The Answers to Tilly’s Quiz!

Back in August we posted a blog with some quiz questions, from the quiz I ran for the staff here at Reindeer House towards the end of the (first!) lockdown, when the restrictions were starting to lift. So here are the long awaited answers! If you had a go then hopefully you have come up with the answers and they are similar to mine!

1: An old term for a stag?

‘Hart’ is an old English term for a Red stag. I grew up in the village of Welwyn, in Hertfordshire and the local Pub was called The White Hart.

One of the red deer stags at our hill farm (the second site for the reindeer herd). Photo: Alex Smith

2: Name the three types of Scottish heather, and in which order do they flower?

‘Bell’ heather is first to flower and is a very bright purple, generally growing in distinct patches on dry moorland heath. The ‘crossed leaved heath’ is a close second, much paler purple in colour, it prefers wetter, boggier ground. Then finally the ‘ling’ heather, which clothes the Scottish hillsides with the wonderful purple hue and this year we had one of the best ever flowering of the ling!

The bright pink/purple of the bell heather, with the paler ling heather amongst it

3: The Scottish name for a woodlouse?

A ‘slater’. They are very small terrestrial crustaceans, which I often find under stones (so not sure where the name ‘woodlouse’ comes from!). When we named the reindeer calves in 2010 on a Bugs and Beasties theme, one of the male calves was called Slater. Sadly he’s no longer with us but we still have some of them from that year, including Spider, Beastie, Lace and Caterpillar.

4: What are the colour of the following berries?

Bearberry is bright red and has a sharp taste.

Crowberry is black, only grows high on the mountain and provides an important source of autumn and winter food for Ptarmigan.

Cowberry is red like the bearberry – in fact it’s easy to confuse the two. They grow at similar altitudes on the moorland but the cowberry is an upright plant whereas the bearberry is prostrate, growing along the ground often on stony ridges.

Cloudberry when ripe is orange/peach colour and grows in wet mossy areas.

And finally blaeberry is blue/black, called ‘bilberry’ in England and is very tasty.

5: Loch Morlich is a glacial feature, but what type?

A Kettle Hole, which is formed by a ‘plug of  glacial ice’, which was been left behind after the ice retreated and gouged out a depression.

Mozzarella looking rather gormless, but more importantly with the giant kettle hole of Loch Morlich behind!

6: Name the mythical creature of Ben Macdui. It has to be exact!

The Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui.

7: In which coire in the Cairngorms does snow linger the longest? indeed some years it doesn’t melt at all.

An Garbh Choire which is between the Braeriach plateau and the Lairig Ghru.

8: Name the two insectivorous plants that grow in boggy ground?

Butterwort and Sundew. They both have ‘sticky leaves’ which attract the small insects (like midges) which then get stuck on the leaf. The plant then ‘digests’ the insects by injecting enzymes into it. Sounds like something out of science fiction!!

Both insectivorous plants in the UK in the same photo! Butterwort (top) and Sundew (bottom).

9: Who was the first pure white reindeer to be born in the Cairngorm herd?

Snowflake was born in 1966? and Mr Utsi was very pleased to have a pure white calf in the Cairngorm herd. Many of the reindeer herding people hold white reindeer in high esteem and are regarded as very special.  Indeed Mr Utsi always claimed that more white reindeer were born in areas where there was a lot of white rocks and to encourage more white reindeer to be born he painted some of the rocks white!

Snowflake with one of her calves in the early 70s, in the Reindeer House garden!

10: What are the full titles and subtitles of the three books I’ve written?  

Velvet Antlers Velvet Noses: The Story of a Reindeer Family 1995

The Real Rudolph: A Natural History of Reindeer 2006

Reindeer: An Arctic Life 2016 Available on our website now!

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

Settlers

12: Name 3 countries or islands ( other than Scotland ) where reindeer have been introduced in the past?

Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Greenland, South Georgia. There are other smaller arctic islands off the north coast of Russia.

Reindeer in the mountains in Eastern Iceland

Tilly

Pining for a Marten!

A shortened version of this blog has just been published in our twice annual newsletter, but we didn’t have space to fit the whole thing in, so we thought we’d pop it up as a blog too! 

Lockdown was a bizarre and scary period for us all. The term ‘unprecedented’, which I’d rarely heard before, has been used by the news and media every day for months now, and with a lot of uncertainty still ahead, I suspect the word may still be commonly used for some time to come.

Two martens just a couple of feet from the window of my bedroom!

But while we were told to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives, something quite special was happening in Glenmore and indeed the rest of the country. With the lack of people around, for the first time in a long time, wildlife was once again becoming more visible!

Wildlife! Visible! Look how close!

For the reindeer here in the Cairngorms, they suddenly had the mountains to themselves and it was great to see them in areas they wouldn’t usually graze due to the number of people around. I even found a Ptarmigan nest with eggs right next to a (normally busy) path one day along with countless raptors seen higher up in the hills, but what I really enjoyed most was the change in wildlife close to home near Reindeer House. We had a visiting roe deer with two fawns outside the house on a couple of occasions; I would regularly see Black Grouse all over the glen along with an osprey fishing over Loch Morlich; and an abundance of other birdlife and the usual red squirrels. However, the animal I have most enjoyed has been the Pine Marten. For those who don’t know, a Pine Marten is a part of the mustelid family, which includes stoats and weasels. They are nocturnal and extremely agile, living mostly in trees and predating on small rodents, birds, eggs, insects and fruit. But what makes them so special is how elusive they are – until this year, I’d only seen a few fleetingly as they ran across the road or a path.

A free meal of peanuts!

I first discovered they were around at the very start of March – I started to notice my bird food bin (which lives outside my little cabin) kept being knocked over in the night. At first, I thought it was because of all the storms we were having at the time. But on a still night I was woken up by the sound of the bin lid crashing on the ground and to my delight, saw a Pine Marten helping itself to my bag of peanuts. Over the course of a few weeks it became more and more common until by the end of March this became the norm every night. I began to notice that up to 3 or 4 different Pine Marten were coming during the night and my peanut bill was going up!

Watching the activity quite literally from bed!

It was great to start being able to identify the different Pine Martens as I got to know them and see them behave in different ways. Some of the younger ones were very shy and timid while the older larger two Martens were very greedy and would stick about for longer. I did not mind being woken up most nights when they came as they were a great source of entertainment.

Unfortunately for me, since the middle of summer there has been less Pine Marten action from my cabin due to the abundance of food that they could predate on in the glen. I know that come late autumn they will be back in full force and, fingers crossed, with kits! I’m hoping that from now these furry charismatic creatures will be here to stay at Reindeer House for as long as I am. I feel very lucky and look forward getting to know them even more.

Joe

All the colours of the rainbow (Part One)

Visitors often ask if the different coloured reindeer in our herd are different breeds, or even different species. The answer is no, they’re all reindeer just the same – they can vary in colour like horses, dogs and cats do. I thought I’d show a range of the colours found in our herd. Through the process of domestication, humans tend to select for colour variation, leading to a greater variety in domesticated species than wild ones. They stay the same colour throughout their life, though the colour is richer in their summer coat and lighter in winter.

Reindeer can also have white markings – I’ll look at this in a future blog!

Blondie – as white as they get, with blue eyes
Matto – white with a dusting of darker hairs
Chelsea – what we call a “white” reindeer (as opposed to “pure white” like Blondie)
Emmental – light coloured
Silk – creamy hint to her normal colouration
Elvis – normal coloured with silver highlights
Hopscotch – “normal” coloured
Druid – a dark coloured reindeer
Spider
Pratchett – so dark even his beard is dark!

Andi

Reindeer love Munros!

The Reindeer love Munros! In fact, it could be said that they are our resident ‘Munro baggers’ in the Cairngorms, although, plenty of reindeer herders would also be contenders for that crown.

A ‘munro’ is any Scottish mountain above the height of 3,000 feet (914.4 metres) that has been recognised by the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC). And a ‘munro bagger’ is anyone (person, or perhaps any animal?) engaged in the activity of climbing all of the listed Munros.

The reindeer herd high up on the mountains, near the summit of Cairn Gorm

Tilly, the owner of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, finished climbing all of the 282 Munros in 2019 with Moskki – her dog – completing most of them alongside her. Moreover, Alan (Tilly’s husband and fellow owner of the herd) and Joe (Tilly’s possible future son-in-law…) (Editors note: Ben is solely responsible for writing this and none of the rest of us are claiming any responsibility!) are other herders who have climbed all 282 munros.

Pelting rain last November for Tilly’s 282nd munro! Photo: Nigel Housden / Pinsharpstudios

Maybe that’s why reindeer herders feel such a connection to the reindeer…they both love the high tops. The reindeer are often found around Cairn Gorm Mountain, the 6th highest of the munros. They love the cooler air and vegetation that comes with being at a higher altitude. Occasionally they stray further afield and need bringing back into the areas they’re allowed to be in, which requires us heading out into the hills and bringing them home – potentially bagging a munro en-route.

On the move, with the Ptarmigan building and Cairn Gorm in the background

The Cairngorm Mountains are blessed with many of the highest mountains in the British Isles. The second highest in the U.K. is Ben Macdui (Ben Macduibh in Gaelic), with its height recorded at 1309 metres. And the third (Braeriach), fourth (Cairn Toul), fifth (Sgor an Lochain Uaine) and sixth (Cairn Gorm) highest U.K. mountains are also located here in the Cairngorms.

Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine

As of July 2nd 2020, 6,768 people have reported completing the round of Munros (although the SMC would rather have the spelling as ‘compleating’!). But if there was a local record for the Cairngorm Mountains, reindeer would have ‘bagged’ more than a lot of the UK population, amongst which I suspect the average climbed to be very, very small!

As a sort of epilogue, I thought it interesting that the SMC recognise six peaks in England, fifteen in Wales and thirteen in Ireland that would be classified as munros or ‘munro tops’ (a peak over 3000′, but one considered a subsidary top of a nearby munro) . That just goes to show how plentiful and large the Scottish hills are in comparison to the rest of the U.K.

Ben

What’s wrong with that reindeer?

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

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

Ben feeding the herd their breakfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anster demonstrating the perfect colour of pee!

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

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

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

Andi

Lockdown (reindeer) hairstyles!

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

A herd of very scruffy reindeer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tilly

 

 

Pedicures for reindeer

Hooves are important – got to keep them clean!

A common question we’re asked, usually after spending some time with the reindeer and noticing their beautiful big feet, is whether we need to trim their hooves. Reindeer are endowed with large feet with four toes to each hoof: two main weight bearing toes which do most of the work, plus two smaller and higher up toes which only touch the ground when on soft surfaces (snow or bog), when they spread out like a large snow shoe and mean reindeer can traverse snow drifts a lot easier than humans.

Okapi showing off how well her hooves serve her on snow.
Reindeer find snow way easier than us humans.
Fly says “It’s snow problem!”

In general our answer is no, we don’t have to routinely trim the hooves of our reindeer. Just like our own nails, the hard outer hoof continues growing constantly throughout their lives, but as they are roaming fair distances each day over rough, rocky and stony mountainous ground, the amount of wear tends to balance this out and means their toes stay nice and neat. Of course there is no one out trimming the hooves of wild caribou and other deer, who get through their entire lives with perfectly shaped hooves, and as our herd are in the correct habitat with plenty of movement, they are usually fine without intervention.

Wapiti grazing on short vegetation with gravel and rocks beneath it.
Spending much of their time on hard ground like this wears hooves down correctly.
Oatcake has beautiful feet!

However, there is always the exception to the rule. There are perhaps three reasons why we sometimes do need to dust off the hoof trimmers. First up is that we’re found our pure white reindeer (step forward Blondie and Matto in particular) have hooves that, for whatever reason, seem to grow faster than those of their darker coloured compatriots. Once or twice a year we’ll decide they are a little lengthy and have a trim to keep everything in place. Over-long hooves can cause all kinds of problems, especially putting pressure on their joints as their foot cannot sit correctly, so everything becomes misaligned. There’s an old saying “No foot, no horse”, and it applies equally to reindeer – without happy feet they can’t lead a happy life.

On white hooves you can see through to the bony structure of the foot beneath, and the hoof appears pink as you can see through to where the blood vessels are.
Matto joined our herd from Sweden, but despite not getting handled until he was a bit older he is an absolute star when we need to trim his feet. He’s busy moulting in this photo so looks a bit scruffy!
This hoof needs a wee trim…
Blondie barely needs a halter while her feet are trimmed as long as there’s a bag of feed. Olympic can’t believe that she is getting breakfast before him – the weariness has left him without strength to even hold up his head…

The second reason is if a reindeer has an injury or abnormality meaning a toe or whole hoof doesn’t receive the same amount of wear. Jute has one hoof which tends to grow a bit differently to normal, curving inwards instead of straight, which then prevents the edge wearing down in the usual manner. It’s no problem at all to him as long as we keep an eye on it and trim it as needed, but if we didn’t it could cause him difficulty walking as it grew.

And the third reason, embarrassingly, is pure laziness. This is where I’m going to point the finger squarely at some of our middle-aged males, the ones who can’t always be bothered to head off and graze as a real reindeer should, but who would much rather just lie waiting at the gate for their next meal to be served (Hamish, I’m looking at you). The straightforward reason that their hooves are too long is that they haven’t done anywhere near enough exercise to wear them down in balance with the rate that they’re growing. Perhaps we need to start a fitness club?! Funnily enough, there’s not a single female reindeer who falls into this category…

Hamish’s feet in his younger days (aged 4) when they were neat and pristine. Alas, in the last year or two laziness has caught up with him and they have a tendency to grow a little longer than this now…

Thankfully, trimming the hooves of our reindeer is stress free. Every single reindeer in our herd is halter-trained as a calf and is well used to being around humans. That means that if we spot their hooves need some TLC we simply catch them, pop a headcollar on, and whilst one herder occupies them with a bucket of tasty treats, another herder gets to work with a pair of snips to cut back the hard outer hoof. There is no feeling in this section of the foot so no discomfort is caused, and despite the fact that we never work at teaching reindeer to have their feet lifted like you would with a horse, they very quickly cotton on to the fact that nothing bad is happening and just let you get on with it. We never need to use tranquillisers in order to trim hooves, or hold the reindeer in place by force.

Hamish (mid-moult) contenting himself with a snack in the trough while I deal with his hooves. You may note that the lead rope has been abandoned entirely in order for the photograph to be taken!
Perfecting the crouch – balance their knee – trim action

My personal favourite technique is to crouch by a front leg, rest their knee on my knee, which leaves me two hands free to trim their hoof! Sometimes two hands are needed to cut through the tough hoof, especially on the old boys (hey, Elvis!) who have real “old man toenails”!

Sometimes two hands are needed!

We’re pretty proud of how good our reindeer are at standing to have their hooves trimmed.

Andi

Polled reindeer

When people think of reindeer, they inevitably picture them with a big set of antlers atop their furry heads. Unlike other deer species, this even applies to females, who are the only deer species to routinely grow a lovely pair of bony protrusions each year, in order to help them hold a high enough status within the herd to gain enough access to feed in harsh climates.

Wapiti, showing off her stunning antlers. No one picks a fight with her…

Only… some reindeer don’t grow antlers. The official term for this is “polled”. We’ve had a number of individuals over the history of our herd (and this is the case worldwide too) who, year after year, maintain the smooth top to their head, whilst reindeer all around them are tapping away to encourage the velvety growths which finally turn into hard bone at the end of each summer.

This is almost always seen just in females (cows), and when scientists have studied reindeer and caribou herds across the herd it seems that between 0.5 and 5% of cows can be expected to not grow antlers. Why would this be? Antlers are used as weapons when fighting for dominance within the herd – indeed a cow with large antlers is rarely challenged. So surely not having antlers is a disadvantage? On the surface, yes, but by not growing antlers a huge amount of energy is conserved every single year. In some habitats, like the thick forests that forest reindeer and woodland caribou live in, antlers can be a hindrance, and the smaller herd sizes perhaps mean there is less of a need to compete. Antlers are more important for a male in terms of breeding success, as a bull with just one or no antlers at all is unlikely to have the chance to breed.

Antlers are hugely important for breeding success for bulls – if you don’t have antlers you won’t win cows.

There seem to be two factors behind refusal to grow antlers. First, there is nutrition. A reindeer who is struggling to find enough food will prioritise body condition over antler size – an adult who is having an unexpected hard year will grow smaller antlers than usual. If this happens to a calf – for example one who is orphaned at a young age, they may not have any antler growth at all in their first year, or perhaps for longer. Our wee reindeer Diddly had a difficult start as her mum Flake didn’t have any milk, and whilst we bottle fed her, we couldn’t match the nutrition reindeer milk would have provided. Perhaps this was the reason she didn’t grow antlers?

Diddly by name, Diddly by nature, and never an antler on her head…

The other factor is genetics – as we trace all of the family history of the members of our herd, we can often trace lack of antlers back to an ancestor. It seems to be that the polled characteristic is a recessive one, often carried but only expressed if a calf inherits two copies of the gene. I was interested to find this note when looking back through old diaries from the early days of our herd:

So for Mr Utsi, who founded our herd, polled (antlerless) reindeer were a desirable animal, and I also feel that antlerless females tend to be strong characters – perhaps because they’ve had to hold their own in an antlered world?? As our reindeer have a pretty easy life and we supplement their grazing in winter with feed, any antlerless cows tend to be that way because of their genetics rather than a lack of nutrition, and perhaps with plenty of food available there is no huge detriment to their diet if they happen to be a little further down the pecking order.

Wonderful Arnish – lack of antlers never got in her way.

Arnish, one of the leaders of the herd when I started work as a herder, never grew an antler in her life, but was well respected among the other reindeer – if challenged she would simply use her front feet in place of antlers! She was also a successful mother, rearing Addax, Jaffa and Svalbard. Jaffa’s daughter Brimick only grew one antler. We also have one-antlered reindeer Dixie in the herd, who inherited this trait from grandmother Cherry.

Dixie, proud of her singular antler.

Ferrari didn’t grow antlers at all until she was nine, then surprised everyone by growing one antler annually (on the same side!) until the end of her days. Interestingly, she’s a direct descendant of polled cow Mitou (mentioned above). From her descendants, her grand-daughter Malawi is in the herd today and has been antlerless so far – she’s currently fifteen so I think she’ll probably not start now! Ferrari’s great-grandson Merrick was also the only male we’ve had yet who grew just one antler, after growing nothing as a calf.

Malawi – not an antler to be seen!
Merrick as a calf with no antlers. Definitely genetic rather than due to a lack of nutrition – he was one hefty calf!
Merrick as a handsome three year old, with one antler.

And what about wee Bond, some of you who follow our stories closely may ask. As an orphaned calf, he grew no antlers at all (caused presumably by struggling to get enough nutrition), then last year as a yearling he tapped furiously away at his pedicles (where the antlers grow from) and managed about 1 inch of antler on one side (you had to peer pretty closely to see it!). You’ll have to wait to find out what happens this year…

Yearling Bond, not the most impressive of headgear…

Andi

The Curious History of Reindeer in Iceland

At the beginning of February I took a trip to Iceland in winter conditions and learned about the fascinating history of reindeer on this island country in the North Atlantic. Although I did not spot any reindeer, the history of the animals their interesting story is worth sharing nonetheless.

Icelandic reindeer

Similarly to the reindeer here in the Cairngorms, reindeer in Iceland were introduced from another part of the world. However, unlike Scotland reindeer in Iceland were never native to the country at all. All land mammals in Iceland aside from the arctic fox were introduced to the country over the course of its natural history. Reindeer are the largest amongst all of them. In the late 1700s reindeer from Norway were brought to Iceland because the king believed that the reindeer would be a perfect match to the cold, harsh conditions. Being that farming was the most common trade in Iceland, it was assumed that all of the farmers would then take up reindeer herding.

The reindeer were brought to four different regions in Iceland: the South, Southwest, North, and East. And right from the start this venture was a complete failure. Within the first few years the majority of reindeer in Iceland had died off. The harsh volcanic landscape proved difficult to maintain the food resources necessary for the animals to survive. To this day, the only surviving group is in East Iceland where the habitat is more suitable to the needs of the reindeer and food resources are abundant.

Hen’s photo of reindeer in East Iceland, back in 2007.
The stark volcanic landscape of Northern Iceland

Those reindeer continued to thrive though and herding them never took off at all leaving an estimated 6-7000 wild reindeer roaming about the Eastern Fjords. The Ministry of Agriculture found that ‘reindeer farming’ would not be viable given the amount of resources compared to the large population of wild reindeer. Ultimately the decision was made to not begin any sort of commercial reindeer farming.

Our Cairngorm reindeer free ranging on a beautiful February day.

Just like in Scotland, the reindeer in Iceland do not have any natural predators to control their population. So each year the government issues 1200-1300 permits to hunt reindeer as a means to prevent overpopulation which would collapse an already fragile ecosystem. Where as here in the Cairngorms, the numbers of reindeer are much smaller which allow us to control the population through selective breeding each Autumn. As a result of this, when the snow begins to melt in the spring we are looking forward to another wonderful calving season, just around the corner.

Bobby

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