As the rut has now come to a close and we move into winter, us reindeer herders are feeling particularly strong. For most of the year the female reindeer in our herd spend their days free-ranging the Cairngorms. However during the autumn we have all the reindeer that we want to breed from in our 1,200 acre hill enclosure. This is to ensure that we know which bulls have bred with which females and to ensure there is no inbreeding. This does however mean we have many more reindeer to feed than usual. As this is their natural habitat, when the reindeer free-roam they find all their own food and we don’t feed them at all. Whilst there is plenty of natural grazing in the hill enclosure we also give them supplementary food to make sure that the grazing replenishes each year. At the peak of the rut we were both mixing and carrying a lot of food up to the reindeer. In fact on the days when the most reindeer have been in the enclosure we are carrying 144 kg a day or a tonne a week.
Mixing feed can be a real work out as it involves lugging around 20kg bags of various grains, measuring out the right amounts and throwing them into a cement mixer. The reindeer food is made from a mix of barley, sugar beet, sheep mix, dark grains (a by-product of whisky distilling) and hay soaked in garlic. As you can’t buy reindeer food here in Scotland, we mix up the food from lots of different things to give the reindeer the right nutrition.
And then once the feed is mixed, actually getting it to the reindeer is no mean feat. Normally the food is packed into roughly 15kg sacs and carried up to the reindeer enclosure on our shoulders. We have however also been asking visitors to help carry smaller bags (no more than 6kg) of reindeer food up the hill. If you have helped us carry food, thanks again from everyone here at the centre, both two and four legged.
You certainly won’t find a reindeer herder in the gym, especially not during the rut. Mixing and carrying feed (as well as unloading the feed lorry) is a very good work out and justifies the copious amounts of cake we all eat. I also know that all the reindeer herders, especially the women, take great joy in easily flinging a large bag of reindeer food onto our backs as a visit of people look on amazed. This summer I heard a man ask my colleague Nell if she needed a big strong man to help her carry her bag, to which she responded very politely “I’m a little strong woman and I’ll be just fine”. Go Nell!