At the beginning of March an event occurred in the Cairngorms which only happens once every three years… El Nino or meteor showers you may ask, no, the Reindeer Herders got our First Aid training! On a snowy morning we all headed down to our local village of Kincraig to meet our wonderful trainer Pete from Outwardly Mobile First Aid in Newtonmore (Look them up if you need training local folks!).
You’ll be glad to know that our course was aimed specifically at Outdoor Emergency First Aid, rather handy seeing as we spend lots of time out on the mountains. However, although we can theoretically now deal with almost any eventuality whilst on the hill with our lovely visitors, please don’t throw yourself off the path to test it…
As you can imagine we turned up in true reindeer herder style (slightly shambolic… but still classy I think..). Our first, or rather my (Abby) first faux pas was failing to find the ‘Meeting Room’ we were using… apparently it said it on the door… who knew! After setting up in what was basically a spare cupboard, the keeper of the hall turned up and set us right! We also had one special reindeer herder on-site to make sure we were taking things mega seriously…
She valiantly guarded us and made sure we practiced our First Aid to our full abilities!
While learning the finer arts of CPR we were all granted our own CPR dummy faces (for hygiene) although they were a tad creepy…
After going through all the basics, recovery positions, CPR and Defibrillator training it was time for the fun stuff… the scenarios! This was AWESOME! We got to dress up AND behave like idiots – in my case, my job on one scenario was to be a stressed out bystander to a cardiac arrest… there was even a prop chainsaw involved… EPIC! (We did also learn a lot of useful stuff too – like how to prioritise your patients and keep people calm).
After two intense and riotous days we all successfully passed (woohoo!) but Imogen was so super serious she got two certificates to prove her dedication to the First Aid cause!
So whilst we sincerely hope that our skills won’t be called upon, if the worst happens at least we’re all up to speed and well rehearsed on what we need to do.
You’ll all have noticed on our Facebook page the lovely snowy photos we’ve been taking with the reindeer. When news channels report that it’s going to be warm and sunny, that the daffodils are out and spring is in the air, we are usually still huddled under our blankets, heating on full with no sign of those bright yellow trumpets. However, we’ve had a few gloriously sunny days here in Glenmore, so thought we’d do a quick round up of pictures (as evidence!) before the warm weather disappears and we get snow again.
This was the picture last week – snowy, but pretty. The reindeer do love the snow and when you get snow and sunshine, it’s just bliss.
One week later, and it’s full on sunshine and cloud inversions. I drove to work in mist and fog, thinking it would be a cold, grey day on the hill. To my surprise, and delight, the sun was shining as we drove higher up and on my morning mission to find reindeer, I was down to just a tshirt. The fog cleared and we had a gloriously sunny and hot visit. The poor reindeer were feeling the heat a little, but are great at dumping heat when temperatures occasionally soar.
Since the weather has been so good, we’ve been getting on with our outside jobs, some painting and tidying up that is just too hard to face when the weather is miserable. We even found a little newt in the garden as we were raking! I thought maybe I’d raked over him a little too hard (by accident, of course!) but he was a resilient wee thing and we rehomed him to a wee burn.
There is a thick harr over Glenmore today, and unfortunately I think the weather is going to change next week. It was good while it lasted though!
Each year every member of our 150-strong herd (well, with just a handful of exceptions… Malawi, Dixie…) grows a pair of antlers. And every winter, at some point between November and May, those same antlers are naturally cast so the owner can grow a (theoretically) bigger, better set the next year.
Over the winter months, our reindeer are all roaming free on either the Cromdale or Cairngorm mountains, so there are many antlers that ping off into the heather and snow and are either never seen again, or are picked up by a lucky hillwalker. But plenty of the antlers are found by us, collected and brought back to the Centre, then usually handed over to Hen. She has (foolishly?) taken on the task of sorting out what happens to them next.
First job is to identify which reindeer the antler belongs to. Sometimes this is easy – perhaps we saw two reindeer having a tussle and witnessed the moment the antler parted ways from its owner. Some antlers are pretty distinctive and when whoever found it walks into the office with it, usually displayed held on their own head and asking, “Who am I??” there is a chorus of correct answers from the other herders present. But sometimes it is a fairly standard shape and size, and then it comes down to skimming through our photo archive (we aim to keep a recent photo of every member of the herd) until it is spotted in its previous position attached to a head.
Once the past owner of the antler is identified, first port of call is our “Antlers wanted” list – if you adopt a reindeer and fancy owning a set of their antlers just drop us an email and we can pop you on it – bear in mind there are only a maximum of two antlers available each year though, and we frequently don’t find both! Otherwise we write to any adopters of that reindeer to see if they’re interested in buying it, on a “first come, first served” basis – whilst this is the fairest way we can do it, it often leads to several phonecalls on the same day asking to buy it, and we can only sell it to the first respondant! Finally, if none of the adopters want it, or indeed if the reindeer has no adopters, then it goes for sale in our shop here at the Centre, usually in about June.
Antlers come in all shapes and sizes, from big handsome bull antlers (we usually only have one or two large sets available each year) to fancy cow antlers, and calf “twigs” to furry broken castrate antlers. We’ve already started working through the pile of antlers that we’ve found this year, and the biggest set without a doubt belonged to our breeding bull Kota. One of his adopters was delighted to purchase the set, but as they don’t live locally, the next challenge was packaging them up to post. As you can imagine, transforming a pair of unwieldly, bony objects into a postable package is easier said than done… We first wrap the points in bubble wrap, not to protect the antler (it’s solid bone) but to stop it bursting out of the package, and then pop the whole thing in an empty barley bag (or two, in the case of Kota’s set). Barley bags are super as they have two strong layers of paper, and we’re helping the environment out by recycling. As an added bonus, recipients often find a few stray flakes of barley! Though on the downside, sometimes the posting out of antlers is delayed because the reindeer haven’t eaten enough for us to use the next bag of barley in our feed mix!
With a large pile of antlers still to work through, and plenty left on the heads of the reindeer on the mountains, its likely that it’ll be summer before we finish finding new homes for them. All of the funds raised from the sales go straight back into the day-to-day care of the herd, so it both helps us out and hopefully brings a lot of pleasure to anyone who buys them. Every antler is unique and its great to have something sustainable which allows people to own a “bit” of a reindeer!
Please note – as of 2021 the antler waiting list is closed, as it is so long as we need to work our way through people already on it. It will hopefully be reopened around mid-2022, but until then we will not add any new names on to it. Sorry! Demand outweighs supply…
“There’s no such thing as bad weather… only unsuitable clothing…”
This is very much the mantra us reindeer herders live by and there are unfortunately even days here in the Cairngorms where our beautiful “office” on the mountains leaks and gets a wee bit blustery. This is never more emphasized than during the winter months here where weather conditions are some of the most beautiful and the most extreme.
We often start our mornings here at 8am vaguely unaware of exactly what the weather is going to bring, Reindeer House is fortuitously sheltered at the foot of the Cairngorms and it’s often not until we venture above the tree line that the true extent of the weather hits us.
If the ski road remains open and the reindeer are there we dutifully head out onto the hills even if this means battling 80 mph gusts and freezing temperatures… winds so strong herder Hen’s car was relieved of its undercover last winter! (we love it really!).
It quite often looks a wee bit of a comedy show, us herders trying to walk in a straight line (people must think us perpetually drunk!). Annoyingly, the reindeer often look completely unfazed be it wind, icy temperatures and deep deep snow, quite often as we lumber through the drifts they use us as the snow plough for making them a path, following cheerfully in our footsteps even though they’re the Arctic animal!
This brings us to clothing, again the reindeer come annoying pre-prepared for the weather with thick insulating, water repelling coats and built-in snow shoes; us on the other hand live for woollen thermals, multiple jumpers and cosy hats and are most definitely never far from a pair of waterproofs! Woe betide the reindeer herder who doesn’t have a spare set of clothes! On the other hand, I personally often find myself far too prepared in the summer months when even in the sunshine I never quite trust that Scotland won’t throw snow at me!
Working in the Cairngorms year round is definitely a different challenge to some of the more indoor based jobs I’ve held but as long as I have my mittens and spare socks I’m super happy to battle whatever the weather throws at us!