Heading off for the summer

Back in late May, our thoughts start to turn to getting the cows and calves out of the hill enclosure, so they can spend the summer months free-ranging on the mountains, getting peace and quiet and the best of the grazing, and the cows can teach their calves the lie of the land too. In recent years, we tend to take them out in two batches, allowing each batch to spend a couple of weeks in the main section of the hill enclosure first. This has two-fold benefits – it helps to strengthen the calves as they move around more than they do in the smaller ‘nursery’ area, but most importantly it exposes the calves to visitors. This makes our job in the autumn easier when the female reindeer return to the hill enclosure, as the calves are much more relaxed in amongst people than they otherwise would be – even though they’ve barely laid eyes on a human in the interim.

Setting off up through the top part of the hill enclosure

Prior to leaving the enclosure, the cows and calves are all checked over, and given Spot-on to help ward off ticks. We then halter up all the adult females, as it’s a far less stressful process to just lead the reindeer out of the enclosure rather than to try and herd them. We do this in an evening rather than during the day too, as it lessens the risk of us bumping into hill-walkers, who may have dogs in tow. Any young females of a year old who are tagging along with their mums and new siblings aren’t haltered, as they will just follow anyway.

There’s a lot of grunting to start with, as everyone establishes where their calf is, and the calves wonder why there are so many human legs in their herd suddenly!
Out through the gate at the top of the enclosure
Everyone has settled down and is enjoying the evening wander!

We take the group about a mile or so from the top gate of the enclosure, although the spot we leave them in is only actually a couple of hundred metres from the fence and the far end of the enclosure.

A good year for the cotton-grass this year!
I ran ahead ahead to get some photos, meaning I could sit and relax in the sunshine once I’d got into position!
Progress isn’t particularly fast with so many reindeer on halters, so there was plenty of time to chat along the way!

Some years in the past the cows have taken off at speed into the distance as soon as they’ve got the chance, but this batch were more than happy just to graze and chill out once we’d taken halters off and released them. This little chap (above) was born a bit prematurely, so had to be bottle-fed for a while whilst mum’s milk got going, so he’s very tame!

The face of a Lotti who’s just realised that two birthday cakes and a birthday present have been carried the whole way out as a surprise!
Birthday cake all round!
And in classic unpredictable Sheena-fashion – a watermelon! ‘What is the heaviest and most unexpected snack I could possibly bring?!’
Some time to chill out for us too (although the sun had sadly disappeared behind the hill by this point).
At this time of year the reindeer have started moulting around their eyes, their darker summer coat showing through and giving them all ‘panda eyes’.
Time to go, for us and them.
Heading home! How could I not finish with this photo?

Through the summer months we see very little of the female reindeer and their calves, leaving them to graze in peace after spending around 6 weeks in the hill enclosure. We will head out to look for them occasionally though, when time and weather allow, but the next time we have proper contact with them again is from August onwards, as they start to return to the hill enclosure in dribs and drabs. It’s like catching up with old friends again!

Hen

COVID calves

Our usual annual practice is the reindeer calves born that spring will join a Christmas team of adult reindeer and go out and about on tour joining in Christmas festivities across the country. This is the start of their training and handling with us which means when the male calves grow up and go on to join a team as an adult with potentially a different role to play (i.e. trained to harness and pulling the sleigh) then they have already seen what events are all about so it’s helpful for their training going forward.

Haricot as a new born in spring 2020.
Tiny new born Lupin in 2020 – hard to imagine him pulling a sleigh three years later!

Back in 2020 all the calves born that year didn’t take part in many Christmas events due to our lack of bookings off the back of the COVID pandemic. We knew further down the line that we would have to work harder on these reindeer. Now Christmas 2023 is well behind us, this was the first Christmas where the three year old males were trained to wear harness and pull the sleigh for the first time. We don’t use female reindeer at Christmas as they tend to be pregnant at that time of year and the males we do use are castrates (non-breeding).

So our Christmas reindeer class of 2023 consisted of – Adzuki, Lupin, Haricot, Hemp and Cicero. Although there were more from that year these were the main five boys who went out and about on tour and pulled the sleigh for their first year. While training here in Glenmore I would say they certainly didn’t all take to it like a duck to water. Some were stubborn, some a bit too forward, however, we definitely got to the point over a number of days where they were used to wearing the harness and pulling the sleigh. Some better than others. I’d say Hemp, Haricot and Lupin did really well, whereas Adzuki and Cicero took a little longer but still did great!

Haricot in trace around Glenmore – no problem with an empty sleigh in training!
Adzuki at the front in training and Hemp at the back.

So now we get to the third weekend in November and it was time for them to head out with a team of experienced Christmas reindeer and herders to go and do a proper Christmas event. Haricot headed to Tain, a town in the north of Scotland, with Joe, Aurelien and Colin. Hemp and Cicero went to the west coast taking part in two parades that day in Fort William and Oban with Lotti, Lisette and Colin (a different Colin) and Lupin and Adzuki both came to Elgin with Ruth and I where we had further assistance from two of our long-term volunteers.

Time to parade in Tain and Haricot steps up alongside super-duper Christmas reindeer Poirot. In their set-up area Joe puts their harness on. Great, Haricot didn’t bat an eye lid. Now time to pop him in sleigh with Poirot, again he wasn’t fazed. Pipe band get set-up ready to start the parade. Joe is at the front leading and ‘alright boys, walk on’… nothing. ‘Alright boys, walk on’… again, nothing. Haricot decided that an empty sleigh in training was much easier to pull than a sleigh with a heavy Santa on it. After a bit of encouragement Haricot was having none of it so they made the sensible decision to swap him for Aztec (another of our trained Christmas reindeer) and therefore Haricot just had to walk at the back of the sleigh, not pull it. The event went really well but maybe back to the drawing board on this one.

The team chilled out and enjoying their lunch before the parade in Tain. Haricot is the pale reindeer right at the back, Aztec is closest to camera who ended up being promoted to sleigh puller!

Now to the team on the west coast. Hemp actually went out on Christmas tour as a two year old, not pulling the sleigh but as a reindeer walking at the back so he has had a fair bit of exposure to these types of events. He pulled the sleigh alongside Frost and acted as though he’d done it his whole life. What a star! This was Cicero’s first time on an event so the team decided that he would be at the back of the sleigh to let him take it in and then aim to get him pulling the sleigh in Oban. The parade sets off following the pipe band with Frost and Hemp pulling and Cicero and Dr Seuss with the calves following behind the sleigh. Cicero thought by being at the back he was being left behind so was keen to go forward therefore Colin took his lead rope and walked him up front with the two reindeer pulling… Cicero thought this was much better and although it wasn’t how our usual parades looked with three reindeer at the front I don’t think anyone really noticed and Cicero was happy plodding along there.

A lovely photo in the Lochaber Times with Cicero looking very relaxed next to the sleigh while Hemp and Frost pull. Copyright Iain Ferguson, alba photos.
The team very chilled after the Fort William parade outside the Nevis Centre. Hemp closest to the camera with one antler.

Now to Oban which is an evening event so pretty dark. For this one the team popped Cicero in the front alongside Dr Seuss (an old hand when it comes to pulling the sleigh). Contrary to Haricot, I don’t think Dr Seuss did any of the pulling during this parade as Cicero did it all. Give him his due he wasn’t fazed by a weighty Santa. To make sure he didn’t pull too hard two handlers walked with him at the front easing him into the ways of pulling the sleigh. I think he could do with a bit more practice, mainly to learn that there are two reindeer and both should be pulling the sleigh equally…. cough cough, Dr Seuss!!!

Now onto Elgin where I was with Ruth and a couple of volunteers as well as newbies Lupin and Adzuki. We decide that Lupin could pull the sleigh and Adzuki would learn the ropes at the back. We set off, again following a pipe band. Lupin was a total star! Didn’t put a hoof wrong and pulled equally alongside pro Druid. Adzuki, however, like Cicero wasn’t for being left behind at the back of the sleigh and was keen to go forward. Each team makes there own decisions with how to manage their reindeer in the best way they think and it was correct for Cicero to be led forward but in my case I made a different decision as I wanted Adzuki to learn that actually being at the back of the sleigh was absolutely fine and there was no need for him to want to go forward. In my quick thinking I asked one of the volunteers to pass me a sneaky bag of lichen hidden Santa’s bag. With a tasty handful of lichen in my hand suddenly Adzuki was pretty delighted to be walking at the back of the sleigh. This got us through the parade wonderfully but I knew this wasn’t a solution long term. I mean we would have a very happy Adzuki but ultimately he had to learn that lichen wasn’t always going to be available.

The teams return to the hills after their events. Here’s a snowy Haricot after his day in Tain.

The teams came home after that weekend all with their own stories of their ‘COVID calves come adults’ and how it wasn’t quite as smooth sailing as other years. However, they were by no means put off, we just had to be canny with how we handled them and which events they went on. Every weekend they would join a team. Haricot pulled the sleigh at Aberfeldy the following weekend and this time we gave him some help by pushing the sleigh therefore all he had to do was walk at the front. ‘He was a total star’ as reported back by Ruth! Lupin was also in that team but as he pulled like a pro last time he went at the back this time and absolutely nailed it! Cicero the following weekend had a reindeer only event so no parade for him. This type of exposure is still really great though and goes towards his training. Adzuki came to a local event with myself and Mel. It was a short parade but already he was better than before… again the more exposure the better.

Haricot pulling the sleigh in Aberfeldy where he was a total star! Lupin at the back also doing a super job.
Adzuki pulling the sleigh like a pro in Lairg.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day can be two of the busiest days of the year. There are three parades locally on Christmas Eve and they can be dark, busy and fast pace whereas Christmas day there are four parades and they are a bit more laid back and all in the light of day which is easier. With Haricot and Lupin taking to it better than Cicero and Adzuki we decided they would do Christmas Eve and that would leave Christmas Day to Cicero and Adzuki. All alongside some of our other trained Christmas reindeer of course. I cannot sing their praises more, all four boys were absolute superstars! With full sets of antlers they all looked beautiful in the front of the sleigh. They make us feel so proud!

The biggest reward is of course heading to winter free range which happens after Christmas. So to finish off the photos here is Adzuki, still with his enormous set of antlers in February while free ranging with the rest of the herd.

Adzuki enjoying roaming freely in the hills after his Christmas work.

Fiona

Sherlock’s Antlers

Sherlock in September 2022.

Despite spending the last 40+ years devoting my life to the Cairngorm Reindeer I am still fascinated by the annual cycle of reindeer growing their new velvet antlers, then stripping the velvet to reveal hard bony antlers and finally casting their antlers and growing a new set next year.

It is an amazing process, hugely demanding on their resources, but very beneficial to the individual whether they are males competing for females in the rut or females and young males competing for food in the winter.

The older mature males grow the most impressive antlers and for them the process of growing their new velvet antlers begins before the end of the winter and continues until they strip the velvet from the antlers around the middle of August, in preparation for the rutting season. The bigger the antlers the more likely they are to ‘win’ a fight and so claim a harem of females, so big antlers are important.

Sherlock – 8th of April 2023.
Sherlock – 9th of May 2023.
Sherlock – 6th of June 2023.

One of our main breeding bulls Sherlock showed all the signs of growing a pretty big set of antlers last year and by the autumn he didn’t disappoint us. Luckily for us he is a real gentleman among reindeer and although he sported these great weapons on his head, he was never aggressive towards us and we could still safely go in beside him and his breeding females on a daily basis to feed and check them all.

Sherlock – 29th of August 2023 – stripping the velvet.
Sherlock in the rut with Bordeaux in front of him on the 2nd of October 2023.

But their glory doesn’t last long and having spent 5 ½ months growing their antlers the breeding males are the first to cast their antlers at the end of the rut and before the winter sets in. So only about 10-12 weeks of glory with big hard antlers to fight with!

Spartan, who is a couple of years older than Sherlock was first to cast his antlers in the middle of November so I knew it wouldn’t be long before Sherlock was antlerless too. Two weeks later and off came one of Sherlock’s antlers making him very lopsided! Then a couple more days and the other one had fallen.

So now we are in 2024 and Sherlock, who was so dominant in the autumn, has been at the bottom of the pecking order over the winter.

Sherlock with no antlers in January 2024.
Sherlock just beginning to grow his antlers on the 28th February 2024.
Sherlock on the left on the with his lovely velvet antlers growing well, still free roaming in the hills – 30th of March 2024.
It’s in the genes! Sherlock’s mum, Caddis, grew very large antlers for a female.

Tilly

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

Photo Blog: February 2024

We reopened to the public on the 10th of February. With no Paddocks and Exhibition available (the site is currently a very big hole) it feels rather strange! But the Hill Trips are running as usual, in fact for the February half term we brought some of our free ranging cows and nine month old calves in to our hill enclosure allowing us to do two Hill Trips a day. So, we’ve been busy looking after our the herd in the enclosure and checking in with the free rangers once every few days. February has so far been rather mild so far with not very much snow so we’ve been having a relatively easy time, and the reindeer are finding easy grazing. We’ll be back to free range visits very soon (Monday 26th Feb) so if anyone is visiting us between now and the end of April be prepared for potentially much longer walks out to find the herd.

1st of February: Andi surrounded by some of our wonderful reindeer calves.
1st of February: Colorado the cutie!
7th of February: Repairing a fence at the top of our hill enclosure that got ripped up by a recent storm. Cameron is stood by the hole where the strainer post in the foreground should have been!
8th of February (a): Lotti and I head out to bring in the free ranging herd to our hill enclosure ready for the half term school holidays. Here’s Morven leading the way.
8th of February (b): Trying my best to woo the herd across the burn. I can confirm the burn was higher than the height of my wellies.
8th of February (c): Lace was the first to cross the burn with her calf Limpopo at her side. Thank you Lace for being a great leader! The herd were quick to follow her and then marched up this hill that we affectionately call Killer Hill.
11th of February: Holy Moley showing off her lovely incisors!
14th of February: After a day in the enclosure these reindeer are off back out free roaming. From L to R we’ve got Sorbet, Feta, Pip, Danube, Colorado (and his mum Christie just poking her head out behind) and Elbe.
15th of February: Sundae being cute as ever on a very dreich Hill Trip.
16th of February: Amazon saying hello.
16th of February: The state of the Paddocks just now.
20th of February: A recent storm blew down (another) fence within the enclosure. Here’s the delivery of new posts ready for for work to commence.
22nd of February: We did a enclosure swap. These are the girls who’ve been in the hill enclosure for a wee while now heading back out to free roam with Fiona leading the way.
22nd of February: Our wonderful volunteer Emm is back and has brought the sun with her. All the herders are delighted to see her, and so is Feta!

Ruth

A broken ankle and a helicopter ride.

Anyone who has come to visit us will know that we have very strict clothing and footwear requirements. On a fair-weather day, this may sometimes seem slight overkill but when the conditions change, or something goes wrong requiring us to stay on the hill longer than usual, the extra layers are absolutely necessary.

A wild day feeding the reindeer (Getty images).

One such occasion happened in December. We had almost come to the end of a hill trip when one of our visitors approached me to ask if I could help her support her wife who had slipped and possibly sprained her ankle. At first they had hoped that between the three of us, we would be able to walk off the hill. When I reached her, it became quickly apparent that the pain was too great for her to walk of the hill even with us taking her weight, making it a very easy decision that we would call mountain rescue. The week before I had done my first aid training and our casualty’s wife was a doctor so hopefully, she was in good hands. While Ben got on the phone, I fetched our group shelter and Isla brought some layers to keep everybody warm. The reindeer, having not seen a group shelter before were very interested in the sudden appearance of a giant orange ‘bag of food’ and Ben and I had to chase them away to avoid any further injury.

Druid, Dr Seuss and Jelly were very interested in the group shelter.

We were very lucky, and the mountain rescue team were with us within an hour and a half. As they arrived there were fits of laughter from inside the group shelter as Ben was telling both the women not to worry, that we had pre-paid for the rescue by getting our kit off for a naked calendar the previous year, raising over four and a half grand for the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. Mountain Rescue teams are made up of volunteers, when a call comes in, they are all alerted and have to leave their jobs/ whatever else they may have been up to come out. Once the team has assembled, they then have to drive from the base and then walk out to find the casualty, all of this can take a good few hours. On this occasion they had already been alerted for another rescue so the first people to respond had gone to the other casualty and then the next people had come straight to us. The mountain rescue team were absolutely fantastic, they splinted her ankle, with some much-appreciated pain relief, and then lifted her onto a stretcher, ready to walk off the hill.

The whole time this was happening, we could hear a helicopter flying a little way south of where we were. It became apparent that the helicopter was meant for the original casualty who had been climbing in the Northern Corries but they were unable to land due to the weather. So as not to waste the flight, and to get our lovely visitor off the hill and to hospital as soon as possible, the helicopter came to us instead.

The herd walking down past us to the afternoon Hill Trip.
Helicopter landing in the hill enclosure.

By this point we’d been on the hill so long that the afternoon Hill Trip had arrived and was gathered a bit further down the hill. The reindeer have regularly seen helicopters in the distance, but we were unsure if one landing this close to the reindeer would spook them causing a rather abrupt end to the Hill Trip. On the contrary, the reindeer barely batted an eyelid, the visitors were all pretty interested though!

Helicopter with our next hill trip visitors and reindeer behind.

The woman with the broken ankle was lifted into the helicopter and as they flew off her wife told us ‘Once she’s out of hospital and her ankle is fixed, she’s going to absolutely love this, she loves helicopters’. The rest of us walked back down off the hill.

Helicopter flying away.

Accidents such as these are very rare, in fact at my first aid course the previous week I had smugly told the instructor that I hadn’t had to use any first aid since the previous course 3 years earlier. I clearly spoke too soon. In this case, our visitor slipped despite having the correct footwear, she was just very unlucky. All four of us ended up staying on the hill for a total of 4 hours, for the last 2 we weren’t moving. For me it was a very good reminder of why we have to be so strict with the footwear and clothing that our visitors wear, had our casualty not had enough layers, the situation could have become more serious very quickly.

Ruth and Andi all dressed up for a winter reindeer feed.

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

How Isla became a reindeer herder…

The lovely Isla with one of her favourite reindeer – Busby!

The first time I met the reindeer here at Cairngorm, I was just four years old and a bridesmaid at my mum’s wedding. Mum, being as extravagant as she is, decided she wanted the reindeer to pull the sleigh for us from the service to the party venue. Once we were on the sleigh I was quickly alarmed about the health and safety, as there were no seatbelts on board. Four-year-old me obviously thinking the reindeer would be flying us there! As we were just setting off, I whispered to my cousin “hold on tight, we are about to take off” but was quickly relived and slightly disappointed when I realised the reindeer would just be walking us there.

Four year old Isla – closest to the camera holding on tightly to her cousin. The reindeer is Wallace.
The sleigh firmly attached to the ground, phew!
The happy couple off to the party.

After the wedding it then became a tradition to come and visit the reindeer before Christmas. Even adopting Elvis as a two-year-old boy and always loving getting my certificate through the post before Christmas. Elvis lived to be one of the oldest males in the herd, before sadly passing away this August at the impressive age of 17!

Elvis as a two year old bull in 2008 – the year Isla adopted him.

During the spring this year, just as I was leaving school. I went round to visit my ‘Fairy God Mother’ Sheena, one of the herders here at the Reindeer Center. After explaining to her that I wasn’t sure what to do after school and fancied a change she suggested I got in touch to see if I could work the summer here with the reindeer.

So, after a few back and forth emails (me not being the best at replying during my exams), we eventually arranged a trial day for me to come and meet some of the herders and the reindeer of course. I was pretty nervous but was instantly put at ease when greeted by Ruth and Lisette with big smiles on their faces. I was thrown right in at the deep end as my first task was going up the hill to help give one of the reindeer an injection as she had a sore foot. I quickly realised that having dogs and occasionally helping my granny muck out her horse maybe didn’t quite qualify as having experience working with animals! But I like to think I’m a quick learner. And was super eager to get stuck as I loved the idea of walking up the hills everyday to look after the herd.

Not a bad office!

After a successful trial day, I was then offered to come work the summer here at the Centre which I was super excited for! I started at the end of May, and the weather was amazing! Blue skies everyday for about a month, eventually this bubble did bust. And I then had the proper Scottish herder experience. But even in the rain I still couldn’t believe that it was my job to walk up hills and find reindeer. I even didn’t mind taking a reindeer’s temperature (let’s just say it doesn’t go in their mouths) if it meant I could spend the morning up the hill with the herd! Over the summer I learnt so many new skills and everyone was so patient with me helping me to learn about these beautiful animals.

When Isla first started it was weeks of sunshine and moulting reindeer.
It’s a tough job getting to know all the calves when they come back into the enclosure in the autumn, like wee Shannon here.
Isla this time not sitting on the sleigh but working alongside Druid and Haricot at the back of it this autumn.
Breeding bull Kernel this autumn,
Reindeer during the first decent snow of 2023.

When chatting in the office I let it slip about the reindeer being at mum’s wedding, Our resident Blog Queen Ruth was insistent that it would make the perfect Christmassy blog!

We also realised that Hen, another one of the herders here, was at the wedding as well leading the sleigh! Which is hilarious, looking back on the wedding photos we actually found one of her at the front of the sleigh! (Note from Hen: also a way to make her feel really, really old…)

The back of Hen’s head at the wedding!

I have had the best 7 months here at the Centre and have loved getting to know all the reindeer and the herders of course! I’m off for a new adventure in the New Year but I’m sure I’ll be back soon!! If they’ll have me 😉

Druid thinks Isla should definitely return!
Isla chilling out with Cicero.

Isla

Well hello boys!

In the autumn, we move all of our entire males (apart from the 2 or 3 lucky chosen breeding bulls) over to our hill farm, away from the females and out of trouble for the duration of the breeding season. With no hint of love on the air, this keeps them calmer and easier to manage, though they still enjoy play-fighting. By December the rut is over and our breeding bulls have also joined them, so there is a slight vibe of an all-boys hangout. As Tilly is caring for these fellas every day, and she is less up on her social media, I thought I’d take the opportunity to grab some photos for you all this week when I was over at the hill farm.

Boys hanging out chilling in the sunshine on the hill
Tub heading over to see what’s up
Spartan is a picture of relaxation! Pure white yearling 99, and Cornetto are closest to camera.
Jester and Scoop resting up for winter
Yearling males 99, Kulfi, Cornetto and Zoom
The bulls spend a lot of time practicing their tussling skills – here’s a friendly bout between 99 and Zoom
2-year-old Akubra looks a bit sleepy for tussling just now!
2 year old Cowboy (centre) is certainly in charge of yearlings Calippo (left) and Iskrem (right)
Too close Calippo!
Pure white 99
The more mature bulls have already cast their antlers. Spartan and Sherlock are now getting a rest from carrying all that weight on their heads!
Look at that big fuzzy nose! Mr Morse.
Mr Whippy is the biggest of the yearlings
Like some of the other young bulls, Zap has broken parts of his antlers. He’ll grow back a full set next year after casting this set, a completely natural process.
Sunny, who we hand-reared last year. He’s grown into a very handsome fella.
Big Morse and young Kulfi enjoying the winter sun.

Andi

Christmas shopping

Once again, the festive season is sneaking up on us, and for anyone who is a wee bit stuck for gift ideas, we’ve got lots of options on our webshop.

Adoption pack

For the reindeer fanatic in your life, how about adopting the Herd for them? As an adopter, you become one of our valued supporters and in return for your financial support, you will receive a certificate and photograph of the reindeer and additional information about reindeer along with two newsletters over the year. For UK adopters, we also send a few unique souvenirs. You can also visit the herd for free (one person admitted free per adoption). The adoption subscriptions are spent entirely on the upkeep of the reindeer including their food and welfare in the form of medicines and veterinary care. Click here to find out more.

All sorts of stationary – notepads, pens and pencils.

Toys and cuddly keyrings for all ages.

Handy eco cotton pouch, and locally made leather bookmarks.

Tea towels of different colours, reusable travel cups, locally made wooden coasters and branded thimbles.

A selection of books, telling the story of the herd.

All of these, and lots more, can be found on our webshop by clicking here. Happy shopping!

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