Reindeer Retrieval Mission

As part of the only UK herd of reindeer that live in their natural habitat, our herd are lucky enough to spend a good portion of each year roaming completely free on the mountains. We have an area of leased land which we have grazing permission for, but the boundary of this land isn’t fenced, so occasionally a few of our females do wander a little further than they’re allowed to. We then have to make a plan to bring them back – usually this entails walking out, finding the group (no easy task at times!), catching what we can and leading them back on headcollars. Missions like this are why we feel we can call ourselves “Reindeer herders”.

This autumn, we received reports of a small group of females who were enjoying the perfect grazing and peaceful setting in a glen several miles east of our normal grazing land. After a few recces to see who was there, myself and Dave headed out on a breezy Saturday morning, equipped with binoculars, reindeer feed, human food and plenty of headcollars. Lotti was able to give us a ride part way in the landrover, shaving about 3 miles off our walk, which was much appreciated! From there, it was a case of hiking, uphill, for an hour or so before we caught sight of the reindeer, having a lovely time grazing with a beautiful view. They were nearly at the top of one of the local munros (not many jobs where you do tick off a few munros from time to time!).

Dixie and Camembert


We had a quick scan of the group to see who was there and if we’d be able to catch them. Dixie and Camembert: great, both easy to catch and lead. Malawi and Joni: hmm, catchable if we’re lucky. Puzzle: will hopefully follow mum Dixie. Rain and her calf: one of the wilder, more independent reindeer in the herd, not a chance, let’s hope she follows us! We offered out the food and good ol’ Dixie and Camembert cheerfully let us put headcollars on.

Camembert on halter

Dave set off in the lead, and I started out as “herding dog” – walking quietly at the back providing gentle pressure to encourage the rest of the group to follow. This is how we usually move the herd, but there is a bit of a knack to knowing how far ahead to walk with the lead reindeer, and how much pressure to put on if you’re at the back – push too hard and wilder reindeer will try to double back, and they’re faster than us!


For the first 10 minutes all was well, Dave leading the way with the small group following happily enough. But as soon as Dave started heading downhill, Malawi and Joni decided that they weren’t so keen to leave their quiet idyll. They started breaking away, dodging among the peat hags, and as older, dominant reindeer, the rest of the herd were keener to follow their lead than Dave’s. And my fielding skills were not quite going to cut it, they could outrun me, however much I waved my arms! So we needed a different plan. The ringleaders were definitely the old lasses Joni and Malawi, both of which were also old enough to be suspicious about whether they wanted to be captured or not! But without them on head collars, we weren’t going to manage our mission.

Malawi doing her best to lead the group astray amongst the peat hags

Malawi was first up – I held out our wee bag of bribery, and thankfully all of the preferential feeding of the older reindeer we did last winter helped as Malawi’s greed overcame her suspicion, and she started guzzling. The tricky thing with her is that she’s one of the few reindeer in the herd who doesn’t grow antlers, so she has no ‘handles’ to aid with catching her, so I slipped my arm round her neck hoping she wouldn’t try to break away. Greed won out and she agreed to stand whilst I popped a headcollar on.

Leaving me holding three reindeer, Dave then managed to entice Joni into the feed bag, and we had our ringleaders on head collars! Knowing Dixie would follow along, we then let her off again, and poor Dave set off downhill leading three reindeer, of which Joni was definitely the most stubborn! I had to do about five minutes of epic fielding to convince the rest of the reindeer to follow Dave, then they gave in and settled in to pottering along in single file.

Over the mountain, the enclosure in sight in the far distance.

Down we went, to the valley floor, crossed the river, and up the other side. The hours passed as we meandered our way along (nothing happens quickly with reindeer). We both regretted not taking more snacks, and I hugely regretted not taking a bottle of water… the reindeer had no such problems as they were snacking on blaeberry, lichen and heather as we walked along, and drinking at pools.

Plodding across the Ciste, heading for the ridge above the road.

As we approached the Ciste car park, after about 4 miles of walking with our wee herd of miscreants, Dave was seriously flagging. Joni was not the best behaved on a head collar and would much rather have stayed trespassing on our neighbour’s land, so was putting the brakes on most of the way. She may be 13 but is still plenty strong enough! It was also 2pm and way past our lunchtime, so I called for reinforcements and Tilly and Lotti came up to meet us and take over from Dave. Relieved of responsibility, Dave lay down on the car park for a few minutes of recovery before heading down for some food!

Relief team

I carried on following at the back of the group on the last leg home, and our now-well-behaved reindeer followed obediently over one more hill, down and across the ski road, over Utsi Bridge and into the enclosure. They got a well-earned feed before joining our group in the enclosure – for Camembert and Puzzle they went to join handsome breeding bulls Kota and Houdini respectively, in the hope that they’ll have a calf next year. The others joined our non-breeding group, where they’re enjoying plenty of hand feed from our visitors, and Rain’s wee calf Vienna is getting used to be around people. All will head back out to free-range soon, hopefully with fewer thoughts of wandering on land where they’re not meant to be!

Vienna and Rain



Jonas joined our herd from Sweden in 2011 when we brought over a contingent of bulls to boost the genetics in our own herd. We had to make a decision the next year to which reindeer we would keep as bulls and breed from and which ones we would geld/castrate and have as Christmas reindeer. Jonas never made it to being a bull, which maybe in hindsight is a shame cos he has got a lovely nature. However we cant live off hindsight and to be completely honest he has just made the most wonderful Christmas reindeer… Possibly the perfect Christmas reindeer in his own right.

Jonas in Sweden 2011

Although the first couple of years he was still very much learning the ropes alongside our already trained reindeer he took to wearing a harness, taking part in events across the country and settling back into herd life here on the mountain like a duck to water. When we are away from home at Christmas time it is really important the reindeer travel together and do events as a mini herd. Therefore our teams consist of no less than 4 reindeer. They take comfort in numbers so to take 2 reindeer away on their own means they would have little guidance and therefore uncomfortable in their surroundings. The handlers who work with them all year round know these reindeer very well and also become part of the ‘herd’ on Christmas tour.

Jonas one year into Scottish life

After about 2-3 years of taking part in Christmas events Jonas became the role model to younger, less experienced reindeer going out for their first year. Jonas isn’t one to be petted or molly coddled and to be honest most reindeer aren’t. They enjoy company however they don’t want to be fussed. There are exceptions within this of course, however I would say only a handful of reindeer in our herd actually want to be fussed, petted or stroked. Putting on harness and working them is completely different, they treat it as a job and do it with the upmost patience and expertise as long as they get their bowl of food and have the company from the other reindeer they really are fantastic at it. I would sooner take any of our reindeer into a busy event in a city than my dog, their behaviour remains consistent as does their appetite!

Becoming a reliable Christmas Reindeer by 2017

So at the age of 9 I wouldn’t hesitate to take Jonas out on tour as one of my most experienced Christmas reindeer. He is pale in colour which makes him very striking within the team. He grows nice, shapely compact antlers suiting travelling in our livestock trucks and pulling the sleigh alongside another Christmas reindeer and he just has the best nature but isn’t a pest by being super tame, in your face and pushy which can come with the nature of a very tame reindeer. All in all I think he’s one of my favourite and definitely understated Christmas reindeer in the herd so here’s hoping I get to work with him again this year!


Jonas 2019

Ben’s reindeer herder interviews (Part 2 of 3)

  1. Which reindeer would you most/least like to go on a night out with?


Fiona = Probably Grunter again, for his same social and fun reasons. But Bovril would be my pick for ‘least like to” as he keeps himself to himself and gets all grumpy at Christmas events. I could have said the same about Paintpot to be fair. I feel like my hyper-ness would not be compatible with their grumpiness.

Emily bottle feeding Hippo and Grunter

Hen = I’ll say Puddock because I’m 36 going on 65 and Puddock strikes me as the kind of guy who would just like to stay at home and relax, which is my idea of a great night out! On Friday night we could watch gardener’s world together!! Saying that, I reckon Puddock was wild in his day, so I’d take Puddock in his older age.


Andi = I’d least like to go on a night out with the late Dragonfly because he was so unsociable. In my mind he’d have been the old man lurking in a dark corner, nursing a pint, and answering only in grunts.


Manouk = I’d definitely like to most go out with Ochil because she would keep away any unwanted intruders to my personal space. She has actually been known to kick people in their ‘personal space’. Just ask Bobby…


Chris = Kipling because she’s nice around people and good in big crowds. Unless I wanted to have a fight, then I wouldn’t take Camus with me. He seems to like walking into large crowds then batting people away with his antlers as if they chose to surround him!

Kipling is getting bored of Chris picking her for every other answer

Lotti = I think I’d want to go on a night out with Fly. I think she’d be pretty sassy and have some great dance moves on her. I also think she wouldn’t take any grief from creepy men in clubs.


Ben = Boris would be great, he’d be able to look around corners for any potential hotties/spaces in the bar queue.


Dave = *sniggers to himself*. Well, definitely not Camus, he’d be a total maniac in the pub.


Izzy = One of the boys. However, I don’t reckon I’d be able to keep up with some of the younger boys like Celt, Roman or Dr Seuss. They look like they’d drink a lot. Also, I think they’d probably enjoy their mushrooms a bit too much for me as well. Svalbard strikes me as a classic “pub go-er”. I reckon I’d have a good night in the pub with him.


Bobby = Svalbard, he’d be a good wing man.


Nell = Spike. He’s the reindeer who I’ve seen jump the most. I think it’d be quite fun going on a night out with a springy reindeer because that means more dancing.



  1. Who’s the cheekiest/naughtiest reindeer?

Fiona = Well, there used to be a reindeer called Revel who had a habit of sticking his head under ladies skirts and then lifting them up…the skirts not the ladies.


Hen = Oh Celt!!! Surely everyone said Celt?! Celt hasn’t learnt his manners yet. His mum, Camembert, is very polite so I’m not quite sure what happened there! He’s such a wayward son.


Andi = Pagan is certainly a contender. She’s completely unabashed in coming into your personal space and demanding your full attention whether you’re busy or not.


Manouk = Dr. Seuss as I had to wrestle him in front of a whole hill trip when his hormones were the first to kick in during last year’s rut.


Chris = In my first winter it was definitely Dr. Seuss. But now…Olympic may have taken over, cheeky but not overstepping the mark.

Dr Seuss as a calf. Cheeky boy!

Lotti = Ooooo. Probably Dr. Seuss. He’s not too naughty but he’s definitely cheeky.


Ben = Ah man, there’s some definite contenders from the young boys here. But for pure naughtiness it’s gotta be Bond. He’s got little man syndrome. I’ve seen him kick young children, adults and reindeer herders. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in mischievousness.


Dave = Calves seem to be the cheekiest ay. I’ve seen calves full on try to jump and roll over their mums as if they were doing the long jump.


Izzy = Celt, he kicked my water bottle. I had to get Dave to fix it for me, before that the spout didn’t work and I had to drink out of it at such a weird angle.


Sheena = BOBBY! Oh wait what? We need to choose an actual reindeer and not a reindeer herder?


Bobby = Celt, he has absolutely no boundaries.


Nell = Bond, definitely! He’s having a time out from hill trips in the enclosure because he’s been a bit too naughty…so definitely Bond.



  1. Which reindeer would make the best husband/wife?

Fiona = Right, well, I think if you’re going for looks then the best hubby would have been Fergus. That’s Fergus in his prime, not as a calf! I think the best wife would be Caddis, actually nah, she could be pretty brutal. Hippo was probably the most beautiful. But this all sounds so shallow thus far doesn’t it. Right, for personality and reliability it’d be Topi for hubby and Dixie for wifey. They’re the attributes that really matter! I can’t think of any reindeer that has the full package mind.

Dixie getting special treatment from Fi as usual

Hen = Probably Olympic, he’s just sooooo friendly. I can imagine that he’d definitely do his share of the washing up. The Svalbard’s and Stenoa’s of this world, you know that they’d be the ones who would just sit in front of the T.V. with a beer.


Andi = Olympic…he’s steadfast, loyal and genial. And for an added bonus, his breeding days are far behind him.


Manouk = Ryvita. She’s such a loyal mother so I think she’d be such a loyal wife.


Chris = Definitely not Kota if you were after a monogamous relationship.

Kota, August 2019

Lotti = I think that Cheese would make a good wife. I think she’s got a strong sense of family, which is very important. She’s always seen hanging around with her family so she’s obviously quite loyal. She’s also a bit cheeky and fun which would be good as a life partner.


Ben = Compatible personalities are everything in a relationship, and Lace has such great character. But she’s also so beautiful. I’d like to think that if I was a reindeer and I woke up with Lace next to me every morning I’d be pretty chuffed.

Beautiful Lace

Dave = If I was a reindeer I would marry Fly because she’s awesome, she’s a reindeer pioneer, she’s super sexy and she has child-bearing hips.


Izzy = Olympic, he’s just so sweet. He’d give me so much attention that I wouldn’t even care about him eating ALL of the food. Tosca would be my contingency; he’s such a handsome boy.


Bobby = Bond – strong, handsome, financially stable, good moral character. He’d be the best.

Husband material?

Nell = Hamish would make the easiest husband because he’d be so easy to please. Just give him food and he’d be your number one fan. Plus, he’s quite cuddly.

Okapi – a photo shoot

I was sorting through some free range photos taken by Manouk’s friend, Lidowij Meijer, from back in March and realised Okapi look liked she was having her own personalised photo shoot. What a perfect opportunity for a blog I thought!

Okapi is one of the more popular reindeer amongst us herders. Whenever we meet up with her on the free range she is always happy to put her head in a bag of food and help lead the rest of the herd to wherever we need to be. Although she is getting on a little, currently 11, she was in fantastic condition over last winter and so made a fantastic model.

When I first arrived here, however, Okapi wasn’t always at the top of my favourite reindeer list. On a few occasions I caught her walking up behind people and giving them a good poke with her antlers. Initially this was a bit stressful when leading large groups of people in amongst the herd but later on whenever I did catch Okapi shaking her head at anyone it always seemed to be the visitors who don’t listen to our clear instructions about how to behave around the reindeer that were told off by Okapi!

Anyway, enjoy the first part of Lidowij’s free range photo blog.

Feel free to check out her pages here, in the name of Jumping Jackdaw:





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