The wonderful (and slightly disgusting) life of a reindeer mum

This year I was lucky enough to spend May looking after all the cows and calves during calving season, whilst most of the country was in lock-down. This was my first calving season and I found it really fascinating to watch how the behaviour of the reindeer changed once they had calved. Especially for the first-time mums who were acting purely on instinct, which amazed me how strong that is! There were a couple of things that I noticed a few of the mum’s doing in the hours and days after they had calved which I thought might be interesting to read about.

Licking their calf dry

The very first job of a reindeer once she has calved is to lick her calf dry. This year some of our calves were born in the snow so they want to get dry as quick as possible so that their fluffy calf coat can keep them warm. I was incredibly lucky to be able to watch Brie calve this year, I watched through binoculars as she carefully licked all the placenta off the calf, Cicero, until he looked like all the other calves I had seen at a couple of hours old – fluffy rather than slimy.

Eating the placenta

Being an arctic animal, every bit of nutrition reindeer can get is very important – placenta included. We found Ibex and her calf Flax when she was a couple of hours old, by which point Ibex was obviously feeling peckish. I can’t say that it looked particularly appetising to me but then I’m not a mother, nor a reindeer!

Licking their calf’s bum

To stimulate the calf suckling the mother must lick her calf’s bum. This all works in a cycle because the cow licking the calves’ bum stimulates the calf suckling and the more that the calf suckles the more milk that the cow will produce! All resulting in a good strong calf. It’s also very important to help keep the calf clean, their very first poo can be very sticky and a couple of the mums – mostly the ones who had had many calves before – didn’t do a very good job of licking their calves bottoms meaning we had to do it instead (cleaning it, not licking it….)! I can’t really believe how something so smelly can come out of something so sweet, so I guess I can’t really blame the cows. When the calf is really young the mum will also lift her leg so that the calf can suckle whilst lying down, here is Pagan demonstrating both very well with her calf Pumpkin!

Teaching the calves to walk  

The last thing that I found really interesting was the way that the mums get their newborn calves to start walking. As a prey animal it is very important that the reindeer are up on their feet as soon as possible. But how do they go from an incredibly wobbly newborn calf to the agile calves who can easily outrun me? The answer is lots of careful training from their mums. From when Cicero was about 20 minutes old, Brie started to stand up and walk a few metres away and wait for her calf to take a few wobbly steps over. The calf would then lie down exhausted for a while before she did the same again. Eventually the steps become less and less wobbly as the calves grow stronger.

Lotti

The year 2020, as told by Crowdie

(with apologies to Cheer, who has a dubious role this blog…)

January: Optimism going in to 2020, the year ahead of us all… it’s going to be great!

 

February: Hold up. What is this new devilry on the horizon?

 

March: Holy crap! Run away!!!

 

April: Lockdown…. battling the virus

 

May: Still going…

 

June: …and going….

 

July-September: Starting to win! Virus receding…

 

October: Uh-oh

 

December 31st: Can’t leave 2020 behind quick enough! Dear god let’s hope 2021 is better….

Sending love and respect to everyone who has struggled through 2020, in particular the NHS staff and all the essential workers who have worked throughout – to you all we raise a dram. Fingers crossed there are calmer waters ahead.

 

Merry Christmas all!

Well hasn’t 2020 been an unexpected year for us all?! We wanted to take the opportunity to share a little message on Christmas day – enjoy!

We hope everyone has a lovely peaceful Christmas and a good start to 2021, and big thanks to the wonderful Spud the Piper for helping add a little sparkle to this video – if you’d like some more bagpipes in your life check out his Facebook page @spudthepiper.

 

 

Reindeer Obsession!

This week’s blog is written by Candice, one of our long standing adopters, who has become something of a obsessed follower over the years! We regularly tell her she’s mad…

Candice helping out at at Christmas event, with Duke

My interest (or rather obsession!) with reindeer started in the early 90’s when holidaying with my parents, I was 11 and animal mad (I’m now 40 and still as besotted). So, one visit to see these wonderful creatures and I was hooked! I started adopting reindeer in 1995 and have now just signed up to my 26th year of supporting the scheme. Being from Kent, my visits only occurred 3 -4 times a year but no holiday was complete without a Hill Trip!

 

As the years went on and life progressed with exams, new jobs and house moves reindeer were never far from my thoughts, and relocation in 2004 resulted in me being only 80 miles from the herd instead of 580…RESULT! I was able to visit much more frequently and became a familiar face at Reindeer House, even though I know they all think I’m completely bonkers (Editor’s note: you’ll not find us arguing 😉 ) ! In 2008 I married Cameron and managed somehow to keep the reindeer obsession to a minimum until he’d signed on the dotted line, but of course we HAD to visit the reindeer on our honeymoon and then the extent of my addiction came to light!

In 2009 our daughter Pandra was born and our visits continued so inevitably she fell head over heels in love with the furry critters. At the age of 3 she took part in a series for CBeebies “Time for School” and for the Christmas episode the reindeer visited her school, Pandra proudly walked a little white calf on a lead rope into the playground in front of the cameras and the whole school. What we hadn’t realised that this was the making of a beautiful “friendship” between her and Blue, this pure white cutie. Three years later we were approached again by CBeebies to film more footage but this time in their natural environment of the Cairngorms for a programme called “The Let’s go Club”. Again it was the Christmas special and we spent a whole day filming out in the hills. By this time Pandra had a little brother, Oakley, who of course has HAD to love reindeer, luckily he does.

Pandra watching Fiona bottle feed Soleil…
…and graduating to having a go herself a couple of years later with Fergus!

 

Oakley and Olympic

Oakley made his first visit to the herd at 2.5 weeks old and at 9 months refused to be carried on the Hill Trip and crawled all the way! Making frequent visits, we visit every month, and being an active contributor to the social media platform you start recognising like-minded people and friendships form, sometimes you even stumble on each other on a Hill Trip, and you hear that terrifying phrase…”Oh so you’re Candice”….cringe!!! Mind you with reindeer vinyls plastered up the side of my car, I’m not easily missed! So, I decided to create a group where we reindeer enthusiasts (that’s the posh name!) can share pictures, stories and everything reindeer. We call ourselves the Reindeer Groupies and are all as mad as a box of frogs!

My car!

The group is 20+ strong and we meet up in smaller groups throughout the year either on the Hill Trip or with Tilly at her farm near Tomintoul (the second site for the reindeer herd) but we always try and have a large ‘Groupie Meet’ in October. This wonderful group of people from all over the UK, Holland and Denmark has all come about because of reindeer, of course Reindeer House think we’re all crazy but saying that on one of our October “get-togethers” Dave (reindeer herder) arrived for our private Hill Trip dressed as a reindeer so I’m not sure they have a leg to stand on!

First reindeer located at the car park….

At Christmas the reindeer usually visit town centres around the UK spreading Christmas cheer, of course the Groupies are always there (not all together!) lending a hand, chatting to the public and educating people about these superb creatures. Every November/December in ‘normal years’ I travel over 2,000 miles to various reindeer events which I have done for many years, I’m very lucky to be able to and even luckier to be trusted to do so. It is a great privilege to have had reindeer in my life for this long and I’m even luckier to have found a group of like-minded (even if slightly crazy) group of people that I can call lifelong friends! Long live the Groupies!

A quick ride on the sleigh while the herders were training the novice reindeer in October 2018

Candice

What’s in a name?

People who see our photos on social media without knowing much about us must wonder why some of our reindeer have such strange names. Where’s Dasher and Dancer? Prancer and Vixen? And Rudolph??? Where on earth have ‘Pavlova’, ‘Caterpillar’ and ‘Clouseau’ come from?!

Santa’s lesser known reindeer: Hopscotch, Kipling and Hobnob???

We’ve been naming the reindeer on a theme each year since the early 70s. As well as making life a bit easier for us coming up with 15 – 30 brand new names each year (where would you start otherwise?!), it has a very practical application in that it helps us remember the individual age of each reindeer, based on their moniker. For farmers naming animals is often done using words starting with a certain letter of the alphabet each year, but different themes is our chosen method.

Up until the early 70s Mr Utsi named his reindeer mainly just with human names, both English and Swedish in origin. However, in 1971, the calves were instead given names of different trees, such as Spruce, Larch and Alder. In 1972 it was birds: Raven, Wren and Hawk. And Tit (teehee).

Themes need to be chosen to have enough ‘good’ names; those not too long, not too complicated, not double-barrelled and either unisex or enough names suitable for a rough 50:50 split of male and female names within the theme. This rules out some ideas pretty quickly.

Camembert – no prizes for guessing her naming theme!

Over the years however, all the ‘obvious’ themes have now been done. Rivers; Butterflies; Countries; Sweeties – we’ve been there and done that. We do our best to never reuse a name as each reindeer is their own character and we feel they deserve an individual name, but also because it can cause confusion on the database if there’s more than one of the same. We do accidentally slip up however – I’m well aware that both Juniper and Frost in the herd are not the first of their kind. I think Lady holds the record – the Lady that I knew when I first started here turned out to be Lady the Third when I looked closely at the database…

So now we have to think outside the box, hence our slightly off-the-wall themes of later years. This year the calves are named after ‘Seeds, Peas and Beans’. We did ‘Police and Detectives’ recently. And before that ‘Ancient Civilisations’.

To an extent we try not to use themes that are too commercial, hence ‘car makes’ or ‘football clubs’ aren’t options. Something else we don’t generally do, or not nowadays at least, is to allow other people to name reindeer in our herd. This is quite a popular request, and most often comes from people wishing to name a reindeer in memory of someone in their family who really loved visiting the reindeer, or had some special connection with the herd for one reason or another. While this would seem a lovely tribute, sadly reindeer don’t live forever and we don’t want people to be too invested in a certain reindeer, only for it to pass away unexpectedly. Sod’s law is a big factor here – allow someone to name a reindeer in this manner and you can almost guarantee it will be the one to pop it’s clogs a week later… However, we like to accommodate people if possible, so we have in the past, in exceptional circumstances, allowed someone else to choose the theme (from a shortlist). We did it this year in fact – ‘Seeds, Peas and Beans’ was chosen in memory of a gentleman to whom gardening had been a very important part of his life.

While all the staff here are involved in naming the calves each year, the Smith family, who own the reindeer herd, have the final say in all names. And themes they don’t like won’t make the grade. Hence don’t bother asking us if ‘Game of Thrones’ will ever be the theme – I can tell you right now that it won’t. I did make a bid for ‘Sean’ for this years’ theme (think about it) but sadly it was out-ruled.

Just a gang of detectives… Sherlock, Poirot and Morse

Of course there end up being lots of exceptions to the rules and reindeer often end up with really random names, but I think some details of these can wait till a future blog.

Hen

 

The Real Rudolph

The Real Rudolph: A Natural History of the Reindeer was the second book I wrote and this time was commissioned by Sutton Publishing. The publisher had already come up with the title and they were looking for a book of ‘hard facts’.  Packed full of juicy info about reindeer and caribou (which are actually the same species, but coming from different parts of the world), I combined a lot of research with personal experiences and I was lucky to know a number of good photographers who kindly provided amazing photos which are littered through the book.

In Mongolia – Photo by Alex Smith

The photo on the front cover is from a picture I took of a reindeer bull in Outer Mongolia and I dedicated a chapter to my trip there in 2005 and also various excursions to Swedish Lapland, which ultimately led to us bringing new breeding stock back from there.

The first half of the book is all about their world distribution as a species, seasonal nature, arctic adaptations, how they fit into the ‘Deer Family’ and their domestication.  I did have one gentleman get in touch to say it was the most interesting and entertaining textbook of reindeer he had ever read!

But I was always conscious that readers would also be interested in the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, particularly since I would be selling it here at the Reindeer Centre and so the second half of the book was not just about my personal experiences of far flung ‘reindeer places’ but also some stories closer to home.

Rather closer to home… at home in fact! Here I am a couple of years ago on the hill ground of my farm with yearling bulls Burns and Dr Seuss. Photo: John Paul

Published for the Christmas market in 2006 it is now sadly out of print, but it can be acquired, very cheaply, on Amazon!! It is (although I say it myself) a very informative book, is well produced with high quality paper and photos inserted into the text, rather than clumped together in sections as they were in my first book, Velvet Antlers, Velvet Noses. That book is also out of print now, but my latest book Reindeer: An Arctic Life is in print and available on our online shop (please click here to have a look), along with several other books and items. Many are suitable for stocking fillers!

Tilly

The Dutch connection…

One of our long-standing supporters is Carola, who started by adopting a reindeer many years ago, and has since amassed quite a herd! Here’s her story about her love of the reindeer:
I am not only a reindeer ‘adopter’ but also a reindeer ‘groupie’. Yes, a groupie. We have a group of friends that are all reindeer mad. Most of them live in the UK, one in Denmark and my husband and I live in the Netherlands. We visited the Reindeer Centre for the first time in 1999.
Feeding Biscuit on my first trip to the Reindeer Centre in 1999
I fell in love with a greedy baby called Biscuit. I then adopted him in 2004. On the Facebook page of the Reindeer Centre I met the Pattisons who adopted Biscuit as well. Maggie and I became friends, and a few years later we met , in Aviemore of course. I met some other people on the reindeer Facebook, some at Christmas Events, we became friends on online, friends became friends so we got a whole group of reindeer mad people, the ‘reindeer groupies’. We’ve met several times, and try to spend some time together in Aviemore every October. It’s great to visit the reindeer with them, we all love the reindeer and can spend ages sitting on the hill and watching them.
My very first adoption certificate!
I’ve been to some Christmas events with Candice and Pandra; had a great girls weekend with Belinda and Candice – attending Christmas events with the reindeer, and bubbles and disco lights in our hotel room. That was fun and it ended up with the three of us adopting Clouseau together.
Lego’s son Blue looking for a titbit at a Christmas event!
Visiting long-time favourite Oryx over at the farm
And adopting – yes, love adopting. I’ve had quite a few reindeer. It started with Biscuit. Then his brother Bhoy who sadly died too young. I had Paintpot and Oryx, who is still around. I adopted Biscuit’s mum Glacier who was 16 at the time. Can remember Hen saying I was crazy, I know, I am. Six weeks later Glacier died. I had deaf Lego, Swedish-born Magnus, Tinto, and Mo who are all gone now. One of the sad things, getting that letter that no one of us wants to get, telling that your adopted reindeer has died. But that is how it is.
Morven gazing at me when I first met her!
Tinto
A visit to the farm to see some of the boys
I can’t remember when the adopting thing got a bit out of hand. But now I am adopting 9 reindeer. Yes I know, I told you before, I’m crazy. I have a soft spot for my old man Oryx. I have Svalbard, a real character. I have Boris, who is NOT ugly guys!  (Editors note: Boris was born with a wonky nose and let’s say he’s not our most handsome reindeer…) I have my girlie Morven who I fell in love with on the hill when she was a calf, staring at me. I have Celt, together with my husband, who was such a cute little boy and now is a real big lad. And we also both have Frost, a light one with nice face markings. I have Clouseau who I share with Belinda and Candice. I have Baffin, who (sorry Baffin), I think is difficult to recognize, but Belinda adopts him as well, and she does. And last October I adopted 14 year old, white , deaf Blondie, mother of Lego.
Visits to the herd are always entertaining!
Because we live in the Netherlands we don’t get to see the reindeer as often as we would love to. But we’re lucky to have our groupie friends who visit more often and always want to make pictures of my little herd. Thanks guys. I wish we could have come and visit this June or October to see the reindeer, but sadly 2020 is not a very good year because of the Covid-19. But I enjoy the pictures from the friends and the herders, and the Facebook Live videos from Andi, which are great.
Andi giving Grunter a cuddle
Oh, and since the Reindeer Centre can use some extra support this year, I decided to adopt reindeer number 10… not sure who yet.
‘My’ herd last year!
And yes, I know, I’m mad, reindeer mad. And I love it.
That’s it,
With love, Carola

All the colours of the rainbow (Part two)

Following on from my previous blog about reindeer coloration, I thought I’d highlight some of the funky face patterns in our herd today. White face markings are super helpful at aiding us in identification of the reindeer, as they don’t change much throughout the year (or their lives). Though they can be harder to make out when the reindeer are in their late winter coats, as they are less distinct.

Addax with her calf Parmesan
Anster showing off his white nose tip!
Boris with his patchy white face and squiffy nose
Cheer has one of the whitest faces in the herd.
Christie with her white “smile”
Merida with a white hourglass, followed by her calf Dr Seuss with his striking white face.
Gloriana’s mark makes us think of the Joker!
Wee Hemp has a speckly nose and white spot on his forehead.
Jonne with his yin-yang white nose
Oatcake has random splodges all over
In winter, Ochil’s markings are less noticeable.
Oryx has a mostly white face
Spartan looks like he’s dipped his nose in white paint!
Svalbard showing off his white nose and forehead.
Texel has a white face with two darker dots.

Andi

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