I love September! The reindeer look super, we’re busy with free ranging reindeer, we name the calves and we start learning their individual personalities, plus the rut kicks off. Having said that, I planned a two week holiday in one of my favourite months – must remember not to do that again! So there is a big gap in the photos for this month’s blog, but I’ve made up for it by just sharing more from the same day.
Just a reminder – we don’t reveal the names of the calves online until our adopters receive their newsletter next month.
Reindeer identification is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of the work here at the Reindeer Centre. Of course there are a few individual reindeer that are very distinctive and easy to spot like Sherlock with those enormous antlers and Dr Suess with his with white nose. I’m also pretty confident telling apart the two white yearling males (99 and Mr Whippy) as long as they’re not too far away!
I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to try to get to know who’s who for the less obvious members of the herd. During the summer months while I’m here, the hill enclosure is home to a lovely smaller herd made up of some of the bulls. It’s a good time to try to learn a few reindeer while they’re part of a smaller group and I can see them most days.
The ear tags on the reindeer are colour coded depending on the year they are born, for example last years calves all have red ear tags (I was lucky enough to be volunteering the day they were tagged!). As a rule, I tend to look for any distinguishing features first like coat colour, markings, antler shape and size, and body size. After that, I’ll try to spot what colour the ear tag is. Some of the older reindeer are easier because there are fewer to choose from with that year’s colour ear tag.
As well as the more obvious physical features, its been really helpful to speak to the other herders to get hints and tips on how they remember who’s who. For example, Sheena pointed out that Poirot’s antlers come out straight from his forehead like two fingers or the number “11” and his number is “211”. Isla told me how she remembers Arta’s name because the pattern on his nose looks like artwork and Mollie told me that Cicero has the biggest of the silvery coloured antlers.
This week I learned that Merida, Dr. Suess’ mum, also has a lovely white face and I was able to spot my personal favourite, Beanie, thanks to her lovely speckly nose and the fact that she was with a group of two cows with their calves.
However, often, just when I get the hang of this ID game, things start to change. The boys summer coats don’t really last more that a few weeks it seems so no sooner was I was feeling very confident identifying Lupin and Kernel with their beautiful dark summer coats they’re both already growing their winter coats! We’re also bringing some of the girls into the enclosure which is adding ever more complexity to the task. My ID skills are definitely a work in progress and I’m loving taking every opportunity to watch the herd and learn who everybody is.
A couple of months have passed since we lost our old girl, Sookie, I think it’s about time we write about how wonderful a dog she was! Our blogs are of course reindeer related and with Sookie being one of our top ‘reindeer dogs’ she has certainly left her mark here at Reindeer House.
Sookie joined us here at Reindeer House in June 2009 as a 2 year old. One of our herders at the time comes from an island off the west coast of Scotland and when we showed interest in getting a collie type dog to help manage our free ranging herd of reindeer it happened to be that her sister, who is a farmer on this island, had a wee collie suited for the job so along came Sookie. At first she was fairly timid; a classic collie! Coming from island life with her mum and brother she was certainly chucked in at the deep end and she wouldn’t let just anyone stroke her and was certainly shy of men, even giving them the classic collie nip on the back of the legs as they walked by. But as time passed Sookie settled in wonderfully and Reindeer House became her forever home. Many herders passed through the door during Sookie’s 14 years with us. She particularly knew how to ‘woo’ the men. I think most of them thought they were the only one… little did they know she had those puppy dog eyes for most of them. What a gal!
For the first few years she had a kennel outside which she went into at night. Sookie never barked and was always a quiet character – my wee terrier, Misty, had enough voice for both of them and she ruled the roost! I lost Misty in 2014 and then Tiree, my Aussie Shepherd, joined the Reindeer House team. Sookie was always such a push over that even Tiree as a puppy seemed to be more dominant than her. But as unassuming as she was she just cracked on with life, nothing seemed to faze her. She was many a herders ‘chosen dog’ when it came to big hill days, gentle strolls to the loch or camping trips. Always super reliable and extremely loveable.
She taught Tiree how to be the perfect reindeer dog. Waiting for long periods of time next to a rock on the open mountain for us herders to return with the herd. The longest I left them was 3 hours and they were still in the exact same spot on my return. If their presence was required to push the reindeer off of land they weren’t meant to be, this was always done with upmost control. They’d also wait at the visitor gate going into our enclosure while we were doing morning feeds. And as Sookie got older Tiree took on that role and now herself is training the next generation so thanks Sookie for helping!
Everyday Sookie would mound around outside our shop and exhibition area. She’d never stray and if people wanted to stroke her she’d just move away. She wasn’t for being fussed by strangers, however, she did love it when they threw her sticks… again classic collie! So she’d drop sticks next to people’s feet in the hope they take her up on this game. And of course who could resist. As she got older and a bit stiffer with age she could still wander around outside our shop but she had to wear a jacket saying ‘please don’t throw me sticks’ as the sharp movements were taking their toll on her body and she would come in a bit stiff in the evenings. She was so confused to why people had stopped throwing her sticks, poor girl, but it was the best thing for her. Instead she’d spend more time in and about Reindeer House and as she grew much older she just slept a lot.
Some of you may remember when she went missing for 4-5 days back in September 2018. She was out hill walking with a friend and as he headed up the hill and over a ridge he suddenly realised Sookie was nowhere to be seen. This was pretty out of character and for days we were out searching and wondering what had happened her. Then on day 5 there was a report of a dog at a farm and low and behold it was Sookie! She was extremely delighted to see us and the reindeer herding world was delighted to see her fine and well. Ever since that incident Sookie did have some separation issues, understandably. So leaving her in the evenings home alone meant she would bark sometimes so we fitted it into our life and worked around her so she was never alone.
In her last 6 months she aged quite quickly. She would always pootle along on a nice flat walk around Glenmore but sometimes we’d head out with her and get 100 meters into the walk to find Sookie had decided to go home. That was fine, it was always her decision. On other days she’d bound along like she was a puppy so there was life in the old dog yet. Sookie never really had one particular owner, however, myself being the main constant person throughout her 14 years of living at Reindeer House I guess I became her ‘go to’ person and she became quite attached to me. I think on days I was away or on holiday she would pace around the house looking for me. She did settle though, usually in the office where there was always someone around so if she woke up she knew she wasn’t alone. For her last six months Lotti and I would have to sleep with our bedroom doors open because if Sookie got to a closed door and couldn’t get in then she’d bark. If however the door was open and she could see us in bed she’d settle and go to sleep. Things you do for an old dog but when these pets are in your life, sometimes longer than people are, they become part of the family and for family we do anything so Sookie had it pretty good really.
Although she may have gone on for another few months she did slow down and lose a lot of weight in her last few weeks so one of the hardest decisions had to be made but for the right reasons. She had a fantastic life with so many wonderful people in it and she went with her dignity intact – 16 is a great age for any dog and she was never unwell. Tiree has some pretty big boots to fill which from a reindeer dog perspective she’s there and her loyalty is something extremely special. Fraoch, our 18 month old collie now with us at Reindeer House has got a good way to go yet so thanks Sookie for setting such a high bar! It’s been great and now we have lots of lovely memories and photos to remember her by. Slainte Mhath old girl and thanks for being my best friend for the past 14 years!
It’s been a long time since I found time to write about a reindeer who’s no longer with us, but I’m acutely aware that it is high time for me to take my turn to write a blog, so here we are.
This time I thought I’d pick Chelsea, who only died last year but she’d lived a good long life and been around for the vast majority of my time here, so she seems like a good choice. Born in 2009, she was Glacier’s second to last calf, and Glacier was a very productive female so Chelsea was from a large family line! Like Glacier, Chelsea was a light coloured reindeer, but one without face markings, which is actually a rarity in our herd nowadays – most light coloured reindeer also have distinctive face markings. But Chelsea came from a line of light reindeer – mum Glacier, granny Ferrari and great-granny Vivi were all the same colouration, and doubtless ancestors before were too (but I don’t have that info to hand just now).
Despite Glacier being a lovely, tame reindeer, Chelsea was always much more ‘independent’ – the word we use to describe a reindeer who is on the ‘wilder’ side! I remember her well as a calf – mainly from battling with her trying to get her used to wearing a halter. All our calves are trained to halter at around 5 months old, and Chelsea certainly had a lot of attitude and strong opinions about the whole affair.
Possibly the headstrong attitude came with the name. She was born the year we named the calves after ‘cakes, biscuits and puddings’, and during our naming evening we had a conversation about the name ‘Chelsea’ being too associated with the football team rather than the bun. And it sounded like a name for a footballer’s wife… Having just vetoed it, we offered our volunteer Paul – a retired joiner who has come to work with us multiple times over many, many years – the chance to pick a name for a calf. Having apparently not paid the slightest attention to the entire conversation, he peered at the list of possibilities and promptly picked ‘Chelsea’. We rolled our eyes and gritted our teeth… and named her Chelsea.
Sally and I had Chelsea on our Christmas team that winter, and were rather embarrassed by her name so we called her Tiffin for a few days! But names just become names, and Chelsea became Chelsea whilst Tiffin disappeared into the ether.
Chelsea had her first calf at 3 years old, in our diamond anniversary year of the herd. So we named her Diamond, and she has proved to be a lovely reindeer over the years, mellow where Chelsea is feisty, but she looks very, very similar.
In 2015 Diamond reached maturity and in 2016 she had her first – and only – calf, Pagan. 2016 was also the year when Chelsea and Diamond both grew such similar antlers that year that we continuously got them muddled up. The photo below seems to be the only one I have of the two of them together that year – but look how similar!
Chelsea did mellow a bit with age, but remained a reindeer that never willingly allowed herself to be caught. In a moment of necessity I did once make a bid to catch her by her antlers out on the mountains – once the velvet has stripped away from the antlers no feeling remains, so antlers can occasionally be useful emergency handles – but regretted it immediately, and had bruises to show for my bad decision afterwards.
Dying in early 2022 at nearly 13 years old, Chelsea lived a full and rewarding life, most of her time spent roaming freely out on the mountains. Whilst she had a few calves, most were males who we didn’t breed from, so only Diamond continued her line. Grand-daughter Pagan has sadly gone now too, but she has left daughters Pumpkin and Winnie behind – Chelsea’s great-granddaughters – so Chelsea’s legacy continues. The light colour has gone though – both of this most recent generation are the ‘normal’ brown colour.
August has been a fun month. The first half of the month was super busy with holiday makers but as Scottish schools went back the second half of the month got slightly quieter with visitors and we’ve been having lots of free range action which I love. Generally we start to see the free ranging females more as they come down in altitude as the weather gets cooler. Towards the end of the month we also start bringing in the mums and their calves back into the enclosure. They spend June through to August/early September out roaming the hills learning how to be little wild reindeer and enjoying all the best grazing, but when the autumn rolls around it’s time for them to learn what a feed bag is and in time, how to walk on a halter etc. The following photos are a small snapshot of what’s been occurring…