What’s wrong with that reindeer?

One of the challenges with any animal is keeping them healthy. Just as with humans, reindeer can be affected by a number of diseases and ailments. Whilst they are tough, hardy creatures, one of the largest threats is diseases spread by ticks. With climate change leading to milder, wetter winters, the ticks are not always knocked back so hard each year, so there is an increase in numbers. We mostly see tick-borne illness affecting our reindeer in the Spring and Autumn, with May/June and September being the worst months.

So how can you tell that a reindeer is under the weather? When our herd are spending time either in the hill enclosure or at our hill farm, our most important tool is food! A happy, content reindeer will be eager for their breakfast, and visitors on the Hill Trips may have seen that we routinely put out a long line of food, big enough for each reindeer to find a pile, and then count the herd (who are now conveniently stood in a line). Of course they don’t reliably stand still… counting accurately definitely takes a bit of practice.

Ben feeding the herd their breakfast

At this point, there is a chance that the numbers don’t add up. You know that there should be 35 reindeer in the herd, but after three counts you’re still counting just 34. The next step is to work out who it is, which is why new herders get it drilled into them to learn the names! Everyone has a slightly different technique here – I walk along the line literally saying each name out loud, “Rubiks, Feta, Scrabble…” then when I get to the end of the line I can look at a list of who should be there and I’ll remember who I didn’t see.

“…Druid… Kiruna…” Nothing wrong with these two!

As a herd animal, most reindeer are rarely off on their own, so to have one reindeer missing can be a sign they are unwell, feeling miserable, and haven’t followed the herd. But depending on the reindeer it can just mean they’re off on a jolly! But either way, if a reindeer is AWOL in the enclosure, we’ll head out and look for them, taking a wee bag of tasty food and a headcollar. At certain times of the year I seem to spend half my time trudging round the enclosure. At 1,200 acres and including a mountain, it keeps us fit and we sometimes can’t manage to find a missing reindeer if they don’t want to be found. Usually though we eventually come across them, and we either pop a headcollar on and lead them back, or if they’re a bit wilder we herd them in.

Retrieving Marple who had a fever, was feeling a bit sorry for herself and hadn’t come in with the herd for breakfast. Her calf had stayed with her. (She was back to full health in a day or two).

Next step is to check their temperature. Whilst they’re distracted with a bag of food, we use a thermometer, inserted… round the back end… to check if it is high or low. The “normal” temperature for a reindeer is 38.9, with a bit of normal variation – some run a bit high or low. But if its above 39.5, they’re running a fever. Most of the time this doesn’t require a vet to visit – we can inject antibiotics ourselves and in most cases this sorts them out in a day or two. We’ll usually keep them split off with a friend in a smaller part of the enclosure until they’re recovered, to keep an eye on them.

When reindeer are busy trying to break into the feed bags you can be fairly sure there’s nothing wrong with them, as demonstrated this spring by Celt and Roman.

Sometimes poorly reindeer have stuck with the herd, but when we pop the feed out, they stand off looking morose, head low, perhaps even lying down – lying down with chin down on the ground is a red flag. This is particularly noticeable with the greedier characters, who suddenly undergo a personality change! On other occasions reindeer are with the herd, eating on the line, but there is just something about them that suggests all is not well. It’s a bit like knowing there is something wrong with your partner or friend, even through they’re going through all of the motions. There’s definitely a bit of experience and intuition involved here – I can’t always put a finger on it but am always quite pleased with myself when I decide to take a temperature on a hunch and am proved correct!

Not dead, not even ill! Kipling had stuffed herself with food and was merely sleeping it off, though we did go and poke her to make sure!

The other thing we keep a close eye on is the colour of pee… (its a delightful job working with animals!). Reindeer can be affected by a tiny parasite called babesia (similar to the parasite that causes malaria), which is again transmitted by ticks. This delightful critter can make reindeer very poorly indeed – one of the main effects is that the red blood cells are broken down, leading to the reindeer literally peeing blood – so looking each time you hear a tinkle is a great way to spot this. The nickname for the illness is “Red Water Fever” – referring to this red urine. Affected reindeer are usually also incredibly miserable and quiet. Again, we can treat this, but if it’s not spotted quickly enough (for example if we can’t find a reindeer, or if they become ill whilst out free-ranging, where we don’t see every reindeer every day) then it is possible for reindeer to die from it.

Anster demonstrating the perfect colour of pee!

As these illnesses are caused by ticks, and the ticks are affected by the weather, we tend to get runs where several reindeer get ill within a few days, and it can feel like everything is against us as we battle to keep the herd healthy. Prevention-wise, we spend a lot of time waging war on ticks – we use a similar product to that used on dogs and cats which we apply between the front legs of the reindeer which helps stop ticks biting. We regularly feel in the hot-spots (around the ears, under the chin, in the armpits) and pick off any ticks that we find. And we use a vaccine to help protect against red water fever, but its not 100% effective.

The best time of the year for reindeer: cold, snowy weather means no ticks and therefore no illness.

We always look forward to the tick-free winter season, where we can breathe a sigh of relief and relax a little. Our reindeer lead happy lives being able to roam free in their natural habitat, and face none of the health issues that can be caused by a poorer diet or not being able to roam, but the pay-off is that there is more risk from ticks. I’m sure there must be a purpose for ticks existing in the ecosystem, but I’m afraid I struggle to see what it could be! Until we somehow manage to exterminate the lot of them, we’ll stay vigilant, and do our best to keep our reindeer healthy.

Andi

Reindeer impressions

A few weeks back we asked on social media for short stories from visitors about special memories of meeting the reindeer, or perhaps what the reindeer mean to them. When you work with them daily, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how special meeting them can be, and sometimes it’s good to be reminded of that! Here’s a few contributions, with more to follow in the future.

D’Cruz family – Wirral: As a family we have had many memorable treks (9!), but the one in 2015 was extra special. Our herder that year was Mel who had been hand rearing orphaned calf Fergus, so not only did we all get to lead our own reindeer but Fergus decided to join us too. He just trotted along by our sides mingling in and out of the other reindeer for the whole trek which made our memorable experience even more special and we even got to give him his bottle as we rejoined the rest of the herd.

Trekking with (left to right) Atlantic, Balmoral, Laptev, Grunter and wee Fergus leading the way!

Rebecca – Oxfordshire: Deer and reindeer have always been my favourite animals. So, when I discovered the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd existed, I vowed to myself I would visit. A year and a half later, in August 2019, my wish came true! I arrived at the Centre nearly two hours early to make sure I got a place on the Hill Trip – and it was worth the wait! Definitely one of the most memorable aspects of my Scottish Highlands visit. (I have since adopted Origami the reindeer – looks like a return trip is inevitable…)

Up in the hill enclosure on the Hill Trip

Clare – Kettering: My first proper Hill Trip was in April 2013 with Deborah. I enjoyed it so much that we went again in September 2013 and that’s when it all started! I met and then adopted Svalbard!  After posting a photo on the Herd’s Facebook page, Carola commented, saying she adopted him too. We then became friends on FB which was lovely. Then through Carola I became friends with Candice after chatting about reindeer on FB too. Candice came up with the idea of having a ‘Group’ meet up in October 2014 and that’s when I met Michelle, Graham, Maggie, Steve, Beth, Brody, Gwenda and Gordon. Since then the gang has grown, Deborah joined in the fun and then we met Belinda and Martin too. It’s been great to meet up on various Hill Trips and events together and share our love for the reindeer. We have a really special friendship and it’s all thanks to the reindeer and herders.

Meeting Svalbard for the first time!
At the start of our group Hill Trip a couple of years back. Complete with guide Dave dressed for the occasion!

JessicaOntario, Canada
Best day of my life! We stopped on the way to Skye to feed the Reindeer Herd. The hill was snowy, windy, we were soaking wet from head to toe, but it was GORGEOUS! None of it mattered. We had never met reindeer before and it was life changing. To feel so connected with nature and we felt a mutual respect between us and the Reindeer. It was beautiful and we will never forget the experience.

Female reindeer Jenga

If you’d like to be involved in a future blog, please email/message us (FAO Hen) with your contribution of a small bit of text and preferably a photo too!

Velvet Antlers, Velvet Nose

This was my first attempt at writing a book about reindeer. Approached by the reputable publisher Hodder and Stoughton in 1994, the editor had heard me speaking on Radio 4 and thought my ramblings had the potential for a book.

It was, to say the least, a particularly busy time in our lives, with 2 children under the age of 6, a herd of reindeer we were trying to make a living from and a second site to where we not only had moved part of the herd, but were beginning to look at how we would farm the lower ground.

So we were stretched to the limits. Indeed the introduction to the book begins with ‘I must be crazy, definitely off my head, to agree to write a book. My day is already full and chaotic.’

But as the saying goes “ If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

The text of the book is interspersed with pages of photos, including this classic of Alex on my back as a toddler!

I would describe Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses as written ‘from the heart’. The highs and lows of caring for such a special herd of reindeer. The stories of extraordinary people who dedicated their lives to successfully re-introducing them. And a crazy family called The Smith’s, who have carried on the legacy.

Alex, Tilly, Fiona and Alan back in the day. Look at those fresh faces!

From those early days of Alan and I becoming the proud owners of such a wonderful herd, the Cairngorm reindeer continue to go from strength to strength because of the dedication of the next generation. And this dedication has particularly shone through during these difficult times with the Coronavirus pandemic. Months of being closed, but with animals still to care for and hard choices to made.

Now we have opened partially it feels like a very long road ahead though with many of our normal income revenues needed; to feed reindeer, pay herders and the ability to ‘live’ normally looking like they are going to be curtailed for a long time to come.

The opening chapter of Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses describes an incident at Christmas time when I took reindeer to a local playgroup in Aviemore. The memory is etched in my brain forever when the heavy door swung back prematurely knocking the poor reindeer Larch’s antler off! It was a one-off and occasions like this are part of the steep learning curve but re-reading it this morning reminded me of the pleasure people get from seeing reindeer at Christmas (hopefully not with an antler dropping off) and how this November and December will almost certainly be very different.

Crowds like this seem like a distant memory right now!

Training male reindeer to harness and going out and about at Christmas time doing street parades, displays and events is a really important source of income for the herd and bring a huge amount of pleasure to the general public and reindeer supporters each year. Sadly I suspect this will not happen as normal this year, for all the obvious reasons, lack of money in the high street, the importance of not attracting crowds and of course not wanting to inadvertently spread the virus or put our own herders at risk of it. So interesting times ahead.

As I write the Paddocks beside The Reindeer Centre remain closed and Hill Trips are limited by pre-booking only to remain small enough to observe social distancing rules. Luckily we have an extremely generous following of adopters, who help to support the herd by adopting a reindeer. This has been and continues to be a massive lifeline for us and I would like to thank you all from the ‘bottom of my heart’ for your amazing support.

Tilly

‘Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses’ is long since out of print, but old copies can often be found online for purchase. Tilly’s latest book, ‘Reindeer: An Arctic Life’ is available, along with a couple of other books about the herd, via our website

Memorable Reindeer of the past: Indigo

This week’s blog is written by long-term volunteer and reindeer adopter, Sharon. She got so fed up of us never having getting around to featuring Indigo in a ‘Memorable Reindeer’ blog that she decided to write one herself! Other blogs about well-loved reindeer of the past can be found by typing ‘memorable reindeer’ in to the search box to the right.

We started visiting the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre when our two boys, David and Mathew, were 9 and 6 years old in 1996. They have many memories of hand feeding the reindeer and Mathew particularly often recalls being knocked over by a reindeer when he was trying to get out of it’s way! How impatient was that he says?

In 2003 we had a particularly enjoyable and very snowy visit just before Christmas and my husband paid for an adoption of Indigo for my birthday.

Me and Indigo in December 2003
What a pretty girl Indigo was.

Indigo had followed me around on the Hill Trip and had numerous handfuls of feed from me. She constantly searched my hands and my pouch pocket for hand feed and I fell in love with her instantly. I always claim in reality she adopted me! She was such a friendly reindeer, particularly if you had hand-feed, a bit like my current adoptees – cheeky and greedy!

Regularly the owner of a bizarre set of antlers…
…swept back style…
…bonsai style…

We visited as many times as we could, usually at Easter or in December when we came up for two weeks in our caravan for Christmas and to ski at the Lecht which was always popular with our boys. The Christmas Eve torchlight procession through Aviemore was so magical with the reindeer leading. There was always plenty of snow around, not like the rain in more recent years!

Aviemore Christmas parade back in around 2012 or so. It was -12 degrees C during this parade, hence the grimace on Hen’s face – also shaking hands are possibly the reason why the photo is blurry!

In the summer of 2012 I received a letter from Hen asking if I wanted to buy one of Indigo’s antlers. I was on the phone to say yes before I had even read who had written the letter! As a very special treat my husband cut a piece of the antler off and made a pair of earrings for me out of it, another Indigo birthday present. I know now whenever I wear them she is still with me.

My antler – when still on Indigo’s head!

In February 2014 I received a letter from Andi saying that Indigo couldn’t be found and had probably died. I was distraught but continued to adopt. I now adopt Svalbard and Celt who are both very enthusiastic reindeer when it comes to hand feed and my husband adopts Olympic, who is a favourite with all adopters. My adoption certificates are kept neatly in a file with all correspondence from Reindeer House and we have even been to Finland to meet reindeer, although we haven’t found any as well cared for as the Cairngorm herd. So 24 years of visiting the reindeer, 18 years of adopting, 4 years of volunteering and my own ‘reindeer herd’ on the back seat of my car (soft toys only) my addiction continues.  But then it is not the worst addiction in the world to have – is it?

A classic photo of Indigo!

Sharon

 

Tilly’s quiz

During lockdown it seems that all the rage was quiz nights on Zoom. I was party to a couple of these and I have to confess I did quite enjoy them. However I wasn’t over enthusiastic about gazing into a computer screen of faces, all at slightly odd angles with various pictures, bookshelves and miscellanea in the background. I was also useless at all the questions about music, TV and films.

So with these thoughts in mind and once there was some relaxation of the lockdown rules I decided I would make up a ‘Tilly Quiz’ of my interests and we would all sit outside in household teams, suitably socially distanced, for a quiz afternoon. In fact it was a lovely sunny day and we ended up in the empty reindeer Paddocks beside the Centre.

Quiz teams nicely spaced out and all set to go. Note the cut hay drying – not something possible in the Paddocks in a normal year!

It was great fun and I confess some of the questions were quite quirky and nobody got the answers, but there was a winning team (only by one point ) by the end and they chose a bottle of Kendricks gin for their first prize. A bottle of single malt Balvenie Double Wood was snapped up by the runners up.

Thankfully it was sunny enough that the midges weren’t around!

Anyway that was a fun day for us herders during late lockdown once restrictions had started to lift, and it occured to me that some of the questions could form a blog for our website, since my 3 areas of interest are (strangely enough): Reindeer, The Natural World and The Great Outdoors .

So why not give the following quiz a go and see how many questions you can answer without instantly referring to Google. Indeed even Google may not come up with the answers!

Here goes with just some of the questions from my quiz that day:

1. An old term for a red deer stag?

2. Name the 3 species of Scottish heather and in what order do they flower?

3. The Scottish name for a woodlouse?

4. What is the colour of the following berries: Bearberry, Crowberry, Cowberry, Cloudberry and Blaeberry? They are all found in the Cairngorms.

5. Loch Morlich (in Glenmore where the Reindeer Centre is) is a glacial feature. What type?

Wapiti, Ladybird and Addax up on the mountains with Loch Morlich in the background

6. Name the mythical creature of Ben Macdui? (Editor’s note: Tilly was very strict about us getting this name exactly right!)

7. In which coire in the Cairngorms does snow linger the longest? Indeed some years it doesn’t melt at all. (A ‘coire’ is a hollow in the mountainside formed by glaciation).

8. Name the UK’s only two insectivorous plants, both of which grow here in the Cairngorms?

9. Who was the first pure white reindeer to be born in the Cairngorm herd? (Pretty sure Google definitely won’t help with this one!)

10. What are the full titles and sub titles of my 3 books about reindeer?

11. In the foreword to ‘The Living Mountain’ by Nan Shepherd she describes the reindeer herd in Scotland ‘as no longer experimental but ………….’?

 

Nan Shephard now graces the Royal Bank of Scotland’s £5 note

12. Name 3 other places (countries, islands or states), other than Scotland where reindeer have been introduced to in the past?

Answers in a few weeks in a future blog!

Tilly

My top 5 calving memories!

This year was the very first time I had work during calving season, as until now, calving season had always been exactly the same time as exam season. I can very easily say that calving season this year was the happiest month of my life so far, so it has been very difficult to think of just 5 highlights. But here we go, these are my five favourite memories from calving season this year.

Finding the first calf of the year

On Saturday the 25th of April, me and Fiona headed off around the enclosure to look for Galilee who was the first reindeer who had headed away from the herd to calve. It was much earlier in the year than the previous year, so I didn’t get my hopes up too much in case she was just ill or being a loner – Galilee can definitely be known to wander from the group. As me and Fi rounded the top of Silver Mount we caught a glimpse of Galilee, licking the ground. Fiona told me that this was a sure sign of her having calved, and as we got closer I could see the tiny calf on the ground. A new-born calf is barely recognisable compared to the calves I had seen previously in the summer and I can honestly say that Galilee’s calf is the most perfect thing I have ever seen. Galilee let us catch the calf and Fi show me how to treat the calf with an insecticide and some antibiotic spray on her navel. Galilee was very good but she clearly want us to leave her to bond with her calf uninterrupted. So we then fed Galilee and left them too it. The weather was even warm enough to cool off (and calm down from the excitement) with a quick dip in our own ‘private’ loch in the reindeer enclosure.

A quick dip in Black Loch!

Watching Brie calving

My second favourite calving memory has got to be watching Brie calve. One morning Brie was missing from the herd, from spying through binoculars we  saw her but couldn’t tell if she had calved yet or not so I headed out to go and check. Once I got closer I realised that she had legs actually coming out of her back end – she was midway through calving. I sat down a little way away from her and watched the whole thing through binoculars. I watched the calf take his very first, incredibly wobbly steps and have his first milk.

First time up on his feet!

Finding Gloriana’s calf

Another favourite calving moment for me was finding Gloriana’s calf. Gloriana is an 8-year-old female who had previously never had a calf. I really fell in love with her during the 2015 rut. She was amongst a group of reindeer on Silver Mount however she was a bit of a loner from the group and used to sometimes follow me away from the herd once I had finished feeding them. Having never had a calf, we thought that she was infertile so imagine my delight when she started to develop an udder, the first sure sign that a reindeer is almost ready to calve. On one very wet and rainy day, Gloriana was missing from the herd. Andi and I headed out around the enclosure and found her on Silver Mount with a beautiful big male calf. Gloriana was a wee bit nervous but let us treat the calf with no problems. The next day however when we tried to bring Gloriana and her calf to a closer section of the enclosure, I couldn’t get anywhere near her. I think having a calf for the first time at 8 years old made her a bit of an overbearing mum, so it took us a couple of days to get near her again. She did eventually settle down and both her and her calf became more and more confident during the time they were in the enclosure.

Gloriana’s calf with the white nose, with his cousin, Fly’s calf.

Hanging out with an experienced mum

Okay so this calving favourite is not just one moment. A couple of times during calving I got to go out and find a cow and calf from a very tame and experienced mum. Usually once we find the calf we will catch it and treat it and then leave the cow and calf as soon as possible to make sure that we don’t upset the mum. However, some of the cows have had so many calves and are so used to people that they are perfectly happy to lie down with you and their new-born calf. The new-born calves are incredibly inquisitive and totally unafraid of humans. It is a really wonderful experience just hanging out with the new-born calves and their very relaxed mums.

A wee chin rub for Ryvita’s calf (not a strangling!!!)
Ibex and calf!
Kipling and calf with Joe

Sending the calves onto the free-range for the summer.

My final favourite calving memory was letting the calves onto the free-range for the summer. We walked out of the enclosure with some of the cows on halters and the rest following towards the hills. Having spent every day of the last 6 weeks or so with the cows and then the calves, letting them go onto the free-range for the summer where we would likely see them every couple of weeks at the most was both sad and wonderful. Definitely sad to not be seeing them every day but also very wonderful to know that they would spend the next few months of their lives in the very best place for them, the mountains.

 

Leading the herd out of the enclosure
Off they go…
Lotti, Joe, Fiona and a socially distanced Andi after a busy morning!

Lotti

My memories of the reindeer (part one)

Beth has been visiting us for most of her life, and has now become a valued occasional volunteer. Here’s her account of her involvement with the reindeer, in her own words.

It all started when mum and dad booked a toddler break to Aviemore back in 2001. I was 2 years old. I can barely remember it. But all I know is this toddler break has a lot to answer for! My first memory of the reindeer was actually being at home here in Harrogate. Sat in my mum and dads bedroom one
morning asking for a “Biscuit”. However back then I would call it a “bissy”. The reason this relates to the reindeer is the first reindeer we adopted as a family was called Biscuit, all because I used to call biscuits ‘bissy’s’.

Feeding Biscuit in later years

Fast forward to May 2008 and we went up to Aviemore for my birthday. By this time we had the two time-shares at the Coylumbridge, my brother Brody had been born and we had many memories made at what was the Hilton Hotel (now owned by a different company but still The Coylumbridge Hotel). It’s the
23rd May, my 9th birthday and we head up onto the hillside for a hill trip. Staying till the very end Fiona and Emily invited me into the smaller enclosure by the hut at the top. That was when I met the reindeer Elvis. That is a day I will never forget.

Now this is where my dates and times get all muddled up, cause I can’t quite remember what order things happened or what years they took place. But I’ll try my best to keep the events in order and try remember some years they happened! Now, I have always loved the reindeer and the species has
fascinated me. However I wasn’t always so confident around them. If it wasn’t for Tilly Smith being up on one of the hill trips one day I’m not sure how long after it would’ve taken me to feed a reindeer from my hands. I can quite honestly remember Tilly grabbing my hands and putting me in front of a reindeer with her still holding me and letting the reindeer eat the food we had for it. From that point on, you had a hard task getting me off the hillside! We went up to celebrate Christmas one year, I think it was 2005. It was magical. Christmas Eve was spectacular. The crowds down in Aviemore watching the parade go through the town and then the morning of Christmas Day… watching Father Christmas arrive at the hotel with reindeer pulling his sleigh.
The morning was great. We queued up to see Father Christmas and meet the reindeer. Once that had finished we all went outside to wave goodbye to Father Christmas as he left. That’s when Tilly pulled me up and sat me on the sleigh next to Father Christmas. I was one very lucky little girl. One very spectacular Christmas with memories I cherish.

Christmas in Aviemore!

Our first Christmas Event seeing the Reindeer was over in Scarborough. I can’t remember much of it but I remember being on my dads shoulders with my mum next to him with my little brother in the pushchair. We looked over the wall at the back of the Boyes store and saw the reindeer getting ready for the parade. I can’t remember who was there and what we did after. But I remember loving every moment of it. I have so many happy memories, and so much to tell! It’s like I’m telling my life through the reindeer. I remember in about 2007 we went to Tilly’s farm for our first farm visit. It was amazing! I loved seeing all the animals and what made the day for me was Tilly allowed me to ride on the back of the quad bike… I can tell you now – I did not get off it till the end of the visit! It also brings back a sad memory as it’s the last time we saw our adopted reindeer Biscuit before he sadly passed away.

The reindeer have brought so many good things my way. Aviemore is my favourite place to visit. During lockdown I have dreamed about being up there and when I’m not having a good day, I think of the happy memories and I instantly smile. I have made so many good friendships from the holidays I have had up in Aviemore and not just through the reindeer… but if I went into detail about all those lovely people you’d never hear the end of it! I am holding on to hope that I get to go up to Aviemore in October and share the memories and introduce my partner and his daughter to the staff at the Reindeer Centre and share the reindeer experience with them. Two years too long and I miss the place dearly!

Feeding Crowdie in 2018

Now I can’t remember when I started volunteering for the Reindeer Centre but I can not thank the staff there enough. My confidence would not be half as good as it is today if it wasn’t for experiences they offered me and the memories I made with them.

First time I helped out at a reindeer event at Christmas time was at Stockeld Park in Wetherby. They were there for a Saturday and Sunday. We went to see them on Saturday and I’m pretty sure it was Fiona and Heather. My face lit up the moment Fiona asked me to help. I couldn’t wait. I remember having the biggest grin on my face as I walked round at the back of the sleigh. I also remember being very nervous and scared when people asked me questions about reindeer! But as time went on my knowledge grew ( I am pretty sure if there were an exam about reindeer I’d get 100%). I can remember that weekend well. I was asked if I would like to go back and help them on them on the Sunday and of course I said yes! However… the morning of the Sunday I was representing my school at Stonefall Cemetery, laying red roses down on the graves of our fallen soldiers as it was Remembrance Sunday. So I ended up doing the reindeer parade in my school uniform!

Hamish pulling the sleigh, and Moose accompanying me at the back!

When I tell you, the first time I worked two full days with the reindeer in Scotland one year, it was a downpour of rain, gale-force winds and hailstones… it’s no lie! But it did not put me off! I loved every moment of it. I was scared at first and being so young I can remember not knowing much of what to say or do. But that was just the beginning… After that every holiday I went on I volunteered for two of the days we were up there during the week. It was usually an October we went so the weather was not always the best. But it
never put me off. I just threw on my waterproofs and wellies and got on with it!

Beth will be back for another blog later in the year with more of her story about why the reindeer herd mean so much to her 😀

Lockdown (reindeer) hairstyles!

With lockdown measures having eased gradually to some extent, first in England and now in Scotland, various people I know have headed to the hairdressers to get their hair cut for the first time in a few months. One or two friends and family were looking forward to this day for a while!

A herd of very scruffy reindeer!

Well for reindeer outrageous hair-do’s is an annual affair! Reindeer have an amazing thick winter coat. As an arctic animal reindeer needs to be really well insulated and their winter coat is just that. Quoting from my last book ‘Reindeer: An Arctic Life’ I describe their coat as follows:

The two-layered coat of reindeer is incredibly dense: 670 hairs per sq cm for the longer hollow hair and 2,000 hairs per sq cm for the woolly undercoat”

I am not a mathematician, but I below I have roughly calculated the number of hairs on an individual reindeer. Firstly in my recent blog about social distancing I measured the length of Beastie, as an averagely sized male reindeer, to be roughly 1.8 metres.

An average reindeer is probably about 1 metre tall and their average width is probably 40cm. So the surface area of a fully grown reindeer (ignoring their legs and head) is probably about 720,000 sq cm.

If you multiple 720,000 by 2,670 (hairs per sq cm) the total number of hairs on the body of a reindeer in winter coat is a staggering 1,922,400,000. I may of course have got my maths wrong, but either way that is a serious number of hairs that a reindeer has to moult (and grow) each year!!

So unsurprisingly it takes a long time ( a good few weeks ) for a reindeer to lose its winter coat and they look incredibly shabby when this happens. Hence the series of photos to follow!!

Moulting starts around the eyes and nose, creating an ‘eye-liner’ effect when seen from afar!
And then the layers of the coat moult away all over the body…
…leaving clumps of hair all over the hill sides!
Some reindeer always moult earlier than others, namely Beastie (above) and LX. This often leaves them looking quite lean for a while, as they haven’t yet had time to put on heaps of weight through the summer months, and the short, thin coat makes the ribs quite obvious.

But once they have lost that winter coat they look amazingly sleek and dark with the short summer coats and long velvet antlers, just that stage they are at now. So this year most of the shabby moulting stage has been during the latter weeks of lockdown and with the Centre now open the visitors (pre-booking essential) the reindeer are looking particularly glamorous!

But once the moulting is finished the sleek, darker (Caddis here was normally a light grey colour for most of each year) summer coat is revealing in all it’s glory.

So there’s no excuse. Pick up the phone and ring the Reindeer Centre to book a trip on the hill to see our glamorous reindeer in their natural environment!

Tilly

 

 

My time as a Reindeer Herder 2014 – now

I love Reindeer herding. And what’s not to love? Fantastic animals in a beautiful environment, surrounded by lovely people. But it wasn’t always this way for me. I came up for my first taste of herding in 2014. Now, a lot has changed in the world since 2014. But a lot has also changed in my personal life …I have qualified as a Physiotherapist, ran the Everest marathon and told many, MANY bad jokes (Editor’s note: Oh my god…the jokes…) . I have lived in multiple places in England since 2014, but this part of the world holds a special place in my heart. I love being up here.

Ost and friends back in 2014

Fortunately, since 2014, there has not been as much change in the splendour of the Reindeer Centre. The reindeer have obviously changed but the Centre itself remains as fantastic as ever. Recently I came across my photos of 2014 and thought this a good opportunity to show off some of my favourites:

Cows free-ranging up on the mountains

The opportunity to be a Reindeer Herder came about from a fellow Herder, Sally, and I’m very glad to be back. I’m not sure whether the future will take me down the Reindeer herding route, the Physio route or maybe a mixture of the two. However, I’d be surprised if it takes me away from this beautiful location with these beautiful animals and people in my life.

I hope to see you all, in good health and spirit, as soon as it is safe to do so.

Ben

 

 

Experiencing the Four Seasons (Part Two)

Emm volunteers with us several times a year usually, and has been doing so for years now. Here’s her story of working in the summer and autumn seasons! Her recent blog about the winter and spring can be found here.

Summer

In summer I have been up in both July and August. The visitors are meeting the male reindeer in the hill enclosure. The female reindeer and the calves are free ranging on the Cairngorm Mountains.

The reindeer’s antlers have done the majority of their growth and the velvet is getting ready to strip away at the end of August. The reindeer are looking smart in their dark summer coats.

Dr Seuss and Pratchett in the hill enclosure

The weather can be hot in the summer. The flies bother the reindeer by flying noisily around them, sometimes the reindeer rush around to try to get away from the flies which tend to sit on their antlers as they can sense the blood supply in their growing antlers. We spray the reindeer’s antlers with citronella spray to protect them from the flies. Midges are also a problem in the summer for both reindeer and humans.

Monopoly in his summer coat

In one part of the enclosure, the reindeer have access to a shed for shade. One time when we got up there with the visitors, the reindeer were nowhere in sight. All 41 of them had gone into the small shed. The shed doesn’t look like it can fit 41 reindeer in but it is does, it is like a Doctor Who’s Tardis. One Hill Trip, I was herding them out of the shed, I realised that I hadn’t seen Blue – I found him in a small part of the shed asleep. Blue, who was deaf, didn’t hear his reindeer friends move on. The reason Blue was deaf is because he was leucistic (pure white with blue eyes). Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation.  Leucistic reindeer are camouflaged in the snow.

Selfie with Glenshee, back in 2016

There are three Hill Trips a day (during the week) in the hill enclosure and last year we did ‘Summer Fun’ in the Paddocks which involved feeling the weight of antlers, feeling the weight of a feed sack, Paddock reindeer talks and much more fun (N.B. This will return in 2021!). Reindeer House is busier as the seasonal summer staff are working as there is a lot going on with three Hill Trips a day and Summer Fun in the Paddocks.

One of the jobs in the summer is to water the garden as it is hot.

Last July, Olympic would stand by the gate like he was guarding it and wouldn’t let visitors out of hill enclosure. I kept having to go over to him and move him on.

Olympic

Autumn

In the Autumn, I normally come in October half term. The scenery is changing with leaves changing colour and leaves falling off the trees.

The reindeer’s winter coat is growing and most of the velvet has stripped off revealing the hard bone antler underneath.

It is the rutting and breeding season. Normally in different areas of the hill enclosure there is a bull with his girls. My two favourite breeding bulls are Houdini and Kota as they have massive magnificent antlers. When we feed the breeding bulls with their girls we have to be careful as they can be protective over their girls. We don’t take the visitors in with the bulls and their girls.

Breeding bull Kota

We do one Hill Trip a day in the hill enclosure. Normally in the afternoons we do sleigh training with the ‘Christmas reindeer’. We put the harnesses on them and harness them up to the sleigh. The reindeer pull the sleigh around Glenmore (where the Reindeer Centre is based). They even go on the road. It is so funny to see people’s faces when they drive past reindeer pulling a sleigh.

Sleigh training

We also get to handle the calves to get them used to people. We sometimes take them on a walk around Glenmore in the morning.

Calves Athens and Helsinki in October 2019

I am busy learning the calves names and if I hadn’t been up in May, I am learning which calf belongs to who and meeting all of them. The calves are also getting their new ear tags.

One year, I was lucky enough to help out at a early Christmas parade at the very start of November which was very special. It was at The Cairngorm Mountain. We wore red Christmas jumpers and woolly hats with reindeer on them. The reindeer team were Mo, Spike, Sooty, Aonach and calves Morse and Poirot. Mo and Spike pulled the sleigh with Santa in it. It was so wet and so windy. The wind was 60 miles per hour. Santa was holding his hat on in the sleigh. Not many people turned up. We had to tie things on to the pen railings otherwise they would have flown away.

Holding Mo and Spike after the parade

One of the other jobs in the autumn is to sweep up the leaves. At 4 o’clock it is starting to get dark. So we put the Paddock light on in the Paddocks so the visitors can still see the reindeer. When we put the reindeer to ‘bed’ in the woods and give them their tea, I normally put my head torch on.

My 2 Favourite Seasons

I have two favourite seasons which are autumn and spring.

Sleigh training with Slioch and North

In the autumn, I love doing the Christmas sleigh training, helping the calves get used to being handled, learning the calves names and seeing the reindeer with their newly formed antlers.

With the cows and calves

In the spring, I love seeing the newly born calves, seeing the reindeer being mums and hearing the grunts between mum and calf.

Emm