A day out on the free-range

At the start of August, Lottie and myself were sent out into the mountains to see if we could find the free-ranging females and their calves. Fiona had spied a big herd from the road and thought it would be a good idea to get them to follow us for as long as possible with a bag of food, in preparation for the rutting season where the females will need to be led back into the enclosure. With our lunches packed and a bag of feed each in our rucksacks, Lottie and myself set off for a day searching for reindeer.

Lottie leading Hopscotch and her daughter Kipling, probably the greediest pair of females ever in the herd! The herd is following behind.

At the Ptarmigan restaurant, at the top of the funicular train line, we were rewarded with the sight of a large group of 20 females and two calves. Three females immediately ran over as soon as they caught sight of us removing a feed bag from Lottie’s rucksack. These turned out to be Hopscotch and her yearling Kipling. Hopscotch’s three-year-old son, Kips, is a regular on the handfeed line on hill trips and it was easy to see where he had inherited his greediness from! The third was a little reindeer called Pagan who proceed to half-heartedly shake her antlers on our legs in an effort to receive some food.

After spending lots of time with the twins, I was surprised to see how big the calves were on the free-range. Look at the size of the antlers on this calf!

With Lottie leading and myself following at the back, we managed keep the females as a group and walking for a good half hour around the plateau. We gave up when the herd started to trot off in all directions and no amount of running behind in zigzags would keep them together. We had just made the decision to put the feed out, when Lottie looked behind and discovered another large group of twentyish females had joined us! After putting a long line of food, we counted 43 reindeer in total.

Morven looking beautiful against an amazing view over the Cairngorms.

Once everyone was fed (including ourselves), the reindeer trotted off as one big herd, moving quickly across the mountain which was amazing to watch. Lottie and myself then headed to the summit of Cairn Gorm and around the Northern Corries in the hope of finding another group. Unfortunately, we spent the rest of the day searching for reindeer to no avail. We did however, have the most amazing day walking around the mountains, in shock the whole way that we were getting paid for this! I often have people telling me on hill trips that I have the best job in the world, and after this day out in the mountains, I would find it hard to disagree with them.


Three became separated from the herd but after a few minutes of calling them, they ran straight back over, not wanting to miss out on their lunch. There is still a bit of snow left over in the Cairngorms, even after the summer heat-wave, which we can see in the middle of this photo.
All of the herd following Lottie and her white feedbag. I was walking behind making sure they kept moving forwards.
Hopper has amazing antlers this year!

My first time meeting Fly. Her antlers were incredible with one side towering over the other. Apparently she lost one of her antlers a lot later than the other, causing the missmatching in their size.

Look at the size of Fly’s antlers in comparison to Okapi (who has fairly large antlers for a female)!


Kipling running over to see if I have any food!


Gloriana hasn’t yet moulted her winter coat on her ears so they are still really fluffy!
Running for the feed line.
Brie curious about my camera and Cheer behind looking beautiful.
Lottie and myself couldn’t believe how cute this calf was with his winter coat still on his neck in little clumps.
Suspicious Santana
It’s a tiring life for these two calves…
Lunching with the reindeer.
Lottie looking down towards Loch Avon from the side of Cairn Gorm.
Lottie and the Northern Corries. We didn’t find any reindeer from this point but had the most amazing walk along the ridge of the Corries and back down to the car park.



Grunter, The Monsterful

Grunter, The Monsterful (meaning wonderful and extra ordinary)

Hi Grunter

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.

Which one is Grunter?

Alex and Emily first came up to help out getting Dixie back and taking herself and Grunter (who wasn’t actually 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 colostrums. 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.

Sneak peak of Grunter all grown up

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 penned and 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.

Grunter and his new pal Hippo getting a bottle from Emily

Another few days passed and then we sadly lost a female called Maisie who had a female calve 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.

A growing Grunter in the first snows of OCtober
Still not too big for Fiona to pick up though!

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 Grunters 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.

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 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, 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 lets face it if he was in my team he always got… I did spoil him rotten!

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.

Hippo and Grunter getting their head in the bag at 7 months old

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 spirits were always high. 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 push the gate to, not 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.

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 lets share the antics of this amazing reindeer!



Ben’s back!

Four years. That’s how long it’s been since I had my first stint as a ‘Reindeer Herder’. It is a job title that has raised many curious eyebrows in subsequent job interviews. “No it’s not a typo, it really did happen” is a sentence I have found myself saying all too often.


Those four years have been spent living in big cities, first Sydney and now North London, where in September I will resume my final year of study as a Physiotherapist. Hen pointed out that I only seem to come up to work at the Reindeer centre when there is a football World Cup taking place. And amongst the changes here since 2014, is the amount of herders who would watch the matches with me (and not all of them would be supporting “the team playing against England”). The majestic and dramatic mountain range appears to have remained the same, as has the gentle and charming nature of the Reindeer. ‘Strange’ is the word I would use to describe seeing the yellow tags (cheeses) as grown-ups, having known them only as calves in 2014. But no words can describe the depth of positive feelings which I get from being up in this part of the world, surrounded by friendly and fun human-beings, as well as the delightfully mischievous Reindeer. Even when I can’t scrub the smell of Reindeer food off of my hands, or I am bitten by my hundredth midgie of the day, I have a lot of gratitude to be up in such a beautiful part of the world.


One feeling that I had forgotten is the feeling of blissful exhaustion. After a day of herding, there are so many fun things to do in the evening such as sport, wild swimming and fell-running that it’s hard for the body to keep up. But with FOMO (fear of missing out) imbedded into my brain, the body is finding a way to adapt from sedentary study days to keeping up with shenanigans and I recently attended my first ever Ceilidh (a night of traditional Scottish dancing) where I had a whale of a time.

Ben’s back!

I hope to see you on a tour sometime and share the pleasure that one gets from being around these delightfully mischievous Reindeer. My tours can hopefully only get better nowadays, after a small incident last week, whereby on my first hill trip in four years I thought I’d try out my basic level French on a young boy. What transpired really shook my confidence in the French language; I asked the young boy a question and to my shock he swiftly sprinted over to his mum and grabbed her leg with both hands. What I had meant to ask “do you like feeding the Reindeer?” actually came out as “do you like eating the Reindeer?”. And fair play to the young lad, he wasn’t interested in eating any Reindeer. I might stick to English in the future.


Since I have not come across many Reindeer Physiotherapists, I may be set for a career with humans. But, as they say…”once a Reindeer herder, always a Reindeer herder”. And I am thankful to all of you lads and lassies reading this for your dedicated support which allows such a wonderfully run business to thrive.

Twins (not Ben and the calf!)

Learning Reindeer Names

“What’s this one called?” “That’s Aonach again..”


A scenario similar to this one has occurred many times since I came back to work at the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd this summer. In the past blogs have been written about how herders learn the reindeer names, and I desperately read a couple of those in the hopes of finding ways of dealing with all of the reindeer names. People who have worked here for some time seem to be able to recognise a particular reindeer from a fairly long distance or a photograph, whereas I’ve been stuck in the phase of trying to sneak up on a reindeer to be able to read his ear tag number,  after which I can use my cheat sheet to check his name.

To change this the other way around I decided to have a little ID’ing session. Like usual, I sneaked up on a couple of regurgitating reindeer to have a quick look at their ear tag number. I always try to look at the reindeer’s distinct features first, but, to be fair, many look quite similar in the beginning and except from a few very distinct ones it can be really hard to spot something outstanding which tells the reindeer apart from the others. I think I followed reindeer Lomond all the way across the enclosure, trying to read his bloody ear tag number. It’s easier to read when they are eating their food, so while my colleague Hen distributed the food in nice small piles I started to ID them along the line. But, reindeer being animals, they moved about a lot. So it happened a couple of times that I was staring hard at a certain reindeer, hoping for an “aha” moment, not getting one, sneaking around him to check the ear tag number, only to find out I’ve just had him 3 spots back in the line! After going up and down the line a couple of times, with some reindeer encountered at least 10 times and others not once, I decided it was time to call it a day in terms of ID’ing. Unfortunately, as soon as I got back to the centre and looked at a photo I’d made that morning, I realised I couldn’t even identify the reindeer in the photo!! This meant it was time for drastic measures.

ID’ing reindeer is quite important as the first way we know something could be wrong with a reindeer is when he doesn’t show up for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Reindeer like their food and just like you and me, if they’re not enthusiastic about eating, something’s the matter. It is then the herder’s duty to quickly go over all the reindeer present to check who’s missing. And since reindeer are not like school children in that they won’t dutifully participate in a role call, the best way to quickly do this is to identify each and every one of them by sight as soon as possible. So there you go, the quicker you learn the names, the better.

As a last resort I decided to consult my own knowledge about learning in general. I’ve just finished my English teacher education at uni, so I’ve learned a lot about how people learn and memorise things. One of the ways people memorise vocabulary best is by creating mnemonic devices. One way to do so is to link the word you’re learning (so what it is) to something that sounds very similar to the word. For example, the French word for to eat is manger (pronounced mahn-zhay). A manger in English is a bowl or trough to put animal food in, link this word to the French word (same in spelling, different pronunciation) and you have your mnemonic device. Here are a few of the things I came up with, some of them made my colleagues chuckle..



Lomond (901) – Loch Lomond is the 1st landmark you come across when you walk the West Highland Way.

Fyrish (903) – The (F)Irish flag has 3 colours.



Spartan (004) – Spartans were born for (4) fighting.


Olmec (008) – Olmec ate (=8) chocolate (The Olmecs were a Latin American tribe that were the first to consume chocolate!).

Jute (013) – the Jutes brought bad luck (13 = unlucky) to England (the Jutes were a Germanic tribe that invaded England).

Roman (018) – For a lot of Roman stories you have to be 18 or older to be allowed to read them … (The Latin stories about old Rome contain a lot of sexual harassment…).


Burns (103) – When you have a 3rd degree burn wound you have to go to the hospital.


Now I know most of the reindeer in the hill enclosure!


Fyrish and I during a morning IDing session

Spartan looking very handsome


Quirky Reindeer! (part one)

Just like humans, reindeer come in all shapes, sizes and colours so here are some of the reindeer in our herd who stand out from the crowd. Whether they grow no antlers, are pure white (which is very rare) or maybe part of their body isn’t quite ‘the norm’, they still fit into the herd just like all the others absolutely fine. If anything it makes them very easy to identify to us herders.

I have split this blog into two parts telling you about the females first and in part two I’ll tell you about the male reindeer. Turns out we have a few quirky reindeer in the herd it’s worth the split. I won’t go into quirky reindeer herders or I’d be here all day 😉



At the age of 13, Malawi has been around for a long time. She is fairly aloof in her character and not one to be in your face at hand feeding time. She likes to keep herself to herself. Malawi has never grown any antlers. This isn’t uncommon with female reindeer and in the past we have had a few reindeer not grow any antlers – Arnish and Diddly to name a couple. We have also had cases where certainly females haven’t grown any antlers, then one year they decide to grow one antler. This was the case with Cheery and Ferrari. I think Ferrari was 9 years old when she grew her first antler. This doesn’t seem to affect their position in the herd when it comes to dominance and certainly with Arnish I would say she was one of our more dominant females in her days. I guess when you don’t have antlers to push the other reindeer around you have to think of other ways and Arnish was more like a bulldozer at times, head down and move them on with brute force and confidence. It seemed to work for her!  Malawi is now the only reindeer in our herd with no antlers but I’m sure once she has gone there will be more to come so we will wait and see!



She is an old girl now at the age of 12 years and she was actually one of the first ‘pure white’ reindeer to be born into our herd. This is an rare condition within reindeer and it is called Leucism. I believe cats can also be leucitic. With this condition it does mean that Blondie is completely deaf. We have tested this theory many times when we arrive to the herd, very chilled out and relaxed and Blondie is in fact fast asleep. Where the other reindeer wake up when they hear us coming Blondie is still flat out asleep and eyes closed. Until we wake her up gently, so she doesn’t get a fright.  Of course in the wild this would be a massive disadvantage as they wouldn’t hear predators coming or even when they are a calf they would hear their mother calling but having got to the age of 12 Blondie has obviously coped well with her deafness and it doesn’t seem to slow her down. Other pure white and deaf reindeer have included Lego and Blue who are no longer with us.

Blondie, as white as the snow


Meadow has no ears… She wasn’t born like this, this happened when she was a calf on the free range with her mother Maisie. Sometimes when reindeer fall very ill and maybe we aren’t around to give assistance because the herd are free ranging, this can go one of two ways. Their bodies may not be able to cope with the illness in which case they pass away but on the other hand they may be fighters and battle through, even though their body suffers for it. In Meadows case she battled through something (we aren’t sure what) and as a result her body stopped the blood circulation to other parts of her body which didn’t necessarily need it. The tops of her ears were the first place to be affected and the skin dies and falls off. Hooves can also be another part of the body they cast due to lack of blood and the body ‘fixing’ itself. As an adult, Meadow has gone on to live a healthy happy life ad this hasn’t affected her at all, infact I would say she is one of our biggest females in the herd. Another reindeer who has completely lost the tops of his ears is Celt, a two year old young male. Sometimes the don’t lose the whole of the tops of their ears, just the very tip and this is the case with Pony, Wapiti, Jaffa and Gloriana.


Meadow on the move


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