: Moving the herd in a snow storm.
14th of March: The morning ritual of allowing the calves to feed out of the bags first, whilst we prevent older reindeer from sneaking in (yes you, Holy Moley).
15th of March: Can’t resist including this picture of Lolly (Oatcake’s calf). What a cutie.
18th of March: Leading the herd in to position for the Hill Trip, the fab trio at the front leading the way as always- Lace, Fly and Sika!
19th of March: Sorbet, Cornetto and his mum Helsinki posing in the sun!
20th of March: What a glorious morning to go retrieve and deposit the herd ready for the Hill Trip!
23rd of March: Sisters Suebi and Turtle hanging out together, strong family resemblance between these two!
24th of March: Moving the herd with Hen on a very atmospheric morning. The reindeer were particularly lazy today, they did not come to our call, so we got a great morning work out walking up to them!
27th of March: There are a few cows on the hill who are now beginning to grow their antlers for 2023. This is Ryvita who is showing off her wee velvet buds.
28th of March: Morven (currently looking a bit lopsided) and her calf Mochi waiting for the food to be put out.

Ruth

Photo blog: January 2023

This year I will endeavor to make the last blog of the month a photo blog with a collection of pictures taken over the month. So here’s some highlights from January! A month when the Centre shuts and we crack on with lots of office work and general maintenance tasks such as painting the Exhibition floor and oiling the Christmas harness. But inevitably, I don’t take any photos of that stuff, so instead it’s just lots of lovely pics of reindeer!

1st of January – the Centre is closed for the day but the reindeer in the enclosure still need feeding so we recruit lots of friends to help carry the load!
2nd of January – Sheena and Choc-ice chilling out together after a Hill Trip.
7th of January – Arta looking handsome on the winter free range. With older brother Dr Seuss and younger brother Mr Whippy, Arta sometimes gets out-shined by his charismatic siblings but here he is looking fab!
7th of January – talking of the charismatic Dr Seuss, here he is getting bored waiting for his free lunch and using the quadbike as a chin rest!
12th of January – Hopscotch (closest to camera) and Pumpkin (on the left) are often the first over each time we call them for lunch.
14th of January – Beanie looking gorgeous!
14th of January – Amy and Lotti defending the feed bags from the older reindeer. Only calves are invited in to the bags for a wee bit of preferential feeding!
January 15th – Sheena calling the herd over in very wintery conditions.
15th of January- Morven and her calf Mochi looking beautiful in the snow.
16th of January – more free range fun for Lisette and Lotti. Holy Moley making her presence known right by the feed bags!
16th of January – the four gorgeous Reindeer House dogs – Fraoch, Dug, Tiree and Sookie. They accompany us on most free-range feeding outings, and are trained to lie-down and stay far away so as the reindeer do not see them, until we return to them.
20th of January -two of my favourite things- reindeer and skiing! Fly and Lace leading the whole herd and following in our ski tracks. Nice to see some blue sky.
24th of January – no skis required anymore! Mel waiting for the herd to come over – and yes, it’s Hopscotch leading the way again!
24th of January- Pip and Turtle – two of our ‘lockdown calves’ from 2020. Hard to believe they’ll be turning three in the spring!
24th of January – Marple teaching her daughter Viennetta the art of cheekiness.
27th of January -and finally, to prove we actually do some “proper” work in January here’s Hen cleaning the shop walls ready for a lick of paint!

Ruth

My Little Pony

Whilst the majority of our reindeer are docile, friendly and laid back, there is always an exception, so in this week’s blog I thought I’d introduce you to Pony…

Pony was born in our “Games and Pastimes” themed calving of 2011. It might not seem an obvious game, but it was a bit of a stretch, naming her after the My Little Pony craze. The broader picture is that her older brother from the Bugs and Beasties theme was named Horse, slightly ironically, in the hope that if we gave the calf a rather rubbish name then sod’s law would mean it had a long life, as mother Mawar was renowned for losing her calves at a young age. It seemed to have had the desired effect so we stuck with the animal theme for Pony, then later for her brother Goat (in the Cheese theme).

Pony, aged 2 months

Pony is quite easy to pick out among the other normal coloured cows of the herd as she is missing the very tips of her ears. Sometimes if a reindeer is quite poorly as a calf they don’t maintain the blood supply to the extremities and the tip of, or occasionally the entire ear, can drop off. Whilst changing their appearance somewhat, it doesn’t seem to have any other negative impact on the reindeer.

With mum Mawar (left), before the tips of Pony’s ears fell off (which is very noticeable in the first photo at the top of this blog)

Pony’s mother Mawar was a lovely sweet natured reindeer, but perhaps Pony has a chip on her shoulder from missing her ear tips, as she has always had a bit of attitude. Or perhaps it comes from further back in her family tree as her auntie Lulu isn’t averse to snorting and waving her antlers at people! Unfortunately I also found out that Pony can hold a grudge, and I inadvertently got myself on the wrong side of her in 2018.

It was May, and Pony was in our hill enclosure looking very pregnant and ready to calve. One day she had headed away from the herd, so myself and Kate made an early start the following morning, assuming she must have a new calf. And indeed she did, a very cute wee male, quite a distance from the main herd. We like to bring them in to a smaller “nursery” pen where we can keep an eye on the new mums and young calves, so Kate and I started following behind Pony and the calf, gently herding them in the right direction.

Reindeer calves are very capable but his wee legs got more and more tired, until eventually he lay down and didn’t want to walk any more. Normally at this point we would just carry the calf with mum following behind, but Pony already had a reputation for defending her calves, so I decided to try to pop Pony on a headcollar. She was a bit suspicious but hungry enough after giving birth to snatch a bite of feed from my bag, at which point I grabbed hold of her antler! Kate nipped in and we put on the headcollar. Pony was NOT impressed, and even less so when Kate picked up her calf, with me holding her back enough to not wallop Kate with those antlers!

Pony and wee calf

We made our way in, by some miracle nobody died or got skewered on Pony’s antlers, and we released Pony and her new calf out with the rest of the new mothers. Sadly for me, Pony never forgave me for this perceived wrongdoing (though they were never more than 6 ft apart and the tired calf seemed relieved to be carried!). From that point on, I had to watch my back, as anytime I was anywhere near Pony’s calf she’d come after me, threatening me and snapping at me!

The queen of ‘resting b*tch face’!

This love has persisted over the years, and when Pony had her next calf in 2020, a wee female, it fell to me to bring her in. Pony had calved much nearer this time, and shot off away from me, the wee toot scrabbling after, all going smoothly until they got to the gateway, which Pony went through, but her calf went straight into the fence. Shutting the gate behind Pony to prevent her spinning back round and beating me up, I was free to disentangle the calf. We named her Turtle, and she is a very sweet lass, though I’m waiting for the day her mother’s attitude comes through!

With Turtle at less than 24 hours old, Pony having just done her best to nail me…

Pony’s hatred of me rose to another level in the autumn, when Pony managed to wedge a chunk of bone she was chewing on beneath her tongue, necessitating a visit from the vet and an operation to remove it. As I was one of the herders there (giving up my evening to wait for the vet to arrive…), Pony seems to have linked the pain and discomfort with somehow being my fault… I went to check she was ok the next morning and got chased for my efforts! What a reindeer!

In the half-dark, waiting for the sedative to wear off…
…after this old bit of bone was removed from her mouth, having been impaled into the underside of her tongue!

For my part, I still like Pony, and this winter decided to try and win her round by offering her extra tasty treats from a bag. She cottoned on quickly and is quite willing to accept the offering, but it’s fairly daunting as she comes flying over with her ears back, and I hold the bag up partly as a shield! I think her lack of ear tips does make her look more angry than she actually is at times, but I’m still pretty cautious around her, doing my best not to tread on her toes, so to speak!

Pony in the company of her daughter Suebi, aged 2

Just the other day, we were noticing that her oldest daughter, Suebi, who until this point has been a sweet natured lassie, seems to be getting more “opinionated” with age, so fingers crossed we’re not going to end up with another Pony on our hands!

Andi

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