Winter free range days

From January to May, our whole herd are out roaming free on the mountains, enjoying the wintry weather that they’re so well-equipped for. Whilst it can be ridiculously wild at times, on other days it is completely still, with glorious sunshine. I thought it would be nice to put up a selection of photos from the last month or two to give you a taste of our winter days…

Oslo leading the herd over for breakfast.
Glorious views out over Aviemore on a beautiful day.
Camus, Sika, Brie and Bordeaux. Sika’s not sure about what she just ate!
Origami and the herd on an icy morning.
Ochil wondering if the food is ready yet
Okapi has cast the main uprights of her antlers, leaving her looking a bit like a unicorn!
Spider has found a nice pool for an after dinner drink.
Santana sporting one of her antlers.
Handsome Rubiks posing!
Pavlova is easily recognised with her white tuft of hair on her forehead.
Parmesan with her white face marking, and old lass Fonn in the background.
Olympic is always one of the first to see us.
LX on a grey day…
… and again on a blue sky day!
Fonn is the oldest reindeer in the herd, at nearly 17 years old.
Ryvita and her calf Berlin.
Beautiful Dixie.
Dixie, Fly and Lulu, stalwarts of the herd.
Young Dante.
Camembert, what a star!
Brie, Inca and Meadow.
We always give the calves some preferential feeding out of the bags – it keeps their condition up and keeps them tame – here’s Bordeaux, Florence, Athens and Texel enjoying a snack.
Blyton and Camembert.
Baffin.
Angua and mum Tap. Both are quite shy reindeer but we’ve put lots of effort into feeding them extra feed each day and their confidence has come on in leaps and bounds.
Hen, Lotti and Dave – feeding mission completed!
Happy reindeer eating their feed.
Celt on a windy day.
Little Kiruna.

Andi

The Proposal

On a wild Hill Trip in February we were fortunate to witness a special moment. Andrew passed his phone to Manouk during a brief break in the weather and asked her to to take some pictures. She was able to capture the moment his partner Jasmine, became his fiancé.

The big question for Jasmine
She said yes!
Olympic kindly lent his nice thick winter coat as a nice background. Aztec was keen to watch on too in case it meant handfeed!

 

Thanks to Jasmine and Andrew for sharing their photos with us. Congratulations from everyone at the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. Let us know if you want Olympic and Aztec at the wedding….

Reindeer and boats

Reindeer and Boats

During this year’s Christmas tour we ended up taking the reindeer on boats a couple of different times. The reindeer visited Northern Ireland, Orkney and the Isle of Lewis. I was lucky enough to go with them to Stornoway on Lewis and this got me thinking about the journey taken by the first 8 reindeer in the Cairngorm reindeer herd from Sweden with Mikel Utsi in 1952.

View from the ferry from Ullapool to Stornaway

The reindeer were reintroduced to Scotland by a couple called Dr Ethel Lindgren and Mikel Utsi. Dr Lindgren was an American anthropologist whose speciality was reindeer herding people. She travelled much of the arctic studying different indigenous reindeer herders including the Sami. Whilst Dr Lindgren was with the Sami she met, and later married a reindeer herder named Mikel Utsi. For their honeymoon Dr Lindgren and Mikel Utsi came over to the Cairngorms and immediately recognised the artic habitat here as perfect for reindeer. Upon finding out that reindeer had become extinct in Scotland they decided to bring the reindeer back.
In 1952 the first group of reindeer came over from Sweden, this is where boats now come into the story. The group consisted of 8 reindeer, 2 bulls, 5 cows and a castrate male named Sarek. Interestingly the boat they travelled to Scotland on was called the S.S. Sarek. The crossing from the north of Sweden to Glasgow was a fairly rough one and the reindeer were at sea for four days travelling 700 miles. Once the reindeer arrived they were quarantined at Edinburgh zoo before finally making it to the Cairngorms.

Mikel Utsi (right) and Sarek.

Once the first group of reindeer had settled in, Utsi and Lindgren brought another consignment of reindeer over later on in 1952. By 1954 they had finally procured a lease of silver mount, the hill at the far end of the reindeer enclosure, from forestry commission. This allowed more reindeer to be brought over from Sweden in 1954 and 1955.

Bulls Fritzen and Ruski in April 1955

The herd has grown in number steadily since the fifties until it reached 150, which is the number we are now maintaining. Throughout that time a few more consignments of reindeer have come over from Sweden to introduce new bloodlines into the herd. 68 years on the reindeer still happily roam the Cairngorms, at the moment every single reindeer is free-roaming for the winter.

Lotti

Local Christmas Events

I know, it’s a new year, the end of February and I’m already talking about Christmas. But don’t worry! I’m not talking about next Christmas, I’m going to cast my mind back to last years and more specifically, close to the big day itself.

On the 23rd of December our first Christmas event started just over the hill in Braemar. We survived the icy drive over to the Fife arms who were putting the event on for the hotel and local community and there was a real warm feel about the place. The parade was small but it felt a though the whole village had turned out to see the reindeer. The most amusing part of the day was that instead of Santa riding in the sleigh, we had a Queen Victoria who to this day still appears to be an iconic figure for the area. Yep, it turns out she’s still alive and kicking around Deeside! It was also nice to talk to people who knew and understood about the environment that our reindeer live in. I guess living on the other side of the plateau a lot of locals know all too well what the Cairngorm hills are like by living directly under them. All in all it was a delightful event in a very nice part of the world. Also, go and check out the flying taxidermy red deer above the Fife Arms bar…. Very interesting!

Christmas Eve was a much busier day. We started at the farm by feeding the free-range reindeer on the hill, jumping on a quad bike and heading up to find them. Fi’s dogs Tiree and Sookie came along for the exercise although poor Sookie is knocking on a bit so she hitched a lift on the bike and ran off the hill. At the farm we loaded up our awesome reindeer team for the next 2 days. Baffin, Celt, Rubiks and Matto were our experienced sleigh pullers while Helsinki and Florence were our 2 young calves.

Sookie on the quad bike

Our first event for the day was Baxter’s Highland village factory in Fochabers. Carol Parsons, a local volunteer did a great job at helping us, talking to members of the public so that Fi and I could get the sleigh and reindeer ready. The event was very straight forward and reindeer were great. Everyone was in a happy Christmassy mood thanks to a singer on a microphone who sounded just like Michael Buble (he was either very good at singing or a very good mime). In what felt like no time at all we were packed up and heading in the direction of Aviemore.

Aviemore is the biggest of the local parades one of the busiest in general. Setting up for the event was helped by reindeer herders Tilly, Olly, Zoe and Sheena. Friends who lived close by in the town also came to say hi and everyone was in good spirits. It didn’t take long for the street lit pavements to be lined full of people who had come out to see Santa and the reindeer. The closer we got to the Cairngorm hotel the busier it got and with a few hundred people also following behind us. The reindeer were all so well behaved, calm and relaxed. It was thoroughly enjoyable to be part of the event, working with the reindeer and Fi. Everyone was in such great spirits and there was a real warm Christmas community feel about the whole event.
Strarthspey Heralds picture of the Aviemore Parade

After scoffing Sausage and chips in the lorry we arrived in Kingussie. With the help from the other herders the parade went smoothly. Up the high street, turn around at the lights and back with a stop along the way. By this point all the reindeer just knew exactly what to do and couldn’t have made it any easier for us. After almost leaving the trace in the dark set up area we set off were in the direction of our final event of the day in Newtonmore.

Driving through the village to the start, we could see everyone who has been waiting patiently, it was 20:00 – 20:30 by this time but I suspect all the young children were allowed to stay up later to see Santa and the reindeer. The pipers and drummers finished their pints outside the pub and we were ready to go. This time Olly went to the back of the sleigh with Rubiks, Matto and the two calves and Fi was at the front Baffin and Celt. Fi had planned to surprise Zoe by giving her the lead half way through the parade, it was her first time doing so but she did a great job! The Highland hotel kindly offered everyone a mince pie and mulled wine at the end and after a little speaking to the hotel guest we finally headed back home to the reindeer centre for a dram of whisky and bed before another day of events.

Zoe leading at the front with Baffin and Celt in Newtonmore

While children across the country started to wake up in excitement and open presents on Christmas morning Fiona, Tilly and I were back out on the road with the reindeer. First stop Columbridge hotel. Fi was surprised with how little people were at the hotel to see Santa and his reindeer, it turned out for some reason that the hotel wasn’t fully booked so after 30 minutes or so we were packing up and ready to move on. Event number two was the Macdonald resort in Aviemore. This was a much busier event and as we started walking down to the main entrance with Santa in the sleigh and reindeer pulling in front. A large crowd was waiting for us. The reindeer were now getting too relaxed for their own good, and while people were saying hello and taking pictures, Rubiks decided he’d lie down for a little snooze. We also had help from several elves during the parade who were so good that each one was able to walk a reindeer back to the lorry, they were of course delighted.

The helpful elves walking reindeer back.

Next up was the Nethybridge hotel. The hotel very kindly fed us lunch beforehand and with our stomachs full we were ready to go. Along with the 3 of us, Tilly’s son Alex and 2 year old grandson Hamish (the youngest reindeer herder) came to help out. Hamish helped Fiona at the front of the sleigh making sure that Fiona didn’t drop the ropes. Once we were outside the hotel he also got to meet Santa! He was a bit unsure at first but once Santa gave him a present he was much happier. Along with the reindeer Hamish was certainly the star of the show and once again helped lead the reindeer away after everyone made their way back into the hotel.

 

Hamish is a natural

Finally in the middle of the afternoon we arrived at our final event at the Duke of Gordon hotel in Kingussie. With Tilly’s disappearing off to help get Christmas dinner on the go, just Fiona and I worked with the reindeer at the event. Like all 4 events on Christmas day It was nice and straight forward and everyone was happy and in the Christmas spirit. People could sit on the sleigh while we chatted to others and just before it got dark we were packing up for the final Christmas event of 2019!

Finally it was time to start the Christmas celebrations of our own at Reindeer House with everybody else. The reindeer spent the night in the paddocks and not too long after were once again free- ranging on Cairngorm mountain or in the Cromdale hills enjoying the rest of the winter grazing for a very well earned break.

Joe

My First January

My First January

Having worked as a seasonal herder for many years working January is a real novelty for me. Usually on the 24th of December I hop on a train home to Bristol to spend Christmas with my family and then return to uni in the new year. But having graduated last year, and with a gentle bit of persuasion and the promise of reindeer, I convinced my family to spend Christmas up in the Cairngorms. It is now January and I am delighted to still be here. So on Monday the 6th, with no more hill visits for over a month we merrily waved the reindeer off onto the free-range for the winter.

Letting the reindeer out at the end of the Christmas holidays

The first full day ended up being incredibly wild and windy (gusting at 100mph) and the reindeer were very far away so we left them to find their own food for the day, something that they are absolutely fine doing as they live in their natural habitat. We spent the days slowly working through the seemingly endless list of ‘January Jobs’ some of which I think were on the list last year and still haven’t been done. On day two however, the sun was shining and then reindeer were slightly closer to home. So me, Sheena and Chris headed up to the Cairngorm ski carpark with rucksacks full of food. Upon arriving we saw lots of cars pulled over with people taking photos, a clear sign of reindeer. About a third 30 of the reindeer were waiting for us, just by the road. We walked these reindeer away from the road, a task easier said than done. Whilst the reindeer were good as gold, walking across incredibly uneven ground in the snow with 20kg of food on your back is quite difficult . Throughout the walk, Sheena lost a wellie in a patch of bog, Chris didn’t fall over once(!), and I fell over completely and couldn’t get back up because of the rucksack full of food. I can’t certainly say that I now know exactly how a woodlouse feels.

Lotti stuck in a hole

As we were leading the group of reindeer away from the road about half a mile away we could see another group of mostly male reindeer coming over from the top of the reindeer enclosure. Eventually we also saw another group of cows and calves coming from the other direction. As the reindeer were getting closer and closer the race was underway, who would come first, the boys or the girls. The boys certainly are greedier but the girls are fitter. Both groups went out of site as they ducked onto a lower area and then eventually the boys showed up, just ahead of the girls. Turns out that the motivation of an easy meal was enough to overcome their lack of distance training. Once the entire group of reindeer currently free-roaming in this area had arrived we fed them all, took plenty of photos of the beautiful reindeer in the snow and then walked back to the van.

First day on the free-range in January

Whilst for most people January seems like a bit of a dreary month, I can certainly now see why reindeer herders love January so much. Having all the reindeer free-ranging the hills and going up to feed them with not a soul in sight really is a fantastic experience.

Lotti

Running blog 3: Journey to the Netherlands

As I received so many positive comments on my blog about running to The Netherlands whilst I was on my way, and as some people requested to hear all about it, here’s my follow-up blog to tell you how it went! For those not knowing what I’m on about, here’s my previous blog: ….

The idea had come quite last-minute and it left me with a limited amount of time to prepare. Things I had to think about were ‘where do I sleep and how do I stay warm’; ‘what do I eat and where can I top up supplies’; ‘what route am I taking and how do I navigate en route’. As I can be a little impulsive and prone to just winging it at times, my voice of reason came from Chris. Supportive as though he was, he was constantly asking me critical questions of ‘what if’. This made me think twice about most things (and sometimes about setting off altogether) and meant I left as prepared as I could. However much he insisted I’d go out on a rainy stormy day and run for a day and camp afterwards to test my gear and capability, I couldn’t find the time to do it before I eventually left.

OS Maps, Streetview and Komooting our way to Newcastle

The first day was hard, it rained all day, the distance seemed much further than any 30k I’d ever done before, and pitching a tent whilst it’s raining must be amongst the top 3 least favourite things I’d ever done. It made it extra hard that I was only 20 miles from my own warm cosy bed, roughing it in a tent in the rain near the Drumochter pass. The next day it rained again.. And my tent hadn’t been 100% waterproof, I had had to pack it whilst it was wet and I was dreading the night to come. Besides, it was Chris’ birthday, and I was passing a train station from which I could get home… I decided to go home for the night, dry all my kit, and set off again from the same station the morning after. Man, did I appreciate my shower and bed that night.. And it was great to be able to spend Chris’ birthday with him.

The next few days were relatively sunny and I had support, in the form of meeting my friend Ross, staying at Adrian’s, and having Alan come along for half a leg. However, this was the point my body was at its sorest. A nagging knee (and leg and hip and back) and a half-broken cart made it the hardest section running-wise. Thankfully most of the views were great around Pitlochry, Birnam, and South of Perth. By the end of day 5 I started to develop a new type of run, which I decided to call ‘granny-shuffling’. By hardly lifting my feet but shuffling forwards at varying paces I managed to speed up a bit, and give my muscles and joints a rest. During this period I met up with fellow herders Fiona and Joe, who made me coffee and gave me fudge and teabags (thanks!!), stayed at fellow herder Julia’s in Edinburgh, who did a bit of bike support too, had bike support from Chris who camped out with me for a night too, had help from Brian Marshall, and eventually ran into the next bit of rain.

Alan pulling the cart

Completely soaked and windswept I arrived in the castle gardens of Duns Castle. I’d seen lots of deer (creepy red lights staring back at my head torch whenever I gazed into the woods), an owl, and lots of other wildlife. I couldn’t bear to get into my tent all wet and make myself food, so decided to walk an extra mile into Duns after pitching my tent in the woods. There I treated myself to a kebab (I’d never usually..) and set foot in a local pub. Hilariously enough, on a Monday night, it was completely packed, as 2 local darts teams were playing each other. Thankfully there was one other woman in the bar, otherwise I would have probably turned right around. The other woman was the bartender, who turned out to be great company, as were some of the local darts players. Guinness hardly ever tasted as good as it did that evening. The next day was easy and I had the great outlook of staying overnight at one of our enthusiastic reindeer adopters’ holiday home, free of charge! A lovely palace of warmth and cosiness made for a perfect night. It also meant I got to wash and dry all my stuff, which by now was a kindness to my own nose and that of everyone I was to encounter from there onwards.

Camping with Chris. Handily coincided with new inner tubes so he and Brian Marshall were able to source them and Chris cycled them into the hills for me.

Then my section in England properly began the next day, and I quickly found out that finding suitable spots to wild-camp wasn’t easy in England. One miserable night of looking out for a spot whilst battling storm Brian was enough for me, and I decided to book accommodation for the next 2 nights. This was my best decision yet, as they were 2 awesome nights again. The first I stayed at a cabin in the garden of a couple, Andy the UTMB ultra runner and Lynn the circus acrobat! What an amazing couple! And the next night I had a whole barn turned hostel to myself at an Alpaca farm, with a fireplace. If sipping cider next to the fire overlooking a field of alpacas isn’t yet on your bucket list, make it so because it was fantastic. The last day with my cart went amazingly well, and I was speedier than ever, had the sun on my face and the wind in my back. I felt like I could continue for miles and miles, but the best bit of the day was arriving in Whitley bay, supported by Chris’ mum, and running up to the hotel where Chris was waiting. Cart Larry got disassembled there and then, as it was getting a ride to get stored in Shropshire whilst I’d be on the ferry to the Netherlands. A good diner, lovely breakfast, and the lack of a cart made the last 10k in the UK to the ferry easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Nice warm fire

The ferry journey went smoothly and when we arrived on the other side my mom and her boyfriend were there with my best friend and 2 bicycles, one for her and one for Chris. They’d support me on the last 30k. The first 2/3s were bleak and ugly and made my question my choice of final destination. However, the last 10k, straight through Amsterdam, dodging cyclists and tourists, whilst getting half-high of the smell of weed everywhere, strangely made me a bit nostalgic in a weird way. It was great seeing my friends and family at the finish line too, and we celebrated my finish at my mum’s flat with prosecco, beer, homemade soup and salad. What a journey. The more time passes the more I seem to forget about the hard times and the more fondly I look back on it.

What’s next? A question people ask me quite a lot nowadays. No idea, there are lots of vague plans or it may be something impulsive again, we’ll see! I’m 100% it will be some crazy thing again though, so maybe ask me again in a year ;).

Thanks to everyone for all the lovely messages and comments!

Manouk

Adopting a reindeer? What’s that all about?

I imagine that there might be quite a few ‘newbies’ to the reindeer herd and to our social media pages just now, being as Christmas is the busiest time of year for our reindeer adoption scheme. Several hundred people will have had an A4 white envelope under their tree on Christmas morning last month, with a brand new, shiny reindeer adoption tucked inside. Hopefully some of those people have since tracked us down online to see what on earth they’ve just become part of… I thought I’d write a little bit of an introduction to us, and primarily to the adoption scheme, to shed some light on what we’re all about. So if you’re ‘new’, then welcome!

 

Reindeer roaming freely on the Cairngorms

We have the only reindeer herd in the UK whose reindeer are in their natural habitat, and who spend at least some of each year living out on the mountains in complete freedom, with no fences to be seen. Reindeer are native to the UK but died out here thousands of years ago, and our herd was re-introduced from northern Sweden in 1952. We’ve been running guided walks out to see and feed them on the hill ever since.

Reindeer in our hill enclosure, where we take the Hill Trips to (for most of the year at least)
Visitors mingling with reindeer on a Hill Trip in a different location

Guided walks form a large part of our income, directly supporting the management of the herd, but we have several other ways of earning money too – one of the main ones being the Support Scheme, the income from which is all ploughed back into the upkeep of the herd. This was started in 1990, and I see from our database records that we still have two adoptions that were originally set up in 1990 which are still going today, in their 30th years! We have about 1200 adopters in total just now, having had over 9000 adoptions in total over the years.

Highly technical filing system…

I think the biggest appeal of our adoption scheme, in comparison to those available for other animals, is that we still hand-write the majority of our correspondence to our adopters. No printed packs pulled off shelves and ready to go for us… Maybe it makes it a bit less ‘professional’ but I feel it’s so much more personal, and there can be very few animal adopters in the UK who receive a personal letter direct from the people who look after ‘their’ adoptee (complete with spelling mistakes and the likes!). A generic typed letter must be so much more the standard nowadays. Perhaps we’re just old-fashioned here at Reindeer House.

A range of certificates of former designs…
Now we’ve settled on a good certificate design, so we rotate the colours through the years. All very organised!
Photos of every single reindeer in the herd have to be taken, cropped, printed and filed ready for the right one to be glued to each certificate.

In the run up to Christmas, all hell breaks loose here in the office. Adoptions, both renewals and new ones, start pouring in and reindeer herding becomes a delicate balance of outdoor work, dealing with visitors, and frantically making up adoption packs. I liken them to a tide, at times threatening to overwhelm us and at times receding as we battle them under control. In November and December the tide never recedes for too long though, before returning with fury. There was a memorable Friday this Christmas just past when we started the day with 30 adoptions waiting to be made up, several of us then working at them pretty much all day, and finished the day with 45, as they came in faster than we completed them! Panic stations.

A typical, frantic, day in the office at Christmas time. This is Andi’s ‘panic’ face!

Along with the yearly adoption pack come the two newsletters, printed in June and October and posted out to everyone. By snail mail – we’ve not really got on board with the idea of emailing digital copies yet. Lots of our adopters are in the “mature” category too, many of whom don’t use email regularly. And to be honest, sometimes the old fashioned ways are much more straightforward – give me printed material over PDFs anyday. Don’t even get me started on whether direct debit is an option for renewing adoptions or not… (Our computers, and my brain, would melt.)

We highlight a different reindeer each newsletter, a female in June and a male in November.
A busy day for the post office when the newsletters are all ready to go!

Along with the pack and the newsletters, adopters also get one free admission each time they visit. For some this is never, for some, multiple times a year. We also always do our best to ensure adopters get to meet their adoptee when they visit too if they give us advance warning of their visit, although this is not always possible depending on the time of year. Nothing beats the delight of hand-feeding your ‘own’ reindeer!

Hand-feeding on the Hill Trip. Photo by Carole Curtis

Many adopters have become very familiar faces to us now, and with the rise of social media, friendships have formed between adopters. On the subject of social media and the internet in general, gone are the days when adopters saw one sole photo of their reindeer per year. Now we do our best to be relatively active online, posting photos regularly and (no surprise here) blogs. A social media course told us a few years back that, as a business, we should be blogging regularly, so we started doing so every Friday, and have not missed a week yet. All hail the ability to ‘schedule’ blogs far in advance, meaning there’s not a last minute panic!

And sometimes, it all just goes wrong. Spot the mistake… Face palm moment.

So thank you, each and every one of all you adopters! You help fund every aspect of the herd and the company (including paying our wages 😉 ) and enable it to be so successful, and your generous support is NEVER forgotten. And if this has whetted your appetite and reindeer adoption sounds like the thing for you, more details can be found on our website.

Here’s to the next 30 years of reindeer adoptions!

Hen

Learning Reindeer Names in January 2020

After the hustle and bustle of the festivities and Christmas events, the Reindeer Centre is closed for most of January and part of February.  For the staff it’s peaceful here at Glenmore, and a great time for keeping busy catching up on all types of jobs related to all aspects of the Centre: Christmas kit, shop, office and outdoor, involving cleaning, maintenance, decorating, and even a new bathroom for those that live in!

Meeting up with the free-range herd to feed them.

But one of the perks of the job is that we do also have to find time periodically to hike up and find, check on and feed the reindeer.  This year is the first time in a long time we have had not only the usual females and calves out free ranging in the Cairngorms for the winter months, but also some of our boys with them too.

Feeding free ranging reindeer in January. Right front: Christie – Female born 2017.

For myself, after working here almost two years now, I have become confident at learning the names of most of the male reindeer, due to leading frequent hill trips with visitors up to see them all through the Summer months.  However, with the females usually free-ranging along with any calves all through the warmer months, this has given me little opportunity for familiarising myself with the girls.  The winter hikes this January to check on our free-ranging reindeer have given me a better chance to get to know the females, and with Andi’s tuition and constantly testing me each week, I finally feel like I am making some progress!

Camembert – Female born 2013.

The ones with distinctive markings such as Oatcake, Camembert, Parmesan, Christie and Texel, or that are lighter in colour like Lulu and Mozzarella are the easier ones to learn.  I am also guilty of learning them by the size and shape of their antlers, which are like a fingerprint and unique to each reindeer, but also fall off once a year, thus leaving you back at square one!  Until they regrow again, but a year is a long time to wait.

Texel – Distinctive female calf born May 2019.

When I first started and was learning the names for the male reindeer on my first hill trips, I actually discovered that learning the colour and number of the ear tags was the easiest method for me.  By law we have to give each of our reindeer an ear tag with a number, similar to if you keep cows or sheep.  To make it more exciting (and easier to learn their names), each year our ear tags are a different colour, and we also pick a theme.  For example in 2009 they are pink tags and named after cakes, biscuits and puddings.  We have Clootie (after the Scottish Clootie dumpling), Jaffa, Hobnob, Pavlova to name a few.  And in 2016 they are named after Ancient Civilisations, so we have Pagan, Inca, Chola, Suebi, Celt, and many more. 

Lulu – Female born in 2006.

The longer you are with the reindeer the more attuned you become to the subtle differences between coat colour, variations in face and body shape, and more obviously their individual personalities and traits.  I guess if you have ever worked with horses or dogs before, as I have, or any other animals for that matter, then it’s similar.  To the untrained eye a species of animals is just that, but the more you get to know them the more obviously they stand out as individuals, and also the more fond of them you become.

Nicky

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!

Sharon