Social distancing- reindeer style!

Well, we all know what is meant by ‘social distancing’ now after 3 months of lockdown and continued measures for the foreseeable future.

Here at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre we will be applying the government guidelines to both protect ourselves and our visitors when we re-open next week.

Turns out the reindeer have been enforcing social distancing all along!

Luckily for us we have helpers, the reindeer themselves, as you can see from the photo above, reindeer are very good at slipping in between groups when we are heading out on to the hill for feed time. The perfect animal to social distance with!

With our own little helpers I decided to ‘measure’ the length of an average-sized adult male reindeer from nose to tail (Beastie ticked all the boxes here)  and that comes out on average at 1.8 metres (give or take a little!). And if he (or she) puts her head down the antlers add a little bit more! Ideal for helping people keep the right distance apart when walking along the boardwalk in the hill enclosure.

Beastie being very patient but it wasn’t too easy with a tape measure…
…but a marked stick was easier! Celt muscled in on the action too.

In fact reindeer as a social herding animal are a very good example of how social distancing can be achieved. Unlike many social animals, reindeer do respect a modicum of social distance. They don’t huddle together; they like their space when they lie down and if another reindeer encroaches into their grazing area, they push them away, with antlers (if they are bony) or feet if their antlers are still growing.

It might be well below zero but no need for huddling!

The only close contact between reindeer is usually between close relations, ie a cow and calf. Indeed this close relationship can extend through into their adult lives particularly among females. However last winter that close bond became apparent between an old female and her grown up son. When 9 year old Rubiks joined the Cairngorm herd in January 2020 he ‘found’ his 16 year old mother Fonn and they have been inseparable ever since!

Rubiks with mum Fonn to his left this spring

Unfortunately the downside to social distancing for ourselves and our visitors will be that the normal hand feeding that takes place out on the open hillside will not happen. Not only will our visitors be disappointed, but the reindeer will be too. I can think of many of the friendly male reindeer like Olympic, Dr Suess and Aztec who will be extremely confused by the lack of yummy food from everyone!

However a visit to the reindeer will still be an amazing experience (hopefully at least!), with our lovely herd in their natural environment out on the mountainside. Experienced reindeer herders to guide you, answer questions and feed the reindeer, while you all get the opportunity to take photos and enjoy the moment with these gentle creatures.

Tilly

 

Border Terriers and me!

In this week’s blog we’re taking a diversion from reindeer to dogs, to hear from herd owner Tilly:

Tilly with Moskki and Tuva. And her customary very short shorts!

Well I have to say I am one of the lucky ones. Living on our farm at Glenlivet, with the wonderful countryside around me I can safely enjoy the great outdoors without compromising the current lockdown requirements.

The Glenlivet Estate is a real gem, with a wonderful mix of open moorland, farmland and woodland and from our farmhouse I can go walking and running with my two border terriers Moskki and her daughter Tuva.

Tuva with mum Moskki

I got Moskki as a 6 week old pup in January 2014 and she has been the best wee dog I have ever had. When there is nothing to do she happily sleeps, but when its time to go out to the hills she’s the first to get ready. She has accompanied me on nearly all my Munros ( Scottish Mountains over 3,000 feet ), which I finished in November last year, so she is certainly fit!

Spending most of their time sleeping!

At the end of November 2019 Moskki had a litter of pups and I decided I would keep one of the girls in the litter, hence Border terrier no.2! There were 3 female pups that were quite similar colouring to Moskki and so I decided ( after much procrastination ) on the ‘middle sized’ female of the three. I took some time to choose a name for my wee pup and finally settled on ‘Tuva’. Tuva is the name of South Siberian Reindeer Herding people and I was honoured to meet representatives of these people ( a mother and her grown up daughter ) at one of the World Reindeer Herder Association Congress meetings in Jokkmokk, North Sweden.

Moskki with Tuva and her siblings

Moskki also has a reindeer herding association (can’t think why! ). The ‘moskki’ is ‘a small place’ in a kåta ( Sami tent – pronounced ‘kota’ ) where household items like pots and pans are stored. So my love of reindeer strangely enough strays into my two dogs. We’ve also had a Swedish born reindeer bull named Moskki in the past, and currently have a Kota too!

Tuva has grown up to be a clone of her mother. Sleeps well, enjoys getting out and devoted to me (unless she is on the scent of a rabbit!). So my two borders have given me a huge amount of joy in these difficult times and added to that we have had the warmest and driest April on record.

Tilly in more normal times with her beloved reindeer. Photo: John Paul

But I am yearning to get back to normal life, like everyone else. I can’t wait to immerse myself again fully in reindeer herding, general farm life, showing people around the farm, but most importantly seeing my grandchildren and playing with them at home and on the farm. Happy days ahead.

Tilly

A day at the farm

Whilst I’m normally based over at the main visitor centre in Glenmore, with the current chaotic situation I’m spending a lot more of my time at our second base, the hill farm at Glenlivet. The Smiths have farmed there since 1990, specializing in native breeds such as Belted Galloway cattle, Soay sheep and Wild boar crosses, plus of course extra summer hill grazing for our lovely reindeer herd. I thought I’d give all of you wonderful folk a snapshot of one of my typical days at the farm…

7.15am: Up bright and early, it’s a glorious sunny day outside. Breakfast, pack my lunch (leftovers from last night, win!) and plenty of snacks, just like the reindeer my appetite is never satisfied!

Nice way to start the day…

7.55am: Out of the house to head over to the farm. It’s about a 35 minute drive for me, and at the moment it’s rare for me to pass more than a couple of cars. Not a bad commute!

8.30am: Arrive at the farm and make a plan for the day. The morning is usually spent feeding the animals. I load up the quad bike, a lifesaver when lugging heavy feed up hilly fields!

9am: First stop, the pigs. We have a mix of Wild boar and Tamworth, also known as “Iron Age” pigs. They get fed first because if you leave them too late they make a pretty big effort to break out and come and find the food themselves! When I first met the pigs years ago, I was a little daunted as they charge up and down grunting and slathering ready to eat, but actually they’re pretty well behaved and haven’t attempted to nibble on me yet!

Next up are some of the Soay sheep and Red deer. Soays are quite wild in nature, a lot more skittish than most sheep you’ll meet, which also means they’re hardy and self-sufficient, rarely needing any assistance lambing or seeking much shelter from the weather. But they do enjoy some extra feed! The red deer are very different from the reindeer, much livelier and jumpier, but come charging after the quad in expectation! Their antlers are growing at an insane rate – every time I see them they seem to be a few inches bigger…

10am: After reloading the quad with more feed, it’s up the hill to check on the reindeer. Throughout spring we have the male reindeer in what we call the “French” enclosure, as it’s where we initially housed our reindeer who joined us from France in 1995 (original hey?!). There is a large shed which is handy for providing shade and also for handling the reindeer for vaccinations etc, and the enclosure extends right up onto the hillside, providing natural grazing.

Roman decides I’m being too slow to put the feed out…
Trough of feed = happy reindeer

The reindeer have pretty good body clocks and are ready and waiting, and cheerfully come in to eat their food from the troughs round the shed. This gives us an opportunity to check everyone looks happy and healthy – we’re already into tick season, and these biting pests can make our reindeer poorly. Today though, everyone is fine, so after chatting to everyone and admiring their lovely antlers, also growing fast though nowhere near as large as the ones on the red deer, it’s back down the hill.

Dr Seuss showing off his new antler growth
Spartan has a good set coming along
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Stenoa looking… handsome?!
Young Sherlock
Beastie, Jonas and Matto
Houdini, Origami and Bovril enjoying lunch
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Atlantic’s older brother, Hamish
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Old lad Bourbon
Another of our old boys, Moose
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Young bull Pratchett
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11.30am: Powered by a good cup of coffee (essential!) and a snack, my next job is mixing up a big batch of reindeer feed. We have worked out a good combination which is perfect as a supplement to the natural grazing our reindeer have on the hills. They do love their feed, it helps them put on body condition in the summer and maintain condition through winter, and means they’re pleased to see us every day – in the same way that I like to see people who have a habit of bringing me cake! We use a repurposed cement mixer to do the hard work for us, and bag it ready for the next few days of feeding the herd.

Mixing feed

1pm: Lunch! Working outdoors makes you hungry, a great excuse to eat plenty of food! (I think I just take after the reindeer…).

1.45pm: I hitch up the snacker trailer to the back of the quad and fill it with feed for the Belted Galloway herd. The cattle were in fields in the glen, across the river, so getting there involves a bit of hopping on and off the quad to open and close gates. Once there, I run out the feed in a line and count the cattle to check they’re all present. It’s calving season and the new calves look incredibly fresh and clean, like they’ve just been through the wash!

The Belties are delighted to go anywhere for food.
Look at them go!
Dolly the Highland cow, and a beltie calf

3pm: The rest of the afternoon is taken up with odds and ends, sorting out a delivery of burgers and sausages into the appropriate freezers ready for sale, packing firewood into storage, and folding up tarpaulins… there is never a shortage of things to do on a farm, even when I can’t drive a tractor!

5pm: Homeward bound. I’m tired after being on my feet for most of the day, but I’m so grateful that I can spend my time like this – I’m appreciative of how lucky I am to be out in the country, working with animals and able to pretty much forget what is going on across our planet. The reindeer, cattle and sheep have no idea that our lives have changed so much in the past couple of months – they are still living life as normal and expect us to feed and care for them as normal. It’s a welcome break from the news and social media updates which can be pretty worrying at present. Whilst you may not be able to escape to a remote hill farm, I hope you can find your own escape if you’re finding things hard, whether that is in a good book, taking a new route for your daily exercise, or deciding to turn off your laptop and phone for a day. Take care all!

Andi

Scottish Rural Awards

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A few months ago, we found out that we had been nominated for an award for rural tourism at the Scottish Rural Awards ceremony being held mid-March at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. We still aren’t entirely sure who nominated us so if anyone can shed light on this please do. There were 13 awards altogether given out during the night. Some of the categories were Education, Conservation and the Environment, Artisan food and drink, agriculture and more… It was a black tie event so for those of you who know us, you’ll know that black tie isn’t something we do on a regular basis but we made an effort and myself, Tilly, Alex and Emily went down to Edinburgh for it.

Ex-herder Heather let us stay at her house in Edinburgh so it was all very easy. Tilly and I had our first experience of Uber Taxi’s… When in Rome and all! So we made our way to Dynamic Earth in our posh frocks and kilt to be greeted by many more posh frocks and kilts. There was even quite a few tartan trousers! We were certainly out of our comfort zone, considering that morning all four of us were up on either the Cromdale hills or the Cairngorms being blasted by the wind and feeding the reindeer… oh how things changed. Free champagne on arrival… ye-ha! Then we sat down at our tables as guest speaker and Scottish comedian Fred MacAulay opened the night. He certainly knew how to capture an audience. We then had our three-course meal, which was super and afterwards the awards commenced.

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You know it’s posh when there’s more than one set of fork and knife, and doubly posh when you get three wine glasses!

We weren’t really sure what to expect but with 150-200 people there, all in their glad rags making the most of a night out it was certainly a good atmosphere all round. The Rural Tourism award came up towards the end and so Fred called out all the finalists. Other business’s we were up against were – Isle of Aaron Distillers, Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, Findlay’s Cream O’ Galloway Farm, The Famous Grouse Experience, Luss Estates Company, Oban Winter Festival, The Enchanted Forest, Aaron The Island and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh at Logan. So after all the finalists were announced they came to the three who had won. Cairngorm Reindeer got the highly commended award, runners up were Oban Winter Festival and the winners were Findlay’s Cream O’ Galloway Farm, so a representative for each went up onto stage to collect their award. Naturally Tilly was our representative so off she went with a big smile on her face to collect our award from Fred MacAulay. Fred also mentioned that many years ago he worked on Cairngorm Mountain and during that time came across the reindeer and that they enjoyed a bit of shieling pie!

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Tilly accepting the Highly Commended award for Rural Tourism

This really is a great reflection on what the Cairngorm Reindeer and Wild Farm mean to Rural Scotland and this recognition means so much to all of us so thank you to whoever nominated us! I hope Mr Utsi and Dr Lindgren, founders of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, are smiling from above and that we have done them proud.

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Fiona

Fergus

Well, he stole the hearts of many a visitor last year and we are often asked for updates on the boy, so I thought I’d do a quick blog about the naughty man. I am, of course, talking about the darling little Fergus!

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Fergus looking angelic on the hill

In June 2015, Foil gave birth to a baby boy. She was a relatively old mother at 13 and unfortunately became ill only a few days after having her calf. We did our best to look after her, but sadly she passed away. The average life span of a reindeer is around 12-14 years, and the vet thinks that Foil had a heart problem, probably linked to old age. This left us with a baby reindeer to hand rear and the prospect of it both excited and dismayed us. Looking after a little reindeer is great, but when they need constant feeding and they decide to poo in your living room, sometimes it can be a little trying. I’m sure you parents out there are scoffing at our patheticness but none of us herders here at the centre have babies, and after this experience I’m sure it will be a while before any of us are having our own!

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Fergus sleeping in a feed bowl, inside reindeer house.

So, from 10 days old, Fergus lived at the Centre with a few of the herders. Luckily for them he spent most of his time in the paddocks, but herder Mel took a real shine to him and he was often found napping in her room on her rare days off. Fergus needed feeding 5 times a day, and he soon got to know the times to expect a bottle. He would often be found at the end of the paddocks closest to the house, grunting his little heart out for 5 minutes before his goat milk and growth powder formula arrived. It was always fun for our visitors to see him getting his bottle.

Fergus grew up with dogs around him so is not too worried by the resident reindeer house dogs – Tiree, Murdo and Sookie – who used to cuddle up with him. Murdo always loved to lick Fergus, making it look like Murdo had adopted the little reindeer! Fergus loved to sleep in the dog beds too.

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Fergus and Tiree guarding the door
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Murdo and Fergus on a ride up to the hill
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Trying some different beds out for size

Fergus was quite the star last year, ending up in the Press and Journal, our local newspaper. He was even on the front page!

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Fergus in the news and up on the hill

In the autumn, Fergus spent more time up in our hill enclosure, eventually living up there full time and just getting a few bottles a day whilst we were doing visits and feeding the other reindeer. Our other calves came back off the free-range and we started to train them to wear a headcollar. Fergus was already adept at this as we had been leading him on and off the hill earlier in the year, and he was a good role model for some of the other calves who were a little shyer around us.

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Little Fergus ‘helping out’ on a trek in 2015

Fergus then went off on Christmas tour and of course, he went in Mel’s team. He is pretty naughty and managed to steal mince pies on one of his events, and was trying to nab some Celebrations chocolate on his posh Windsor event as well!

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Fergus having a cuddle with ‘mum’ Mel

Then the day came when Mel had to say bye to Fergus, at least for a little while. He had tried bonding with the females way back in autumn, but didn’t really have any success, so had to go onto the Cromdale hills with our other boys to free-range for winter. Fergus had been living in the hill enclosure for a while before we took him and the last remaining boys from the enclosure over to the farm to be led onto the free-range. Mel was upset to see her baby boy head off, but it was the best thing for him.

Soon enough the winter was over and Fergus came off the free-range with the other boys, not a care in the world and ready to get fat over summer. He’s grown a lot since he was a calf, so has spent most of the year over at the farm as he has a tendency to jump on unsuspecting children and give them a fright.

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Cheeky devil!
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Fergus looking great at 1.5 years old

He has been to the Centre for a couple of flying visits, staying in the paddocks, and delighting our visitors. In April, Mel ran the Paris marathon and as a surprise Fergus was brought over here as a well done for her. We made him a little paper collar, congratulating Mel on her run and I’m sure she enjoyed having him round again! He’s been in the house a couple of times over the summer, but he is now far too big for the dog beds he used to sleep in. It’s also not quite so cute anymore when he does his business in the house!

Now Fergus is a cheeky reindeer as you know. His level of foolishness was put up a notch a few weeks ago while we were out painting. Dave was out in the paddocks painting the posts a new and shiny coat of red. Well, you guessed it; he turned his back for only a few moments and Fergus is rubbing his big nose up and down a freshly painted post. And sure enough he turns his face, proudly exhibiting a bright red nose. Though apparently, even with a red nose, Fergus cannot fly. Thanks for the entertainment Ferg!

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He’s a hilarious little reindeer who will no doubt make us laugh for many a year to come. Hopefully he’ll get to come up on the hill in a few years, once he’s learnt some manners!

Imogen

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

 

Cairngorms Nature Festival

Yo!

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

Awesome autumn

The reindeer look superb in Autumn, with their fully grown antlers and thick winter coats just come through. Here’s some photos to give you an idea of how good they’re looking…

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Young bull Cambozola, having freshly stripped the velvet from his antlers
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Yearling bull Hudson, with Mo in the background. Often a few ‘streamers’ of velvet cling on after most has been stripped.
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One of the biggest and oldest female calves of the year
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A wee male calf with unusual facial markings. It doesn’t take long for the calves to learn that we provide tasty food for them!
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Wapiti grows one of the biggest sets of antlers among the females
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Little Brie looking amused!
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Beautiful Caddis is easily recognisable with her patchy white face
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Grunter and Max enjoying a drink at the loch at our Balcorrach Hill farm

Tales from Glenlivet: Another Muckle Spate (Doric for “a big flood”)

Since Minute terrified himself and the curlew chick  a lot of water has quite literally ‘gone under the bridge’. About 4 weeks ago there was tremendous heavy rainfall in the Cairngorm Mountains which resulted in the River Avon (pronounced locally “A’an”) beside our Glenlivet farm rising 6 feet in just a matter of hours.

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The beautiful Loch A’an

The source of the River Avon is Loch Avon at the back of Cairngorm Mountain, a long slender loch with a beautiful sandy beach and crystal clear water. It is not a popular beach for the family because to get to it you have to climb up on to the Cairngorm Plateau ( about 2,500 ft of climb ) followed by a similar drop down the other side.

The sudden rise in water levels caught out one fisherman on the river who had crossed onto one of the islands to improve his fishing chances. When the river rose so rapidly he hollered for help and luckily one of our neighbours realised the gravity of the situation and called mountain rescue. The first we knew about it was a mountain rescue helicopter arriving and plucking him off to safety.

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The damage caused by last year’s flood – Moskki the terrier surveying the missing section of road

Just a year ago a similar flood happened in August. Once again heavy rain in the Cairngorms brought havoc to many of the rivers and tributaries and the A’an got its fair share of water with the levels this time rising by about 12 feet. In a space of just 12 hours the heightened water washed trees and debris down and ‘ate away’ at the river bank near our farm before the bank finally gave way, washing 40 metres of the A’anside road downstream. It was six weeks before the road was repaired and re-opened.

If you look back in history there is the famously recorded “muckle spate” of August 2nd to 4th 1829 where heavy rain and thunderstorms in the Cairngorm produced floods which claimed 8 lives, numerous buildings and many cattle and sheep. It would seem that summertime is when these spates occur and it does make you wonder if two floods in the last two years says something about climate change and global warming.

Weather is extremely topical just now with record low temperatures being recorded here. The number of sunny days could almost be counted on one hand during July and there have been times at night when the temperature has dropped to nigh on zero. Not good for the farmer needing his crops to grow, but great for reindeer who struggle in the heat of the day and get frustrated by the buzzing insects that come out in force on warm sunny days.

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Boys enjoying the cooler summer weather this year

So there is a silver lining in every cloud, whether it be rain, sun or overcast conditions, someone or something will benefit from the topsy turvy weather we seem to get these days.

Tilly

Tales from Glenlivet: Minute and the Curlew Chick

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Minute with some of the Glenlivet herd

Here at our Glenlivet farm one of the best times of day is the evening, when the reindeer are herded back out onto the hill for the night. As they slowly walk up through the birch wood, clicking as they go, the wood is alive with songbirds singing as they flit from tree to tree.

The birch wood is rich with young leaves to browse, moist tree lichens to nibble and underfoot fresh herbs and grasses to graze on. So the reindeer take a while to wend their way up to the top of the wood.

Yesterday evening as I reached the open hill with the reindeer in front of me, a pair of curlew were circling above us, madly calling and quite upset that we had disturbed them. Their calls became agitated and one of them landed in front of the reindeer and scuttled ahead trying to lead the reindeer away. It’s at this point that I realised why there is such a commotion. Minute, our biggest three year old bull with very long velvet antlers, was looking inquisitive with his nose close to the ground. Right in front of him was a brown and creamy white fluffy ball of young feathers, a curlew chick, probably only hatched the day before. Minute looked as surprised as the chick at their encounter and turned to join the herd while the wee chick scuttled into the rushes.

Peace returned as the reindeer headed for the hills and the parents of the chick realised the danger had gone. I walked back down through the wood, the sun setting and the songbirds still calling.

A great way to finish a spring day on our farm.

Tilly