Ben’s Reindeer Herder Interviews (part 3 of 3)

  1. If all the reindeer were to have a 100m race, who would win?

Fiona = I reckon Shekel would have won because we exercised them at Christmas he was always in the lead. There’s a great photo of him on our playing cards that we sell in the shop where he looks like The Joker with his tongue out and this is due to all the running he used to do which made him thoroughly exhausted.

Hen = Well not Svalbard, he’s too fat to run fast. It’s gotta be a female, they’re far more fit and active than the males. Probably Sika, but only if she was running in the opposite direction to humans.

Svalbard is not built for running.

Andi = I can think of plenty of reindeer who would be contenders for coming last. But for first place I think it would be one of the younger females, as they tend to maintain their fitness, when compared to the over-indulging males who have slightly let it slide. Let’s go for Spy…she has some speed on her when she doesn’t want to be caught.

Manouk = Monopoly because he would have just cheated. He was a cheeky chappy.

Chris = Well it’s likely to be a female because they get more practice at running around, and some of the boys are carrying a bit too much timber. I can’t think of an obvious winner but Chelsea is the only reindeer that I’ve had a proper race with so I’d have to pick her.

Lotti = Ooooo, who’s got long legs? Lace has got long legs hasn’t she? Plus she’s so beautiful. I’d like to think one of the females would be the fastest so that they can break general stereotypes and beat the males.

Ben = Drambuie or Hook. They’d find a way to win. Don’t get me wrong they’d be in last place with 2 metres to go but I’ve tried to herd them into paddocks before and they can move so quickly when they feel like being sneaky. So yeah, make either of those two feel sneaky and they’d be my outside bets for the victory.

Dave = Roman would probably have a pretty good crack. He’s a young and athletic bull.

Bobby = Bond: the fastest, the best muscle fibres in any reindeer EVER.

Nell = Well I’m not sure; I haven’t seen any of them run. It’d be quite interesting to see all the reindeer herders in a 100m race. I reckon Fi would win, or maybe Chris, or maybe you (Ben). Either way the reindeer would beat all of you.

  1. Which reindeer is/was the easiest to bribe/coax with food?

Fiona = Urmmmm probably Crann to be honest, especially in his elder years because if he got his head in to a bucket of lichen then there was no way of getting him out.

Hen = Hmmm…Dixie. Every time you want to catch her you can count on her to fall for the bag of feed trick. So she ends up being the decoy reindeer (the one we lead to get the rest to follow) quite a bit.

Dixie in the bag of food as usual.

Andi = Most of the yearlings can be bribed with mere crumbs. Nancy was pretty awful come to think of it, she was pretty much climbing on me for some food whilst I was out on the free-range.

Manouk = Svalbard!!!

Chris = Oh wow, there’s too many to name really. But I guess I’ll have to go for  Kipling again.

A tired Kipling

Lotti = Ahhh, they’re all so greedy! I think I could make either Olympic or Sherlock follow me absolutely anywhere with food. They’re so greedy. They’re always at the front of visits.

Ben = Haha, so many of the boys: Bond, Sherlock, Dr. Seuss, Olympic. Kipling as well could be a contender. I think we’re all grateful for those greedy boys and girls; it makes the actual herding part of the job a lot easier.

Dave = Kara. She’d follow you anywhere man, as long as there was promise of a feed.

Izzy = Svalbard. I remember one time; Svalbard was standing in the middle of the boardwalk, blocking a group of visitors from getting past. He was there for a good few minutes and he just wasn’t budging. Nevertheless, one shake of my food bag and he quickly dashed over to me. He was pretty disappointed when he realised that the hill trip had finished and the food had gone however at least he’d budged.

Bobby = Dr Seuss definitely.

Nell = Ryvita for sure! She walked to the very top of Cairngorm with me and her calf just in case I had food in my bag. This was immediately after she had eaten all of the food in my bag.

  1. Which reindeer has done the funniest thing in your presence?

Fiona = There was a reindeer called Pepsi and we were on a Christmas event when a noise from the visitors startled him, and his response was to jump right up on to the sleigh. Ooo, and, we used to have a hand-reared reindeer called Utsi back in the day. Dad was leading them on two events that day, and the afternoon one was down in Perth. Utsi obviously didn’t know that it was one of those rare days where we had two events in a day because he exited the van in Perth with so much enthusiasm, but when he saw that we weren’t indeed home and we had another event, his response was to just turn around and get back into the van.

Hen = Hornet once used me as a stepping stone after I fell over into the river right in front of him. Luckily he was a calf at the time. Ooooh, actually I’ve got another one for you as well…last year when we were worming the reindeer, Roule made a break for it but managed to do so by going through my legs, which meant that I was being dragged through the shed by a full grown female who possessed an impressive set of antlers. I was essentially riding a reindeer backwards. Chris mentioned that he thought about grabbing Roule to attempt to stop her, but he was concerned it may well have spurred her on. Anyway, the whole experience culminated in me having an impressive set of bruises, some of which I could show my friends, some of which I couldn’t.

Andi = Midway through a trek years ago, on a hot summer’s day, we stopped for a break at Utsi’s hut, as we usually would. Scout then suddenly decided that the coolest place to stand was inside the tiny hut. But in order to do this he had to climb through an absolutely tiny doorway. However the boy managed it, and then subsequently enjoyed his lunch in there.

Manouk = Screel, she full on managed to knock over a guy who was the size of a rugby prop forward. It was pretty unbelievable.

Chris = Kipling AGAIN, sorry. There are lots of others which could be contenders, but she had the most recent incident. Trying to eat a bag of boardwalk staples and inspecting our bag of tools when Izzy and I were doing some repairs recently.

Kipling saw a bag and assumed it was food

Lotti = The first thing I can think of is a funny thing that I’ve done in a reindeer’s presence,  I once fell in to a bog and sunk all the way up until the top of my thighs, and then I was really struggling to get out and I just remember Okapi and Ryvita looking at me with their puzzled expressions almost saying “what on earth are you doing?”.

Ben = We had a reindeer called Lego who has sadly passed away but I remember on my first summer here in 2014…Lego was partial to long siestas and Lego was deaf. Whoever was taking the 14:30 hill trip with me had called the herd and was busy leading them towards where they’d have their meal. However, Lego was too busy sleeping. Being at the back, I saw this unfold, so I approached Lego, lay 50cm away from him, and then eventually he woke up….his face when he saw none of his homies around him – just the face of a reindeer herder looking back at him – that was something that still makes me laugh to this day. It all happened over the course of a second but I could see when ‘the penny dropped’ and he realised he was all alone. Boy oh boy, he moved quickly to re-join the herd after that. Didn’t even give me a wave goodbye or nothing.

Dave = The late Fergus! I mean…he tried to head butt me on my first day whilst I was working in the paddocks. He also followed me round the paddocks when I was painting the fences red, resulting in him getting his nose all red and looking like Rudolph. And then he tried to mount me.

Izzy = Chris and I were repairing the boardwalk not long ago when Kipling came over and no joke, she tried to eat the nails. I think it was because these nails were being stored in an old food bag but when we then took the bag away she got in a right mood and started stamping her feet like a right missy. We actually lost a few nails down the slats of the wood as a result of her mardy episode.

Bobby = I’ve seen a bunch of reindeer pee on people which is always kinda funny but I don’t know if you can put that in your blog (yes, we definitely can). Just put Bond again, he tells the best jokes, he’s such a special reindeer.

Nell = I remember hearing about how traumatic castrations were (granted all the boys told me this whilst crossing their legs) however when Atlantic’s time came he just stood there and chewed the cud. He wasn’t bothered in the slightest.

Multi-cultural Hill Trips

Multi-cultural Trips

There’s a lot to be learned volunteering at the reindeer centre and multi-cultural knowledge is one theme very obvious, just thinking about the reindeer names and the regular herders’ nationalities. However, walking up to hand feed the reindeer throughout December it occurred to me how many visitors travelled many, many miles to experience the thing we have taken for granted over the last 30 years – velvet noses snuggling into your hands for a taste of delicious grains of feed.

(Apologies for the small photo files, they are at their maximum sizing!)

Colin feeding Olympic

During our three weeks in December 2019 we talked to visitors from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Austria, China, Thailand, Canada, Holland, Egypt and Germany, not forgetting those from England and Scotland.

December in Australia is the children’s Christmas school holidays and for many families a trip to Scotland and the reindeer is a top priority, as we were quite rightly informed. During our second week, beginning the 9th December we had a good drop of snow, which I enjoyed as much as the reindeer and visitors!

Snow angels!

The reindeer in my opinion are at their best in deep snow. For two children from Australia the combination of sun, snow and reindeer made just the perfect day and it was such a joy to experience their excitement. Having never experienced snow in their lives it was an exhilarating event. With wellie boots borrowed from Reindeer House it didn’t take them long to jump in the deep snow drifts and fill their wellie boots with the cold stuff – and we were not yet at Utsi’s Bridge!


As many of you know, if you have been on a visit, once in the enclosure we follow the board walk, which the reindeer also like to use and they get in between visitors slowing the speed of progress. Well for two young people this meant having to step to one side to let the reindeer pass and subsequently ‘falling off’ the board walk into the deep snow – their feet were rather cold and wet by this time but no adult advice could curtail their excitement, it was infectious! We then had adults stepping off the board walk to experience the deep snow just for the fun of it! We had a lovely visit and the snow was appreciated by everyone, young, older and the reindeer!



Reindeer Herding and Running 2.0

Reindeer herding and running, a sequel


Remember that blog I wrote about a year ago about how everyone started running up hills and mountains as soon as they arrived to work at the reindeer centre? Well I’ve got reasons to write a second blog about the same topic, so here goes!

Manouk and seasonal reindeer herder Kay out running the local hills with reindeer dogs Sookie and Tiree.

At the end of my last blog about running reindeer herders I wondered if my running would become more like the long distance running described in the ultrarunner Jan Knippenberg’s book. A quick recap in the form of a quote from my last blog:


“Running for the pure joy of it or because our lifestyle demands it, without the faff of getting involved in fashion and hype, or keeping track of time per kilometre, heartbeat, acceleration etc. seems to be closer to the old type of lifestyle than what is currently in fashion.”

Manouk with friend and local musician, Riverman Rod, In Braemar ready to run all the way to Aviemore

I think I can safely say I’m getting there! Since that blog I’ve participated in lots of hill races, slowly building up distance until I did the Lairig Ghru race, slightly over marathon distance. The fun aspect of it is that most of the races I did, I didn’t do for getting a good result, or the competitive aspect of it, but more for seeing a different part of Scotland and enjoying the scenery whilst running with a lot of other crazy hill running people. I also continued chasing reindeer on the mountain plateaus and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Manouk finidh her first marathon, the Lairig Ghru (Braemar to Aviemore) with friend of the Herd Katie Henderson welcoming her across the line!

All of this is very much in line with running the way we used to in the history of mankind, in the sense that it’s not necessarily a way to stay fit, but a way to get around in life. One step closer may be what I have planned next. Whilst this blog is being posted, I’m on my way to the Netherlands. Over the past few years I’ve become more aware of the damaging impact of flying on our environment. I think in many cases, if you don’t prioritise money and time over the environment, you’ll find there are loads of alternatives to air travel. For going to the Netherlands, there are lots of forms of public transport you can take, along with using either the ferry or the Eurotunnel to get to the European mainland.


So with this in mind I came up with the idea to run to The Netherlands. Admittedly, I’d not gone for a long time (money and time and resolution to avoid flying as much as I could). In the mean time I’d really started missing my friends and family back there. It seemed like a nice gesture to them as well – missing them so much I’d come and run all the way! Besides that I find that the Scottish darkness in winters gets me down a bit, with on Winter solstice there only being sunlight from 8.53am to 3.32pm (that is 6 hours and 38 minutes of daylight). Being outside as much as possible and exercising regularly both help me a lot in beating seasonal sadness, so it seemed like a great way of getting over that too. So there I was, finding myself yet again planning a run longer than I’ve ever done before!

Manouk setting off on her long run. Hopefully Newtonmore to the Netherlands!

At the moment this blog is posted, I’m supposed to be just over one third of the journey. I’ve set off from Newtonmore on Monday the 6th of January, early in the morning. I’m pulling a two-wheeled cart, carrying my tent, sleeping bags, stove & freeze-dried food, snacks, a reindeer skin to keep warm at night, and lots of first aid stuff and other needs. I’m staying at a couple of friends’ places (thanks hill runner and blogger Ross Brannigan (@up_to_summit), hill runner Adrian Davies ( reindeer herder Julia Kenneth!) but otherwise I’m camping. My route is 250 miles (roughly 400km) to Newcastle, then I’ll hop on to the ferry, and it will be another 18 miles (roughly 28.5km) to my mother’s house in Amsterdam, where my friends and family will be cheering me towards the finish line.

Soggy start with torrential rain and up to 50mph winds on the first two days!

So if you’re reading this it must mean I’m getting on all right, as I gave Chris permission to post it only if I managed to get that far! If this is the case, then I think I can safely say that my change in lifestyle from being a student/academically-minded person to being a reindeer herder in the Scottish mountains and hills has changed my way of running. I now run for the sheer joy of running and for the necessity of getting round (be it chasing reindeer or a self-imposed ban on flying) and no longer for ‘staying fit’ or ‘getting a decent time’. And I love it! But maybe don’t ask me whilst I’m actually on my run, as it’s definitely mostly type 2 fun*.

Manouk was joined by Alan for the second half of Day 3. He even pulled the cart!
Alan brought fellow runner Adrian Davies along with his dog Jasper. He kindly put Manouk up for the night in his B&B

I didn’t want to finish this blog without saying thank you to Chris Shute (Chris’ dad), who helped massively in designing and building the cart, and reindeer herder Chris, without whom my route of choice could have been disastrous, as would the rest of my preparation. And hopefully he will have added some pictures of my journey so far below!


* type 2 fun: the type of fun where you’re not enjoying something whilst doing, often wondering what the heck you got yourself into, but a while (could be minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even longer…) after the activity has finished you start thinking back on it and reconsider it as fun.  Opposite of ‘type 1 fun’ where you just constantly have fun all the time whilst the activity lasts, and possibly afterwards as well. Example: skiing holiday where you take lifts up and ski down, 100% at all times.


Quick update from Chris plus some photos:

Manouk’s first two days crossing Drumochter Pass were pretty awful weather wise. 40-50mph wind and torrential rain in a big storm left her completely soaked and a tough start indeed. She got the train home on the evening of day 2 from Blair Atholl to dry her kit  and tent out (and cook me dinner for my birthday!)

Knee pain slowed her down to a walk for the early part of Day 3 but Alan turned up to pull Manouk’s cart down to Dunkeld for her! They were also joined by friend of the Reindeer Herd  Adrian Davies and his dog Jasper and Adrian put Manouk up in his B&B for the night.


One of the wheels on the cart was struggling even more than Manouk’s knee so on Day 4 Manouk was planning on getting it looked at in a bike shop whilst passing Perth. Hopefully it will hold up to allow her to make it all the way to Newcastle

Brief update this morning on Day 5: Cart has new bearings in the wheels and Manouk’s knee is holding up.


Climate Change and Reindeer

At the end of Hill Trips, we often get many questions about climate change and how it affects the reindeer. For those interested, here’s a blog on how we think it affects our reindeer, how reindeer are affected worldwide and things people could do individually to help fight it.

Weather records of the past decades clearly show that the Cairngorms have gotten milder and more moist. There have always been fluctuations in temperature with periods of warm winters and periods of colder ones, as well as periods of hot dry summers as well as periods of cold and wet ones. However, the overall trend is moving towards warmer and wetter. This of course affects the plants, trees, and wildlife. As warmer and wetter conditions are suitable for ticks, we’ve seen an uprise in tick-related problems. Luckily we are quite savvy in finding ways to battle this, and granted that we spot the illness, are usually able to treat the reindeer.

It’s not always frosty in the Cairngorms, but we do always have a Frost of our own……

Other than that we see a problem with winters not finishing ‘cleanly’ and spring showing its face for a few days or a week and then disappearing again. This affects the growth of plants. Once plants start growing but freeze mid-growth, this changes their structure and if reindeer eat these plants this can cause problems with their guts. At the moment we are working on a way to prevent and to treat this, and have managed to succeed in some cases with new vaccinations.

Worldwide, there’s a different story, as reindeer numbers have always fluctuated hugely and it’s difficult to pinpoint whether or not climate change is affecting these fluctuations at all. We do know that over the past two decades, reindeer numbers have more than halved, leaving the current population at about two million. This number is lower than usual lows and the decrease has gone on for a longer period of time than other periods of decline. Problems that may have arisen with global warming are numerous, here are a few to consider. (1) Warmer climates enable other plants than lichen to grow, out-competing lichen. This is the main plant in most species of reindeer’s diets, so as a consequence there may be a shortage of food leading to the starving of part of the population. (2) Warmer weather does not only encourage ticks to multiply, there are more other insects around as well. As the reindeer hate biting beasties, they’ll spend time and energy getting away from them (often going to mountain tops where there’s still snow) rather than staying down spending most of their summer time eating. This means they don’t store enough body reserves to survive winter later in the year. (3) The last major problem is that there’s more rain near the end of winter rather than snow. Whilst reindeer can dig through snow to get to lichen, they can’t dig through frozen rain, again causing starvation.

Reindeer are known to be adaptable, being able to survive temperatures as low as -70 and as high as +35 Celsius. Though their numbers are at a low just now, we can only hope that they up again. And we may still be able to stop global warming too, which would, we assume, benefit reindeer. Of course it doesn’t stop at reindeer though, as global warming is already affecting both animals and people in huge areas all over the world.

Now there are big discussions going on about how to stop global warming, with people even calling Greta Thunberg a climate denier as she advocates that people should make lifestyle changes, thereby indicating that we individuals can still turn it around. To most scientists this seems highly unlikely, and change needs to come from higher up (big businesses and governments) in order to have an effect. However, for a message to come across the messenger needs to be trustworthy and reliable too, which goes hand in hand with Thunberg leading a climate-friendly lifestyle whilst campaigning for governments and companies to change our current system. I’d say in order to do something and make a statement, change whatever you can in your own life to become more climate-friendly, e.g. buying less new stuff, buying local produce rather than import, flying less, and opting for public transport, bicycles and your feet instead of your car when possible. It’s also worth your while having a look at what your workplace could change to be more environmentally friendly (see our blog on ‘our bit for the environment’). If you can then let (local) politicians and companies hear your voice, either via social media, emails and messages, and/or protests, lobbying or similar, you’re practically doing everything you can. System change not climate change! Power to the people.



Read more on climate change

BBC articles:


Summary on climate change scientific facts and how to fix it:



Read more on reindeer populations affected by it

Ecowatch article:


The Guardian article:



It’s the time of the year when…

It’s the time of the year when…

…our reindeer turn into cows… Not quite, but it is the time of the year when they are casting their antlers, and beginning to look perhaps a little like people imagine a reindeer to.

Oh dear Spider! Spider always casts his antlers early – usually by the end of November.
Jonas cast his upright parts of the antlers about six weeks ago but is holding on to his blade and front points.

Casting antlers is a completely natural process, and is one of the huge differences between antlers and horns (no deer in the world have horns!). Reindeer grow their antlers from scratch every year, from an area on the top of their skull called the pedicle. The growth period is from about March to the end of Summer, at which point it calcifies into solid bone, with no feeling remaining. After use in the autumn rut, the males cast their antlers, meaning they don’t have to carry a heavy weight through the winter snows, and leaving the coast clear to start their new set in Spring.

Jonne is one of the few castrated reindeer still with a full set of antlers on his head in late December.

This means that from November antlers drop off on a regular basis, sometimes at the most inopportune moments (in the middle of a Hill Trip for example, causing panic among visitors and frantic reassurances of “It’s normal, it’s ok!” from the herder!). As we get nearer to Christmas, our choice of which reindeer join a Christmas event team becomes more and more influenced by who still has antlers on their head – event organisers can be a little grumpy if a team turns up with just one antler between six reindeer!

LX has been lopsided for about a fortnight now, whereas Scolty cast the upright of his left antler just a few days ago.
Bingo cast his whole right antler a few days ago.

Most of our males are castrated at 3 years old, helping to prevent inbreeding and giving them a much calmer life in general. A side effect of castration is that the antlers are not as dense as the bulls’, and tend to be cast in sections rather than in one piece. Hence we end up with reindeer with “One and a half” antlers, or often just the front points remaining after the more top-heavy upright points are cast. It’s interesting that members of the public often don’t realise that a reindeer with their front points has actually got any antler missing, whereas a reindeer who has cast all of one antler but none of the other looks more lopsided and draws many more questions of “Did they lose it fighting?”

With his front point remaining, Duke gets less concerned comments than reindeer who still have one entire antler on their head. In the background, Stuc still has his full (small) antlers.

Sometimes antlers are lost in squabbles, but only when they’re ready to fall off anyway, and I think as many go from being bumped against a tree (or a herder’s backside!). And whilst there is sometimes a little residual blood on the pedicle when the antler is cast, it isn’t a painful process, the only insult being to their pride, as they often drop down the pecking order. But this is often when a bully gets their comeuppance, as the other reindeer they’ve pushed around see the tables turned and get their own back. So don’t feel too sorry for them!


Cartoon Freerangers

Each autumn we bring in most of the freeranging females to either run them with a bull if they didn’t calve in the previous spring or to begin getting their calves used to being handled. Most of the girls turn themselves in voluntarily as they seem to know the score but every year there seems to be a hardcore group of girls that do not want to come back to the hill enclosure so we have to spend a while locating them and subsequently rounding them up.

One morning in late September Chris and I were sent to check in on them on our way in to Glenmore. Luckily there were a few greedy girls in the group that couldn’t turn down a tasty bit of handfeed! Here’s what went down….


Boot Camp

As the rut has now come to a close and we move into winter, us reindeer herders are feeling particularly strong. For most of the year the female reindeer in our herd spend their days free-ranging the Cairngorms. However during the autumn we have all the reindeer that we want to breed from in our 1,200 acre hill enclosure. This is to ensure that we know which bulls have bred with which females and to ensure there is no inbreeding. This does however mean we have many more reindeer to feed than usual. As this is their natural habitat, when the reindeer free-roam they find all their own food and we don’t feed them at all. Whilst there is plenty of natural grazing in the hill enclosure we also give them supplementary food to make sure that the grazing replenishes each year. At the peak of the rut we were both mixing and carrying a lot of food up to the reindeer. In fact on the days when the most reindeer have been in the enclosure we are carrying 144 kg a day or a tonne a week.

Houdini and his girls

Mixing feed can be a real work out as it involves lugging around 20kg bags of various grains, measuring out the right amounts and throwing them into a cement mixer. The reindeer food is made from a mix of barley, sugar beet, sheep mix, dark grains (a by-product of whisky distilling) and hay soaked in garlic. As you can’t buy reindeer food here in Scotland, we mix up the food from lots of different things to give the reindeer the right nutrition.

Izzy mixing feed

And then once the feed is mixed, actually getting it to the reindeer is no mean feat. Normally the food is packed into roughly 15kg sacs and carried up to the reindeer enclosure on our shoulders. We have however also been asking visitors to help carry smaller bags (no more than 6kg) of reindeer food up the hill. If you have helped us carry food, thanks again from everyone here at the centre, both two and four legged.

You certainly won’t find a reindeer herder in the gym, especially not during the rut. Mixing and carrying feed (as well as unloading the feed lorry) is a very good work out and justifies the copious amounts of cake we all eat. I also know that all the reindeer herders, especially the women, take great joy in easily flinging a large bag of reindeer food onto our backs as a visit of people look on amazed. This summer I heard a man ask my colleague Nell if she needed a big strong man to help her carry her bag, to which she responded very politely “I’m a little strong woman and I’ll be just fine”. Go Nell!


The Course of a Life

Chris has been on at me to write another blog, but with Christmas round the corner (at time of writing) I’m a bit pushed for time, so have been racking my brain for a blog that is mostly photos… Which to be honest, I think a lot of the time is all people really want to see, rather than read a load of text.

With the loss of old lad Paintpot this autumn, I thought I’d show you all the course of a reindeer’s life, from baby calf to OAP. At 11 years old he didn’t make it as long as some reindeer manage, but 11 is still a perfectly respectable age for a reindeer, especially a male.

Paintpot was born in 2009, in the year that we named reindeer after animals with horns or antlers. Yes, I see your confusion. As a calf Paintpot was white but with one black foreleg, as if he’d stepped in a pot of paint – a nickname that stuck. I couldn’t find a photo of him as a really little calf so have resorted to freeze-framing our DVD, hence the poor resolution.

At two months old, Paintpot’s calf coat is already beginning to fade, his face marking not so visible. Here he is with his mum Shine, out free-ranging on the mountains for his first summer, and just starting to grow his very first set of antlers.

The calves moult their baby coats in the summer and when their new winter coat grows in again in the autumn they look more like mini adults. The cute baby look is sadly gone. At 7 months old, his adult winter coat is showing his markings more clearly.

From now on the photos are all taken in September of each year, as I do the photos for the adoption certificates in this month, when reindeer look at their best, full grown antlers and fresh winter coats. At a year and a half old, below, Paintpot definitely has the look of a naughty child about him, full of mischief and wanting to poke anyone and everyone with those sharp point antlers…anything to be a general pest…

At two Paintpot has grown a huge amount, his antlers are much larger and his ego and testosterone level has gone up too! Two year old bulls are generally a total pain, confident enough to be awkward should they choose to challenge us, and ruled by their hormones. Teenagers…

Reindeer reach fully grown as three year olds, height-wise at least. Like humans, after that it’s generally outward growth rather than upward! At three Paintpot is pretty impressive with enormous antlers, although not particularly elaborate ones (you’ll see throughout the whole series of photos that his antlers are always relatively simple – that was just his antler shape). Three years old is when we castrate our male reindeer too, so you’ll see the big change here is that Paintpot’s antlers are no longer ‘clean’, the velvet skin remaining right into the winter rather than stripping away cleanly in early September. Castrating reindeer changes their hormone balance, and antler growth is controlled by hormones, hence the different appearance between bulls and castrates throughout each autumn.

The next two photos below, taken in 2012 and 2013, show Paintpot as a young castrate, his antlers smaller than before (another ‘side-effect’ of castration) but still a decent size, his coat smooth and sleek and the alert face of a youngster.

But then, as Paintpot reaches middle-age at 6, there is a bit of a change noticeable. Still excellent antlers (good grazing that year, obviously!), but his coat isn’t quite as sleek as before and he just has a general look of a reindeer not quite so much in the flush of youth. I know how he feels at this point.


And in 2015, below, there is an obvious change yet again. The antlers are much smaller and not so clean cut, with more points lower down looking a bit scruffy. More ‘castrate-y’. Bulls and young reindeer have neat and tidy antlers in general, while older castrates have smaller, ‘busier’ antlers.

This trend continues in 2016 as Paintpot reaches age 8, and he has by now adopted his default expression (‘grumpy toad.…). I always thought his dad Sirkas looked like a toad, and here he is the spitting image. What an expression!

By age 9, Paintpot has aged enormously, and now looks like an old reindeer. Some reindeer seem to reach this stage relatively early, like Paintpot, while some reindeer spend ages in the middle aged stage with no obvious visual sign that they are getting on a bit. It just varies from animal to animal.

The last photo I have of Paintpot, taken in September 2018, shows him aged 10. An old lad and very definitely in the OAP category, but still looking well. In fact he looks exactly the same as the previous year, as if the photo had just been taken from the other side!

So there you go. Paintpot lived for another year after that last photo, but I never did get a final photo of him before he passed away. But there’s the course of a life right in front of you, fast-forwarded, yet ticking all the boxes that advancing age throws at us. Slightly different boxes to a human perhaps, but none the less recognisable.

As it turns out, I just can’t write a short blog. I really do try, but the words keep coming. But I’ve had an enjoyable hour reminiscing about a favourite buddy of mine which was a nice break away from the (probably more important) things I should have been doing, so thank you Paintpot for the memories, and Chris for hassling me into writing a blog once again!


Four pop stars and an Okapi walked into a carpark…

Four pop stars and an Okapi walked into a carpark…

…and no this is not the start of a bad joke but instead a phone call that we get every once in a while from Jamie, the carpark attendant on Cairngorm mountain. At the moment most of the females are in our hill enclosure either because they have calves that we are training and getting used to people, or because they have been running with a bull with the hope they will calve next spring. We do have a few reindeer though who are fully retired and we won’t breed from anymore. These reindeer are allowed to free-roam to their hearts content but seem to keep showing up in various places keeping us busy. I will introduce you to the members of the group, four of whom were born in 2006 and named after pop and rock legends and the final one who was born in 2008 when the theme was horned and antlered animals.

The Golden Oldies


Named after the Scottish singer-songwriter, Lulu is a firm favourite amongst herders; we can definitely all shout about how much we love her. She is very tame and friendly and is the mother of LX who has inherited her greediness. For any of you who have been on the hill to meet the reindeer you may have fed LX as he is often one of the first in line for hand feeding.


Named due to being totally white, Blondie certainly doesn’t have a heart of glass. Blondie is a leucistic reindeer, a genetic condition that causes a loss of pigmentation and also causes her to be deaf. Blondie is often the last of the reindeer in the group to come for food as she may not have heard us calling. Blondie is also very useful as unless she is in snow, she doesn’t camouflage as well as the other reindeer so she helps us spot the group.


Enya is one of the most independent reindeer in the herd; I’m sure much like her namesake the Irish singer. Recently we have barely had a day without rain but the reindeer don’t seem to mind, being very well adapted for the environment that they live in. Enya always grows a lovely set of antlers.


The final of the 4 rock and pop legends in this group is Santana named after the American rock band. Her coat is certainly as smooth as it looks in this photo of her taken last autumn. Santana is the oldest daughter of Haze, who was a strong matriarch in the herd in her day. Santana certainly is no stranger to being amongst strong women with Gazelle, Caddis and Camembert as sisters. So it’s no surprise that she has formed a clear group with these lovely older girls.


Now last but certainly not least is Okapi, who is two years younger than the others but also retired from motherhood. If you’re not sure what the animal Okapi is named after looks like then definitely google it as they are incredibly cool looking. They live in the forest and are related to giraffes. Okapi is incredibly tame and greedy, and will follow you almost anywhere if you have a bag of feed.

These five reindeer have a collective age of 63 (old enough to get a bus pass) and have been on all sorts of adventures throughout the autumn. We originally brought them into the enclosure as a part of a larger group, the rest of which we wanted in the enclosure for the rut. We then let these guys out of the enclosure to free-range the hills which they did for a couple of weeks, before trying their hand at a bit of reindeer herding. They successfully brought two cows and calves back with them to the enclosure. Cheers girls, thanks for doing our job for us. After the reward of an easy meal we let the girls back out of the enclosure, half hoping they would continue to play the game and collect some more reindeer for us…


Funny Photos

Working with the reindeer means spending a lot of time with them. This means we often get amazing photo opportunities, with great weather conditions or reindeer posing. This also means that we can often see their slightly less glamorous side, and tend to capture it every now and then…


Diamond’s tongue
LX (Lulu’s son)
Izzy discovered what a bog is during her first week of volunteering!
The boys always seem keen to get in the Christmas spirit early by decorating their antlers.

A reindeer in the house!
Sooty letting a youngster have a nap at the end of a hill trip
Kate’s picture of Fly
Limbering up for another busy day of Hill Trips!