Sookie Obituary

A couple of months have passed since we lost our old girl, Sookie, I think it’s about time we write about how wonderful a dog she was! Our blogs are of course reindeer related and with Sookie being one of our top ‘reindeer dogs’ she has certainly left her mark here at Reindeer House.

Sookie on her favourite hill, Meall a’ Bhuachaille.
Sookie at Loch Morlich – another favourite haunt!

Sookie joined us here at Reindeer House in June 2009 as a 2 year old. One of our herders at the time comes from an island off the west coast of Scotland and when we showed interest in getting a collie type dog to help manage our free ranging herd of reindeer it happened to be that her sister, who is a farmer on this island, had a wee collie suited for the job so along came Sookie. At first she was fairly timid; a classic collie! Coming from island life with her mum and brother she was certainly chucked in at the deep end and she wouldn’t let just anyone stroke her and was certainly shy of men, even giving them the classic collie nip on the back of the legs as they walked by. But as time passed Sookie settled in wonderfully and Reindeer House became her forever home. Many herders passed through the door during Sookie’s 14 years with us. She particularly knew how to ‘woo’ the men. I think most of them thought they were the only one… little did they know she had those puppy dog eyes for most of them. What a gal!

Tiree, Moskki and Sookie.
Sookie out on a ski tour with Ruth, Lotti and Fiona.

For the first few years she had a kennel outside which she went into at night. Sookie never barked and was always a quiet character – my wee terrier, Misty, had enough voice for both of them and she ruled the roost! I lost Misty in 2014 and then Tiree, my Aussie Shepherd, joined the Reindeer House team. Sookie was always such a push over that even Tiree as a puppy seemed to be more dominant than her. But as unassuming as she was she just cracked on with life, nothing seemed to faze her. She was many a herders ‘chosen dog’ when it came to big hill days, gentle strolls to the loch or camping trips. Always super reliable and extremely loveable.

Sookie enjoying a snooze in the back of Fiona’s van.
Tip, Tiree, Murdo and Sookie, all raring to go!
Tip, Sookie, Moskki, Tiree and Murdo.

She taught Tiree how to be the perfect reindeer dog. Waiting for long periods of time next to a rock on the open mountain for us herders to return with the herd. The longest I left them was 3 hours and they were still in the exact same spot on my return. If their presence was required to push the reindeer off of land they weren’t meant to be, this was always done with upmost control. They’d also wait at the visitor gate going into our enclosure while we were doing morning feeds. And as Sookie got older Tiree took on that role and now herself is training the next generation so thanks Sookie for helping!

A young Tiree, learning the ropes from Sookie.
Tiree, Fiona and Sookie on the old Utsi Bridge…
…and the same trio on the new Utsi Bridge!

Everyday Sookie would mound around outside our shop and exhibition area. She’d never stray and if people wanted to stroke her she’d just move away. She wasn’t for being fussed by strangers, however, she did love it when they threw her sticks… again classic collie! So she’d drop sticks next to people’s feet in the hope they take her up on this game. And of course who could resist. As she got older and a bit stiffer with age she could still wander around outside our shop but she had to wear a jacket saying ‘please don’t throw me sticks’ as the sharp movements were taking their toll on her body and she would come in a bit stiff in the evenings. She was so confused to why people had stopped throwing her sticks, poor girl, but it was the best thing for her. Instead she’d spend more time in and about Reindeer House and as she grew much older she just slept a lot.

Some of you may remember when she went missing for 4-5 days back in September 2018. She was out hill walking with a friend and as he headed up the hill and over a ridge he suddenly realised Sookie was nowhere to be seen. This was pretty out of character and for days we were out searching and wondering what had happened her. Then on day 5 there was a report of a dog at a farm and low and behold it was Sookie! She was extremely delighted to see us and the reindeer herding world was delighted to see her fine and well. Ever since that incident Sookie did have some separation issues, understandably. So leaving her in the evenings home alone meant she would bark sometimes so we fitted it into our life and worked around her so she was never alone.

More ski touring fun. Just like the reindeer, the dogs also follow our ski tracks.
Sookie taking a rest on a ski tour.

In her last 6 months she aged quite quickly. She would always pootle along on a nice flat walk around Glenmore but sometimes we’d head out with her and get 100 meters into the walk to find Sookie had decided to go home. That was fine, it was always her decision. On other days she’d bound along like she was a puppy so there was life in the old dog yet. Sookie never really had one particular owner, however, myself being the main constant person throughout her 14 years of living at Reindeer House I guess I became her ‘go to’ person and she became quite attached to me. I think on days I was away or on holiday she would pace around the house looking for me. She did settle though, usually in the office where there was always someone around so if she woke up she knew she wasn’t alone. For her last six months Lotti and I would have to sleep with our bedroom doors open because if Sookie got to a closed door and couldn’t get in then she’d bark. If however the door was open and she could see us in bed she’d settle and go to sleep. Things you do for an old dog but when these pets are in your life, sometimes longer than people are, they become part of the family and for family we do anything so Sookie had it pretty good really.

Tiree, Ruadh and Sookie enjoying themselves at one of their favourite lochs.

Although she may have gone on for another few months she did slow down and lose a lot of weight in her last few weeks so one of the hardest decisions had to be made but for the right reasons. She had a fantastic life with so many wonderful people in it and she went with her dignity intact – 16 is a great age for any dog and she was never unwell. Tiree has some pretty big boots to fill which from a reindeer dog perspective she’s there and her loyalty is something extremely special. Fraoch, our 18 month old collie now with us at Reindeer House has got a good way to go yet so thanks Sookie for setting such a high bar! It’s been great and now we have lots of lovely memories and photos to remember her by. Slainte Mhath old girl and thanks for being my best friend for the past 14 years!

Fiona

A Christmas Interrogation (part 2)

A while back I interviewed a few of my colleagues with some questions relating to the Christmas season. The first half of this blog can be read here. But onward…

THE SMELL YOU MOST ASSOCIATE WITH CHRISTMAS? With this question, I just wanted to check that everyone else had the same – as far as I’m concerned – very obvious answer. Turns out they do. Every. Single. One. ‘I think we all know the smell associated with Christmas…’.  Reindeer pee, obviously!

Maybe I should elaborate though, for the uninitiated. Whilst we do our best to keep our leadropes clean, they invariably end up on the ground at times. Whilst the reindeer don’t actually actively pee on them (unless you’re really unlucky), they tend to stand on the ends regularly (lay a rope over a reindeer’s back, whilst catching another, and they often shake it off). We keep the straw beds in our sheds, at our temporary bases we stay at, and in our lorries as clean as possible at all times, but it is as certain as death and taxes that the ropes always end up smelling of pee from the reindeer’s feet and the straw. Lotti: ‘Reindeer pee on the leadropes. Particularly when drying out in the caravan…’

Ferreting out all the ‘smart’ red leadropes and halters from storage at the start of November, ready for distribution between the team kits. Mostly smelling of washing powder at this stage, but probably best not to sniff them too closely.

Tilly adds ‘Once Christmas is over I wash all the halters and ropes and even if everyone has been really careful not to let the ropes fall on the ground, they still have a very distinct smell of urea’. There were some additional contributions too – both Andi and I cite Tilly’s washing powder as the second smell that instantly brings Christmas to mind, from our red jumpers that we wear at events. Fiona added damp lorry cabs and Joe included mince pies. Along with ropes smelling of reindeer pee. None of this ‘winter spices’ Christmas nonsense.

FAVOURITE FOOD ON CHRISTMAS DAY: I was just being nosy, to be honest. Fiona: ‘The soup and sandwiches from Nethy Hotel – we feel like we’ve earned them [Nethy Hotel provide lunch for us during our last events of the year on Christmas Day]! Who doesn’t like free food! Plus a variety of meat from our farm.’ Generally somewhat carnivorous, Tilly surprised me with ‘sprouts’ (but roasted in the oven). For Lotti and Ruth it was the roast tatties, and the same for me too (as long as gravy and redcurrant jelly are liberally applied). For Andi it was pigs in blankets, and Joe, anything involving smoked salmon.

This was our Christmas party last year, rather than Christmas Day itself, but look at all that yummy food! On the left are Joe, Lotti, myself and Andi, and on the right are Fiona and Tilly. Ruth is in the stripey t-shirt 5th from the right. The only photo I could find with all my interviewees in it!

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT OF CHRISTMAS (PAST OR PRESENT):  This was a bit of an unfair question really, but I couldn’t think of a different way to phrase it. Most memorable moments of our Christmas seasons tend to be those when everything goes tits-up, most of which aren’t necessarily things we’re going to brag about! So this is the slightly sanitized version of ‘most memorable – and publishable – moment of Christmas’ Fiona: ‘Oh god. There’s so many – probably, to go back a few years, the Harrods event in London. All the other attractions would disappear at the end and we were always left to make our own way back to the lorry with 6 reindeer, past all the people going about their day to day business. Waiting for the green man at zebra crossing s!’

One of the Harrods parades, a good few years ago now. Photo by Kim Alston

For Andi the memory wasn’t necessarily a specific one, rather one that happens from time to time at events: ‘The best experience from parades is walking with the reindeer following a pipe band, with them all walking in time. It gives me chills every time.’ I know this feeling well too.

Pen escapes featured highly for Ruth and Joe… ‘Aztec effortlessly leaping the pen fence at Gleneagles in pursuit of food…’. All the reindeer jumping out the pen once! They were very easy to catch and return though – with a big bag of lichen!’. And continuing with the theme of errant reindeer, Lotti came up with a classic from a few years back: ‘Probably when me and Mel tried to let four calves follow the adults up the hill to the enclosure in the dark to re-join the herd, and promptly lost them into the darkness…’.

Memory I wish I’d seen the most belonged to Tilly: ‘When we didn’t have a Santa for the parade on Christmas Eve at Newtonmore and I was the substitute…’. For myself, I have so many, many memories. Some good, some bad. But an affecting one which will stay with me forever is one I’ve written about in the past in a previous blog, so won’t repeat again here.

And finally, REINDEER YOU’D CHOOSE IF SANTA NEEDED A RUDOLPH REPLACEMENT?I guess this could be rather similar to favourite reindeer to work with at Christmas, but not necessarily. Sometimes favourites are those with naughty streaks, and presumably Santa would need a pretty reliable reindeer on loan if Rudolph is side-lined? Lotti agreed: ‘I would say that Frost would be a good Rudolph replacement, as he’s an excellent sleigh-puller, and in summer he does sometimes get a slightly sunburnt nose, giving it a red tinge!’. I agree with the reliability being very important – Origami would be my choice. He is pretty professional for Christmas events – he knows his job and gets on with it.

Likewise Tilly: Well it would need to be a reindeer who is confident and happy to be at the front leading the way, so I think Aztec, with a ‘carrot’/lichen dangling in front of his nose!’. Another vote for Aztec came from Ruth: ‘I would send Aztec as he’s the most nimble – see my answer for the previous question! Or maybe Dr Seuss? Although I wouldn’t want Santa to steal Dr Seuss, so maybe not…’. Segueing neatly on to Andi: ‘Dr Seuss – he’s distinctive, charismatic, can hold his own in a new group of reindeer, and has a pink nose – perhaps it would glow with a little help from Santa…’.

Aztec might be nimble at times, but a lot of the time he’s rather lazy! Seen here busy cleaning his hoof in a care home garden on a visit in November.

Fiona reckoned Santa might prefer a certain type of reindeer, like a ‘hand-reared one, like Grunter or Sunny. They are happy with human company and happier being by themselves if need be.’. Joe hummed and harred a bit. ‘…umm. Kind of before my time, but Topi was amazing. Olympic is far too lazy… Scolty! He’d do a solid job.’

So there we go. My overall impression from writing these two blogs is that it’s impossible to give straightforward answers to any questions involving Christmas, even though everyone valiantly tried. I still only wrote down a very small section of what was said though, as many answers were nonpunishable!

Hen

A Christmas Interrogation (part 1)

Whilst we’re all still recovering from another busy Christmas season, I took it upon myself to accost some of my colleagues with some Christmas themed questions: There’s a limit to how fast I can type, so I didn’t manage to get down everything – some of the answers were very long, with lots of umming and ahhing! But you’ll get the gist. My chosen interviewees were Tilly (herd owner), her daughter Fiona (manager), and long-term employees Andi, Lotti, Ruth and Joe.

First up – FAVOURITE REINDEER TO WORK WITH AT CHRISTMAS(PAST OR PRESENT): I thought I was starting with an easy question, but apparently not, as lots of people had to come back to it later on once they’d had a think.

Andi’s response came after a short pause ‘At Christmas?… Nutkins. He wasn’t easy and you had to think carefully about which reindeer you paired him with, and which events would suit him, but he was such a fun reindeer.’ I’d like to add in here that Nutkins was, a lot of the time, a nutcase. A lovely reindeer, but undeniably a nutcase. He was one of those unpredictable characters – you never knew whether he was going to behave like a kid on a sugar high, or be utterly chilled. He played Russian roulette with us at every event.

Nutkins (left) contemplating whether to behave or not. Laptev looking resigned to be harnessed up next to one of life’s plonkers. Andi has a noticeably tighter grip on Nutkins’ rope. Just in case…

No pause for thought for Tilly though, her answer was quick! ‘Mystery, who was so loyal that he didn’t even need to be led, he just wandered along at the back at his own pace’.

Mystery, back in 2001

Scolty’s, somewhat surprisingly (to me, anyway), name came up several times, amongst other deliberations. Lotti: ‘Scolty. He’s very good at both the back and the front of the sleigh, and is an excellent role model for the calves’. Fiona: Scolty. Because he’s not too tame and he’s not too wild! He’s a thinker… like Dragonfly. Or maybe Dragonfly?’. Joe: ‘Probably Olympic. Or Baffin was good. Or Scolty. Well technically Kipling would be in there too, even though she’s a female. She has done some events as an adult though!’

Scolty. The ultimate ‘Christmas reindeer’?

Ruth’s answer, when caught off guard, appeared to not be what she thought she would say… ‘The first reindeer to pop into my head, which was a surprise to me, was Poirot! He was just phenomenal this Christmas, and didn’t put a hoof wrong.’ And for myself, the answer would be Topi I think. He was a total professional at events and parades, bombproof, and would always fall asleep on our shoulders when waiting for the off at the start of a parade. I’m sad he’s no longer with us, he was one of the special ones.

Lots of us have photos of Topi like this, but this one of him asleep on Fiona’s shoulder at an event is ultimately the best I think!

FAVOURITE EVENT? For those of us that have been around for years, this is a hard question as we’ve literally been to hundreds. Tilly has over 30 years of events under her belt! Some stand out whilst others – it must be said – all merge into one another after a while. On that note… Lotti: ‘I can’t remember which I’ve done! It’s all a blur!’

Andi: ‘Cowbridge in Wales [Editor’s note: we only go as far south as Manchester area these days, but Cowbridge (in South Wales) was a long-running event before that change]. An enormous but brilliantly organised event with all the police dressed as elves really took the biscuit!’ I also liked some of the biggest events like Cowbridge the best, where we were just a small cog in a large wheel. One of my other favourites was Wells [again, not one we do these days], where we followed a choir singing carols, which is far more festive than loud Christmas music blaring out. I also like Banff, as we usually got a full Christmas dinner at the end before leaving.

Cowbridge parade, complete with 6′ elves.

For Joe, it’s the smaller events nearer the day itself: ‘I really like the Christmas Eve events [Aviemore, Kingussie and Newtonmore]. Everyone is festive and happy, in good spirits!’.

Fiona and Tilly had – completely independently – identical answers. ‘The  Duke of Gordon Hotel – it’s the last one.’  Predictable – by the end of the season they are knackered and ready to put away the harness till the following year! Tilly did add ‘Yee haa, back home for yummy dinner and lots of alcohol afterwards’ too! And as for Ruth’s favourite event? Got a least favourite one… that count?’. I’ll not elaborate.

Fiona and Tilly on Christmas Day, a good few years back. The end of tour for the season firmly in sight! The reindeer are Veikka, Kermit, Bee, Eco and Go.

FAVOURITE CALF BORN IN 2022? This was met with squeals of horror at the prospect of having to choose! I refused to let anyone cop out with ‘all of them’ though. Nuii was a front-runner, ‘The cutest, pint-sized perfection of a calf!’ (Andi) and Lotti had a particular reason for choosing her: ‘Since I thought she was still-born at first, but then she was fine. But oh goodness! SO difficult! They are all very lovely!’

Lovely Nuii!

Ruth was horrified at such a question. ‘Oh Hen, this is mean! [loooong silence] I’ll go with Lolly, since Lotti and I were the ones to bring her in from the free-range… although… Zoom’. Another vote for Zoom came from Tilly ‘A great wee success story and the best friend of Sunny’. Sunny is the calf we hand-reared in 2022, and living at Reindeer House, Fiona was responsible for him a fair bit of the time. I had no need to ask her who her favourite calf was (but I did anyway). ‘Ummm… Wafer. Only joking!’. Another predictable answer came from Joe: ‘Tub. Did you guess that?!’ (Tub’s mum is Joe’s favourite reindeer, Kipling).

This proved a hard question for myself though. As I’ve managed to effectively retire from attending Christmas events these days, instead remaining at Reindeer House, it means I didn’t work quite as closely with some of the calves as others did. It was Choc-ice to start with, as I was so delighted that Cheer had actually had a calf and that he was tame in comparison to her (Cheer is a very shy reindeer) – but he’s turned into a real brute and his little pointy antlers have been responsible for bruises on my backside over the last few months, so I’ve gone off him…

More to follow in a future blog!

Hen

December 2022: photo blog!

For this week’s blog, I’ve uploaded a heap of photographs found on my phone during this particularly busy month to give a brief snapshot of what goes on in the life of a reindeer herder. Turns out I don’t take many photographs whilst I’m sat in front of a computer answering emails so the photos are quite biased to all the fun times I’ve had out and about. Thankfully this makes for a much more enjoyable blog… lots of pictures of reindeer!

3rd of December – Sunny making sure Fiona and I have all our bags before heading away on Christmas tour!
3rd of December – Later that day the reindeer enjoying a nap after a parade though Aberfeldy, Sunny completely flaked out!
8th of December – Feeding the free ranging herd. Okapi is always first over and is such a poser! What a beautiful lass.
9th of December – lots of shovelling and gritting every morning!
9th of December – Juniper and Fab enjoying the snow! Mother and daughter doing super well.
9th of December -Sorbet (Brie’s calf) digging through the snow. What a cutie!
10th of December – Joe and Emily-Kate feeding the herd their breakfast.
11th of December – at the back of a Hill Trip. What perfect winter conditions!
11th of December – Harry and Zoom being all cute!
11th of December – moving the herd from the ‘Bottom Corridor’, back out to the ‘East Enclosure’ after the last visit of the day.
11th of December – Santa in our Paddocks with the handsome Berlin! (Photo by Joe).
12th of December – blue skies and no wind! A spell of amazing winter wonderland conditions!
12th of December – Beanie seeing if we have anymore food going… she lives in constant hope there’s another morsel for her!
13th of December – the Reindeer House dogs waiting outside the enclosure. 15 year old Sookie in her lovely warm coat!
16th of December – Holy Moley and the free ranging herd brought themselves into the enclosure for a free lunch!
16th of December – Mardi making sure the Reindeer House dogs are also not neglected and get a wee treat!
17th of December – the reindeer were completely unfazed by a huge T-rex looming over their pen at Landmark, Carrbridge!
17th of December – Santa leading Poirot during the event at Landmark.

Ruth

The making of the charity naked calendar

It’s hopefully common knowledge amongst our reindeer supporters and adopters by now that we have released a charity naked calendar for 2023. Raising money to support our local Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team and over a period of 18 months we braved the weather in all conditions taking off our clothes and posing with the reindeer for 13 pictures to feature. Initially we had planned to sell 500 copies but due to popular demand have sold 750 with a further 300 just ordered and under pressure to sell them before early January!

I had the pleasure (if you can say that) of being the photographer for the calendar, seeing all my friends and colleagues in their birthday suits and helping to put the whole thing together. It wasn’t something I had ever thought I’d be doing when I first came to work here five years ago but we are a quirky bunch, and I wasn’t at all surprised when as a group we decided to go ahead and create a calendar baring all!

Photographer Joe with his favourite reindeer Kipling. The face behind the camera, and the one that belongs to Mr September’s bottom 😉

The Idea

I think the idea came from several of us when our reindeer had featured in The Royal School of Veterinary Studies Charity Naked Calendar in 2020. We got a free copy from them, and the calendar hung proudly in our kitchen for the duration of the year. I guess during this time we became inspired to do one ourselves and celebrating our own 70th year anniversary, it seemed like the perfect time to do such a thing. Raising money for a charity was the second thing to consider and I don’t think we ever looked passed the idea of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. The dedicated volunteers involved already do an incredible job in the mountains and all the funding they receive goes back into the service they provide. So, with the idea set and charitable cause in mind, it was time to start taking off our clothes and get the photos!

The Early Stages

When planning how to make the calendar, it seemed only best to take a picture during every month of the year to showcase the reindeer looking different in the various seasons. With this in mind, January was to be the first month and the January of 2021 was particularly cold with temperatures being recorded as low as -18 as well as up to three feet of snow lying at a time. Fiona stepped up to be the driving force and get the calendar going by volunteering to get her picture first and Lotti also paired up to do it together. There was so much snow that it was easier to approach the reindeer by skis and the plan was set to involve these as well. Taking my camera out for the first time to do this I had no idea how to plan the picture or whether my camera should indeed focus on the bums or reindeer. What seemed like a straightforward idea turned out to be harder than first appeared with the reindeer constantly moving, never staying in the same position for more than two seconds. I clicked away taking several different pictures and hoped that one would suffice. January done, only 11 more months to go!

Miss and Miss January! This photo didn’t make the grade but has been used as a promotional picture – it even made it on to the front cover of a German newspaper.

The following few months saw a familiar trend with the reindeer not behaving for the camera, either facing the wrong direction, not interested in what was happening or sometimes we simply couldn’t find them on the free-range. Maybe they too thought it was a strange idea for the herders to stand next to them with no clothes on.

Coming Together

As the months got warmer, not surprisingly we had more herders volunteering to take part in the action. One of the things I noticed was the different ways in which people participated in. Some herders would arrive to the photo shoot with a dressing gown, and we would practice a clothed shot to make sure we were happy. I would then turn around while they removed their gown and we’d be able to get the picture without me seeing too much of them, a rather dignified way of doing such a thing.

Hen and Andi (Miss and Miss October) making sure they’re happy with their poses before baring all.
The ever chic Mel (Miss December) in her dressing gown!

Another technique of having their photo taken was to strip off completely starkers baring all and plan a photo pose on the spot. Sometimes I wouldn’t know where to look but there was lots of laughter about the ridiculousness of it all. We had to get quite imaginative towards the end making sure no two pictures or poses were the same. Some photos were taken on the free – range, others in our hill enclosure, woodland and one shot also involved water. The entire team of herders did an amazing job getting their kit off and we managed to feature every member of staff who worked here at the time along with a couple of past herders. I should also say an extra well done to Hen, Lisette and Harry who went out of their comfort zone to feature and Amy, who within her first month or working with us also volunteered to be in the calendar no peer pressure involved!

Ben (Mr February) was unfazed about being in his birthday suit and continued to carry out his reindeer herding duties unclothed. Needless to say the reindeer were also not bothered.
Sheena (Miss June) and Sherlock getting ready for the photoshoot in Black Loch.
After the photoshoot, Sheena went for a wee swim and Sherlock decided to follow… anything for food!

The Cover Shot

The final picture to take was the cover shot which was also the harshest weather experienced throughout. On a snowy and windy morning, Fiona, Lotti and Ruth took one for the team and shivered away as I tried to fumble with the camera and take a photo. By the time they got their clothes off they could barely feel a thing and the whole experience was very uncomfortable. The reindeer of course were fine. When we got back to the house and the girls had thawed out, we glanced at the photos to see how they looked. Unfortunately, the snowflakes blurred every single picture and none of them were good enough. We went out again a few hours later to repeat the whole freezing ordeal once more (sorry girls!) but thankfully on the second time of asking we got a picture we were happy with and no resulting frost bite.

Joe, Fiona and Lotti (plus dogs) attempting to take the photo for the SECOND time that day!
Snow flurry over – Ruth, Fiona and Lotti get into position…

The Finished Calendar

After the final editing tweaks, the calendar had finally been created. It was great to hold a copy for the first time and start selling them in our shop. It wasn’t long until several newspapers got in touch wanting to write a story about the calendar. The Daily Record and a couple of other tabloids did an online piece about us, and our local papers also wrote two stories. We even featured as page 3 models in the Strathspey Herald and also on the cover of German newspaper BILD showing some of our bare bottoms. It’s still all quite surreal that we have created the calendar, everyone is immensely proud of it and couldn’t be happier with how many we have sold so far.

The day the first batch of calendars arrived!!
Page 3 models!

For now, I just hope we can sell as many as possible and I can’t wait to see what the final figure will be for the mountain rescue team.

Joe

Newsletter chaos!

Having been here for a long time, the logistics of sending out the bi-annual newsletter that is posted to all our reindeer adopters has, almost by default, become Andi and I’s domain. The two newsletters are sent out in June and October, so for the 6 weeks or so beforehand I spend my time in a bit of a flap, trying to coordinate everything at the same time as doing all the other, day-to-day work (I would say ‘we’ spend our time in a flap, but realistically, it’s probably just me. I’m not known for calmness under pressure. Andi is much more unflappable than I am).

Work on the June newsletter is very much intermittent in May, as May is the calving season for the reindeer and we are usually rushed off our feet, so by the first half of June I am tearing my hair out over it. It needs to be out in the post to all 1800(ish) adopters by around the 20th June, so I am liable to getting a little bit frantic at times! Once upon a time we used to handwrite some additional information about each person’s adopted reindeer that was sent out with the newsletter, but those days are long since passed as our number of adopters has grown significantly over the last 15 years or so. Nowadays, for the June edition, we type a section of bumff about each reindeer, count how many need printed for each individual, and print them on 1/3 A4 sized slips. Much easier. Except that actually it takes ages to write them in the first place as almost every single one of the ~150 reindeer in the herd have adopters – years ago I wrote the entire lot myself, ran a word count and the overall total was longer than my university thesis had been! (I’m confident I know more about reindeer than limpets these days though…) In recent years I’ve managed to palm this job off on Andi, who does the bulk, with myself, Lotti and Ruth taking occasional turns.

The October 2022 newsletter photo, of Morse and his girls earlier in the month (though I did miscalculate and we ran out of these photos towards the end so a few of you will have received a different picture…)

The October newsletter goes out with a photo of the herd instead of individual info about each reindeer, with some more general info about how the year is going printed on the reverse. September is a hugely busy month for us too, with the start of the rut, vaccinations and free-ranging reindeer all over the place generally getting in the way, along with calves to halter train and handle for the first time. We just don’t have time to write 150 blurbs anymore, so a photo of the herd is the next best thing. God knows how we ever hand-wrote anything for the newsletter in the past – madness!

Many, many adoption forms to work through… The 18th Year + folder now goes up to 32nd year!

One day I guess we may get to the point of sending out newsletters digitally, but I, for one, hope those days are far in the future. Everyone prefers getting actual physical post, don’t they? I certainly do. It also means we don’t discriminate between folks who do/don’t use the internet. Our rather idiosyncratic system of working our way through the folders of adoption forms one by one, and cross-referencing the details on the form with the address label that has been printed is time consuming, but does pick up any mistakes that we have made when entering details on to the database. Labels print alphabetically by surname, within each adoption year, and one person’s job is to find the relevant label whilst the other reads out the details on the form. No problem for the long-standing adopters, where there are only a few in each year, but by the time we get down to the folks in their 1st year of adoption that person is on their feet the whole time, dancing back and forth up and down around 900 names. It’s quite a tiring job, mentally in particular!

After actually packing up the newsletters comes the job of franking all the envelopes!

Nothing pleases me quite as much as carting all our boxes of completed newsletters off for the postie to collect – job done for another few months. It’s a good feeling! I can go back to my normal level of flustered confusion finally rather the super-charged fluster I exist in during May and September of each year.

Finally ready to post! And taller than me…

Hen

The Many Uses of Antlers at Reindeer House

With a herd of 150 reindeer, nearly all of whom are growing and casting a pair of antlers every year (exceptions include 2-year-old Juniper who doesn’t grow any, 16-year-old Dixie who only grows one, and 2-year-old Holy Moley who also only grows a single antler), it’s fair to say that we see our share of antlers. From that we’ve figured out some interesting uses for them as the following pictures show… although some photos may contain red deer antler as well as antler from reindeer…

The lovely Dixie, back in 2017, proudly showing off her single antler!
Skip next to a pile of collected antlers found on the free range April 2022 – she’s disappointed none are for her!
Firstly, they make great displays in the shop, we use them to hang all sorts of ornaments and pieces of shop stock – demonstrated here by our lovely headbands.
A slightly stinkier variation on the hanging technique, in the kitchen of reindeer house this large set of antlers are used for drying shoes, gloves and all other sorts of equipment. Very effective!
Dog leads, ski goggles, head torches. This antler sees a lot of use here at reindeer house, as the dogs are always looking to go for a walk.
They even work as door handles!
And make great wall hangers for cards and decorations.
Sometimes used for shelving support, as precarious as our mugs and plates look, I am yet to see the antlers let us down.
More shelves and shop stock supported by antler.
Our bird feeder is decorated with antlers which the red squirrels love chewing on.
We also make use of some antler nubbins (yes, that is the technical term) in the kitchen. Seen here keeping our cupboards shut,..
…..and our pepper grinding smoothly (or roughly?)
And finally, my favourite use of an antler, because sometimes s*** happens.

Harry

The Legend of the Pink Badge

Many years ago, a reindeer herder made a Badge. This Badge was pink, and he wore it with pride. In time he decided to pass it on to another herder, who had done a Worthy Thing that day (what the Worthy Thing actually was has since been lost in the mists of time). However, that herder then took it upon themselves to pass it on once again, to another Worthy Person, and so it is that the Pink Badge of Worthiness came into being.

Or something along those lines anyway. The badge maker at Reindeer House was a very good investment of ours, many years back, and has churned out thousands of the things over the years for kids visiting the Paddocks and having a go at a quiz (we use different quizzes through the year and not all have a badge to make on them, before you get your knickers in a knot about why your family didn’t get the option of badges on a visit…). We have, of course, made plenty of badges for ourselves too, and this is how the pink badge started off – it was made from a bright pink post-it note upon which one of us had drawn a smiley face.

Managing to identify every single one of a big group of free-ranging female reindeer can be a badge-worthy affair – when they have all changed hugely in appearance since last seen, are moving at a constant jog to avoid the flies, and some won’t come near you at all!

I can’t quite remember the full details of exactly how the tradition of passing on the badge came about, but the essence of it is exactly as I’ve written at the start of this blog. The owner of the badge can hold on to it (usually pinning it on their t-shirt/jumper) for as long as they want, and when they feel someone else has gone above and beyond the call of duty, they award them the badge. And then the next person continues, and so on. There are no real rules, no limit on how long you can have it, or how many times; the badge is an item of supreme simplicity.

The Pink Badge on my t-shirt 😀

As I write this the current holder is Ruth, awarded it for managing to get our ancient and decrepit Landrover into 4WD mode on a early morning reindeer retrieval mission! The badge itself is currently in it’s second incarnation, after one too many accidental trips through the washing machine; but I’m not even too sure where Pink Badge 2 came from, as it’s not the size our own badge-maker produces. We’re also not colour blind – we’re well aware that this model is not pink! But in the best tradition the name endures regardless.

Morse and Jimmy admiring the badge pinned proudly on Ruth’s t-shirt!

At times the badge has been lost, or forgotten about, or unearthed months later on an old jumper in the back of a cupboard. Sometimes it’s just been found on the office pinboard, and no-one has appeared to know how it got there, or who was responsible. Our boss Tilly got it once, but was banned from taking it home with her as we were worried that once it disappeared into the depths of her farmhouse it would never, ever be seen again!

Very few photos of the original pink badge actually exist – this is the only one we could find (thanks Manouk!). It looks like it may have been through the washing machine a few times already by this point…

Fiona wishes me to point out that for the first five years she was only ever awarded it once a year, at the end of December, after organising (and surviving) the Christmas tour season, traditionally the busiest time of the year. I myself have been given it for a range of activities, most of which I can’t remember now, but the most memorable was the time I was given it for managing to not throw a printer through the office window. You may laugh, but deep down everyone reading this knows the deep-rooted and boiling fury a malfunctioning printer can incite – what does ‘general error’ even mean?! – so really I feel it was justified. I have had a hate-hate relationship with every single printer that has ever lived in the Reindeer House office.

Later that same day, however, Andi managed to extract a section of old fencing wire that had somehow become entangled around the antlers of one of our biggest breeding bulls, Kota, and this was right in the middle of the rutting season when he had morphed from a gentle giant to a raging testosterone-fueled beast. To this day I am therefore still the record-holder for the shortest ownership of the badge.

Kota – not an inviting prospect to have to get close to with a pair of wire cutters…

A lot of the other reasons for receival have been forgotten over the years, but have often included epic catches of ‘wilder’ reindeer, or memorable displays of herding. Olly received it last year for a stupendous and skillful effort of getting Rain and her newborn calf Jimmy into the right area of the hill enclosure after she had led Nell and myself on a merry (and ultimately unsuccessful) dance the previous day until a good two hours after we should have finished work. Then there was an interesting episode last Christmas when Sherlock got his antlers caught in the fairy lights of our Paddock shelter, and Joe spent about 45 minutes de-tangling him – again no mean feat with an enormous bull. One antler had come off already, but much to Joe’s annoyance when finally freed, Sherlock wandered out the shed, shook his head and the other promptly fell off! It’s completely normal for a bull to cast his antlers at this time of year, but 45 minutes earlier would have saved everyone a lot of hassle.

What a tangle! Eventually Sherlock, antlers and cable were all separated!

So if you visit us and notice a herder with the Pink Badge pinned to their shirt, then note that this is a Worthy Person, and should therefore be due the utmost respect. Or maybe it’s just me, and I’ve refrained from throwing another misbehaving electronic item through a window.

Hen

It’s going to be a Sunny summer!

On the whole, calving season back in May went really well with between 25-30 calves born. There were a few, new, young mums in the group but also some of our older girls who have been there, done that when it comes to calving. At the end of May / beginning of June the whole lot went out onto the summer free range where that’ll be them now for the next few months hopefully getting the best of the summer grazing on the Cairngorms.

Some of the cows and calves heading out of the enclosure for the summer months.
The best start in life for our new additions is out on in the hills with their mums.

One calf who didn’t join them is Sunny. He was born on Friday 20th May and his mother was Rain. At 5-6 days old unfortunately we lost Rain. We suspect there was an internal infection, from calving, which she hid from us and as a result she passed away. This rarely happens but in this case we were left holding the baby! He came straight down here to our Centre where we could start the hand rearing process. We knew there was no other option at this stage and we have hand reared lots of reindeer calves in the past so were confident that although we wouldn’t do as good a job as Rain would have we would manage nonetheless.

Sunny’s first day adjusting to life at Reindeer House.

It’s been a good few weeks now and Sunny has become part of the Reindeer house family of humans, dogs and now baby reindeer! He joins us for dog walks, where we know it’ll be quiet and we won’t bump into other walkers with their dogs, he makes himself at home on our kitchen floor on the odd occasion when he comes into the house. His favourite spot is beside the washing machine. In fact he is so comfortable in ours and the dogs presence that he’s the ultimate ‘lazy boy’ and he pees while he is lying down! Needless to say we’re all quite used to mopping up after him now. It’s a good job we have an easy to clean floor and aren’t fazed by a bit of pee and poo!

Fast asleep by the washing machine – his favouite spot within Reindeer House.
He quickly made friends with herders and dogs. Our dogs are very good with him, and basically completely ignore him.
The two youngest members of our household – Sunny and Fraoch.
One of Sunny’s first walks with us.
Joining herders on a post-work walk. Good exercise for Sunny, and an opportunity to find nutritious grazing.
Sunny enjoying a paddle… he even went for a swim, calmly following us herders in as we went for a dip!

Every morning he gets in our reindeer van and joins the herders and dogs for the walk over to our enclosure. Getting some tasty grazing along the way it’s also very good exercise and socialising for him as he comes in with the main herd. The first time we took him up the reindeer on the hill acted like they had no idea what he was… Is he a dog?!?! They sniffed him and with sudden movements Sunny made they darted off, tail in the air worried he’d do them harm. Little did they know he was just a very young version of them. They are now accustomed to him and he mixes in just fine.

Sunny in the van on his way up to the enclosure for his morning exercise.
Sunny enjoying some tasty grazing on his daily walk to the enclosure.
Start ’em young! Sunny assisting Andi with harness training.
Stephanie, one of our volunteers, giving Sunny a bottle of milk.
Nom, nom, nom.
Sunny now spends his afternoons and evenings in with Paddock reindeer. Here we have Beastie, Druid, Jonne and Haricot keeping him company.
He still comes into the house most evenings, he may have grown a lot in the month we’ve been looking after him, but his favourite location in the house hasn’t changed.

So here you have it, Sunny our hand reared calf of 2022. We named him Sunny as his mother was called Rain and his brother is called Jimmy so for the Scottish folk out there you’ll know the saying ‘Sonny Jim’! We’ve just tweaked the spelling. I cannot predict the weather this summer but I know for sure that we will have a Sunny summer!

Bring on a Sunny summer!

Fiona

Sika, the ‘forgotten reindeer’

The eagle-eyed amongst you, or those who have followed us on social media for a long time, might have noticed a reindeer named Sika popping up on our pages once or twice in the last few months, having never heard of her before. So where has she come from? Is she ‘new’?!

Sika in 2016

In fact, she’s not remotely new – actually she’s rather old. Sika was born in 2008 and has been here her whole life, but this winter there’s been a bit of a turnaround in her character, which has taken all of us rather by surprise. Let me explain…

In 2008 we named our calves after ‘horned and antlered animal species’, and the name we picked for Malawi’s wee female calf was Impala. But time passed and Malawi and Impala weren’t seen for ages, and whilst winter crept on and all the other calves came into the hill enclosure and got used to being handled and were halter-trained, there was still no sign of the two. Eventually, Malawi showed up but she was alone, with no sign on Impala. Frustrated, we wrote off Impala as one of the losses that year – not every calf makes it to adulthood sadly.

And then in January 2009, a report reached us of a reindeer calf alone at the far end of the Kincardine hills, at the edge of the Cairngorms but not in a spot that reindeer normally stray to. Off we went to investigate, and there was a wee calf – alone and very shy. Eventually she was captured with the aid of some makeshift fencing and a small group of tame adult reindeer acting as decoys – but who was she? Process of elimination led us to realise she must be Impala, separated from Malawi accidentally at some point and then lost by herself in an area she didn’t know. But as we had had to ‘seek her’ (geddit?), and the name Sika hadn’t been used in that year’s naming theme, ‘Impala’ fell by the wayside and ‘Sika’ joined the herd instead.

Sika in her younger days

Christmas is the time that our calves receive most of their formative handling, transforming from effectively wild animals to tame ones well used to being around people. But Sika had missed this window, and while we did initially halter-train her, she remained very wild still in character compared to others, and quickly became a reindeer that we didn’t even consider trying to put a halter on in adult life. She lived her life up on the Cairngorms, never being brought down to our Paddocks or moved across to our alternative winter grazing range as moving her just wasn’t an option. A ‘background’ reindeer – never noticed by visitors (and often barely by us!), just there in the herd but never really featuring much or making any great impact on any of our lives. She has never even had an adopter – one of the very few reindeer in the herd with this dubious accolade.

In the hill enclosure for the rut a couple of years back, with Caterpillar and Cottage following on

Over the years Sika produced a couple of calves, but in general we avoiding breeding her to some extent as breeding a wild streak into our herd is not ideal. Her calves, few and far between, also turned out rather shy too, although not as bad as Sika herself. The one anomaly was Bordeaux, her only female calf, who was born in 2019 and is an absolute sweetie! We have no idea really why she has turned out the way she has – she certainly didn’t get her trust in humans from her mum!

Bordeaux – Sika’s mini-me

In the last 3 or 4 years we have put a lot more effort in to training our reindeer to come and put their heads into a feed bag and allowing us to touch them, in order to make it easier to catch and halter them when necessary. All winter when we’ve walked out to the herd first thing in the morning, before putting feed down on the ground for them we have wandered around the shyer reindeer, offering a bit of bribery in return for any positive behaviour towards us. For most reindeer this has worked wonders, and some characters that we could never have considered catching in the past (or at least whilst out in a large open space) are now easily won over – Inca, Suidhe and Roule have been our particular success stories! But as for Sika… she was a reindeer that would never really make eye contact but just turn away whenever a herder optimistically proffered a bag.

Looking beautiful, but always keeping her distance…

Fast forward to January 2022, and I snorted ‘Hmphh. Good luck!’ at Andi as she tried to catch Sika’s attention with the feed bag once again. But something was different. Just for a second she looked, before turning away again. Andi is like a dog with a bone in these situations, and I know I can push her to keep at something by telling her it isn’t worth bothering about (god bless you, reverse psychology) and sure enough she kept persisting. I almost fell over in surprise when, 5 minutes later, Sika had got to the point where she was stretching her neck out towards the feed bag, although not yet bold enough to put her nose right in it. This behaviour persisted from day to day until finally she snatched a mouthful… and a light-bulb went on somewhere in her little brain!

Success! Andi’s smile says it all 😀

Now, Sika is one of the first reindeer over to us each morning, actively hunting down the feed bag and keeping a close eye on it until she’s offered a wee extra nibble. I love to look around at the herd, patiently hanging around waiting for us, catch her eye and rustle the bag a tiny bit… and see that head lift a bit, her eyes widen and a lick of the lips in anticipation! All her attention is on us the whole time – so different from the years of ignoring, or even actively avoiding – us.

At the front of the herd and leading them in for feed, earlier this winter

She is still quite jumpy around us however, and is definitely not a reindeer we’re about to try and actually catch and put a halter on, but at 14 years old there’s no need to. We are just enjoying finally getting to know her after a lifetime of obscurity! I can’t express enough how surprised we all are to find out that Sika is actually a lovely character, after all these years…

Shy reindeer sometimes need defending whilst they grab a mouthful from the pushier members of the herd – ironically this intruder is Malawi, Sika’s mum! Malawi is now the oldest reindeer in the entire herd, at 17 years old, and of the opinion that any feed bag is presumably therefore all for her.

Hen

Book Now