My, how you’ve grown!

Some of you may already know this female reindeer, Ryvita. If you don’t then she is a 7 year old mature female who has a lovely nature and, like most the other reindeer in the herd, is super greedy! Over the past three years she has had her daughter Cheese by her side as she hasn’t calved since she had her in 2013, so the two of them are inseparable. Not sure what will happen if Ryvita has a calf this year… Poor Cheese! However this blog is not about the relationship between Ryvita and Cheese, it is about antler growth. Over the past month I have been taking photos of Ryvita to show you all how fast reindeer antler grows. Antler is in fact the fastest growing animal tissue in the world.

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Ryvita in 2011

I started taking my photos on the 17th April 2016 and took the last one on the 22nd of May 2016 and in that time I reckon her antlers have grown a good 8-10 inches and also a 4-5 inch front point, so it really is phenomenal. We think Ryvita is still due to calve so she’s also growing her calf inside her, and is doing a fantastic job of both. The photos speak for themselves so I hope you enjoy them. Note that we had snow, then a lovely sunny spell, then another good dump of snow again… Got to love an unpredictable Scottish spring!

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Ryvita on the 17th of April, just beginning her antler growth
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One week later, the 24th of April, in beautiful sunshine
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A few days later, the 28th of April, and we have snow!
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Bit of a damp day, May 2nd.
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Ryvita on the 8th of May, I think she’s bored of being our model!
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Sleepy Ryvita, May 17th
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And finally, Ryvita on the 22nd of May

Ryvita’s antlers will continue to grow until the onset of autumn, so hopefully she gets lots  to eat and she will hopefully grow a rather lovely set of antlers.

Here’s a quick side by side comparison of 17th April to 17th May, just one month of growth:

Fiona

The Early Shift

No job with animals is entirely “9 til 5”. As reindeer herders, we normally work from 8am to 5pm. In calving season, however, this becomes rather more flexible. When cows are ready to give birth, they tend to head away from the herd to find a nice secluded spot, which in our 1,200 acre enclosure means they can vanish! Every time we feed the herd, we do a head count to check if anyone is missing, work out who they are, then someone will be dispatched to walk round the enclosure looking for them. This means we can hopefully find them not too long after they’ve given birth, check the calf over, spray its navel and put a drizzle of insecticide on their back to protect against ticks. If a reindeer heads off at the morning, this is easy – a herder will walk out. But if a cow is heading away in the afternoon, we take turns to do an “early” – basically starting at the crack of dawn to give ourselves the best chance of an unhurried search of the enclosure.

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There can be some cracking views early in the morning

Now, like several of the other herders, I’m really not a morning person, but I never resent taking my turn at an early. There’s something incredibly special about being alone up the hill as the sun rises and the world wakes up for another day. The potential of being the first person to find a newborn calf is also good motivation! I thought I’d fill you in on a typical early start in the calving season…

5am: Painful as it is, the alarm clock buzzes me out of slumber, and I get up and ready quickly, putting toast on and making up a flask of coffee to take with me. I’m entirely dependent on caffeine, especially when I’m awake unsociably early.

5.15am: Out of the door and on the short commute to Reindeer House. This early in the morning it seems that the rest of mankind is still asleep – all I see are numerous wood pigeons (who seem to love sitting on roads in the early morning) and a roe deer buck.

5.30am: Arrive at Reindeer House and swap into the work van. The night before it was prepared with reindeer feed, binoculars and the all important “baby bag” – stocked with lichen, reindeer food, headcollar, antiseptic spray and emergency chocolate. I then drive round the mountain road – it gives a good view across to the enclosure and a bit of an advance idea of where missing reindeer may be hidden – anything to make it a bit less “needle in a haystack”.

5.45am: Shoulder a sack of feed and the baby bag, and walk up to the enclosure. The sun is just coming up, the woods are alive with birdsong, and the day is already warming up. Whilst some of our reindeer cows calve out on the free-range, we use the enclosure for most of them as it provides a safer environment (away from dogs) and means we can keep a bit of an eye on them. They are great mums and rarely have any problems, but just on occasion we can give them a helping hand.

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Some of the cows and calves as the sun comes up

6am: Most of the herd are already waiting at the gate, back from their night of wandering, aware that we are on “calving time” and there is a chance an early breakfast may be on offer. I let them in to a different part of the enclosure, feed them, then go along the line of munching reindeer, naming them out loud: “Bumble, Clarinet, Enya, Orkney, Morven…” When I reach the end of the line I scan over the list of the reindeer who should be there and note the absentees – in this case four of the females. One of them we have already seen with her new calf, but we haven’t yet got her in to our “nursery” area of the enclosure. The others are potentially away to calve, or perhaps are just a little late in for breakfast!

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The main herd in, fed, counted and ID’d

6.15am: With the herd fed and content, I begin the walk round the enclosure. Everyone ends up with their own favoured route, but in general everyone begins by walking right up and round Silver Mount, the small mountain in the enclosure, before searching the woods. You can expect to be walking for about 2 hours, stopping to peer through binoculars at anything that could be a reindeer (so many reindeer-shaped rocks in this part of the country…). Today it’s already a glorious sunny day and I’ve soon taken off my jumper, but the weather isn’t always so kind – Fiona had the first early of the year in gale force winds and hail! Once I gain the height of the ridge, I spot two of the cows at different places in the woods, but no sign of the third one, so I carry on walking.

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Glorious views from the summit of Silver Mount, at 6.30am in the morning.

7.30am: I’ve almost completed my circuit, and haven’t found the third cow, but have had nice views of a cuckoo, tree pipits and a black grouse. We’re lucky to have a huge amount of wildlife set up home within the enclosure, probably because its mostly free of people (apart from when we’re searching for reindeer!) and dogs. Last week there were even two osprey circling above, though I suspect they decided Black Loch was too small for their purposes!

7.45am: I reach one of the cows I’d spotted from the ridge. She stands up when I call to her and despite shaking a bag of food for her, she heads away from me purposefully. There is no calf following at her heels, but her behaviour suggests that she’s soon to give birth, so I leave her to it.

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Spot the reindeer! A lone cow is in the centre of the trees.

8am: I find the second cow that I’d spotted, but she is equally as keen to keep her distance, and sadly for me hasn’t calved yet either. Finding a newborn calf is always the highlight, and many of the females are just delighted to get some food, so are completely unconcerned by you checking the gender of the calf, spraying its navel and having a quick cuddle before leading them in to join the group of cows and calves. Some of the cows, however, do turn completely wild once they’ve calved, and won’t come anywhere near you – instinct kicking in to protect the vulnerable calf from any potential danger. Thankfully they tend to calm down after a couple of days.

8.15am: No new calves for me this morning, but I do have the task of getting in the female who calved a few days ago. She isn’t too far from the gateway that I need her to go through, but is in a flighty mood so it is a case of gently herding her in the right direction. I’m lucky that she is happy to go the direction I’d like her to go, as there is no way I can outrun her two-day-old calf! Once through with the group of cows and calves, she immediately comes over for a pile of food – flight mode forgotten!

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This is what you’re always hoping to find – a newborn bundle of calf!

9am: With the main herd let back out into the main enclosure, and everyone fed, it is time for me to head back down to the Centre. An unsuccessful morning in a way, with no new calves found and one cow successfully hiding from me (shows how massive the enclosure is!), but when the sun is shining and all the reindeer are well, there’s no way I can begrudge the early start.

Later that day Hen was the lucky one to find the first cow I’d come across with a newborn female calf. Maybe I’ll be treated to a newborn calf the next time!

Andi

Another tale from Glenlivet

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As most of you know part of the Cairngorm reindeer herd lives over near Tomintoul on the Glenlivet Estate. We first took part of the herd over to our hill farm back in the early 1990’s and to this day the herd is split between Glenlivet and Cairngorm.

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Over the winter months the reindeer at Glenlivet are up on the Cromdale range but by the end of April it is time to bring them down for the summer closer to the farm. Reindeer love routine and by the time we get to the last few days of April the reindeer are expecting to be on the move.

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From now onwards it is all about eating. With spring just about here many of the reindeer are beginning to grow their new antlers and need to put on weight, lost over the winter. They need extra sustenance to achieve this and the winter diet of lichens and last years vegetation is not enough. The new spring growth and the extra feed we give them is what’s needed. Appetite increases many fold and to be absolutely honest everything we give them, they eat.

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Every farmer up in the Highlands of Scotland will tell you that this year spring is really late. Whether it is the fields of grass that need to grow for hay and silage later in the year or the newly sown spring barley, the weather has just been too cold. And despite and recent few days of incredibly high temperatures it is not enough to kickstart the growing season yet. New vegetation on the higher ground is also absent so even more reason for us to be feeding the reindeer more than normal for the time of year.

Tilly

 

Rounding up Winter

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Fiona and Feta having a one to one

So as it’s almost summer and I’m having a bit of a phone clear out of all the photos and thought who would most enjoy all my winter reindeer ones… everyone online! It was only 6 months ago I managed to upgrade my trusty old button phone to a smart one so I’ve been making the most of having a camera to hand most of the time.

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The girls walking behind each other to save energy

 

We have had a right mix of weather over the past few months but regardless what it is doing out there we have to go out and locate the herd every morning. This is one good reason I never look at a weather forecast cos I either get excited that there is going to be good weather and it disappoints or I see it’s due to be bad weather so then I don’t look forward to getting a drenching so best just to look out the window on the day and dress appropriately! At least this way there is no expectations.

 

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Mel leading the herd in for breakfast

The girls (reindeer) have been pretty well behaved and we have found them most of the time. I say most because lets face it there is going to be the odd day the hill is storm bound or just too foggy to even begin to find them. We have experienced every terrain under foot from deep snow, mud and ice but to be honest the snow is the easiest one to walk through as we create a lovely packed path that both us and the reindeer use… unless you are the first one to break that path after a fresh dumping in which case a deep thigh high walk out it is!

 

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Abby and the reindeer on a gloriously sunny winter’s morning

They always go through the same pattern every year and they come to a call from far away through January and February but then through March they seem to get quite lazy and expect us to go to them so the walks become further and a little more frustrating, however, when you do get them back to the right place there is a much bigger sense of achievement. Plus it keeps us fit and if the weather is good then there is no better office!

 

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Lace having a stretch, overlooking Loch Morlich

Anyway there is no need for me to say anything else so enjoy my photos of the reindeer this winter.

Fiona

 

 

Superstitions

Since it’s Friday the 13th, I thought I would try to write up a blog about superstitions from reindeer herders around the world. I thought it would be a fairly easy subject to research, but it turns out it is rather difficult and trying to determine what was actually believed way back when, and what has been made up for the tourist industry is exceedingly difficult. I have tried my best to be as accurate as possible and only report on reliable information, but do feel free to correct me if any of what is said below is wrong. Sámi shamanism, traditions, superstitions etc. are very difficult to come by because up until the mid-20th century, the Sámi underwent ‘Norwegeniasation’. The Sámi were not allowed to speak their own languages, were converted to Christianity by missionaries and it was shameful to have Sámi roots. Attitudes have now changed and it is cool to be a Sámi now. There is even a festival in Norway called Riddu Riđđu where people can explore and enjoy their Sámi roots. Anyway, here are some little snippets of traditions and beliefs of reindeer herders around the world.

 

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A band at Riddu Riđđ,  holding a Sámi flag on stage. (Photo from norwayfestivals.com)

The Chukchi, a group of reindeer herders from Siberia, thought it akin (bad) to sell a live reindeer, but would happily sell a dead reindeer. There is a book called ‘In a Far Country’, by John Taliaferro, which is a true story describing how, after whaling ships were trapped on Alaska’s north coast by ice, a missionary named Top Lopp decided to herd reindeer out to the 200+ whalers who would otherwise starve to death, with the help of 7 Eskimo herders, in the late 1800’s. The book describes the troubles that the men faced in trying to purchase live reindeer to herd across the Bering strait to the men stranded in Alaska. It talks about the Chukchi being offered a fortune in tobacco and cloth, but they would always refuse. The Chukchi would sell dead reindeer at 75 cents apiece, up to 500 at a time, but never a live reindeer.

Chukchi reindeer herder, Sergei Elevye, with one of his bull reindeer
Chukchi reindeer herder, Sergei Elevye, with one of his bull reindeer. (Photo from mediastorehouse.com)

The Sámi had and have a very close bond with nature, and natural phenomenon which nowadays can be easily explained by science, were of course much more exciting/terrifying occurrences. The aurora borealis, or Northern lights are of course one of the most fascinating and obvious phenomena in the north. Some northern Finnish reindeer herders used to believe that they were caused by a fox running extremely fast across the sky, whipping up the colours with her tail. The Sámi of Sweden feared the lights and would even hide away from it, or at least try to cover themselves if they could not hide. It is also extremely bad luck to mock, or even make notice of the lights, to some. It was believed that if you whistled at the lights, they would swoop down and kill you. However, if they did try to kill you, you could clap your hands and they would leave you alone.

This close connection with the natural world often meant that they would pray and give sacrifices to many different Gods. They also believed that everything had a spirit including certain trees and rocks. There were often stones that people would have to greet, otherwise the stone could get angry and come down on them. Unusual landforms, especially rocks, were often called seidi‘s and were worshipped to bring the worshipper protection. They were also seen as gateways to the underworld.

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A seidi in Balsfjord (Image from wikipedia.com)

It is also believed that white reindeer bring good luck and all herders should have a white reindeer in their herd. Luckily, we have quite a few in our own herd, including Blondie, and her son Lego. Fiona has also heard that if you see a white reindeer, the sun and the moon all at the same time, it brings good luck. So have a look out next time you come on one of our visits!

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Blondie, relaxing on a sunny day.

The Sámi also joik, a form of acapella singing; its themes usually include animals, people and special occasions in life. The Sámi also joik about Stállo, who is a mythical being, very rich and very smart, and who is able to change shape and can even change the landscape so people become lost. He is an evil entity, and often the joiks describe how to trick Stállo.

We haven’t had many reindeer born on Friday 13th, since it really is only May that the reindeer calve. We did have one handsome male reindeer born, called Peru. He lived up until around 8 years old, and was a ‘Christmas reindeer’. There are actually only 4 reindeer still alive who were born in 2005 with Peru, so I think he did ok to get to 8 years old. Obviously, I don’t know if one has been born today or not, but it doesn’t seem to be too bad an omen for the reindeer.

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Peru looking handsome in his summer coat.

 

Imogen

Cairngorms Nature Festival

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So this blog is a wee bit different, of course there’ll be a wee bit of reindeer chat – what’s a reindeer blog without the reindeer! However, this week we thought we’d plug some of the fab things going on in the Cairngorms next weekend for the Cairngorms Nature Festival – if you’re around get involved as there’s a plethora (a good word I know!) of ace things on offer to see and do for all ages!

Every May, the National Park has a weekend to celebrate all the amazing nature things in the area, and this year it will be running on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th May. It’s a super way of seeing and learning a wee bit more about the environment here and what makes it special, be it if you’re local or on holiday, get out there and learn something cool!

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I guess we should get on to the reindeer bit… we’ll be business as usual with hill trips going twice a day at 11am and 2.30pm as well as the paddocks & exhibition being open and all tickets prices will have a 20% discount applied. Come and feed the reindeer up on the hill, but be prepared for all weathers!

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Hopefully the sun will be shining when you come to visit us!

There’ll also be tonnes of other things happening all over Badenoch and Strathspey, around Blair Atholl, Upper Deeside and Tomintoul. Some events that adults might enjoy include Green Woodworking Demos with Wooden Tom (he’s a really cool chap) at Feshiebridge Sculpture Trail on Saturday 14th. This is a ‘drop in anytime’ session running from 10am until 4pm (Here’s a handy link to his website). There is also the ‘Night Time on Nethy’ event on Saturday at 9pm. You’ll be on the river Nethy at night with the ranger, and booking is essential for that event. If you’d like to go on an all-day adventure, why not book into the ‘High Living in the Cairngorms’ event. This is a walk, starting at the Glenmore visitor centre and will involve some uphill. Booking is advisable and you will need to be dressed to be outside all day, in all weathers, and make sure you have a packed lunch too.

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Wooden Tom, who will be demonstrating Green Woodworking Skills

For families, there are lots of interesting things to do. You can help the Loch Garten forest elves and fairies, by helping to create a garden for their enchanted tree. This event takes place on Saturday 14th, from 10.30am until 3.30pm (drop in any time) and you will also make some little forest-folk to take home at the end as well! This is located just 5 minutes from the Osprey Centre, and you can ask for directions from the kiosk there. On Sunday the 15th, there’s a self-guided trail letting us know all about how trees grow. It starts from the Glenmore Visitor Centre and you can do it any time between 10am and 4pm. At Blair Atholl there’s a ‘Woolly Woods and Woolly Nature Trail’ on both Saturday and Sunday. You can drop in at any time and search for the knitted nature and other wildlife from the Blair Atholl Information Centre.

There are lots of other events going on all over the place, and you can get more information and book spaces by going to the Cairngorms Nature Festival page, where you can download a .pdf of all the events running throughout the weekend.

Hope you all enjoy some of the events being put on!

Abby and Imogen

The Calm before the Storm

It is the morning of April 29th, and it is the calm before the storm – the reindeer calving season. All was quiet this morning on the hill, but a sea of large pregnant bellies greeted Sarah and I in the enclosure, ready and waiting…

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Lots of massive bellies!

Having spent the first few months of the year free-ranging out on the mountains, last week we brought the cows into the enclosure to sort them out ready for calving. Non-pregnant females went back out to free-range for the rest of the spring and summer, while the pregnant ones were moved into the main part of the enclosure (after a frantic fixing of the fences after the winter storms!). They will now stay in for the next 3 – 4 weeks but once the majority have calved, they will go out on to the free-range to join the single females out there for the summer. While it’s lovely for us to have the cute wee calves around for a while, ultimately they will do better out on the higher areas of the mountains, up away from the biting insects, and so for this reason we get them out onto the free-range as soon as possible after calving.

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‘Stop taking photos and give us the feed…’

The East Enclosure (the main area inside the enclosure where we take the hill trips to) becomes the pre-natal unit, with one by one as they calve, the reindeer being moved through to the Bottom Corridor (the smaller area immediately inside the main visitor gate) – the ‘nursery’. The cows generally just get on with calving themselves, and older females, knowing the score, have been known to bring their new calves to the gate into the Bottom Corridor (BC) themselves, ready to move into the nursery! Younger or more inexperienced cows often give us a bit of a run around, marching away with their little one trotting at their heels – telling us in no uncertain terms to keep our distance. We spread out and act like sheepdogs, herding the cow gently in the right direction and through the gate into the BC.

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Most of the females have now cast their 2015 antler, but there’s a few still hanging on in there.

The reindeer in the enclosure I feel a bit sorry for just now are the female yearlings, still with their mums and totally unaware they are about to plummet from apple of their mum’s eyes to second best, as their mum’s attention is turned to their new siblings. The yearlings are always very confused by this, and often stand despondently nearby, watching the new calf suckling. By the summer though they have come to terms with this new development, and have re-joined their mums to make little family parties.

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Yearling Morven glued at the hip to her mum Spy – poor Morven’s about to get a nasty shock when Spy calves!
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An old photo – this is Chime way back in about 2010 – but look at the size of that belly!

So there we have it. The reindeer are in the correct place, the staff bets are in for first cow to calve, the calving rucksack is ready for early morning expeditions around the enclosure (complete with emergency chocolate bars) and the stage is set. Unfortunately winter has sneezed on us all again, but hopefully it’s its last spluttering cough of the season – we, and the reindeer, are ready for spring!

Hen

How to keep a herder happy, or trials and tribulations of herding

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Andi searching for elusive reindeer…

As you may know reindeer herding isn’t quite as simple as it may first appear, one very common question we are faced with is, is reindeer herding all you do? We’re a wee team here with five core staff and we literally do everything between us which can be quite entertaining when we’re performing office duties. I (Abby) vaguely attempt to keep advertising under control and routinely receive calls for the advertising department (i.e me) who, when they’re told I’m ‘up on the hill’, are often quite bemused.

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Abby finding its not so easy to walk/stand/be a herder in gale force winds!

When a visitor tells us “You have the best job in the world!” our minds fleetingly head in the direction of the not-so-nice mountain weather as unfortunately it isn’t always sunny here (shocking right?). We have some quite epic storms in the Cairngorms and there’s been many a day where it’s icy, sleeting and gusting upwards of 80mph up where the reindeer are.  These are some of those days you question reindeer herding and your dedication to having wet socks but it can be epically cool to be out and see the reindeer in these conditions.  However, I do have to say I enjoy pretty much enjoy all of it (maybe not all the office work but it must be done!) and it’s super rewarding seeing people absolutely loving life with the reindeer!

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Approaching reindeer on a less than glorious day

Another reindeer herding problem specifically at this time of year is bringing the reindeer in for the visit. If you’ve visited us in spring you’ll know all the reindeer are entirely free-range on the Cairngorms and we have to tempt them in from ridges and corries every morning. In early spring the reindeer metabolism is still in ‘winter mode’ and the girls are beginning to feel and look increasingly pregnant too so they can be more than reluctant to come in in the mornings. Our method of extraction is walking part way out to the darlings if they’re in sight and then calling them in – if they stick a hoof up at us we walk out, catch a dominant female and lead her in on a head collar and the rest of the herd often oblige. To avoid suspicion it’s key to always have food to give them as the calls we use are always reinforced by food and these girls are wily – if you call them over without food one day they’re likely to disappear on you the next!

 

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Sometimes it all just gets a bit too much…

Obviously all these trips up and down mountainsides to fetch and move reindeer means we cover a lot of ground which is ace! We get some great views, see awesome wildlife, get quite soggy a lot of the time but on the whole it’s pretty fun getting to romp around in the hills for work. However there’s one big downer for us herders and that’s the sheer amount of rubbish we pick up/find plastered over the national park. Seriously, take your wrappers home folk! As we tell all of our visitors we live in the only area of the UK with a sub-arctic habitat – it’s special – finding litter definitely makes it less so, as well as meaning we find odd things in our work jacket pockets when we’ve been good citizens and picked up other people’s rubbish!

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Not such a pretty sight…

This brings me onto my final trial of reindeer herding… doing your office work on a sunny day. I know many people are cooped up daily at a desk but us reindeer herders get a bit antsy if we don’t have at least an hour of outside time and on a sunny day it can literally be a fight to the death to go and paint as many things as we can find here at the Centre! This does however mean at some point we have to be tied to an office chair and get on with it!

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The curse of glorious days when SOMEONE gets stuck in the office

Our last and certainly most crushing issue is our unending addiction to tea and cake… it’s a sure fire way to make each and every day epic! Us herders never turn a healthy cake down!

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Sometimes there is cake!

Abby

Annual Vaccinations

Annually, every single reindeer in the herd must get a routine vaccination to protect them against various diseases. This is an injection that can leave them feeling a bit worse for wear the next day, but it’s only for 24 hours and as it’s important injection they just have to suck it up!

Our herd here on Cairngorm conveniently crossed over to the Cas side of the mountains of their own accord and we jumped at the chance to get them into the mountain enclosure to give them the vaccine. Unfortunately it was only three quarters of the group but we still decided to go ahead, hoping the others would show face in the next day or two. As predicted they did and although we left the herd feeling a bit off-colour they quickly got over it and are all now back out free ranging. Read Mel’s account of last year’s jabs here.

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The herd begin moving down off the tops towards the promise of food

The next step was doing the same at our Glenlivet site over on the Cromdale hills. This requires a lot more energy as the reindeer are always fairly ‘clued up’ to what we are doing by gathering them into the corral at the bottom of the hill. So after locating where they were that morning, Alex, Abby, Derek and myself set off on the quad bike for a very bumpy journey to the top where we were greeted by 80 hungry-looking reindeer. And who was number one to run over but the famous Fergus! Both Abby and I hadn’t seen Fergus since he joined the herd on the Cromdales in early January so it was great to see him again.

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Using the quad bike to encourage the reindeer down the hill

Tilly and Colin then joined us and Tilly set off with Dragonfly on a halter leading the herd down the hill while Alex, Abby and myself were on foot pushing and Derek was on the all-important quad bike to turn back the naughty ones who tried to break away. It was all going so well then the whole lot managed to get themselves over a burn (small river) onto another hillside, but we persevered and after a lot of running around to catch up with them (they have four legs we only have two!) we managed to get them back following Tilly and Dragonfly into our corralled area.

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“Ok, we’re going!” The reindeer often seem to view being rounded up as a game – they definitely have no fear of us. Especially Magnus, who is always the reluctant one at the back!
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Colin and Abby using hessian as a temporary barrier – it prevents reindeer nipping back through gaps between the herders
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Always a challenge to not fall over your own feet!

There was only one slight hitch in the form of Gnu… an eight-year-old Christmas reindeer who always gives us the run around and he did manage to slip the net, so all we saw at the end was his bottom disappearing over the skyline in the distance. We had some words to describe him at the time which I won’t repeat on here! I have to say if it wasn’t for the speed and technical driving of Derek on the quad bike we would have lost a lot more than just Gnu. We will catch up with him… when he least expects it! Lets hope he doesn’t read these blogs…

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Abby coaxing the boys down into the corral
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Success! Reindeer penned and ready for their vaccinations

So with all the reindeer in and fed we got through the injections very smoothly. It was nice to see the male reindeer after so long and the youngsters had grown up lots over the winter with the great grazing up there. The bulls have already started growing their new velvet antlers and all in all they were looking in fantastic condition!

Fiona

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Happy herders!

Memorable Reindeer of the Past: Arnish

One of my favourite reindeer when I first arrived was Arnish. To start with this was possibly because she was so distinctive as she didn’t grow any antlers, making her one of the very first reindeer in the herd that I learnt, but quickly my reasoning changed and simply became because she was just so, well, cool.

Arnish
Arnish in 2007, aged 10

Arnish was, quite simply, a dude. Everyone liked her, and she was a tame, friendly female. Some of the females in the herd skulk around in the background, not particularly wild nor particularly tame, spending most of their time out on the Cairngorm free-range where we barely ever see them. But some, like Arnish, always seem to be around, and spend a good bit of their time in the hill enclosure too as well as on the free-range, when it is easier to get to know them as we see them daily.

Arnish
Arnish in 2009

Antlers are a symbol of dominance in reindeer, generally the bigger the better. A reindeer with no antlers should therefore be very low in the hierarchy, but it seems no-one told Arnish this. A great lump of a female, thickset and solid, with a head the size of a male reindeer’s, Arnish ruled the roost and was one of the leaders of the herd, or at least she was by the time I arrived on the scene. At this point she was 10 years old already and only needed to look at a group of reindeer for them to part like the Dead Sea to make way for her! If all else failed, she just ploughed into them headfirst, somewhat resembling a hairy bulldozer. No-one messed with Arnish.

Hen and Arnish
Hanging out with Arnish

Her lack of antlers had one significant downside, for us at least. If Arnish got her head into the feedbag you were carrying, it was nigh on impossible to get her out. When any other greedy, tame reindeer push their way into a feedbag, we can remove them but hoicking them out by an antler but this just wasn’t possible with Arnish – there were no handles! The battle was lost already. I should add that most of the time we never touch a reindeer’s antlers, certainly not when they are in velvet, but when in their bone form with no feeling needs must at times!

Arnish and Jaffa
Arnish and Jaffa, 2009

Arnish may be gone now, but she’s left behind a legacy in the form of Addax, Jaffa and Svalbard. Daughters Addax and Jaffa have gone on to have calves of their own, and son Svalbard, along with Addax’s own son Monty, are part of our team of ‘Christmas reindeer’ – males who are trained to harness and go out on tour in November and December.

Arnish and Svalbard
Arnish and Svalbard, June 2011

Svalbard was Arnish’s last calf, and there’s a wee story about his name to tell. He turned up without his mum in October 2011, and we named him Meccano, to fit into the ‘Games and Pastimes’ theme of that year. Arnish had passed away out on the mountains, but at 4 months old her calf was just about old enough to survive without her. Short and dumpy, Meccano looked very much like a Svalbard reindeer, the sub-species of the Svalbard Islands which have evolved shorter legs than their migratory cousins. Try as we might, the nickname stuck, and Meccano became Svalbard.

Svalbard
Svalbard has grown into a strapping lad!

With Addax’s daughter Parmesan quite possibly pregnant just now with her first calf, Arnish’s bloodline looks set to continue for a good while yet. Every descendant so far has produced antlers, but the antlerless trait can skip generations so maybe watch this space.

Hen