Reindeer Lookalikes

In January 2023 I wrote a blog about reindeer looking like their close relatives: https://www.cairngormreindeer.co.uk/2023/01/20/mini-me-reindeer/

As we are now in calving season, I have recently heard myself saying “she looks just like her big sister when she was a calf” or fellow reindeer herder Lotti saying “she looks exactly like her mum as a new born”.

So, it got me thinking, perhaps it’s time for another blog about family resemblances.

Emmental’s boys!

Emmental in 2020, with her pale coat and white nose.

Emmental is a beautiful, mature breeding female, now aged 11 years old. She is rather pale in colour with a white muzzle. Over the years she has been a successful mother and has three surviving sons named Olmec, Iskrem and Ob. Yes, we chose names all beginning with vowels. But that’s not their only similarity. They also all have white noses, just like mum! Looking back through photos of them all as calves it’s easy to confuse who is who.

Emmental herself aged four months old, in 2013.
Olmec as a four month old calf in 2016.
Olmec as an adult with very similar face markings to his mum!
Iskrem also at four months old with the same beautiful colouring.
Emmental with her calf six-month-old calf Ob who also has the white nose (November 2023).

Pony’s girls!

Pony was a rather notorious reindeer in our herd with serious amounts of attitude! She was born in 2011 and sadly passed away a couple of years ago aged 11, which is a fair age for a reindeer. She left us with four surviving offspring – two males Poirot and Cowboy, and two females called Suebi and Turtle. It’s the girls who can sometimes make me confused! Their both normal-coloured, their antler shapes are similar, and they have also both inherited some of Pony’s attitude! We have nicknamed Turtle, “Snapping Turtle” as she often waves her head and smacks her lips at us if we can walk past her too closely.

Pony in 2016 aged 5. Pony herself was very easy to recognise as she was missing the tips of her ears, but look at the shape of her antlers compared to her daughters Suebi and Turtle…
Suebi in 2019 aged 3.
Turtle in September 2023, also aged 3.
Just for good measure, here’s Pony as a three year old too! Note lack of ear tips so very easy to identify.

Suebi and Turtle are both breeding females. Suebi has the lovely Scoop, a two year old male, and also is the mother of the twins Elbe and Alba. Turtle has Amur, who has just turned one and is proving to be a very sweet-natured lad. Time will tell whether they produce any lookalike females!

I’ll leave it there for now but who knows, perhaps I can write a third installment in the future as there are lots of other examples within the herd.

Ruth

Memorable reindeer: Lute

My chosen reindeer to write about this time is Lute, who was already a middle-aged female when I first started as a reindeer herder, back in 2007. She died quite a few years back now so the younger staff here won’t remember her at all. But I do, and writing these blogs is not only a nice way to get something written down about a reindeer who may otherwise gradually fade from the mists of memory, but also an enjoyable excursion for me in to my own memories.

January 2011
Lute with one of her calves, Ludo, displaying her typical squint stance. To add to the overall ‘odd’ look, she also had quite bulgy eyes!

Bit of a nuisance for a reindeer, come to think of it, as they normally conserve energy by their hind feet tracking right into the hoofprints left by their forefeet, saving energy when walking in snow for example. Perhaps Lute always made sure to walk in the middle of the herd where her hind hooves could follow someone else’s tracks? Despite her ‘disability’, Lute never really seemed to have any issue keeping up with the herd, so it had just become a quirk specific to her by the time I arrived on the scene. It did mean you could pick her out amongst the herd a couple of miles away through binoculars sometimes, making you look good in front of unsuspecting visitors/volunteers/new staff members when you said knowingly about the dots running down the hillside ‘ah yes, there’s Lute’.

Lute also stood out that first winter for me as she’d grown excellent, enormous antlers for a female reindeer. There must have been something in the water that year, as many of the females had incredible antlers, some despite also having a calf at foot (which normally saps their energy enough to reduce their antler growth). Most years, in the second half of her life anyway, she tended towards growing rather twisted, oddly-shaped antlers. Matching her twisted, odd gait!

Lute when I first knew her – her tall antlers contrasting nicely with Polo’s rounded ones, and Ring’s much smaller, simpler ones.

Good genetics ran in the family, it seems. Lute was one of 11 calves for her mum Ferrari, back in the days when we would let reindeer breed every year. Nowadays we tend to give them a year off from time to time. But Ferrari popped out calf after calf no bother, with Lute being the eighth. Lute herself went on to be a very productive cow too, also with 11 calves to her name, although not all of them survived to adulthood. When I started she had Bean at foot, and then in 2010 her calf Lace was the first newborn reindeer I ever saw. Lace is still with us today, now nearly 14, and has become a real leader amongst the herd. By this I actually mean ‘dominant and bossy’. She’s a much bolder character than her mum ever was – I don’t really remember Lute being anything other than gentle and mild, a real sweetheart.

Lute with Lace as a calf. Presumably mum Ferrari never taught her not to pee in the pool?

Lute bred some relatively shy offspring too, in particular Fada. But characteristics seem to skip generations sometimes, as Fada bred lovely calves usually, the standout being Hopscotch. Hopscotch is still with us today and is now the matriarch of a dynasty of reindeer, including Busby, Pip, Tub and Juniper among others. Quite a legacy for Lute’s family line!

Granddaughter Hopscotch and great-granddaughter Kipling.

Born in 2000, Lute (who was named in the ‘musical’ theme), lived to a good age, passing away out on the mountains in the autumn or early winter of 2013. Daughter Lace is a little older than that now herself, and another daughter, Wapiti, got to around 15 years old, so there are some good long-living genes running in the family still!

Hen

Dynasties – Spy

A few years ago, Andi started a series of blogs titled Dynasties after watching the David Attenborough series with the same title. These highlighted matriarchs within the herd, in particular some of our most successful breeders. I thought I would continue this theme and in this blog I will write about Spy. I have only know Spy as an adult reindeer, and she has always been notorious for being a feisty girl, in fact you can read an entire blog about why we are all a little afraid of Spy, written a couple of years ago by Hen: Spy – the reindeer we’re all a bit scared of – The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd.

Spy with some of the most beautiful (and pointy) antlers in our herd.
Spy at 7 years old.

Whilst she is fairly wild most of the time, she becomes particularly terrifying when she has a newborn calf. Most of the reindeer, particularly the older mums are quite happy for us to be nearby their calves, knowing we won’t cause them any harm. Spy however will absolutely not let you anywhere near any of her calves, if you read through Hen’s blog linked above it will tell you all about the different tactics required at calving time. Whilst we curse Spy lots of the time, her fierce protection of her offspring makes her a fantastic mother and she has raised now 4 strong female calves; Morven, Dante, Florence and Sundae. In fact, all 11 of Spy’s surviving descendants are female, guaranteeing the continuation of her genetics.

Spy feeding Florence.

Morven was born in 2015 and was named in the ‘Scottish hill races’ theme. Morven has always been a fairly independent reindeer, like her mother. She’s definitely tamer but you still wouldn’t always guarantee being able to catch her out on the free-range. She’s one of the strongest and healthiest reindeer in our herd and herself has now had two daughters of her own, Pinto and Mochi.

Morven as a calf.
Morven showing off her beautiful antlers.

Pinto was born in 2020 and despite being one of our Covid calves, is tamer than her mother yet again. It seems as though with each generation, Spy is diluted a little. Pinto has now had her first calf, the incredibly sweet Orinoco who was born last year. Orinoco is very sweet and tame, but not pushy at all, making her a favourite amongst herders. Mochi is also a real sweetie, she is now almost two years old but due to being one of the smallest of her year is often mistaken for a calf, which sometimes results in her getting preferential feeding along with the calves which she’s certainly not complaining about.

Pinto free-ranging in the winter.
Orinoco on the free range aged 4 months old and clearly very relaxed in our presence already.
Mochi as a calf, who looks much like her mum at the same age.

Dante was born in 2017 and is without a doubt one of the prettiest members of our herd. She also grows an impressive set of antlers each year, even whilst rearing a calf at the same time. Dante whilst also shy in nature, through years of bribery is now reliable to catch and a lovely reindeer to work with. She herself has now had three daughters, Mangetout, Glacée and Amazon.

Dante as a 2 year old.
Dante fully grown.

Mangetout is now fully grown and mother herself, but I couldn’t resist this photo of her as a newborn calf! Mangetout is also tame enough to reliably catch, but occasionally granny Spy shines through as she shows us her beautiful (and pointy) antlers! Mangetout had her own calf this year who we have named Darling. There was some controversy over whether we would name a calf Darling, after the river in Australia. Some of the herders thinking it was a bit too ‘cute’. In the end we thought if we gave is to Mangetout’s calf (Spy’s great-granddaughter) she would almost certainly turn out to be the opposite! So far she has proved us wrong and is generally a lovely reindeer, although can be a bit of a menace if you try to stand between her and a bag of feed.

Mangetout as a new born calf in 2020.
Mangetout at 3 years old.
Darling with mum behind.

Dante’s middle daughter Glacée is now almost two and like her big sister, was also given a French name, the word for ice cream. Glacée is very recognisable as she’s got a big white tuft of hair between her antlers! Amazon, her younger sister, is without a doubt the most impressive calf born last year. Her antlers are absolutely huge, with elaborate splits in them and she’s just as tall as many of the yearlings.

Glacée
Amazon as a calf, already being mistaken for a yearling.

Florence is the next down in Spy’s daughters. She was born in 2019 as is named after the Italian city. I would say she is tamer yet again than either of her sisters, she is the spit of her mother in looks but temperament wise is much calmer. Florence has calved just once, and very sadly he didn’t survive his first summer. Florence is almost 5 so I have no doubt she will have many more breeding years in the herd and will go on to produce just as many wonderful reindeer as either of her sisters.

Spy and Florence.
Florence at almost 3 years old.

Sundae is the youngest and last of Spy’s daughters. She was born in 2022 and named after an ice cream Sundae. Sundae has got a white nose, which she gets from her dad, Spartan. The rest of her features, including the big white rings around her eyes and her large slightly floppy ears, are all Spy! Sundae is now almost two years old and has lost her antlers a bit earlier than some of the others so currently spends feeding time doing her very best calf impression to sneak into the ‘calf only’ green feed sacs. Who can blame her though!

Sundae as a calf with Spy behind.
Sundae and Spy a year later, still side by side.

Spy will be thirteen this year so whilst her breeding days are now behind her (cue huge sigh of relief from all the reindeer herders involved in calving season), her legacy will be continued by all her offspring. She currently has 4 daughters, 5 grand-daughters and 2 great-granddaughters, all of whom are either at breeding age or will be in the next couple of years. There is definitely no fear of the Spy line dying out in our herd, but diluting her ‘Spyness’ a little with each generation, is definitely no bad thing!

Spy at 12 years old, still in her prime.

Lotti

Old lady Okapi

I’m lacking in inspiration, motivation and time to think of a new and so-far unused blog topic, so this week I’m going for the old tried-and-tested method – pick a reindeer and write about him/her.

This week’s subject is Okapi. I’ve known Okapi her entire life, and at 15 and a half years old, it’s a long life indeed. Whilst not right up there in my very, very top favourite reindeer, she’s always been in the upper echelons of the reindeer herd, and I reckon most other herders would agree – collectively amongst us, she’s held in extremely high affection.

Okapi was born in 2008, her mum Esme’s third calf. Esme was a lovely reindeer, and was actually the subject of our very first blog, back in 2015! I first met Okapi at a few months old, at which point she was easily distinguishable from the other 2008 calves by the silver hairs on her face, giving her the appearance of wearing war-paint.

Those silver hairs eventually spread across the rest of Okapi’s body, and although she is still want we would call ‘normal-coloured’, she’s a much greyer colour than many of the other reindeer in the same colour category. Coat colour runs in family lines – Esme was on the silvery side too, as were many other members of the family, most notably Okapi’s big brother Elvis. Elvis became a legendary reindeer in our herd, living to 17 and only passing away a few months ago.

Silvery-coated big bro Elvis

Okapi has always been a ‘leader’ in the herd, a relatively dominant female and generally one of the first to start moving in the right direction when we call the herd from a distance, leading them towards us. Reindeer like this are worth their weight in gold to us as a lot of the winter season is spent bellowing towards specks on a distant hill, and wondering whether they are going to come to us or we are going to have to go to them… It needs a dominant reindeer to sigh, stand up and start moving to get the rest of the herd underway too.

As a youngster, out free-ranging up on the mountains.

We usually like to breed from our loveliest female reindeer multiple times, but Okapi had a bit of a hitch in this respect. She had two lovely calves, in 2012 and 2013, Murray and Oka. Murray had the best set of antlers that we’ve seen on a calf in our herd, and we were very excited for what he would grow into in the future. Sadly it wasn’t to be, and he passed away at about a year old. Win some and lose some with animals, but this felt like a particularly hard loss.

Okapi with 8 month old Murray – look at those calf antlers!

Okapi’s second calf, Oka, was also lovely, but again didn’t survive long term – dying at about 2 years old. A huge shame, as a female she should have gone on to continue Okapi’s genetic line, but hey ho. Again these things happen, but it feels unfair for Okapi to have lost both her calves.

Oka

And that was that for Okapi’s motherhood career, as a few months after Oka’s birth she suffered a prolapse. This came completely out of the blue and we never knew what – if anything – triggered it, but the end result was that everything had to be pushed back into place more than once, and eventually permanent stitches were inserted by the vet to keep poor old Okapi’s bits where they should be. This meant no more calves for her – a real shame for a lovely 5 year old female in her prime.

Okapi’s classic pose – she’s a reindeer who almost always has her ears pricked. This is how I will remember her when she’s no longer with us.

But life as a permanently ‘single lady’ has meant Okapi has since been a lady of leisure, all her energy going into her own body each year, and quite possibly has contributed to her longevity. Almost every year she’s grown pretty big antlers, and it’s only really in the last couple of years she’s started to look ‘old’.

Never having calves at foot means that Okapi also spends a higher ratio of her time free-ranging out on the mountains, as there’s never really a reason for her to spend any length of time in our hill enclosure. She will come in now and then for a few days as all our reindeer need vaccinating a couple of times of year, or sometimes we’ll hold particularly friendly reindeer back in the enclosure so they can be part of a the group for filming, for example. But on average, I’d say Okapi spends 11.5 months a year out living a completely free lifestyle – pretty nice!

A life of luxury!

And finally, Okapi had one particular starring role – on the cover of our Naked Reindeer Herders charity calendar in 2023. But I don’t think too many people were looking at the reindeer, if I’m honest…

Okapi on the right,with Ochil, Ruth, Fiona, Marple and Lotti, left to right. What a line up!

Hen

A Family Affair

I thought I’d write a bit about the family trees of our herd for this week’s blog, since they work a little differently from a ‘standard’ human family tree. Those of you who have been adopting an individual reindeer within our herd for a while will probably have received a family tree at some point, as we send them out with adoption packs in even years of sponsorship (2nd, 4th, 6th etc) normally. I say ‘will probably have received’ however, as the Swedish born reindeer in our herd obviously don’t have them, and if you’ve only ever adopted the herd as a whole then you’ll not have seen one before.

We record the lineage of the reindeer born here in the herd, stretching back to the original ones imported from Sweden in the 50s, through the maternal line only (on the trees at least – of course we record the father of each calf on our database to keep track of their genetics). More dimensions than a sheet of A4 can offer would be required for anything more than the maternal line in this form however. Let’s look at a sample of a tree (apologies, you’ll probably have to zoom in to see it properly):

(no, I didn’t mean to scan in a leaf as well as the tree…)

This tree (above) is the one currently in use for the living descendants of female reindeer Russia (highlighted in red), born in 2005. As an example, you would receive this particular tree if you adopt Morse – you can see that he is the second of four calves for his mum Torch, herself the first of three offspring for Pavlova. Pavlova’s mum was Russia, Russia’s mum was Cherry, and so on. This goes right the way back to Vilda at the top, one of the reindeer brought over to Scotland in the 3rd consignment to join the growing herd, back in 1954. This particular family tree currently stands at 10 generations in the maternal line. In reality it’s actually more than that, as Morse himself is a breeding bull with multiple offspring, but let’s just stick to the maternal line and not confuse matters!

Vilda in 1955, aged 2 years old. The ancestor of many, many members of our herd!

But again A4 paper has it’s limitations, and as Russia’s mum Cherry (highlighted green on the tree above) was such a productive breeding female then this tree has had to be split into multiple ones once all her calves started calving themselves and we ran out of space. So Cherry’s descendants are now on three separate trees, the top halves of which are all identical until Cherry and her nine calves, but then different below. So Cherry’s daughter Cello (highlighted red below) went on to lots of descendants mainly via her daughter Fonn, who are on this tree:

…whilst another daughter, Tjakko (highlighted red below), was also very productive, as seen on this version of the tree:

This explains why sometimes we chat away about a relative of your reindeer in your adoption letter – who doesn’t seem to exist on the tree you’ve also received in your pack. We haven’t made them up – they’re just on an adjacent branch of their tree that you don’t have!

At times we get a family line that effectively runs out of breeding females – a so-called ‘dead line’. Not the nicest of names perhaps, but it is what is says on the tin… Tjakko’s tree, above, is an example of this – the only living female still remaining on it is Ibex, now too old to breed, so this tree will never change. As a result in this situation we stop sending the trees out to adopters once they’ve received it in it’s final state, as there’s no point receiving it again and again with no additions. Ibex does actually have descendants but they are on yet another permutation of this tree, showing her offspring and those of Bumble.

Within the animal world, there is quite a ‘flexible’, shall we say, approach to age and generations, in comparison to humans at least. We tend to breed our female reindeer up to the age of around 12 or 13, but usually only with a bull aged 3-5. This is because we castrate our male reindeer at this age, but females are never castrated as there’s no need for us to do so. Reindeer calve first (usually) at age 3, so a 3 year old bull could be three generations younger than some of his ladies, if he has a 12 year old cow in his harem. Questionable, in the human world anyway, but no reindeer eyebrows are raised. 

5 year old bull Sherlock during this year’s rut, with his older ladies (left to right) Feta (10), Jenga (12) and Torch (11).

The shortest family tree I can find is that of Okapi, consisting of only 8 generations in total including Vilda back in 1954. But again this is a family that has calved itself into a breeding cul-de-sac, as it were, with no new additions since 2013. In contrast, the most generations in a tree is 13, with two year old Sombrero and yearling Solero the most recent of the generations.

Okapi’s family tree (she has outlived both of her calves).

I thought that as a final part to this blog – and a way of getting some photos of actual reindeer into it – here’s some photo evidence of the 8 generations of Okapi’s tree. Vilda we’ve seen already, and I can’t actually find a photo of Sarah. We will no doubt have one in the albums, but we’ve only digitised up to the early 60s so far so I don’t have one to hand… But then comes Eidart, who was apparently the first reindeer that herd owner Tilly ever met, when she arrived here in 1981:

Eidart, with one of her calves

Eidart’s final calf was Trout, who held the joint record for oldest ever member of the herd (aged 18) for many years, until 19 year old Lilac stole her crown.

Trout in her latter years

Trout was an extremely productive female, with 11 calves to her name, the final one being Amber:

Amber

…whose first calf was Esme….

Esme

…the mother of Okapi.

Okapi

And finally – the end of the line – came Oka. Sadly she died before producing any offspring herself, effectively bringing this line of reindeer to an abrupt end.

Oka

So there you have it, a bit of info about our family trees. So should you get one in your next adoption pack, you can think about all those reindeer who came before your lovely adoptee.

Hen

Memorable reindeer of the past: Lulu

Normally I write these sort of blogs about reindeer who are long since passed, but Lulu was a bit of a favourite of mine so despite dying relatively recently, she’s getting special treatment.

Charging towards a feed bag!

Born in 2006, Lulu was one of the very few reindeer in the herd alive until recently who were here when I first started, back in 2007. She was just a yearling at that point, but even at that stage her reputation preceded her and we called her ‘ASBO Lulu’ on a regular basis, due to her habit of occasionally nailing visitors with her small (but still sharp) antlers. I remember having to split her off from the main herd in the enclosure every morning, to keep a nice tall fence between her and any unsuspecting people.

Aged 6 months

Going back to 2006, Lulu was orphaned at about 6 months old, her mother Nugget passing away whilst Lulu was away with one of the Christmas teams at some festive events down south. Having to fend for herself from a relatively young age presumably helped to hone her tenacious character. Lulu was 18 months old when I first knew her, so I sadly don’t remember Nugget.

Lulu at 2 years old

Lulu grew into a very distinctive reindeer, light coloured with a particularly pale forehead, and small, neat antlers with lots of points. A pair of these are on the wall in my house still. Although she never grew particularly huge antlers, throughout her life she was unpredictable with them, and you could never trust her not to go for a visitor. It was never outright aggression – just done for fun. I heard tales from multiple walkers over the years who had bumped into a group of free-ranging reindeer and told me of a white one who kept ‘attacking’ them. Ah, you met Lulu, then.

Butter wouldn’t melt!
I once went walking in the mountains with my Dad, on a day off, and were joined unexpectedly by Lulu, who accompanied us for several hours.

I’ve just looked at Lulu’s calving record, to remind myself of who she had. Incredibly, all of the 8 calves she had over the course of her lifetime were male, an unsurpassed record in the herd surely. She didn’t have the best success as a young mum, with her first couple of calves not making it past a few months old. Then came LX though, born in 2012, and he’s still with us in the herd today. Born light brown with a white forehead, he turned white and looked very similar to Lulu, albeit in male form.

Lulu with LX

Pure white Blue was next, and then Lulu fancied a change in colour and had a jet black calf the following year! Her moment of calving glory however, was the birth of the first live twins in the herd, in 2018. Named Starsky and Hutch, we had great fun with these guys through the summer months, and all the visitors loved meeting them in the hill enclosure on the tours. Sadly neither survived long term, leading us to make the decision that if and when we had live twins born again we would hand-rear one of them and leave mum to cope with only one – a decision that had to kick into action this spring with Suebi’s twins.

With Starsky and Hutch, a few hours old.

12 years old when Starsky and Hutch were born, we decided that that was it for Lulu and it was time to retire from motherhood and enjoy life as an old lady with no hangers-on. That she did, still periodically nailing visitors from time to time – even just last winter we had to move her to join a part of the herd elsewhere away from the tours after she did her best to annihilate a somewhat surprised lady! 16 and a half and still disreputable – what a gal. For context, the average age for a female reindeer is around 13 – to be clouted by a 16 year old reindeer is akin to being beaten up by an ancient granny wielding her zimmer.

The photo of Lulu that visitor Tessa Wingfield sent us last winter, having a closer than expected encounter with her on a Hill Trip. The photo made us cry laughing – we do apologise for her behaviour, Tessa!
ASBO Lulu

Lulu was very healthy all of her life – bar a brief but nasty illness in 2018 when we thought we’d lose her – but this year she started to show her age and she was found out on the mountains having passed away in the late summer. 17 is an excellent age, so Lulu had a great innings and outlived all but two of her compatriots from the 2006 calving, as well as most of her offspring. Her and her bad behaviour have been a constant throughout my time here, so amongst the herders I’ll miss her particularly I think.

Hen

Memorable reindeer of the past: Chelsea

It’s been a long time since I found time to write about a reindeer who’s no longer with us, but I’m acutely aware that it is high time for me to take my turn to write a blog, so here we are.

This time I thought I’d pick Chelsea, who only died last year but she’d lived a good long life and been around for the vast majority of my time here, so she seems like a good choice. Born in 2009, she was Glacier’s second to last calf, and Glacier was a very productive female so Chelsea was from a large family line! Like Glacier, Chelsea was a light coloured reindeer, but one without face markings, which is actually a rarity in our herd nowadays – most light coloured reindeer also have distinctive face markings. But Chelsea came from a line of light reindeer – mum Glacier, granny Ferrari and great-granny Vivi were all the same colouration, and doubtless ancestors before were too (but I don’t have that info to hand just now).

Chelsea with mum Glacier, back in 2009

Despite Glacier being a lovely, tame reindeer, Chelsea was always much more ‘independent’ – the word we use to describe a reindeer who is on the ‘wilder’ side! I remember her well as a calf – mainly from battling with her trying to get her used to wearing a halter. All our calves are trained to halter at around 5 months old, and Chelsea certainly had a lot of attitude and strong opinions about the whole affair.

At 5 months old, Chelsea’s baby coat had been replaced by her adult, lighter coat

Possibly the headstrong attitude came with the name. She was born the year we named the calves after ‘cakes, biscuits and puddings’, and during our naming evening we had a conversation about the name ‘Chelsea’ being too associated with the football team rather than the bun. And it sounded like a name for a footballer’s wife… Having just vetoed it, we offered our volunteer Paul – a retired joiner who has come to work with us multiple times over many, many years – the chance to pick a name for a calf. Having apparently not paid the slightest attention to the entire conversation, he peered at the list of possibilities and promptly picked ‘Chelsea’. We rolled our eyes and gritted our teeth… and named her Chelsea.

Chelsea and another calf in the back of one of our vehicles at a Christmas event, waiting to be unloaded.

Sally and I had Chelsea on our Christmas team that winter, and were rather embarrassed by her name so we called her Tiffin for a few days. But names just become names, and Chelsea became Chelsea whilst Tiffin disappeared into the ether.

So much attitude! Picking a fight with bull Pera

Chelsea had her first calf at 3 years old, in our diamond anniversary year of the herd. So we named her Diamond, and she has proved to be a lovely reindeer over the years, mellow where Chelsea is feisty, but she looks very, very similar.

Diamond at about a month old – calves born with white foreheads like this invariably turn into white adults

In 2015 Diamond reached maturity and in 2016 she had her first – and only – calf, Pagan. 2016 was also the year when Chelsea and Diamond both grew such similar antlers that year that we continuously got them muddled up. The photo below seems to be the only one I have of the two of them together that year – but look how similar!

Chelsea and Diamond. Or is it Diamond and Chelsea?

Chelsea did mellow a bit with age, but remained a reindeer that never willingly allowed herself to be caught. In a moment of necessity I did once make a bid to catch her by her antlers out on the mountains – once the velvet has stripped away from the antlers no feeling remains, so antlers can occasionally be useful emergency handles – but regretted it immediately, and had bruises to show for my bad decision afterwards.

Such a beautiful girl!

Dying in early 2022 at nearly 13 years old, Chelsea lived a full and rewarding life, most of her time spent roaming freely out on the mountains. Whilst she had a few calves, most were males who we didn’t breed from, so only Diamond continued her line. Grand-daughter Pagan has sadly gone now too, but she has left daughters Pumpkin and Winnie behind – Chelsea’s great-granddaughters – so Chelsea’s legacy continues. The light colour has gone though – both of this most recent generation are the ‘normal’ brown colour.

Hen

Golden Oldies

A common question that we get asked on our Hill Trips is ‘how long do reindeer live for?’. The answer is usually anything between 11 – 15 years old with the females typically living a little longer than the males. The oldest reindeer we’ve ever had in our herd was a female called Lilac living to a grand old age of 19, while our oldest male Elvis is still currently living at 17 years old. The older generation in our herd have a pretty good life, the females spend almost the whole year free ranging on open mountain where they know all the best spots for grazing and where they can find the most peace. The older males do free-range on the hills for 3 – 4 months a year and then spend their days at our hill farm near Glenlivet, even with access to the hill they typically spend there time eating and sleeping but that’s totally fine by us. For me, some of the biggest characters in the herd are the older reindeer and even though I’ve only known them since 2017, I thought it would be nice to tell you a bit about some of my favourite females who are on the mature side of life.

Some of our golden oldies enjoying the free range – Diamond (aged 10), Sambar (15), Gazelle (15), Lulu (17), Silk (13) and Addax (15).

Fly – At 16 years old, Fly is the joint 4th oldest reindeer in our herd along with Fern. For years now she has come across as the natural leader and matriarch of the herd and will regularly be found leading the reindeer to a call or to the areas of best grazing. She’s always grown a cracking set of antlers too which have sometimes been the largest female set of the year and usually starts to grow her new set of antlers before any other female. Other herders have told me that Fly was quite an aloof reindeer when she was younger and even to this day she isn’t exactly tame, but she has maybe learned to trust us a bit more in recent years and will happily take handfeed from us now. Being such a big reindeer she’s unmistakable once you get to know them all as individuals and it’s always nice to see her doing so well at her age. These days she keeps herself on the outside of the bigger groups of reindeer not getting involved in the hustling and pushing of other aspiring females, but I feel like her presence is never missed. For her age Fly is in amazing condition and I hope that she can remain a key member of the herd for some time still.

Fly looking fierce! September 2022,
Fly leading the herd – April 2023.

Fern – Fern was one of the first reindeer I ever got to know, and she’s got such a sweet and friendly character. Also 16 years old, she is once again looking amazing for her age and growing another great set of antlers. I sometimes think that reindeer can give a sense of calmness to people in the way they are so relaxed and docile, and no reindeer acts more like this than Fern. I do feel like I abuse her easy-going nature sometimes, whenever I’m in need of catching out a reindeer to help lead the herd or pair a reindeer up with one that needs to come off the hill, I can always rely on Fern to easily put a halter on and help out in such situations, she never seems to mind ands always does a wonderful job. A couple of years ago Fern also did something I’ve never seen another reindeer do and that was to take on another calf while also raising her own, Kiruna had lost his mother on the free-range, he was adopted by Fern along with her calf Dublin and for some time we didn’t even know which young reindeer was her calf because she treated them both equally. All in all, she’s just a wonderful reindeer.

Fern in February 2023.
Both Fly and Fern together – April 2023. The food crumbs on Fly’s nose are a bit of a giveaway!
Fern growing lovely antlers – May 2023.

Okapi – Okapi turned 15 in May but in my mind I’ve always thought of her as one of the oldies, I sound so mean to write this but she’s always had older looking face compared to any other reindeer her age. She couldn’t be a more friendly reindeer and has very gentle personality. Very unfortunately when Okapi was 5 years old she prolapsed on several occasions and as a result was no longer able to calve. This meant that since then, she has spent a long life of predominantly free-ranging on the open mountains. It’s always great to come across her on the free-range as she usually heads straight toward us once she realises we have food. She’s quite a greedy reindeer but she doesn’t push it like some of the others in our herd. I like to give her little extra handfuls of food most times I see her because she’s always just so nice and I know she’s a reindeer most herders admire too. It’s also worth mentioning that Okapi’s older brother is Elvis, there must be something in the genes for Okapi and Elvis to be living for as long as they have.

Beautiful Okapi!
A more typical picture of Okapi – February 2023.

Ryvita – Everyone loves Ryvita! At 14 years old, she’s been a favourite among reindeer herders for many a year now and is the perfect balance of being friendly, cheeky and confident. She will always come over to say hello, or more likely see if there is any food, and will happily follow you around for as long as it takes until you give in and offer her a little hand feed. Over the years, Ryvita has been one of the most photographed reindeer in our herd. Like Fly she grows her antlers early and always knows how to strike a pose for the camera. She’s also quite distinctive for her having a very wide belly and I’ve regularly been asked if she’s pregnant, my usual reply is ‘no, that’s just Ryvita’. Ryvita is part of a large family group and all the reindeer from that line and very friendly and sweet.

Ryvita – August 2021.
Ryvita – May 2023. Growing lovely antlers already.

Joe

Bingo

Bingo is one of our older Christmas reindeer now at the age of 12 years old. He has always been a pretty, what’s the polite way of saying it, aloof reindeer. He’s not timid, cos he has plenty of confidence but he’s certainly had his moments over the years where he falls into the category of being very head strong or independent. Lets just say when working with him out on the open hill some swear words may have been passed amongst herders when trying to herd Bingo!

Bingo in September 2019 – before his Christmas duties with Fiona and Joe.

The days of bringing the herd down from our winter grazing at Glenlivet usually involved a few of us on foot pushing the herd down to our corral on the hill ready to bring them back to our hill farm for the summer. Without fail for years Bingo would always double back and for anyone who has tried to chase a four-legged animal, flat out going up hill you’ll know it’s a losing battle. On the odd occasion we did either turn him, or he decided to go in with the herd (this was rare), he was first to be brought off the hill to avoid the risk of him somehow finding his way out!

Bingo as a cute calf in September 2011.
Bingo in 2012 – his independent nature starting to show!

As I said earlier he’s one of our Christmas reindeer. This means he’s trained to harness and pull the sleigh and to be fair to him he’s a total pro. Having done some pretty big events over the years including the very prestigious Windsor Castle he doesn’t put a foot wrong and being so handsome he of course looks great too. When I had him in my team Christmas 2019 my team mate, Joe, had to do lots of sweet talking and bribery with Bingo. For whatever reason Bingo took a dislike to Joe. Whenever we had to go about our normal handling of catching, loading, putting on harness Bingo always showed his antlers to Joe. Never me, I could walk up to him and he’s act like a well behaved dog and not put a foot wrong but he did not like Joe. Joe would find himself trying to win him over… extra lichen treats and giving him lots of personal space but more often than none he’d just find Bingo poking him with his antlers… Needless to say I found it very amusing! So much so that when Bingo cast his antlers before Christmas 2019 on Christmas Day I said to Joe I had a present for him but he had to close his eyes. Then I proceeded to poke him with Bingos antlers, this was Joe’s special Christmas present for Joe and now Joe has them mounted in his room, never to forget the wonderful friendship the two of them had…

Bingo at Windsor Castle – so fancy!
Joe and Bingo both being very professional and cracking on with the job at hand, despite Bingo’s desire to poke Joe.

However, I think Bingo has slightly mellowed over the years. Maybe running in the opposite direction every time we want to bring the herd in has worn thin and is maybe just a bit exhausting now in his older years. A couple months ago when we brought the free range herd into out hill corral for some annual management we were handling reindeer and low and behold Bingo come down to the corral of his own accord. I got myself a small bag of feed and halter and open the gate. He comes waltzing in, head in the bag of feed and I pop his halter on… Does that mean we no longer have to chase him around the hill side anymore, I do hope so.

I’ve definitely got a soft spot for Bingo. As lovely as it is having a well behaved Christmas reindeer who never puts a foot wrong and always obliges when we’re doing any handling there is something about a challenge and Bingo has certainly provided us with a challenge over the years. He’s got a spark to him which I love and he didn’t poke me with his antlers so maybe we have a mutual agreement between the two of us? Who knows…

Fiona

Sunny’s Adventures

Over the Christmas period Sunny, our hand reared calf of 2022, was out and about joining in with our Christmas tour. He join me on most of my events and was a great hit with the public. Sometimes if we had a one of our older Christmas reindeer who was in training or just preferred being tucked in at the back of the sleigh and not so exposed to big crowds then Sunny would stride forward on the outside and what a great job he did too!

We sometimes stayed overnight at one of our farm bases away form home between events so we would have to take his milk with us so he could get his morning bottle of warm milk. He was such a mummies boy but lets face it both him and I liked that. Sometimes it would be myself out on a team with either Lotti or Ruth. This was his favourite as it was predominantly the three of us who put the most time into raising him so he was quite happy!

Often we would take a more timid calf who needed the training alongside Sunny as he’s such a good role model. Saying that sometimes they were best buds and other times they would push each other around. Much like small children claiming to be best friends one minute and worst enemies the next.

So a short and sweet blog but here are a few photos of his adventures over the Christmas period. Enjoy! Cos I did!

Sunny all set and ready for his event, just tapping his hoof and waiting for Fiona!
Usually reindeer are transported in our wee truck or one of our hired Christmas lorries, but this is not always necessary for Sunny! He’s so used to human company and very familiar with riding in the back of a van (it’s how he used to get up on to the hill each day over the summer) he’s happy chilling out in the back to get to Aviemore. He met the other members of the team there as they were arriving with Tilly from the farm.
Fiona and Sunny off to the display pen in Aviemore, waiting for Tilly and the reindeer to arrive from the farm.
Sunny plodding along on the outside of the sleigh, doing a super job of making sure 2.5 year old Hemp stays nice and relaxed on his inside.
Sunny (closest to camera) and the rest of the team relaxing in a pen after the parade in Aberfeldy. Sunny takes napping very seriously!
Before an event, Sunny and the team, relaxing in Dunkeld.
Sunny and Fiona in Strathaven.
A normal December evening in Reindeer House! On the nights Sunny stayed in the Paddocks he would sometimes spend a wee bit of time in the house. To be fair to Sunny, the red sign behind him does say “Reindeer Parking Only”.
Oh, Sunny!
Sunny helping Fiona organise the new 2023 calendar..
And after all his Christmas duties were over Sunny was put out on the free range with the boys, and also some cows and calves so he had good company, including his best buddy Zoom.

Fiona

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