70 years ago today

Here at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre we are ‘popping the bottles of bubbly’ and celebrating, because it was this day 70 years ago that the first small group of reindeer arrived in the Cairngorms for what would be a successful experiment to re-introduce reindeer to Scotland after many years of absence.

An idea conceived by ‘couple extraordinaire’ Mikel Utsi and his wife Dr Ethel Lindgren, their tenacity and zeal paid off and the first small breeding group actually set foot on terra firma here in the Cairngorms on 27th May 1952.

Mr Utsi holding Sarek, before disembarking MS Sarek at Rothesay Dock, Glasgow, 1952

The first consignment was swiftly followed by a second group of reindeer coming in the following October and finally on 29th April 1954 a third group arrived. These reindeer would form the nucleus of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd we love and cherish today.

Mikel Utsi was a Swedish Sami, born 17th May 1908 and brought up in a reindeer herding family in Swedish Lapland. As the second child of 8 children he was expected to ‘make his own way in life’, something I think we can all agree he certainly did!

Mikel Utsi fly spraying antlers, Loch Morlich behind.
Not much changes on our summer morning today, here’s Hen spraying Bond’s antlers (and getting a beady look in return!) in summer 2021.

His wife Dr Lindgren came from a very different background. Born on 1st January 1905 she was the only child of a wealthy Swedish-American banking family. She travelled extensively as a child with her family, graduated at Cambridge University with a first class honours in oriental languages and moral science and studied and wrote her PhD on reindeer herding people, the Tungus after expeditions to NW Manchuria in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.

Dr Lingren with Alice, Anne, Pelle (behind) in 1952

Mr Utsi and Dr Lindgren met in Jokkmokk on the Arctic circle in Swedish Lapland and they married in 1947. They then devoted their lives to their ‘dream’ to re-introduce reindeer to Scotland. And 70 years on that dream has been a huge success, providing enjoyment to many. We have a lot to thank them both for.

Mr Utsi introducing Sarek to three Aviemore school children, 1952
Sheena leading a Hill Trip, 2021

The vast majority of reindeer have been born here in the Cairngorms and they descend from original females brought in during the 1950’s. Over a span of 11+ generations, both homebred and imported bulls have been used to ensure genetic diversity in the herd.

Today visitors to the herd, our reindeer support scheme and Christmas events with our trained reindeer are all ways we generate income to help keep this unique herd of reindeer in their natural, free-living environment. We have a dedicated group of ‘Scottish Reindeer Herders’ who are also family and friends and who are involved daily in the well-being and caring of this unique herd.

Vikhta outside Reindeer House, 1962
Volunteer Carol, herders Amy, Lotti and Ruth, with Fiona and Sherlock and Tilly and LX posing outside Reindeer House – May 2022.
Herders on calf naming night , September 2021

So for me as co-owner of the herd I would like to say a big ‘THANK YOU’ to the late Mikel Utsi and Dr Lindgren for establishing this herd and also to our reindeer herders of today who continue to make this imaginative experiment such a success.

So raise your glass to The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd and may they thrive in the Cairngorms for many years to come.

Free-ranging herd in 1956
Happy free-ranging herd, summer 2021

Tilly Smith. Co-owner of the Cairngorm Reindeer

Yawning Reindeer

I can’t help but smile when I see a reindeer yawn. They have the most wonderful facial expressions, produce the best sounds, and have the wobbliest of chins. I always try to capture the moment on camera but I’m usually way too slow and miss the moment. Over the past year I’ve been compiling a folder of my best reindeer yawns ready to produce a blog one day. Despite reindeer herding being my full time job, at the rate I’m going it would probably take several years before I’ve captured a decent amount of silly pictures and videos.

Sooo… I mentioned my blog idea to Hen and Andi recently whist *working very hard* in the office. Of course, they came to my rescue and more or less instantly produced many glorious pictures of yawning reindeer to bolster my collection.

So here goes, in no order or for any great reason other than hopefully making people smile. Enjoy!

Check out the chin wobble on Dr Seuss! Video by Andi – October 2021.
Magnus – March 2017.
Christie – December 2021.
Holy Moley finding fame tiring – March 2022.
Ibex – March 2022.
Kiruna – yawning or perhaps laughing at a good joke?! Summer 2021.
Sambar – September 2019.
Hamish yawning on the job! Christmas training – September 2013.
Stripping your velvet is clearly a tiring business for Scolty – September 2017.
Sholto – looking very majestic mid yawn! September 2011.
Kipling on the free-range – August 2018.
Merida – August 2018.
Camembert – free-ranging April 2022
Malawi – the oldest reindeer currently in the herd, aged 16, definitely deserves a yawny snooze in the spring sunshine – April 2022.
Moulting is very tiring for Celt – June 2021.

Ruth

Sika, the ‘forgotten reindeer’

The eagle-eyed amongst you, or those who have followed us on social media for a long time, might have noticed a reindeer named Sika popping up on our pages once or twice in the last few months, having never heard of her before. So where has she come from? Is she ‘new’?!

Sika in 2016

In fact, she’s not remotely new – actually she’s rather old. Sika was born in 2008 and has been here her whole life, but this winter there’s been a bit of a turnaround in her character, which has taken all of us rather by surprise. Let me explain…

In 2008 we named our calves after ‘horned and antlered animal species’, and the name we picked for Malawi’s wee female calf was Impala. But time passed and Malawi and Impala weren’t seen for ages, and whilst winter crept on and all the other calves came into the hill enclosure and got used to being handled and were halter-trained, there was still no sign of the two. Eventually, Malawi showed up but she was alone, with no sign on Impala. Frustrated, we wrote off Impala as one of the losses that year – not every calf makes it to adulthood sadly.

And then in January 2009, a report reached us of a reindeer calf alone at the far end of the Kincardine hills, at the edge of the Cairngorms but not in a spot that reindeer normally stray to. Off we went to investigate, and there was a wee calf – alone and very shy. Eventually she was captured with the aid of some makeshift fencing and a small group of tame adult reindeer acting as decoys – but who was she? Process of elimination led us to realise she must be Impala, separated from Malawi accidentally at some point and then lost by herself in an area she didn’t know. But as we had had to ‘seek her’ (geddit?), and the name Sika hadn’t been used in that year’s naming theme, ‘Impala’ fell by the wayside and ‘Sika’ joined the herd instead.

Sika in her younger days

Christmas is the time that our calves receive most of their formative handling, transforming from effectively wild animals to tame ones well used to being around people. But Sika had missed this window, and while we did initially halter-train her, she remained very wild still in character compared to others, and quickly became a reindeer that we didn’t even consider trying to put a halter on in adult life. She lived her life up on the Cairngorms, never being brought down to our Paddocks or moved across to our alternative winter grazing range as moving her just wasn’t an option. A ‘background’ reindeer – never noticed by visitors (and often barely by us!), just there in the herd but never really featuring much or making any great impact on any of our lives. She has never even had an adopter – one of the very few reindeer in the herd with this dubious accolade.

In the hill enclosure for the rut a couple of years back, with Caterpillar and Cottage following on

Over the years Sika produced a couple of calves, but in general we avoiding breeding her to some extent as breeding a wild streak into our herd is not ideal. Her calves, few and far between, also turned out rather shy too, although not as bad as Sika herself. The one anomaly was Bordeaux, her only female calf, who was born in 2019 and is an absolute sweetie! We have no idea really why she has turned out the way she has – she certainly didn’t get her trust in humans from her mum!

Bordeaux – Sika’s mini-me

In the last 3 or 4 years we have put a lot more effort in to training our reindeer to come and put their heads into a feed bag and allowing us to touch them, in order to make it easier to catch and halter them when necessary. All winter when we’ve walked out to the herd first thing in the morning, before putting feed down on the ground for them we have wandered around the shyer reindeer, offering a bit of bribery in return for any positive behaviour towards us. For most reindeer this has worked wonders, and some characters that we could never have considered catching in the past (or at least whilst out in a large open space) are now easily won over – Inca, Suidhe and Roule have been our particular success stories! But as for Sika… she was a reindeer that would never really make eye contact but just turn away whenever a herder optimistically proffered a bag.

Looking beautiful, but always keeping her distance…

Fast forward to January 2022, and I snorted ‘Hmphh. Good luck!’ at Andi as she tried to catch Sika’s attention with the feed bag once again. But something was different. Just for a second she looked, before turning away again. Andi is like a dog with a bone in these situations, and I know I can push her to keep at something by telling her it isn’t worth bothering about (god bless you, reverse psychology) and sure enough she kept persisting. I almost fell over in surprise when, 5 minutes later, Sika had got to the point where she was stretching her neck out towards the feed bag, although not yet bold enough to put her nose right in it. This behaviour persisted from day to day until finally she snatched a mouthful… and a light-bulb went on somewhere in her little brain!

Success! Andi’s smile says it all 😀

Now, Sika is one of the first reindeer over to us each morning, actively hunting down the feed bag and keeping a close eye on it until she’s offered a wee extra nibble. I love to look around at the herd, patiently hanging around waiting for us, catch her eye and rustle the bag a tiny bit… and see that head lift a bit, her eyes widen and a lick of the lips in anticipation! All her attention is on us the whole time – so different from the years of ignoring, or even actively avoiding – us.

At the front of the herd and leading them in for feed, earlier this winter

She is still quite jumpy around us however, and is definitely not a reindeer we’re about to try and actually catch and put a halter on, but at 14 years old there’s no need to. We are just enjoying finally getting to know her after a lifetime of obscurity! I can’t express enough how surprised we all are to find out that Sika is actually a lovely character, after all these years…

Shy reindeer sometimes need defending whilst they grab a mouthful from the pushier members of the herd – ironically this intruder is Malawi, Sika’s mum! Malawi is now the oldest reindeer in the entire herd, at 17 years old, and of the opinion that any feed bag is presumably therefore all for her.

Hen

A misty morning collecting the free-range reindeer

From when we close in January through until around the end of April, most of the reindeer here at Cairngorm will be out free-ranging. This is great for them as they get to roam wherever they please (mostly) and spend time in their natural habitat, where they are at their most comfortable. But it does mean that before every Hill Trip during this time, we must head up into the hills to find the herd.

Generally getting to the reindeer is a pretty simple process but getting them back to whichever site we are running the hill trip from can be more complicated – they don’t always want to follow us!

Around the beginning of April, we had a morning collecting reindeer that were a little more difficult than usual. The cloud was extremely low and thick, and they were in an area of the hills with almost no established paths, only a handful of trodden trails at best. It’s also not an area we go too all that much and there are very few proper landmarks to navigate by. All this is a way of saying that it was quite a difficult morning of reindeer herding!

Me and Fiona had to split up to cover more ground once we reached the last GPS point, but luckily….
….we stumbled right onto the reindeer!
It took them a little while to notice that we’d arrived, but we soon got them up and moving.
Very atmospheric, if a little worrying about losing sight of them all.
I was on sheepdog duty at the back of the herd.
Spot the reindeer!
Very curious Beanie suddenly materialised – I think I gave her a fright coming out of the cloud. Look at that face!
Beanie’s mum Gloriana hanging back a little more.
The herd making their way through a gully on their way towards the visit location.
Always interested, Beanie stops to check out some last remnants of snow.
Another familiar face appears through the fog. Holy Moley!
The home stretch, the herd crossing the final burn before reaching the site where we give them their breakfast before the morning visit.

Harry

Shiny new shop stock!

We’ve had quite a few new additions to our shop recently, so I thought I’d grab this opportunity to tell you all about some of them, in case you fancy indulging your reindeer themed fancies!

Magnets! Featuring our beautiful calves, plus adults Celt, Athens and Origami.

Hats! Of many types to keep your head warm!

From left to right: Wendy’s Woolies; our own branded hat; Woolly Hatz Aviemore style; locally knitted beanie. Our branded hats are available on the website, but if you fancy one of the others just give us a call!

Leather decorations, made by Loch Ness Leather.

Locally made slate coasters.

The cuddliest of reindeer teddies!

And perhaps preorder a special calendar too?!

All of the products above, along with many others, can be ordered via our main shop at https://www.cairngormreindeer.co.uk/shop/

We do also have our shop over at Teemill, who print to order on ethically produced T-shirts, Hoodies and Tote bags – https://cairngormreindeer.teemill.com/have a gander!

We have several designs available on different clothing.

… plus our first jigsaw!

Andi

Birds in the enclosure (Spring)

Spring is all around! The days are longer and warmer, buds are beginning to burst into leaf and very soon there will be lots of wobbly new-born reindeer calves taking their first steps in our hill enclosure. As well as the reindeer which increase in number on the hill, so will the bird life as migratory birds arrive from warmer places such as Africa, Southern Europe or even coastal Britain to breed and rear young. All the herders enjoy and appreciate the different birds we get in the enclosure during different times of the year and spring announces the return of some of our favourites.

Ring Ouzel – It may be a fair assumption that this species is the favourite of migratory birds amongst herders. Known as the mountain blackbird, they are a little longer and more upright than their more common cousins and get their name because of the male’s obvious white bib under the neck. They typically nest in gullies or steep scree slopes on the hill side and like many migrants, arrive in April and leave by September. Along with a beautiful song and obvious alarm call it is always a joy to see these birds in and around the enclosure looking for invertebrates to feed on.

Ring Ouzel (image from: https://www.british-birdsongs.uk/ring-ouzel/)

Wheatear – Also summer migrants, these little birds can be common across the more upland environment of the Cairngorms. The males are quite colourful with a blue/grey head and back, black wings and an orange like breast. Wheatears like rocky open land but can be seen on moorlands, and coastal grassland, nesting on the ground in holes, scree slopes or stone walls.  They can be seen hopping about in the enclosure for insects and more so on the footpath towards the Chalamain Gap. Sometimes found in Greenland or Canada and wintering in Africa, Wheatear are among the world’s long distance migratory birds, estimated to fly nonstop for up to 2400km in 30 hours! The first one this season was seen early on the 24th of March.

Wheatear (image from: www.birdwatchireland.ie/birds/wheatear)

Golden Plover – During the winter Golden Plover can be found in the UK near the coast or lower farmlands and are often seen in flocks with Lapwing. For the spring and summer they move to the higher moorlands and hillsides to breed and nest on the ground, they can be be seen in our enclosure but their spotted black and golden camouflage plumage keeps them well hidden, it’s not until you hear their high pitched and rather sad sounding alarm call that you realise they are around. These shy but charming waders can also be seen up on many of the higher hills of Scotland and are a great addition to any hill day.

Golden Plover (image from: https://mkoireland.ie/new-irish-wildlife-manual-released/)

Snipe – Another wader to be found regularly in the enclosure is the Snipe. Like Golden Plover, Snipe are in the UK all year round but many of the wintering birds migrate elsewhere to breed, leaving a much smaller population of residents during the spring and summer. They typically enjoy a damp environment in habitat such as marshes, bogs or wet meadows, all of which is abundant in the reindeer enclosure. Snipe have a long straight bill, short legs and rather dumpy shape. You’re more likely to hear their amazing drumming call during the spring season than ever see them, the only time I ever see Snipe is by accidently getting too close and watch as they fire off the ground and whizz away in a fast zig- zagging motion.

Snipe (image from: https://www.birdguides.com/gallery/birds/gallinago-media/544573/)

Skylark – Another British resident that also moves up onto the mountain side during the breeding season is the Skylark. With a very good population throughout the whole of the UK, these birds are by no means uncommon but it’s always a delight to hear their long and beautiful song high in the sky during the Spring and Summer months. Skylark’s are a rather bland looking bird with a grey and brown speckled plumage that looks very similar to that of a meadow pipit. Get close enough though and you’ll also notice a crested head that helps differentiate them. It’s the sound of a Skylark that makes them unmistakable though, flying well over 100 meters high in the sky and singing for up to 15 minutes long, they make a great additional to a hill trip in the enclosure with the reindeer.

Skylark (image from: https://www.birdguides.com/gallery/birds/alauda-arvensis/1003602/)

Black Grouse – The final bird to mention is the Black Grouse. Black Grouse are a rather large bird, the females are a grey/ brown colour while the males are predominantly black with red eyebrows and white under tail and wings feathers. They live in Glenmore and the Cairngorms throughout the year in secret until the Spring and breeding season when the male birds start to Lek. The Lek is a site usually in a clearing close to woodland where the males compete for the most central positions within it. Flashing their tail feathers, the males can be highly active with plenty of showboating while making bubbling and shrieking calls and sometimes fighting to gain position, the Grouse most central in the Lek will attract the most females who watch the drama from a short distance. We are lucky to have a Lek within the enclosure where the birds are undisturbed within the safety of our private space.

Black Grouse (image from: https://www.scotlink.org/species/black-grouse/)

Joe

Houdini

Houdini is 11 years old now. He joined our herd when we brought reindeer over here from Sweden in 2011 as a way to boost the genetics in our own herd. At the time he was a calf and the way he got his name was during his time in Sweden while my brother Alex was there training them ready for their journey over to Scotland. On a number of occasions when Alex would head to the corral in the morning all the reindeer were securely inside the fencing… except for one. After a good bit of persuasion with food he’d coax that calf back in to join the herd in the corral. The weird thing was he couldn’t work out where he was getting out… and that is how he got his name, Houdini! He must have eventually watched him and worked it out because Houdini did come over to Scotland and didn’t remain in Sweden.

Houdini in Sweden in 2011.
Houdini in the Cairngorms!
Teenage Houdini – August 2013.

For his first few years with us he was too young to breed but with a quiet and greedy nature we soon realised that he’d be a good one to use as a main breeding bull in the future. His antlers were always a good size but never had much shapeliness to them. As a bull he was an interesting character. Sometimes when bulls are quite tame when they rut they can see us as part of their herd and in the rutting season this meant fending us off from trying to steal his females! Not that we actually wanted his females but he wasn’t to know that. So feeding him and his hareem had to be done with caution. Other bulls such as Kota, and Spartan never gave us a second look… nature of the beast I guess, they are all very different. Houdini over the years fathered many calves, including Olmec, Texel, Holy Moley, Jelly etc… Like their dad, as well as mums influence too, they all have a very sweet nature.

Houdini in September 2019 – ready for the rut.

In 2020 Houdini was 9 years old and we’d used him as a main breeding bull for a few years so we decided to give him a break now. This meant he had a visit from the vet to be gelded so Houdini will live out his life in our herd as a Christmas reindeer. We couldn’t possibly have a herd full of bulls or going into the rutting season would be complete chaos and very difficult to manage. We would risk relatives breeding with one another so we must geld reindeer that we don’t want to breed from. This would happen at the youngest of 3 years old, or like Houdini at the age of 9. It is our Christmas reindeer that would take part in events and are trained to harness and pull the sleigh.

As Houdini was already a good age we did train him to wear harness and pull the sleigh but the reality of him actually doing many events are pretty slim. As a big reindeer who has had a lot of stress on his body over the years with rutting he also needs to take it easy. We trained him at the Reindeer Centre in Glenmore and he did really well. For a big, old boy who hasn’t done anything like that before he was great. With our normal Christmas tour not happening in 2020 due to COVID we did a few local events. Houdini joined the team that did a local hotel on Christmas day but he just had to walk at the back of the sleigh, nothing too tasking. In 2021 he went through the training again and he joined my team and for the first time since he came into Scotland, he came south of the border to the north of England.

Houdini, closest to camera, leaving the hill enclosure to visit England!

We were doing an event at Stockeld Park in Yorkshire. It was a two day event so both days we turned up for 11am into a huge grassy pen and did a parade around their enchanted forest at 3pm. The parade loop went around their cross country ski route and passed lit-up animals, ogres, Little Red Riding Hood’s house, a wicked witch riding on her sleigh as well as a lake with fountains and a few enormous lit-up unicorns with fairies dancing on top… I know I couldn’t quite take it all in either! We set off on our first out of four loops in total we were going to be doing that weekend, two each day. I thought it was a bit much to ask Houdini to pull the sleigh on the first day as it was his first event and discovering unicorns on his first ever event should be done while walking at the back of the sleigh and not having to concentrate on the sleigh as well. So he joined myself at the back of the sleigh with Anster, Beret and Beanie. Frost and Celt were pulling it with Lotti leading. As we enter the enchanted forest it was great seeing Houdini take it in but not reacting. Each lit-up animal we passed he’d stare at, but by the fourth round on day two he barely even gave each display the time of day, even the huge unicorns.

Houdini at the back of the sleigh – observing the craziness of his first proper Christmas event!
Houdini’s lovely bottom on the left – doing a fantastic job at the back of the sleigh!

After the weekend we headed north again and before he knew it he was back on the hill with the herd. I wonder if he spread his knowledge of unicorns in Yorkshire onto the other reindeer? Houdini was an absolute star! He took everything in his stride and over the years has brought so much to our herd, we are very proud of him. He might do the odd local event now but leave the ones further afield to the younger reindeer. Stockeld was perfect for him as a big comfortable grassy pen was good on his older joints. It’s a bit like me, when we stay at farm bases across the country now I need a comfy bed at night or I wake up a bit stiff!

Houdini (in the middle) enjoying a snooze with his team mates at Stockeld – November 2022.

Fiona

A typical day in the life of a reindeer herder

During the hill trips us reindeer herders will often be asked questions such as “what will you do with the rest of your day?” or “is doing the hill trips the best part of the job?”

During the hill trips us reindeer herders will often be asked questions such as “what will you do with the rest of your day?”

In this week’s blog I will chronologically outline a ‘typical’ day for a reindeer herder. However, it is worth noting that it’s almost impossible to predict how a day may take shape. The job tends to be incredibly variable and diverse. There are time-dependent jobs that may suddenly arise, such as moving reindeer from where they’re not meant to be to. For example, when they venture down from the mountains on to the road. There are also plenty of seasonal-dependent jobs, such as gardening or leading additional hill trips in the summer months. Or in the winter months you may need to clear footpaths to keep them free from snow and ice. Not to mention the early starts that occasionally occur. These tend to be in the calving season or on the epic days when reindeer need to be moved across the Cairngorms. It’s possible that you could be helping Tilly over at Wild Farm as well, transporting reindeer from the farm to the Cairngorms and vice versa, or helping with the other animals there. The list of possibilities is vast.

Nonetheless, the skeleton of a ‘typical’ reindeer herding day is as follows:

08:00 (summer) or 08:30 (winter): Work starts. Turn up and prepare to be greeted by the dogs.

How every morning starts – getting greeted by the dogs!

There typically may be anywhere between 4 and 7 herders working on a day, depending on the business of the season. Half of us will initially head up to feed the herd their breakfast whilst half of us will stay down at the Centre.

Those of us which stay down at the Centre will be responsible for feeding the paddock reindeer their breakfast, poo picking, cleaning the exhibition, answering emails and any phone calls, cleaning the shop and office, as well as opening the shop and checking in guests after 10am.

Flax lending a hand/hoof in the Paddocks.

The cohort of herders which head up the mountain to feed the herd will initially have to locate the herd. The difficulty of which can depend on weather conditions and whether the reindeer are free-roaming or in the hill enclosure. As I write this – at the end of February 2022 – it took Andi and I three hours to venture out in the snow to where the reindeer were located and then lead them closer to where the 11am hill trip would be.

Moving the free-range herd to a suitable location for a hill trip.

It is at this point in the day which we’re most likely to check the temperature of a reindeer – if we suspect illness – and administer any appropriate treatment. Before the morning feed is put down in a straight line (easier to count) with spaces of approximately 1m in between each pile (to try to stop fighting) there may be a spot of preferential feeding. The young calves are encouraged to come and feed out of the bags whilst one herder will circulate around the herd enticing the less tame reindeer to hand-feed. This preferential feeding is very important for the management of reindeer when they become ill. Catching reindeer can be a long ordeal but it’s important if a reindeer is ill that we can get close enough to help them, so by enticing them into the smaller hand-food bag throughout the year they hopefully won’t always associate the food bag with feeling rubbish. The preferential feeding also allows the young, growing calves to get a bit of extra food from the main bag as they are likely to be lower in the pecking order when it comes to feeding from the line and can get the sustenance they need to continue growing.

Morning feed – Joe putting out a long line of food ready to count the herd.
Routine temperature checks are often done in the morning, before our visitors arrive. Note Andi armed with the thermometer!
Preferential feeding – making sure the calves get some extra food!
Lotti offering the white bag of tasty snacks to our shyer reindeer.
Dixie getting some preferential feeding. Definitely not a shy girl, but at almost 16 she deserves spoiling!

11:00: Hill trip. This is the time when some of our herders are let loose to come and meet yourselves and serenade you with some interesting reindeer-related facts and some terrible reindeer-related jokes. This typically lasts for an hour and a half to two hours, depending on the weather.

Heading out to meet the reindeer on a free-range Hill Trip.

Those herders that don’t participate in the hill trip will be responsible for staying at the Centre and minding the shop, dealing with phone calls and emails, compiling adoption packs for our loyal adopters, mixing reindeer food or even, writing blogs.

A full office – renewals, letting writing, emails, writing the daily diary, generally looking busy…
Fiona and Lotti doing a mammoth food mix!

12:30 – 2: The herders stagger their lunches to ensure someone is always free to mind the shop. Shop visitors can often be caught commenting on the lovely smells coming from the kitchen.

The afternoon: Whilst the morning of a reindeer herder is fairly constant and predictable year-round, the afternoon can vary depending upon the time of year. From May to September there is an additional hill trip at 2:30. During these months the hill trips take place in our hill enclosure so the chance of seeing reindeer is almost definite, and the walk out to see them is shorter and less exposed to the elements. The reindeer herding day generally runs to 5pm, although in July and August we run a third daily tour at 3:30. So for a couple of months the day runs until 5:30.

Recently, we’ve also started been doing ‘Seasonal Herder Talks’ during the school holidays. This means throughout the afternoon one of the reindeer herders will be out in the paddocks talking to visitors about the reindeer and answering any questions.

“Winter Herder Talks” were trialed this February half-term – here’s Lotti with Marple.

Close: At about 4:45 the herders will start to perform the closing dance. This involves one of us cashing up the totals from the shop whilst another herder will head out to the woods located behind the paddock area and put food out for the paddock reindeer. Just before 5 o’clock the reindeer will be let through to the woods area whilst the herder closes and wipes down the exhibition area. The shop will also be shut and wiped down at 5pm. You can always tell it’s 5 o’clock as the dogs begin to stir. They become more energetic and boisterous as they realise the working day is ending and there is now a high chance of them heading out on a walk or run with at least one herder.

Approximately half of the reindeer herders live on-site at the Centre, whilst half of us journey in from the local area. Having some staff on-site means that on the very rare occasion where there is a reindeer emergency after hours, there is staff that can stick their capes on and come to the rescue.

Ben B

Reindeer House Dogs – Winter 2022

This winter there seems to have been a lot of dogs both resident and visiting Reindeer House. Starting with the long-term residents and dogs you’ll all know well we have Sookie and Tiree. Sookie will be 15 this year. She still gets out and about joining us on walks and slow (Fiona) runs around Glenmore. She even manages to get up our local hill Meall a Bhuachaille. It’s around 5.5km with a 450m accent. She picks and chooses the days she wants to join us. If we leave with a lot of other dogs or it looks like we are going to be walking too fast for her then she sometimes turns around about 100m into the walk and comes home. We’ve left it up to her nowadays and she probably joins us around 50% of the time. If it’s too hot that day she also chooses to stay back. Otherwise, her day mainly consists of sleeping, which if I was 15 years old (105 in human years) I’d be doing exactly the same.

Sookie enjoying a relaxed pace of life at Loch Morlich beach.

Tiree is my (Fiona’s) dog, though Joe may try to claim her! She joined our team in 2014 and is 7 years old now. Being one of the most energetic ones of the household she needs lots of exercise. Unfortunately she is a bit reactive so if someone is going for a walk/run which is in a busy area she has to stay home but without a doubt will get out later on with someone after work or if folk are doing a quieter walk. She’s a fantastic hill dog and makes sure her hill crew are together, often joining the person who is furthest back in the group. She joins in our ski, run and biking adventures. She’s even pretty good at swimming! As she lives outside she has a very thick coat on her and LOVES the winter and snow so she is in her element just now.

Fiona with Tiree and newest resident Fraoch.

Another resident at Reindeer House just now is Dug. He belongs to herder Ben H and what a great addition he has been to the dog team. He’s 9 year’s old and with such a lovely, friendly nature he wouldn’t say boo to a ghost! With an overshot jaw and an unusually long tongue he often has his tongue sticking out uncontrollably which only adds to his lovely character! A few of the herders refer to him as Mr Long Tongue, or the Anteater. Joining us in November for the winter season, Ben and Dug have fallen for the area and will now be sticking around for the next year at least!

Dug aka Mr Long Tongue.

Newest arrival to Reindeer House is Fraoch (Gaelic for Heather) belonging to Joe and Fiona. She is a Border Collie pup, born in November 2021 so still very young! Although the other dogs grumble at her she has fitted in wonderfully and although Tiree would deny it just now I’m sure the two of them will be as thick as thieves in a few months…. Or maybe years? Lol

Sookie, Fiona and wee Fraoch.
Tiree, Dug, Sookie and Ginger patiently waiting at the enclosure fence.

We then have the regular visitors through herders visiting and working. Tilly has her two border terrors… I mean terriers, Moskki and Tuva, who are totally devoted to her. Sheena also has a mother and daughter combo in her golden retrievers, Elsie and Ginger. Tip is Alex and Emily’s dog who pops in now and again, she is a New Zealand Huntaway and very loyal, though has a very, very loud voice. I think it’s getting louder as she gets older. Maybe her hearing is going and she needs to go into more effort to be heard! Mel took on Skip, a collie x Australian Kelpie, in 2021. The two of them are a perfect match with their energy levels and seem to have endless amount of it as they always seem to be out running, skiing or biking. With her first few months being brought up with Alex, Emily and Tip she knows Reindeer House well and fits in great. Ben B often takes Mable to work with him who is a lovely golden lab. Though I think if she had a watch she’d be clock watching for when Ben takes her home at night. I think Reindeer House is just a bit too overwhelming and prefers the quiet, less chaotic life with Ben and Jess at home. Saying that she’s easily won over with a tasty biscuit or decent walk.

2 mother-daughter pairs: Tilly and Fiona with Moskki and Tuva (not forgetting Tiree!)
Herders on top of Meall a Bhuachaille with Sookie and Elsie.
Ginger and Tiree – such posers!
Tiree and Ginger – posing again.
Tiree and Tip.
Skip always full of energy!

As well as all these regulars we have friends visiting who tend to come with their dog in toe including Mara, Foss and Ruadh. Also this winter friends from down south were staying for a few days and they had an enormous Golden Retriever called Sam who I think it’s safe to say he was actually a Polar Bear, not a dog! Dennis also came to visit who belongs to ex-herder Ryan. Dennis is actually one of Moskki’s pups from 2019 so it’s always nice to see him and he’s very similar to his mum. Seasonal herder Sally pops up from the lakes now and again and brings Midge her 4.5 year old collie with her.

Ruadh, Tiree and Mable.
Foss, Tiree and Sookie.
Tiree with her pal Mara.
Ruadh, Sam the Polar Bear, and Fraoch.
Tiree, Sookie and Moskki.

So as you can see it’s more of a Dog Centre than Reindeer Centre. All the dogs get on just fine, with the inevitable grumble here and there, but that’s mainly from Tiree as she’s the unsociable one. But no fighting, that’s the main thing. Fraoch is getting on just fine with them all and learning fast how to socialise with them individually.

Enjoy all the lovely dog photos taken over the years of this motley crew! Herders and dogs!

Fiona and Joe with Tuva, Shadow, Moskki, Tiree, Ruadh and Sookie at the Cairngorm Dog Centre!

Fiona

A January day on the Cromdales

After the busy Christmas season the entire reindeer herd free-range, either here on the Cairngorms or on the Cromdales. The staff working at the Reindeer Centre take care and deal with any reindeer related antics on the Cairngorms. Meanwhile the reindeer free-ranging on the Cromdales are looked after predominantly by Tilly and the farm crew.

On the days when Tilly needs an extra pair of hands, the shout goes out and one of us herders drive around the hills to help out, never quite knowing what the day will involve until we’re there! I answered the call to help in early January, and what a great day I had! By the time I arrived Tilly had already been out to call in the reindeer. Thankfully reindeer are ruled by their stomachs, so the offer of a free meal was too tempting as Tilly had successfully managed to call almost all of the herd into the corral. Little did they know it happened to be routine temperature checking day…!

After a quick de-tour to help feed the pigs, five of us headed on to the Cromdales on quad bikes. Tilly, Colin S, volunteers Davey and Christine, plus myself. The small number of reindeer who hadn’t come to Tilly’s earlier call, clearly decided they were missing out as they were waiting for us when we arrived.  

Reindeer waiting in the corral after Tilly had called them down earlier that morning.

I’ve never been to Sweden, or any other reindeer herding nation, maybe it was just the blue sky, cold temperature and low sunlight, but it felt like I was somewhere further afield than the Cromdales! I can imagine the corral that Alan has built up on the hill would be little like the one Sami people might use. It’s more rustic than the enclosure on Cairngorm where we take our Hill Trips, but does it’s job perfectly.

There is a corridor which goes around the main corral so the five of us were able to gently push the reindeer out of the corral and into the corridor. This allowed us to open the external gate to the hill allowing the latecomers to enter, whilst not letting any suspicious reindeer out!

Reindeer patiently waiting in the corridor for their turn to meet the thermometer!
Tilly calling the latecomers in to the corral, whilst the others wait in the corridor.

We gently pushed the reindeer in batches along the corridor into a small pen at the end where we took the temperatures of all the reindeer, calling out their names to Christine who was armed with a list of the herd and a clipboard, checking everybody off and keeping us right. Once each batch of reindeer had a thermometer in the bottom and was sprayed between the legs with a treatment to prevent ticks from biting they were released back on to the hill. They can’t have had a bad experience as they didn’t dash for the high tops, rather they just milled around the outside waiting for the rest of the herd, and most importantly for their well-deserved dinner! It was a very fun way to spend a day and thankfully all the reindeer were fine and well.

Christine ready with her clipboard.
Scully on the left and Butter in the middle waiting for their turn – looking a bit suspicious!
Released back on to the hill after their quick health check!
They didn’t wander off to far as they knew they’d be rewarded with a tasty meal!
Colin S feeding the herd after everybody was checked and released back out on to the Cromdales.
Elvis, the oldest male in the herd at almost 16 years old, very used to routine temperature checks!

Ruth