How Holy Moley got her name!

A lot of you may have already heard of Holy Moley, whether it be on one of our guided tours up here in the Highlands of Scotland, on our social media or most likely through the recent Channel 4 programme (‘A Baby Reindeer’s First Christmas’) where Holy Moley was the star reindeer! The programme takes you through her roller-coaster of a life so far but it didn’t actually explain why she was called Holy Moley in the first place so I’m going to take this opportunity to explain her name.

On the 25th April 2020 our first reindeer calf of the year was born. Lotti and myself headed out for about an hour’s hill walk to look for Galilee, a 6 year old very pregnant female reindeer who we spied from a distance through binoculars. On top of a hill called Silver Mount within our 1200 acre mountain enclosure, or Airgiod-meall in Gaelic,  we found her and her new calf. This was Lotti’s first calving season with us, so her first reindeer calf. However, like Galilee I was an old hand at this time of year so was passing on advice on approaching and treating new born calves correctly to Lotti. Galilee couldn’t have been more chilled out with our presence, in fact she was pretty delighted we brought her a tasty feed after what had probably been an exhausting few hours! Lotti was absolutely ecstatic! A smile beamed from ear to ear which of course was infectious so the two of us were on cloud nine. We sprayed the newborn’s navel to stop any infection and popped a wee bit of insecticide on her back to prevent ticks from biting and causing problems for the wee girl then left her to get to know her mum. As she was the first calf we weren’t in a hurry to bring her in closer to the herd into the smaller fenced area which becomes a ‘nursery’ through the spring, but thought we would wait until another female had calved so they could come in together.

Huge excitement!

We caught up with them the next day to feed Galilee and check her calf was well. Galilee this time decided that with her calf being much more mobile, that she wasn’t sticking around so again we left her to it, with no urgent hurry to bring them in. Then on the 27th April myself, Andi, Lotti and Joe headed out to bring Galilee and calf (and now also Dante and her calf) into an enclosure a bit closer so we could keep an eye on them. Andi and Lotti concentrated on Dante and calf while Joe and I headed over to where we could see Galilee, assuming her calf was with her.

As we approached Galilee she didn’t move away from us, as you would expect a new mum to do. I got closer and closer and realised quite quickly that things weren’t normal. Galilee was grunting a lot. A call she would use to communicate with her 2 day old calf but I couldn’t hear or see her calf anywhere. Galilee was right in amongst a pile of boulders which didn’t cover a big area but she was pretty adamant to stay close to a certain area, sticking her nose into a section where the boulders had big gaps between. My heart sunk when I realised her calf must have fallen down in between the gaps  somehow! Joe and I searched, treading carefully over the boulder field. After about 10 minutes (which felt like an hour) of searching we could then hear a very faint calf grunting back to her mother. This then confirmed whereabouts in the boulders she was, however she was so far down we couldn’t see her, let alone reach with our arms to get her out.

Unsurprisingly we didn’t stop to take any photos during the rescue, but here’s a different boulder field to give you an idea of the type of terrain. Bonus point for spotting the ptarmigan!

By this time we realised we needed more assistance – Joe and I alone weren’t strong enough to remove the very large and heavy stones. Olly was at the Centre so we called him to come up the hill with tools which could potentially act as leverage. We also called Lotti down from bringing in Dante for an extra pair of hands. By this point 15-20 minutes had passed and Galilee decided there was too much commotion for her to be sticking around so she went back and joined the main reindeer herd, leaving us to find her calf. After removing, with great effort, some very large boulders we got our first glimpse of the calf… she was about 5ft down, but alive! I managed to reach as far as I could and with the tips of my fingers I could feel her. With a bit of rummaging I got hold of her back legs and very gently pulled, cautious not to cause her any hurt or injury. In my first attempt to pull her out there was too much resistance, like something was stuck. I pushed her back down, moved her body around a bit more, hoping she would release whatever was stuck. I had to do all this by feel as she was so far below ground that we couldn’t see her. On my second attempt to pull her out she came much more easily, and once I could get a second hand on her I supported the rest of her body and head coming out the hole backwards.

The poor wee girl probably didn’t know what was going on and we have no idea how long she was down there. She had rubbed the hair from the knees on her front legs and also a patch on top of her head so with a few bald patches and a sore back leg I carried her the ½ mile across mountain ground back to her mum. While walking back she was nuzzling my armpit looking for some milk – she was obviously quite hungry. I popped her down in front of Galilee who without hesitation sniffed her and realised it was hers. I suspect the two of them immediately forgot the whole scenario, being animals I don’t suppose they think of the past or what just happened. But I will remember it for a long time yet. Having been cooped up in a hole for so long she was a bit staggery on her feet to begin with but the wee calf was absolutely fine.

Back at the nearer end of the hill enclosure and reunited with her mum – but complete with bald patch on her head and rather bumpy knees!

Once it was all over and we could breathe a sigh of relief one of us used a phrase quite common amongst us herders… “Holy Moley, what a day!” And from there she got her nickname – ‘Holy Moley, the calf who fell down a hole’. It was never intended to be her name forever but inevitably that has happened. Most reindeer who end up with a nickname from a young age keep hold of it for the rest of their life – Grunter, Hippo, Paintpot and Hamish to name a few.

With mum Galilee (right) on the summer free-range – Holy Moley’s missing calf coat on her head still making her easy to pick out amongst the other calves.

So there we have it, at two days old Holy Moley fell down a hole between boulders and without our assistance she would not be with us today. She’s had a pretty tough start to life as unfortunately we then lost Galilee, her mother, in the summer while the two of them were free-ranging in the Cairngorm Mountains. Holy Moley has managed to muscle through on her own by keeping herself with the herd, stealing milk from other females and I suspect by having a bit of fight in her she will go on to be a big strong female reindeer herself. She certainly didn’t give up in the hole and every time we catch up with her on the mountains she makes sure she’s first to get her head in a bag of feed… She knows we’ll look after her!

Holy Moley in September, complete (once again) with bald patch, this time after the vet had to remove her badly broken antler!

Fiona

Cameron and Crowdie

This week’s blog is from Cameron, one of our younger supporters. If any readers would like to contribute a wee story for a blog we are always delighted by this – please send them to info@cairngomreindeer.co.uk , for attention of Hen:

On the 24th September 2018 we decided to come and meet the Cairngorm Reindeer for the first time. I was 8 and really loved reindeer so was delighted to find out I could actually meet them. We decided to do the Hill Trip and although it was quite windy it was amazing to see the reindeer coming down the hill as they could see the herders with the feed!

Surrounded by reindeer!

I loved being able to hand-feed and stroke the reindeer (which visitors could do before Covid-related restrictions came in last year) and they were so gentle and friendly to everyone. This was the day that I met my adoptive reindeer Crowdie for the first time. Crowdie came right up to me to feed and was such a lovely boy, he was a bit mischievous as he tried to get into the feed bags and kept coming for more and more food.

Crowdie and me!

When I heard that you could adopt any of the deer I really wanted to do this to help the herd survive. Unfortunately at the time we didn’t know the name of the reindeer that I fell in love with. Unknown to me my mum sent the photo of me to the Centre who told her it was Crowdie and I was delighted to get him as my adopted reindeer for Christmas that year.

We have visited Crowdie a few times and are came to visit most recently in October last year.

Cameron 

Crowdie as a two year old

The wonderful (and slightly disgusting) life of a reindeer mum

This year I was lucky enough to spend May looking after all the cows and calves during calving season, whilst most of the country was in lock-down. This was my first calving season and I found it really fascinating to watch how the behaviour of the reindeer changed once they had calved. Especially for the first-time mums who were acting purely on instinct, which amazed me how strong that is! There were a couple of things that I noticed a few of the mum’s doing in the hours and days after they had calved which I thought might be interesting to read about.

Licking their calf dry

The very first job of a reindeer once she has calved is to lick her calf dry. This year some of our calves were born in the snow so they want to get dry as quick as possible so that their fluffy calf coat can keep them warm. I was incredibly lucky to be able to watch Brie calve this year, I watched through binoculars as she carefully licked all the placenta off the calf, Cicero, until he looked like all the other calves I had seen at a couple of hours old – fluffy rather than slimy.

Eating the placenta

Being an arctic animal, every bit of nutrition reindeer can get is very important – placenta included. We found Ibex and her calf Flax when she was a couple of hours old, by which point Ibex was obviously feeling peckish. I can’t say that it looked particularly appetising to me but then I’m not a mother, nor a reindeer!

Licking their calf’s bum

To stimulate the calf suckling the mother must lick her calf’s bum. This all works in a cycle because the cow licking the calves’ bum stimulates the calf suckling and the more that the calf suckles the more milk that the cow will produce! All resulting in a good strong calf. It’s also very important to help keep the calf clean, their very first poo can be very sticky and a couple of the mums – mostly the ones who had had many calves before – didn’t do a very good job of licking their calves bottoms meaning we had to do it instead (cleaning it, not licking it….)! I can’t really believe how something so smelly can come out of something so sweet, so I guess I can’t really blame the cows. When the calf is really young the mum will also lift her leg so that the calf can suckle whilst lying down, here is Pagan demonstrating both very well with her calf Pumpkin!

Teaching the calves to walk  

The last thing that I found really interesting was the way that the mums get their newborn calves to start walking. As a prey animal it is very important that the reindeer are up on their feet as soon as possible. But how do they go from an incredibly wobbly newborn calf to the agile calves who can easily outrun me? The answer is lots of careful training from their mums. From when Cicero was about 20 minutes old, Brie started to stand up and walk a few metres away and wait for her calf to take a few wobbly steps over. The calf would then lie down exhausted for a while before she did the same again. Eventually the steps become less and less wobbly as the calves grow stronger.

Lotti

The year 2020, as told by Crowdie

(with apologies to Cheer, who has a dubious role this blog…)

January: Optimism going in to 2020, the year ahead of us all… it’s going to be great!

 

February: Hold up. What is this new devilry on the horizon?

 

March: Holy crap! Run away!!!

 

April: Lockdown…. battling the virus

 

May: Still going…

 

June: …and going….

 

July-September: Starting to win! Virus receding…

 

October: Uh-oh

 

December 31st: Can’t leave 2020 behind quick enough! Dear god let’s hope 2021 is better….

Sending love and respect to everyone who has struggled through 2020, in particular the NHS staff and all the essential workers who have worked throughout – to you all we raise a dram. Fingers crossed there are calmer waters ahead.

 

Merry Christmas all!

Well hasn’t 2020 been an unexpected year for us all?! We wanted to take the opportunity to share a little message on Christmas day – enjoy!

We hope everyone has a lovely peaceful Christmas and a good start to 2021, and big thanks to the wonderful Spud the Piper for helping add a little sparkle to this video – if you’d like some more bagpipes in your life check out his Facebook page @spudthepiper.

 

 

Reindeer Obsession!

This week’s blog is written by Candice, one of our long standing adopters, who has become something of a obsessed follower over the years! We regularly tell her she’s mad…

Candice helping out at at Christmas event, with Duke

My interest (or rather obsession!) with reindeer started in the early 90’s when holidaying with my parents, I was 11 and animal mad (I’m now 40 and still as besotted). So, one visit to see these wonderful creatures and I was hooked! I started adopting reindeer in 1995 and have now just signed up to my 26th year of supporting the scheme. Being from Kent, my visits only occurred 3 -4 times a year but no holiday was complete without a Hill Trip!

 

As the years went on and life progressed with exams, new jobs and house moves reindeer were never far from my thoughts, and relocation in 2004 resulted in me being only 80 miles from the herd instead of 580…RESULT! I was able to visit much more frequently and became a familiar face at Reindeer House, even though I know they all think I’m completely bonkers (Editor’s note: you’ll not find us arguing 😉 ) ! In 2008 I married Cameron and managed somehow to keep the reindeer obsession to a minimum until he’d signed on the dotted line, but of course we HAD to visit the reindeer on our honeymoon and then the extent of my addiction came to light!

In 2009 our daughter Pandra was born and our visits continued so inevitably she fell head over heels in love with the furry critters. At the age of 3 she took part in a series for CBeebies “Time for School” and for the Christmas episode the reindeer visited her school, Pandra proudly walked a little white calf on a lead rope into the playground in front of the cameras and the whole school. What we hadn’t realised that this was the making of a beautiful “friendship” between her and Blue, this pure white cutie. Three years later we were approached again by CBeebies to film more footage but this time in their natural environment of the Cairngorms for a programme called “The Let’s go Club”. Again it was the Christmas special and we spent a whole day filming out in the hills. By this time Pandra had a little brother, Oakley, who of course has HAD to love reindeer, luckily he does.

Pandra watching Fiona bottle feed Soleil…
…and graduating to having a go herself a couple of years later with Fergus!

 

Oakley and Olympic

Oakley made his first visit to the herd at 2.5 weeks old and at 9 months refused to be carried on the Hill Trip and crawled all the way! Making frequent visits, we visit every month, and being an active contributor to the social media platform you start recognising like-minded people and friendships form, sometimes you even stumble on each other on a Hill Trip, and you hear that terrifying phrase…”Oh so you’re Candice”….cringe!!! Mind you with reindeer vinyls plastered up the side of my car, I’m not easily missed! So, I decided to create a group where we reindeer enthusiasts (that’s the posh name!) can share pictures, stories and everything reindeer. We call ourselves the Reindeer Groupies and are all as mad as a box of frogs!

My car!

The group is 20+ strong and we meet up in smaller groups throughout the year either on the Hill Trip or with Tilly at her farm near Tomintoul (the second site for the reindeer herd) but we always try and have a large ‘Groupie Meet’ in October. This wonderful group of people from all over the UK, Holland and Denmark has all come about because of reindeer, of course Reindeer House think we’re all crazy but saying that on one of our October “get-togethers” Dave (reindeer herder) arrived for our private Hill Trip dressed as a reindeer so I’m not sure they have a leg to stand on!

First reindeer located at the car park….

At Christmas the reindeer usually visit town centres around the UK spreading Christmas cheer, of course the Groupies are always there (not all together!) lending a hand, chatting to the public and educating people about these superb creatures. Every November/December in ‘normal years’ I travel over 2,000 miles to various reindeer events which I have done for many years, I’m very lucky to be able to and even luckier to be trusted to do so. It is a great privilege to have had reindeer in my life for this long and I’m even luckier to have found a group of like-minded (even if slightly crazy) group of people that I can call lifelong friends! Long live the Groupies!

A quick ride on the sleigh while the herders were training the novice reindeer in October 2018

Candice

What’s in a name?

People who see our photos on social media without knowing much about us must wonder why some of our reindeer have such strange names. Where’s Dasher and Dancer? Prancer and Vixen? And Rudolph??? Where on earth have ‘Pavlova’, ‘Caterpillar’ and ‘Clouseau’ come from?!

Santa’s lesser known reindeer: Hopscotch, Kipling and Hobnob???

We’ve been naming the reindeer on a theme each year since the early 70s. As well as making life a bit easier for us coming up with 15 – 30 brand new names each year (where would you start otherwise?!), it has a very practical application in that it helps us remember the individual age of each reindeer, based on their moniker. For farmers naming animals is often done using words starting with a certain letter of the alphabet each year, but different themes is our chosen method.

Up until the early 70s Mr Utsi named his reindeer mainly just with human names, both English and Swedish in origin. However, in 1971, the calves were instead given names of different trees, such as Spruce, Larch and Alder. In 1972 it was birds: Raven, Wren and Hawk. And Tit (teehee).

Themes need to be chosen to have enough ‘good’ names; those not too long, not too complicated, not double-barrelled and either unisex or enough names suitable for a rough 50:50 split of male and female names within the theme. This rules out some ideas pretty quickly.

Camembert – no prizes for guessing her naming theme!

Over the years however, all the ‘obvious’ themes have now been done. Rivers; Butterflies; Countries; Sweeties – we’ve been there and done that. We do our best to never reuse a name as each reindeer is their own character and we feel they deserve an individual name, but also because it can cause confusion on the database if there’s more than one of the same. We do accidentally slip up however – I’m well aware that both Juniper and Frost in the herd are not the first of their kind. I think Lady holds the record – the Lady that I knew when I first started here turned out to be Lady the Third when I looked closely at the database…

So now we have to think outside the box, hence our slightly off-the-wall themes of later years. This year the calves are named after ‘Seeds, Peas and Beans’. We did ‘Police and Detectives’ recently. And before that ‘Ancient Civilisations’.

To an extent we try not to use themes that are too commercial, hence ‘car makes’ or ‘football clubs’ aren’t options. Something else we don’t generally do, or not nowadays at least, is to allow other people to name reindeer in our herd. This is quite a popular request, and most often comes from people wishing to name a reindeer in memory of someone in their family who really loved visiting the reindeer, or had some special connection with the herd for one reason or another. While this would seem a lovely tribute, sadly reindeer don’t live forever and we don’t want people to be too invested in a certain reindeer, only for it to pass away unexpectedly. Sod’s law is a big factor here – allow someone to name a reindeer in this manner and you can almost guarantee it will be the one to pop it’s clogs a week later… However, we like to accommodate people if possible, so we have in the past, in exceptional circumstances, allowed someone else to choose the theme (from a shortlist). We did it this year in fact – ‘Seeds, Peas and Beans’ was chosen in memory of a gentleman to whom gardening had been a very important part of his life.

While all the staff here are involved in naming the calves each year, the Smith family, who own the reindeer herd, have the final say in all names. And themes they don’t like won’t make the grade. Hence don’t bother asking us if ‘Game of Thrones’ will ever be the theme – I can tell you right now that it won’t. I did make a bid for ‘Sean’ for this years’ theme (think about it) but sadly it was out-ruled.

Just a gang of detectives… Sherlock, Poirot and Morse

Of course there end up being lots of exceptions to the rules and reindeer often end up with really random names, but I think some details of these can wait till a future blog.

Hen

 

The Real Rudolph

The Real Rudolph: A Natural History of the Reindeer was the second book I wrote and this time was commissioned by Sutton Publishing. The publisher had already come up with the title and they were looking for a book of ‘hard facts’.  Packed full of juicy info about reindeer and caribou (which are actually the same species, but coming from different parts of the world), I combined a lot of research with personal experiences and I was lucky to know a number of good photographers who kindly provided amazing photos which are littered through the book.

In Mongolia – Photo by Alex Smith

The photo on the front cover is from a picture I took of a reindeer bull in Outer Mongolia and I dedicated a chapter to my trip there in 2005 and also various excursions to Swedish Lapland, which ultimately led to us bringing new breeding stock back from there.

The first half of the book is all about their world distribution as a species, seasonal nature, arctic adaptations, how they fit into the ‘Deer Family’ and their domestication.  I did have one gentleman get in touch to say it was the most interesting and entertaining textbook of reindeer he had ever read!

But I was always conscious that readers would also be interested in the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, particularly since I would be selling it here at the Reindeer Centre and so the second half of the book was not just about my personal experiences of far flung ‘reindeer places’ but also some stories closer to home.

Rather closer to home… at home in fact! Here I am a couple of years ago on the hill ground of my farm with yearling bulls Burns and Dr Seuss. Photo: John Paul

Published for the Christmas market in 2006 it is now sadly out of print, but it can be acquired, very cheaply, on Amazon!! It is (although I say it myself) a very informative book, is well produced with high quality paper and photos inserted into the text, rather than clumped together in sections as they were in my first book, Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses. That book is also out of print now, but my latest book Reindeer: An Arctic Life is in print and available on our online shop (please click here to have a look), along with several other books and items. Many are suitable for stocking fillers!

Tilly

The Dutch connection…

One of our long-standing supporters is Carola, who started by adopting a reindeer many years ago, and has since amassed quite a herd! Here’s her story about her love of the reindeer:
I am not only a reindeer ‘adopter’ but also a reindeer ‘groupie’. Yes, a groupie. We have a group of friends that are all reindeer mad. Most of them live in the UK, one in Denmark and my husband and I live in the Netherlands. We visited the Reindeer Centre for the first time in 1999.
Feeding Biscuit on my first trip to the Reindeer Centre in 1999
I fell in love with a greedy baby called Biscuit. I then adopted him in 2004. On the Facebook page of the Reindeer Centre I met the Pattisons who adopted Biscuit as well. Maggie and I became friends, and a few years later we met , in Aviemore of course. I met some other people on the reindeer Facebook, some at Christmas Events, we became friends on online, friends became friends so we got a whole group of reindeer mad people, the ‘reindeer groupies’. We’ve met several times, and try to spend some time together in Aviemore every October. It’s great to visit the reindeer with them, we all love the reindeer and can spend ages sitting on the hill and watching them.
My very first adoption certificate!
I’ve been to some Christmas events with Candice and Pandra; had a great girls weekend with Belinda and Candice – attending Christmas events with the reindeer, and bubbles and disco lights in our hotel room. That was fun and it ended up with the three of us adopting Clouseau together.
Lego’s son Blue looking for a titbit at a Christmas event!
Visiting long-time favourite Oryx over at the farm
And adopting – yes, love adopting. I’ve had quite a few reindeer. It started with Biscuit. Then his brother Bhoy who sadly died too young. I had Paintpot and Oryx, who is still around. I adopted Biscuit’s mum Glacier who was 16 at the time. Can remember Hen saying I was crazy, I know, I am. Six weeks later Glacier died. I had deaf Lego, Swedish-born Magnus, Tinto, and Mo who are all gone now. One of the sad things, getting that letter that no one of us wants to get, telling that your adopted reindeer has died. But that is how it is.
Morven gazing at me when I first met her!
Tinto
A visit to the farm to see some of the boys
I can’t remember when the adopting thing got a bit out of hand. But now I am adopting 9 reindeer. Yes I know, I told you before, I’m crazy. I have a soft spot for my old man Oryx. I have Svalbard, a real character. I have Boris, who is NOT ugly guys!  (Editors note: Boris was born with a wonky nose and let’s say he’s not our most handsome reindeer…) I have my girlie Morven who I fell in love with on the hill when she was a calf, staring at me. I have Celt, together with my husband, who was such a cute little boy and now is a real big lad. And we also both have Frost, a light one with nice face markings. I have Clouseau who I share with Belinda and Candice. I have Baffin, who (sorry Baffin), I think is difficult to recognize, but Belinda adopts him as well, and she does. And last October I adopted 14 year old, white , deaf Blondie, mother of Lego.
Visits to the herd are always entertaining!
Because we live in the Netherlands we don’t get to see the reindeer as often as we would love to. But we’re lucky to have our groupie friends who visit more often and always want to make pictures of my little herd. Thanks guys. I wish we could have come and visit this June or October to see the reindeer, but sadly 2020 is not a very good year because of the Covid-19. But I enjoy the pictures from the friends and the herders, and the Facebook Live videos from Andi, which are great.
Andi giving Grunter a cuddle
Oh, and since the Reindeer Centre can use some extra support this year, I decided to adopt reindeer number 10… not sure who yet.
‘My’ herd last year!
And yes, I know, I’m mad, reindeer mad. And I love it.
That’s it,
With love, Carola

All the colours of the rainbow (Part two)

Following on from my previous blog about reindeer coloration, I thought I’d highlight some of the funky face patterns in our herd today. White face markings are super helpful at aiding us in identification of the reindeer, as they don’t change much throughout the year (or their lives). Though they can be harder to make out when the reindeer are in their late winter coats, as they are less distinct.

Addax with her calf Parmesan
Anster showing off his white nose tip!
Boris with his patchy white face and squiffy nose
Cheer has one of the whitest faces in the herd.
Christie with her white “smile”
Merida with a white hourglass, followed by her calf Dr Seuss with his striking white face.
Gloriana’s mark makes us think of the Joker!
Wee Hemp has a speckly nose and white spot on his forehead.
Jonne with his yin-yang white nose
Oatcake has random splodges all over
In winter, Ochil’s markings are less noticeable.
Oryx has a mostly white face
Spartan looks like he’s dipped his nose in white paint!
Svalbard showing off his white nose and forehead.
Texel has a white face with two darker dots.

Andi