Bringing in the cows and calves

Late summer/autumn is always a very exciting time of the year for a reindeer herder. It’s when we start seeing the cows and calves more regularly after they’ve spent the summer free ranging in the hills.

Each morning we drive up the ski road to Cairngorm Base Station and have a spy for any free ranging reindeer. One morning in mid-September Fiona, Sheena and myself were checking the roads when we spotted a small herd of reindeer. Exciting! Even from a distance we instantly knew there was a calf in the group, and we knew she had to belong to a lovely female called Ochil.

Ochil had a white (leucistic) calf back in May, and even though we had three white calves born this year, the other two were already safely in the enclosure with their mums so it just had to be her – our ID skills of calves from over a hundred metres away are not usually that good!

Ochil and calf on the 4th of June – the last time I saw them!

Fiona dropped Sheena and I off to try to get the small herd into the enclosure, whilst she headed back down the hill to carry on with feeding the herd in the enclosure. Mission on!

As we got closer to the herd we were able to identify them all. Three cows (Ochil, Vienna and Roule) and their lovely calves, plus a yearling female called Beanie. I’d not seen any of these reindeer since we let them out to free range back in June, so it was lovely to see them again. They all looked great! The enclosure was about 1.5km away from where we were, across a ridge, over a road, across a burn and up a hill affectionately known by the herders as “Killer Hill”. You can see how our mission unfolded in the following photographs….

Sheena with Ochil on a halter and her leucistic calf following beautifully behind. At this point I had Vienna on a halter with her calf also following very closely behind his mum and me.
Beanie (just behind Ochil) was also following beautifully. As a herd animal they generally follow quite merrily (plus Sheena’s white bag contained something particularly tempting!)
This is Vienna on a halter about mid-way through the walk over to the enclosure, with Ochil’s white calf and Vienna’s grey calve not too far away.
Beanie following nicely not too far behind us. And what about Roule and her calf?! Well, you can just spot them on the skyline. Roule is an independent lass and couldn’t be persuaded to come into the white bag to have a halter put on, so we left her to it and crossed our fingers she just followed the rest of the herd! She played it very cool – this is about as close as she decided to get to us.
Sheena leading Ochil and Vienna with their calves still following well. Just one burn to cross and “Killer Hill” to climb, and we were almost there!
Yes!! We got them in to the enclosure! Now just to get them down to the shed. More free ranging reindeer joined us on route, they were waiting for us at the top of “Killer Hill”. 14-year-old Ibex is closest to the camera, who happily followed us in with her two-year-old daughter Flax.
Ochil and calf safely in the enclosure.
Vienna’s calf also in the enclosure, looking very well after a summer in the mountains.
And yes! Roule and her calf also followed us in. We weren’t sure if they would until the final moment. She was very reluctant to follow us up “Killer Hill” but after losing sight of her for around 15 minutes she finally decided to follow the others and come in (with a little help from Ibex). Success! Here they are later that afternoon chilling out after a Hill Trip.
Beanie later that afternoon on the Hill Trip – clearly not camera shy after a summer spent free ranging.

Ruth

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