Volunteer Blog: From the rutting season to the calving season

Sherlock during the rut in 2023.

I first visited the Cairngorm reindeer herd in August 2000 and since then have visited on many occasions with my husband and our three daughters.

Over the years we have made badges and paper antlers, hunted for elves, taken countless photos of our daughters sitting on the sleigh outside the shop, handfed the reindeer, and have never tired of the beautiful walk up to the hill enclosure.

Our last family trip was on Valentine’s Day in 2022 when we headed out in the pouring rain on the 11am Hill Trip to visit the free ranging herd high up on the mountain. It was following that trip that I heard about the chance to apply to become a volunteer and spend a week helping out at Reindeer House and decided to apply.

Jayne’s husband and daughter smiling despite the rain thanks to Gloriana. Hard to believe this soggy experience made Jayne wish to volunteer with us!

In October 2023 I packed my tent and drove up from Lancashire to spend the week at Glenmore. I was rather apprehensive turning up at 8am on Monday morning with a rucksack full of waterproofs and sandwiches but I needn’t have worried. I was immediately greeted by a room full of very friendly reindeer herders, several dogs and a handful of puppies!

My volunteer week was action packed. In the morning I helped with handling the reindeer down at the Visitor Centre, feeding them, cleaning up and getting everything ready for visitors to come in at 10am.

During October there is just one Hill Trip a day. I would go up onto the hill, carrying a bag of food and talking to visitors about what I was doing. Each day I would heat up some milk and carry it up the hill in a flask to feed two calves named Winnie and Alba who had been successfully hand reared and were now on the hill with the rest of the herd. Whilst I keep insisting that I don’t have a favourite reindeer I do have a soft spot for Alba!

Winnie and Alba, hard not to develop soft spots for these two girls!

October is the rutting season which was quite eventful! The hill enclosure was being used to manage the annual breeding as well as for daily Hill Trips so there was plenty to do. Two male reindeer had been selected for breeding. Sherlock was out on Silver Mount with some of the females whilst Jelly Bean was in another part of the enclosure with some of the other females. Daily checks were made of all the reindeer and extra food provided. It was quite an experience to see these normally very docile males displaying anything but docile behaviour and to see their interactions with the females as they came into season. I was certainly happy to stay behind the fence!

Sherlock out on Silver Mount with Bordeaux, one of his selected cows.

Volunteering in October also meant that I got the opportunity to be involved in the first week of the Christmas sleigh training. I’ll never forget being pulled up the hill from Glenmore Visitor Centre in a Sleigh!

Jayne at the front of the sleigh in hi-vis, on crowd control duty.

I learnt so much that week and thoroughly enjoyed it so it was no surprise to my family when I asked if they would mind if I abandoned them once again this year to spend another week volunteering.

My return to Glenmore was sooner than I imagined and I was back again at the start of May 2024 – approximately 220 days since my last visit – which quite coincidentally happened to be about the same period of time as the average gestation period for a reindeer!

How lucky was I – having experienced the madness of the rutting season I was now in the thick of the calving season.

One of our gorgeous calves.

Three calves had already been born when I arrived on a wet bank holiday weekend and over the course of the week that I was there another 12 were born on the hill.

During my second stint as a volunteer there was no Paddocks and Exhibition to attend to as it has been knocked down over the winter and is in the process of being rebuilt. There was plenty to do though with two Hill Trips a day, plus an early morning walk to find reindeer, check on them, locate newly born reindeer and help with a whole host of other daily jobs to be done.

New mum and calf.

Watching how quickly the calves developed and became so sure footed in such a short space of time was amazing and as the new mums relaxed into motherhood it was a joy to just sit and watch them interact. It’s hard to imagine that in just a few weeks the mums and calves will be out free ranging across the Cairngorm mountains.

During the time I have spent with everyone who works with the Cairngorm Reindeer I have learned so much about these beautiful animals. I have thoroughly enjoyed helping to take visitors up onto the hill, telling them about the reindeer and talking to them about all sorts of things!

Sherlock looking a bit different from Jayne’s last visit.
Zambezi and Shannon now yearlings in May 2024, in the previous October these were some of the calves that were being trained to walk behind the sleigh.

I feel so privileged to have had this opportunity and am rather hoping that I will be allowed back again next year ….

Jayne

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 2: Christmas 2022

For Part 1 of this blog please click here: Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 1: Christmas 2022 – The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd

Christmas trips begin…

Fiona letting Druid, Frost and Sunny enjoy some lichen before visiting a local nursery.

My first big trip out was when I went with Fiona and we took Sunny, Frost and Druid to a local nursery school in a big lorry. When we got there we took them for a walk in the woods by the car park and found some lichen lollipops which are broken off twigs covered in lichen which the reindeer love. We then took the reindeer outside the nursery and held them on lead ropes so the children were able to come out in small groups to see them. It was so lovely to see their faces when they saw the reindeer. My job was to look after Sunny and we were wearing our Herders’ Christmas jumpers.

Emm and Sunny – our hand-reared calf of 2022.

On Christmas Eve we went to the Ski car park to find the free-rangers and found them on the mountain so we went over to feed them. We had to jump over a few burns to get to them. I was given the job of doing the reindeer call and they all came over. It was particularly special as my adopted reindeer Scully was there and she came running over. It all felt very special as it was Christmas Eve and I was with the reindeer in their natural surroundings.

Later that day there was a big evening parade in Aviemore starting up at the top of the town. We had to load our Christmas reindeer for the event, Olmec, Scolty, Berlin, Poirot, Sunny and Popsicle into the big lorry outside the Reindeer Centre and take them to start of the parade. They were kept there with a tether line and given food. There were many people who came to say hello to them on the way to the parade. When Santa arrived he got into the sleigh along with the children who were travelling with him. Then we connected up the reindeer to the harness with two adults at the front and two at the back with the two calves. The pipe band started the music which was very loud and made poor Popsicle jump! We paraded down the high street all the way to the Cairngorm Hotel and my job for that night was to walk by the side and make sure no-one let their dog get near and scare the reindeer.

When we had finished we loaded all the reindeer and Santa’s sleigh back onto the lorry and headed for the next parade at Kingussie. On the way we stopped for some fish and chips and I had sausage. It was raining very hard at Kingussie but we still managed to get them all out of the lorry and connected up again to the sleigh for the parade. Everyone was very interested and excited to see and learn about the reindeer and Father Christmas. I stayed at the back of the sleigh to keep all the reindeer in line and not get tangled up.

When this was finished we loaded them all up again and travelled to Newtonmore for the last parade of the night. We went down the whole length of the high street and half way down Fiona surprised me by calling me forward to the front to lead the parade with Olmec and Scolty. This was an absolutely fantastic experience and I felt so honoured to be leading the whole parade with the reindeer. It was such as surprise. We finished the parade at one of the hotels and we all had a warming drink and soup while everyone could meet the reindeer and Santa. One funny time was when my dad was asked to hold all the reindeer whilst still drinking his mulled wine so he had six reindeer leads in one hand with a sleigh and his cup of mulled wine in the other!!! We finally reloaded them back into the lorry. Each time we did this we had to lead them up the ramp and take their head collars off and then load the sleigh into the lorry as well. It was very tiring but brilliant experience. We headed home for a well-earned sleep.

Emm leading the sleigh through Newtonmore – Olmec on the right.

On Christmas Day there were four visits to do to local hotels where the guests could meet Santa with his Elves and the reindeer and have photos taken and Fiona had invited us along to help again. The first one was Coylumbridge Hotel and when I arrived  I had a big surprise as Fiona had tied Scully’s antler, which she had shed earlier, to Sunny, and she walked him up to me with it and gave it to me as a present. That was very special to be presented with my adopted reindeer’s antler. We then did McDonald’s Resort Hotel, Nethy Bridge hotel and then one in Kingussie. It was the same team as Christmas Eve as well as Rocket. At each event we had to unload the reindeer and sleigh, harness them up then parade with Santa. The herders were Tilly, Fiona, Joe and Carol as well as me my mum and dad. We were able to have a break in Nethy Bridge and Tilly had arranged for soup and sandwiches for our lunch. It took most of the day but it was such a magical experience taking the reindeer to see lots of people celebrating Christmas and we were all exhausted at the end but very happy. We had a drink back at Reindeer House to celebrate with everyone. They were having their Christmas Dinner with about 20 people afterwards and everything was cooking and smelling very nice

Christmas Day parade! Fiona leading Scolty (closest to camera) and Joe at the back with Olmec (closest to camera).
Emm leading Sunny.

Boxing day was again very snowy and the ski road was again shut due to snow drifts and the herders couldn’t get through till after 10am. It was snowing heavily when we went up the mountain and I couldn’t believe how quickly the snow settled and became very deep. It was great again to see the reindeer in proper snow. We had to do more digging and gritting to clear the paths. The car parks at the top were very very slippy with the ice and we had to be careful not to slip over. The reindeer made it look easy. The free-rangers were on the road so Cameron led them away out of sight and fed them. Sunny the hand-reared reindeer had his final bottle of milk as he moved completely on to normal food.

Poirot back on the hill after his Christmas duties.

The following day our trip was over and we headed home through snow blizzards. It was really really kind of Fiona and all the herders to let us spend this special time with them and the reindeer and I loved every minute of it. We must also say a big thank you to Katie, Scott, Alan and all the team at the Pine Marten Bar for putting up with us over the week, kept us fed and watered well and who made our stay in The Treehouse so special as usual. It was such a fantastic and magical time which I will never forget.

Emm with Druid and Sunny.

Emm

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 1: Christmas 2022

I was very lucky to be volunteering with the herd for 8 days in December last year over Christmas. Fiona had said I could help with the Christmas parades that they were due to do. It was my first Christmas working with the reindeer and it was really magical and special experience.

A Fantastic Surprise at the start.

Once we got to Scotland, I had a few days off before I started work with the reindeer. There was so much snow so I was very excited. One of the days we went to Landmark in Carrbridge and my Mum and Dad said it was one of my early Christmas Presents and that there was going to be a surprise.

The surprise was that the reindeer were there!! I was so excited when we found the reindeer pen with Ruth and Mel the herders and the reindeer were Druid, Olmec, Poirot, Berlin and the 2 calves were Sorbet and Lolly. I think we also surprised Ruth and Mel with us turning up. Lol. It was funny to see the pen was next to dinosaur land and there was a gigantic T-Rex looking over the top but thankfully Fiona had made sure the noises were turned off otherwise the reindeer could have been very scared. We took all six reindeer for a walk around Landmark with Santa. I was allowed to help and led Druid whilst Santa led Poirot. It was amazing to see Poirot so calm as it was the first year Poirot was one of the Christmas Reindeer having been a breeding bull in October 2021. He used to charge at the fence protecting his girls and was very aggressive then. He was castrated in August 2022 and he became much calmer and became a Christmas Reindeer. I helped load the reindeer into the back of the lorry at the end and it was such a brilliant day and a fantastic surprise.

Poirot and Santa.
Emm helping out at Landmark!
Sorbet and Lolly – the calves at Landmark, with T-rex looming in the background.

Snow, Ice and Tamer Calves

A snowy Utsi’s Bridge.

It was very snowy, cold and icy in the first few days once I started and on my first morning, we took reindeer who had come back from Christmas events up onto the hill from the paddocks. There were adult reindeer and calves. I led Poirot, my first time leading a reindeer in snowy and icy conditions.  Andi had to dig a massive snow drift away from one of the gates in the hill enclosure as we couldn’t get through. When you walked on the snow, you didn’t know how deep it was so you had to be careful that you didn’t suddenly sink in! It was so icy Andi gritted some of the path for the Hill Trip visitors then I helped Andi worm the reindeer which was giving medicine to keep them healthy and clear of worm infection. I held onto the lead rope and put a few head collars on to the calves who were much tamer than when I was up last in October. They had grown lots too. Zoom the calf (the one who had been found on it’s own on the free-range) was so tame and would follow me and Andi around with the hand feed bribery bag whilst we were trying to catch the calves and put them on head collars. Zoom is best buddies with Sunny the hand reared reindeer calf.

Walking up to the enclosure in the snow.

In the few days before the big Christmas parades I did lots of duties in the paddocks and Reindeer House, made up the first-year adoption packs, helped file adoption leaflets away and packed adoption gifts and made feed mix with Lisette. Poo picking in the ice and snow was a new experience (you had to make sure you didn’t slip over and fall in the poo!). One morning Tilly was on Zoe Ball breakfast show on Radio 2 and we all listened to it on the radio. She was talking about the reindeer and Zoe Ball was very interested. Tilly was very good giving lots of information. Another day Joe had an interview for a BBC radio show in the paddocks before we opened. It seemed everyone wanted to know about the reindeer this time of year and our Cairngorm Reindeer Herd were very famous. There were still Christmas events happening and I helped Cameron mix the food then bagged it up for one event that Ruth was doing in Gleneagles.

The BBQ hut already for Santa’s arrival.

There were also things happening at Reindeer House with Christmas fun in the paddocks. I talked to people in the paddocks telling them all about the reindeer and also did meet and greet at times explaining what was happening during the Christmas fun. There was a Christmas quiz for people to do and all the herders wore their Christmas jumpers. Santa was in the BBQ hut where he could meet and talk to the children. There were herder talks and people could see the reindeer. The paddocks were decorated for Christmas and children were able to write letters to Santa and post them. Joe was making Christmas jokes all the time and advertising the Naked Herder’s Charity Calendar as well which went on to make a lot of money for the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team. When I restocked shop there was Christmas music playing in the office.

The hill trips were also really magical. On one trip Gloriana was cleaning her calf by licking it when lying on a snow patch which was really lovely to see. I was able to do the hand feed talk on a few occasions and it was so special that the herders trusted me to tell everyone the important information. Some hill enclosure gates had massive snow drifts so we had to use other gates and walking on snow drifts was difficult as you would sink in suddenly knee deep in snow. One day the snow gates were closed on the main road but we were allowed up to the Sugarbowl car park. This was the first time I had seen them closed. The snow gates opened an hour later. When we got up to the enclosure we moved the ice and snow cleared the path of ice and snow with shovels and our feet.

Emm and Lotti!

The reindeer on the free-range could come and go as they wanted. We left the gate to the top corridor open so most of the free-rangers could come in to feed and we could count and I.D them. I did this one day with Cameron and Lisette. We wrote their ear tag numbers down and checked herd list in the shed. It was lovely to see that the mum’s and calves stay together a lot of the time eating the same pile of food and lying down together. The mothers looking after their calves like Christie licking Gelato. Another day the free-rangers had moved to the top ski car park and I went with Sheena and Cameron to find them. One day Hen and Andi had to go to the top of Silvermount to get the reindeer as they were not coming down to the usual calls.

Iskrem and Emmental in the snow.

The other thing we had to do was split off the reindeer for the paddocks and Christmas events from the herd when they were needed and move them down from the hill enclosure and then bring them back up when they had finished so we were very busy. On one of the days I took Frost, Dr Seuss and Nuii up the hill with Andi. I was leading at the front with Dr Seuss and my job was to look out for dogs as the reindeer are very scared of dogs as they think they are wolves. I had to make sure the others stayed close behind me as they like to stick together in a group. When we were at the hill enclosure we let Nuii, the calf, off the head collar first before the adults so that they didn’t panic.

Dante and Glacée.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Emm’s Christmas blog!

Emm

Volunteer Blog: My Journey to the Cairngorms

What started off looking for volunteering opportunities for my daughter, turned out to be an unexpected adventure of a lifetime.

I have been following the Reindeer herd for some time on Instagram, when I saw they were looking for volunteers to spend a week with the herders and learning all about reindeer.  So with enthusiasm I suggested this to my daughter, however on further inspection you had to be 18 and she wasn’t quite that age.  I woke up the following morning and had a thought… maybe this is something I should do?  After a very difficult 12 months, losing my mum only a few months earlier, this seemed like an opportunity for me to get away and press the reset button, some time alone, just for me.  We have our own campervan, Glenmore Campsite, a beautiful site next to Loch Morlich, is literally just across the road from Reindeer House– all the signs were pointing North and I couldn’t find a single reason not to apply.  Thankfully my application was accepted and at the end of May, I set off on my very own adventure. 

I packed up my van, said goodbye to my family and off I went, travelling from my home in Fife arriving at Glenmore on Sunday afternoon.  The weather was unseasonably warm and the forecast promising for the rest of the week. After setting up camp I headed out for a walk up to An Lochan Uaine (the green lochan), orientating myself to Reindeer House as I passed, sneaking a peak at exactly where I needed to report the following morning.    The lochan is a beautiful place and well worth a visit. 

An Lochan Uaine

After a fairly good sleep for the first night, I set off to work with my lunch packed and a stomach churning full of nerves.   I arrived for work at 8.00am, greeted by the loveliest bunch of smiley faces, for a Monday morning this was unusual in my experience!  My nerves quickly settled, I couldn’t have felt more welcomed.  I was shown around Reindeer House, everything seemed pretty relaxed but extremely well organised, everyone getting about their morning duties and routine.  There is an awful lot to do prior to greeting the first visitors of the day, the Centre opens at 10.00am and those first couple of hours each morning are vital to getting ready for the day ahead.  My first morning was spent around the Centre, meeting my first reindeer that were in the paddock: Sunny, Spartan and Bond plus the added bonus of two very young calves, Alba and Winnie. 

Getting familiar with the reindeer in the Paddocks.

My heart was stolen in that moment, and as the week progressed, I just fell more and more in love with these beautiful, quiet animals.  Lots to do around the paddock and the house, preparing the exhibition area for visitors, cleaning the paddock, making sure the reindeer were fed and have fresh water, and of course, the poo picking! Which believe it or not ended up being one of my favourite tasks… in the background there is a constant bustle of people going about their work.  There is a lot to do here are Reindeer House and you quickly feel part of the team. 

Lunchtime came and went and it was my turn to head out with the afternoon tour up the hill, I was both nervous and excited, not knowing what to expect.  Parking at the Sugar Bowl car park, from there it is a very pleasant 15/20 minute walk up to the hill enclosure.  The scenery is breathtaking and I imagine at any time of year, the view changing with the seasons, it is stunning.  This really is a special place. 

The beautiful scenery – Meall a’ Bhuachaille and the Ryvoan Pass in the background.

Arriving at the hill enclosure, I felt emotional seeing the reindeer in the herd for the first time.  You quickly learn so much about the reindeer and their life here in Scotland.  The Herders are full of knowledge and it is incredibly interesting listening to them talk about the herd.  These people really care about the reindeer, they care about their wellbeing first and foremost and this came across time and time again throughout the week. 

The herd busy grazing.

As the week progressed, I started to learn more and more and felt more confident in answering questions from visitors.  It felt good to be part of the team and as the days passed, I began to fall into a routine myself.  Daily trips up to the hill enclosure were a highlight, after the visitors left you were able to just have some time with the reindeer, and it was these quiet moments that will remain with me always.  Sitting on the side of a hill, the sun beating down, a beautiful big reindeer with velvety antlers just a few metres away – this is surely a magical place. 

Sherlock’s velvet antlers.

Each day more and more jobs to do.  The list is endless.  Next to the paddock is a small wood enclosure and I spent a lot of time there.  Picking out all the nettles and foxgloves, and as mentioned earlier, lots of reindeer poo!  But even here you get the most incredible view of the Corries, it feels like just for a moment the world has stopped spinning and you are the only person in the world.  It was a great place to find a little shade from the relentless heat, for Scotland this is rare and I don’t like to complain.

The view of the Northern Corries from the end of the woods – the area where the Paddock reindeer spend the night.

I was lucky enough to have a couple of afternoons to myself.  This gave me an opportunity to explore the area.  I walked up Meall a’ Bhuachaille where I was rewarded with spectacular views of the Cairngorm mountains.  I was also blessed with seeing an Adder on my way through Glenmore Forest, and a quick visit to a very bustling Aviemore reminded me that I enjoy the company of reindeer way more than I do people in busy places!  Returning home each evening to my campervan was also incredibly fun – cooking a nice meal for myself was a great way to wind down after a long day and the weather could not have been better.  I could definitely get used to this life!

I am not going to lie, the week was tough!  Some days felt harder than others, this is hard work and my body felt pretty shattered by the end of the week, but the rewards far outweigh a few aching muscles.  Before I came, I didn’t think of myself as a spiritual person, but what I found in those quiet moments alone, was some kind of wonderful.  I hope to return again next year, if they will have me.  Volunteering itself is extremely rewarding and something I think each and every one of us should try at least once in our lifetime.  Volunteering with reindeer included – what’s not to love!!  It was fantastic and memories I will treasure forever!  I learnt a lot about myself and I feel like I healed a lot too.  I know my mum was looking down on me smiling, she loved the reindeer and since returning home, I have found photos she took of the reindeer up on the hill from when she visited many, many years before.  A very special thing.

Thank you to each and every one of you guys at Reindeer House!  I have mentioned the reindeer A LOT, but without you guys caring for them and doing the job you do, this place wouldn’t be as special as it is.  So THANK YOU for being welcoming, for teaching me, for having me.  I cannot end this blog without a special shout out to Sunny – he will forever be in my heart, a very special yearling with a tender soul.

Sunny.
Rachel on top of Meall a’ Bhuachaille.

Rachel

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 2: October 2022

This is the second installment of Emm’s fantastic blog. Read part one by clicking HERE. 

Emm and Druid on a Hill Trip.

The Breeding Season

Whilst I was there, there were 2 bulls with their girls in the hill enclosure separated in different areas. One group was Sherlock and his girls over on Silver Mount. He was laid back. Then the other group was Morse and his girls. Morse was a bit more aggressive and would pace the fence grunting. He was very protective of his girls.

Sherlock with his girls.
Morse doing an excellent job as a breeding bull.

Chilling With Reindeer

Fiona, Joe and Andi went to Sherlock and his girls over on Silver Mount, the big hill in the hill enclosure, to check temperatures and do some vaccinations. Lotti and I moved Morse and his girls to a different part of the hill enclosure. We separated him with a few of his girls into a separate pen area so we were safe. Reindeer bulls with their girls can be very aggressive and can charge at you. We had moved them so we could give them vaccinations. Mushy was being chased around by some of the reindeer but it is not good to have them running around before a vaccination so I helped Lotti separate Mushy and Pinto off together into their own area. Suddenly, a mountain hare ran out of the shed and stopped in the middle of the reindeer. It was about 2 metres away from me. It was so exciting. The mountain hare and the reindeer stared at each other for a few seconds then the reindeer charged at it and then it ran away. What a lovely experience. Lotti and I then had to wait for Andi, Fiona and Joe. Whilst we waited, we chilled with the reindeer. I got to spend some quality time with my adopted reindeer called Scully. It was so nice and special spending quality time with her. I hadn’t been able to see her much as she had been in with Morse. Some of Morse’s girls had calves with them and I hadn’t got to know these calves yet so I was able to get to know them whilst Morse was separated. When Fiona, Joe and Andi got to us, some of Morse’s girls got vaccinations. Andi and I put Morse’s and his girls’ breakfast down in their usual part of the hill enclosure and then Morse and his girls were let back out to have their breakfast.

Emm enjoying spending time with Scully who is looking particularly cheeky!

Walking Calves and Reindeer Around Glenmore

To get the calves used to being handled and having head collars on, we take them away from their mums in the hill enclosure for a few days and keep them down in the Paddocks. We take about 2 calves at a time. In the mornings before the Reindeer Centre opens, we take some of the Paddock adult reindeer and the calves out on a walk around Glenmore. We sandwich the calves between the adult reindeer. The adult reindeer are the role models for the calves. One morning, I walked Dr Seuss, Bond and the 2 calves Popsicle and Vanilla to the Pine Martin Bar and back with Hen and Amy. I led Bond. On another morning with Mel and Lisette we walked Athens, Clouseau, Frost, Dr Seuss and the calf called Zoom. This time I led Dr Seuss and Frost.

Reindeer Centre and Office Jobs

There were always lots of jobs to do at the Reindeer Centre. On some afternoons, I poo picked the woods where the Paddock reindeer go at night. If reindeer have been changed in the Paddocks, I switched the reindeer ID cards over in the exhibition so visitors would know who was who. I checked the adopters gift packs to make sure everything was there, tidied and restocked the shop. The magnets and glass reindeer were very popular. Some afternoons, I tidied the exhibition and antler making area and wiped down the surfaces. I put strawboard in the adopters envelopes to protect the adoption gift packs. For the October Newsletter, they put a photo of the reindeer in with the newsletter with a sticky label on the back giving update of what the reindeer have been up to so I stuck the sticky labels onto the back of the photos.

I also talked to visitors in the Paddocks and answered their questions. One afternoon I was talking to a visitor and a child ran to get me as Popsicle the calf had got her antler in a wire mesh bit of the fence. I untangled Popsicle’s antler and she was ok.

Reindeer Off to the Free-range

With Lotti and Cameron we led 5 older girls from the top corridor in the hill enclosure back on to the free range. This was the time of year that the reindeer would be moved to the free-range for the winter. The reindeer were Dixie, Lulu, Fly, Wapiti and Pavlova. Lotti put spot on (protecting from ticks) on to Fly. The other 4 reindeer had already had it. Lotti took a photo of Wapiti for their adoption photo and Dixie came and ate out of the hand feed bag I was holding. When we let them go it was so lovely seeing them go out onto the free-range.

Dixie, Lulu, Pavlova, Fly and Wapiti heading out to free range.

Splitting Calves from their Mums

One morning I helped to move some of the calves around between the Paddocks and hill. First, we took Frost, Clouseau , Sunny and Zoom out of the paddocks and took them up into the hill enclosure and I led Clouseau and Zoom on this occasion. The 2 calves we wanted to take back down were with their mums and the bull Morse so we had to split Morse and his girls first to get the 2 calves and their mums. The 2 calves were Popsicle and Vanilla. Popsicle’s mum is Caterpillar and Vanilla’s mum is Ochil.  After we managed to get them we put  Morse and the rest of his girls back into their part of the hill enclosure. We took Caterpillar and her calf Popsicle, Ochil and her calf Vanilla, as well a 2 other reindeer Bond and Olmec off the hill. When we got to Brenda we loaded Bond, Olmec and the 2 calves into Brenda whilst Andi took the calves’ mums back up the hill to Morse. We then took the reindeer to the Paddocks at the Centre. In the Paddocks, Popsicle and Vanilla grunted for their mums for a bit as it was the first time they had been away from their mums. They would see their mums in a few days time after getting used to be handled and walked on a head collar.

Vanilla before coming down to the Paddocks.

Hill Trips

On the Hill Trips, I often would escort the back of the line of people whilst we walked to the hill enclosure and reindeer. I would sometimes put some food out for the reindeer and then count them to make sure all the reindeer were there. I would sometimes give Sunny his milk.

Emm bottle feeding Sunny.

I sometimes did the hand feed talk to the group of visitors so they knew what to do in hand feeding and what to expect. I gave out the hand feed so they could hand feed the reindeer. I talked to people and answered their questions. I sometimes took photos of visitors if they wanted photos taken with the reindeer.

This all gives you an idea of the many things that I do when volunteering with the reindeer and herders. It is such a special place and I love my time no matter how busy I am. I am really looking forward to my next trip.

Having fun with Ruth, Ben, Zoom and Merida.

Emm

Volunteer Blog: Falling in love with reindeer

How it all started

I have been a reindeer adopter for 10 years and it all started because my brother adopted the lovely Topi as a Xmas present for my sister-in-law. On reading the wonderful welcome pack, I decided I needed to visit the herd. So, the following summer found me up in the Cairngorms on a fantastic trek leading the great Grunter. I was hooked!

The lovely Topi in 2012. When Helen first adopted him.
Grunter looking very handsome in 2013.

Over the years I’ve visited 2 or 3 times a year- thoroughly enjoyable each time. Not only were the reindeer and the setting up in the Cairngorms superb but so were the dedicated group of people who ensure the safety and care of these wonderful creatures. I had promised myself that the first thing I would do when I retired was volunteer at the Reindeer Centre to see behind the scenes and play all be it a small part in this venture.

My first volunteer week

So being accepted September 2019 saw my promise fulfilled – a whole week with the reindeer and of course these wonderful herders. As well as being so very excited, I was a bit apprehensive – not doing the right thing, being more of a hindrance than help. However, I was made so welcome and my help much appreciated no matter what that I soon relaxed. I knew from my own work that supporting volunteers is quite a commitment so all praise to the great team of herders one and all.

Spending twice a day up in the hills was just all I had hoped it would be – don’t think I have the words to do it justice. Getting to share my enthusiasm for the herd and the work done to support them was a privilege. Over the week I learned so much from each of the herders that I grew in confidence in talking to the visitors.

By the end of the week I had developed a whole range of skills – cleaning wellies and scooping poo high on the list! I was also fitter though that may seem ridiculous as I stumbled, fell and broke my wrist (yes, I am THAT volunteer!!) I have high praise for the health services in Aviemore and the care and concern of the herders. Not daunted although I couldn’t sadly go up the hills for the rest of my week, I was able to chat to people who visited the paddocks, make lots of cups of tea and help out in the office (at least I hope it was viewed as help!) I also mastered the art of washing wellies with one hand!

The pandemic put a hold on another opportunity to volunteer – yes, I was going to be welcomed back!

May 2022 – the return

May 2022 was my next chance for a week for all things reindeer. I deliberately wanted to be part of the calving season as my September 2019 stint saw the start of the rut. The May week was a wet one – I don’t think I got out of the wet weather gear and grew to bless wellies. No matter the weather it is always worthwhile going up the hills. The scenery is stunning and atmospheric and of course the welcome from the reindeer makes it all complete.

Marple and Vienna’s calves on a soggy day!

As there had been over a 2-year gap to my volunteering, although I had been a visitor when I could, I was a bit concerned that I would have forgotten everything. No worries, it came rushing back with updates and new things filling the gaps. It was like meeting a new herd as a whole new group of reindeer had been born and grown up as well as saying goodbye to some favourites.

It was a wonderful experience to see the new born. The mothers were very protective initially keeping their distance from us with their calves. When the time was right they joined us with the wee calf at their heels. I think the oldest calves were about 3 or 4 weeks old and to see them also grow in confidence over the week to where they tentatively came up to check you out was quite a privilege. At one point I was “helping” with temperature checks and watching the protective behaviour of the mothers whether new hands or experienced was quite something – and very noisy in a small space! Honking like geese was my comment!

Soon after Helen’s help checking temperatures and making sure the calves and their mothers were healthy, they were put out into the mountains to free range.

My skill set also grew. No welly washing is required anymore but I added making up the feed – good cardiovascular workout. If it was possible to make this week even more special I was lucky enough to be at the Centre on the actual day of the 70th anniversary of reindeer arriving at Cairngorm. Cake was very welcome coming down off the hills. I think visitors also enjoyed the extra surprise of treats at the Centre as well!

Fiona and Lotti food mixing – now one of Helen’s skills too!
70th Anniversary Hill Trip – Helen can be seen clutching the white handfeed bag!

As in 2019 it was sad to say goodbye when the week ended. For a long time afterwards looking at the clock I would be thinking “they’ll be going up on the hill visit” On a lovely day weatherwise I just wanted to be there. The place and experiences get under your skin.

Adopters Weekend

So it was with great pleasure I visited again in October for the Adopters Weekend. The 5-month gap had brought much change to the calves I had seen in May and it was like starting again getting to know them. It was great to see the adults again – hello Beanie always reliable to arrive to greet us particularly when food was involved! It was great day (it didn’t rain!) talking all things reindeer and Tilly’s evening talk humorous and informative was a great way to end the day. Sad again to say goodbye, however there are the Xmas events to look forward to.

The calves in October- a big change since Helen last saw them in May.
Beanie, being Beanie! The face lots of people witness as the handfeed bags appear!

I can’t believe 10 years have passed since I read that welcome pack – thank you, big brother! Here’s to the next 10 and beyond.

Helen Adair

Hannah’s Volunteer Blog

It started with a Hill Trip. Back in February 2018 my partner took me on a surprise trip to Aviemore and beyond, little did I know that this would result in a lifelong love of reindeer, two volunteering sessions and 3 adoptees!

Hannah’s very first HillTrip!

I have always been an animal person so my partner knew that this would be a winner, but I was completely amazed by these beautiful creatures to the point where I rather embarrassingly burst into tears as we reached the crest of the hill and saw the herd grazing in the snow. Naturally we put the herders through two hours in the cold asking questions and generally staring in awe, and it took only the time between walking back down the hill and into the shop to get my volunteering application at the ready and adopt the lovely Anster!

Hannah and Anster in August 2019.
Hannah during her first volunteering stint in 2019.

My first volunteering week was back in August 2019, I turned up super excited to help and I was welcomed with open arms by everyone at Reindeer House. Being the height of the summer holidays, it was hill trips galore and I couldn’t have been happier to throw myself into being a volunteer reindeer herder and guide. I was a little nervous though – what if a visitor had a question I couldn’t answer? It’s amazing though how little a problem that was, with the herders being so lovely, answering my many, many questions and giving me the chance to be as hands on as possible both on the hill in the mornings and down at reindeer house. Suddenly I could hold my own with the questions and was even trusted with a wee bit of the talking by the end of the week. My time on the hill was amazing for many reasons, but especially as I got some great quality time with my adoptee, who was always first in line for a hand feed! I reached the last day so sad to leave (and with another two adoptees as I couldn’t choose between them) but ready to return a year later… Or so I thought!

For reasons I’m sure we all remember well, my 2020 return was unable to go ahead, and continued to be pushed back until finally, I was in the clear to return to Reindeer House in July 2022!

It was lovely to see the friendly faces of the herders again, but this time with a new addition – who should I see coming round the corner, but a tiny calf climbing into the feed bags! I was told all about the lovely Sunny and I couldn’t help but feel that my timing had worked out quite well after all!

Sunny on the 5th of July in Reindeer House.

Being a returning volunteer allowed me to crack on a little quicker and more confidently which meant that I got even more quality reindeer time! I spent most mornings up on the hill first thing, checking the herd, putting out the feed, checking temperatures and training on the harness. I couldn’t quite believe my luck and the ever-wonderful team helped to guide me along every step of the way.

Hannah hand feeding Kiruna and Sherlock in July 2022.

I was especially lucky to be a part of Sunny’s first ventures into ‘big school’ aka joining all of the boys together for the hill trips. He settled in amazingly well and after a small telling off from some of the yearlings has seemed to find his place among them. Being a volunteer meant that I not only got to spend the hill trips with Sunny, I also got to enjoy walking him to and from the hill, hand rearing (to a lovely chorus of ‘awhhhh’s’ from the visitors) and watching his progress from the beginning to the end of the week.

Sunny travelling up to the hill in the back of the reindeer van.

Though of course Sunny is not only the main event. I threw myself back into my mission to ID as many reindeer as possible on the hill trips and while I’m a huge ways away from the pros, both times I couldn’t believe how quickly you can catch on to the quirks and personalities among the herd that can help you to tell them apart. I have to say though, between lots of new additions to the herd in my three year gap and the transition to summer and winter coats it was a whole lot more of a challenge this time!

Saying this, it was an absolute treat to see how the boys I had got to know so well in my first week had grown and how quickly I recognised them. In 2019, Bond had no antlers and was trying to find his place among his pals in the paddock, now he has a beautiful set and looks like a fully fledged reindeer, Sherlock now has the biggest antlers I have ever seen, many of them now have calves – so much can change in a few years and it’s good to know that while I was cooped up in my flat, the reindeer were still out on the hills living their best lives!

While it’s an amazing experience for anyone, I can honestly say that volunteering not once but twice (so far…) was easily the best decision I ever made, and it is no exaggeration to say it has been life changing. Seeing the team care so diligently for these beautiful animals and how passionate knowledgeable they all are about them and their environment is beyond inspiring. In my other life as a teacher, I returned from my first stint determined to build my students appreciation for the outdoors, for animals, for their world, gained my forest schools qualification and taken steps to bring animals nature to the children and vice versa. It was something I always cared about, but seeing what the herd have achieved gave me the push that I needed to start making these goals a reality. Sharing my experiences, photos and other things I’ve picked up along the way with the children in class has also given me a fair bit of clout in the classroom too – I’ve never had so many reindeer themed Christmas and end of year gifts!

Hannah and Sunny – July 2022.

I feel so lucky to have had these opportunities with the herd and the wonderful help everyone in the team to give me the most magical of experiences. I can’t wait to head back up the hills again – just maybe without the three year wait this time…

Hannah

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 2: April 2022

Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.

This is the second installment of Emm’s blog. Read part one by clicking here.

Dogs

It was my first time meeting Reindeer House’s new Border Collie puppy called Fraoch. It was also my first time meeting Ben H’s dog called Dug and Amy’s dog.

One evening after work, me, Sheena, Amy and Innis took the dogs on a walk. With Elsie and Ginger (Sheena’s dogs), Fraoch and Amy’s dog we walked up the hill on the track and we walked down through a forest near Meall a’Bhuachaille just behind Reindeer House.  It was a lovely special walk.

Elsie, Ginger, Dug and Tiree.

Reindeer

Sherlock was growing his antlers so fast when I was there. It was so amazing how much they had grown since I had arrived. It was one of the fastest antler growth the herd has ever seen and could be on par with Crann who had the biggest ever set of antlers in the herd.

Emm hand feeding Sherlock.

Some of the reindeer were losing antlers at this time of year. Lulu lost an antler when she was in the paddocks. In the hill enclosure, Cannellini was eating from a pile of food. Sambar came over to Cannellini and kicked her hoof at him to say it was her food now. But when she kicked her hoof, it hit Cannellini’s antler and it came off. It was the first time I had ever seen a reindeer’s antler being kicked off. Fava lost an antler in the forest paddock where the paddock reindeer sleep at night down at the centre. Me and Amy went on a mission to find it and managed to find it near the stream when poo picking!

Emm being mobbed by Dr Seuss, Sherlock and Butter.

Reindeer Herding

In the hill enclosure, there are different areas used to separate the reindeer. Sometimes the reindeer are in the bottom corridor in the day and in the east enclosure at night. One morning, me and Hen moved the hill enclosure reindeer from the east enclosure part to the bottom corridor part. It is really lovely as we get to call them and they come running down as they know it is breakfast time. I led them through with my food bag whilst Hen pushed them from the back. Then we fed them and counted them. Most mornings, I got to go up and help move them and give them their breakfast.

One afternoon, me and Lotti moved the hill enclosure reindeer from the bottom corridor to the east enclosure. I led them through with my food bag whilst Lotti pushed them from the back. We fed them and counted them. Most afternoons after the hill visit, we move them and give them their tea which I helped with most of the time. It was so lovely to spend some time quietly with the reindeer. On one afternoon visit, after we spent some time with the reindeer and visitors in the bottom corridor, Ruth and me moved the reindeer whilst the visitors were there and the visitors came along and watched us give the reindeer their tea.

Ruth, Dr Seuss and Emm.

One morning, the free-rangers had split into 2 groups a bigger group and smaller group. The next day, after the hill visit in the afternoon, Andi went in search of the smaller group of free-rangers and found them. She managed to get the smaller group of reindeer to follow her and she managed to join the 2 groups together so the free-rangers were all together once again.

Tilly’s Farm

On my last day, Olly and me went to Tilly’s farm where we met Tilly. The Reindeer Centre has a base there. We went in ‘Brenda’ (the livestock truck). We took Cannellini, Butter, Fava, Dr Seuss, Celt, Kiruna and Spartan to the farm. We filled up bags of dark grains (a by-product from the whisky industry used for animal feed) from a massive funnel in one of the barns as the Reindeer Centre needed some more bags of dark grains and got some more lichen from the shed as the reindeer needed more lichen. We loaded Brenda with the dark grains and lichen. We moved the reindeer to the other reindeer at the farm, they followed me and Tilly on the quad bike which Tilly was driving and Olly herded them from the back. We checked all the reindeer at the farm temperatures and injected them if they had a high temperature.  We put some Spot-On on to protect them from ticks.  I helped with holding the reindeer. Legume had a really high temperature so we separated him and Jelly from the rest of the reindeer in the shed and gave them some lichen so Tilly could keep an eye on them. Jelly was there to keep Legume company.  We picked out 2 reindeer to take back to the Reindeer Centre who were Frost and Olmec. I led Frost and Olly led Olmec to Brenda. The older male reindeer were free-ranging on the hills by the farm so I didn’t see them. Tilly, me and Olly went on the quad bike which Tilly was driving and Tilly took us to see the pigs, wild boars and piglets which was great fun. Tilly and Olly fed them. We also saw the red deer and the Belted Galloway cows. We also saw the Soay sheep with their lambs and Tilly fed them. Eventually we took Frost and Olmec back to the Reindeer Centre in Brenda.

Emm leading Frost.

Opening the Gate onto the Free-range

When we got back from the farm, we did a paddock reindeer swap. Frost and Olmec went into the paddocks and Me and Amy took Lulu and Gazelle up to the hill enclosure and I led them both. That morning, my herder friends went to the hill enclosure and they split all the pregnant females off from the non-pregnant reindeer ready for calving. The non-pregnant reindeer went into the top corridor in the hill enclosure ready to go out on the free-range.  Me and Amy took Gazelle and Lulu into the top corridor with the others and Amy opened the gate on to the free-range. When the reindeer were ready, they would go out on to the free-range. Ben H had realised that Roule had lost an antler that morning in the bottom corridor when splitting the reindeer up, so Amy and me went and had a look for it which Amy found.

Emm with Lulu and Gazelle.

Other Exciting Things I Did

On Easter Sunday, the Easter Bunny had put mini eggs all around Reindeer House which was very exciting. I kept finding mini eggs.

I helped restock the shop. I put price labels on the photo frames for the shop.

I talked to visitors in the paddocks and I identified a reindeer for one of its adopters.

Me, Mum and Dad went out with my herder friends and Sookie for a meal at the Pine Marten Bar which was really lovely and I really enjoyed it.  I once again had such a fantastic 10 days with my lovely friends, all the animals and of course the reindeer.

I am so looking forward to my next trip in October 2022 !!!!

Emm

Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 1: April 2022

Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.

Emm and the hand-reared Soay lamb, Derren.

I visited the reindeer in April for 11 days which was over Easter. It was so brilliant seeing all the reindeer, herders and dogs again. I go and say hi to everyone at Reindeer House the day before I start. I went into the living room/kitchen and the room was empty. I started fussing Sookie the dog who was chilling in the armchair when I heard a sudden bleating noise . I had no idea where it was coming from then I realised it was coming from a big cardboard box. I peered in and saw a little lamb. It turned out it was a 2 day old lamb called Derren Brown (named after the illusionist). He is a Soay Lamb who was found without his mum in the field at Tilly’s farm. The herders were hand-rearing him with bottle-feeds. When I bottle-fed him, Fraoch the puppy licked him and cleaned the milk away from Derren’s face.

Most of the daytime, Derren went into Reindeer House’s garden and had a little pen. He was allowed out of the pen if someone was in the garden with him. The dogs were really good with him and I am sure he thought he was a dog. Derren chased the dogs and also loved to chase people’s feet. When we had lunch in the garden or we were just out in the garden and people saw a lamb running around with the dogs, they were so surprised and amazed. They asked loads of questions and took lots of photos and videos. Some even thought he was a baby reindeer. One day Derren helped me hoover Reindeer House and pack the Christmas cards and when I was doing feed mixing, Derren was trying to climb on the bags.  He followed us around everywhere.

Derren trying to help himself to the reindeer food.

Over the 10 days I was helping out there were a lot of fun and interesting things I shared with all the herders.

Finding the Free-rangers

Most of the 11am hill trips were to the free ranging females who were free in the Cairngorm Mountains. We had different visit sites depending on where the reindeer were found in the morning. There were also a group of reindeer in the hill enclosure and if the 11am trip was full, we ran another trip to the hill enclosure reindeer in the afternoon. I enjoyed doing some of the talking parts on the hill trips and in some afternoons, the herders did talks in the paddocks.

Marple, on a free-range Hill Trip.
Witch, happily chilling out on the free-range.
Butter leading the way in the hill enclosure,

Each morning, 2 herders went to find the free-ranging reindeer in the Cairngorm Mountains and brought them down to a suitable visit site for the visitors. It could be a long and steep walk for them as the reindeer like to go high up and also over the hills.  

One morning, I was lucky enough to go and find the reindeer with Ruth and Harry. We had a steep climb and when we got to the top, we located the reindeer.  Ruth tried to get the them to follow her with her food bag and calling them but they wouldn’t follow her so she put Ochil on a head collar and started walking down the steep hill to the suitable visit spot. The reindeer usually follow as they like to stay together as a herd. Meanwhile, me and Harry were pushing the reindeer from the back and made sure they all followed.

When we got to the visit spot, we let the calves (who were nearly 1) eat from the food bags. Ruth and Harry took the calves temperatures to make sure they weren’t brewing something as they are still building up their immune system. We fed them and Trilby had 2 antlers when she was feeding from the bag but after we fed them, and were counting them, I noticed Trilby had lost an antler. We all looked for her antler which we found.

We then realised there was 8 reindeer missing as there should have been 68 but we had 60. We went around the reindeer identifying them to see who was missing. Ruth was ticking off all the names. It was like doing a school register! After the Hill Trip, the reindeer wandered off but were found later on the ski road so Lisette led them away from the road. Later that day Harry was in the hill enclosure and spied the 8 missing reindeer from this morning so Lotti went out to the 8 and led them into the hill enclosure as in a few days time the rest of the free-rangers were going to go into the hill enclosure ready for the calving season.

Harry and Ruth counting the free-range herd and figuring out which cows were missing.

Heavily Pregnant Reindeer

It is an exciting time of year to be up as some of the females are heavily pregnant. They have big tummies and it is amazing to think that a tiny reindeer calf is growing inside them. Hen showed me on a few reindeer where their udders were starting to show. Reindeer have fluffy udders. When they start to grow, the fur is a triangle shape under their bottom.

All the herders have a calving bet each year. Each herder chooses a reindeer who they think will calve first. I chose Scully.

Heavily pregnant Morven having a snooze.

Leading Reindeer

One day, Ruth went to the farm to get some more reindeer for the hill enclosure and paddocks. Lulu and Gazelle went into the paddocks. Me, Ruth and Amy took Morse, Clouseau, Diamond, Aztec, Kiruna and Cannellini up to the hill enclosure. I led Clouseau and Cannellini. A dog off the lead behind them spooked them and Ruth told the dog’s owner to stay as far back as possible as reindeer think dogs are wolves and are very scared of them. When we lead the reindeer to and from the hill enclosure, we have to keep an eye out for dogs as it is a public path. When they spotted the other reindeer in the hill enclosure, it made them jump.

On another day, me, Fiona and Zoe took Celt and Spartan from the paddocks to the hill enclosure. I led Celt. On the way back, we took Aztec and Morse from the hill enclosure to the paddocks and this time I led Morse. When we transport reindeer, we use a big animal lorry called Brenda. I think it can fit 8 reindeer in, depending on how big their antlers are. It has a partition inside it too.

Reindeer in our hill enclosure breaking into a bag of feed.

The Adventurous Hill Trip

I did a hill trip on the free-range with Amy, Harry and Carol.  We met the people in the carpark and we then realised the reindeer were on the path next to the carpark. They had made their way down the hill from the visit spot to the path next to the carpark. It was the first time that it happened to me.

Amy led the visitors up the hill with the food bag calling to the reindeer to follow her. Me and Harry herded the reindeer from the back. I was so focused with herding the reindeer that I fell into a knee-deep bog! My knees to my toes got soaked and I had to empty the bog water out of my wellies after I climbed out of it. Eventually we managed to get the visitors and reindeer to the top of the hill where the visit was happening.

Florence chose to stand in a bog, unlike poor Emm!

The Reindeer Herding Badge

There is a very special badge going around the herders. Whoever has it passes it on to someone who they think deserves it. This could be a herder doing something very special or doing something above and beyond.

I did some Christmas card packing (6 cards in a pack). I did it on and off through the time I was there. When I was a way through packing, I realised some people had been packing 2 designs and some people had been packing 3 designs. And they were all mixed up. So I went all through the packs sorting them into 2 designs and 3 designs. I was so busy and worried about it I missed a hill trip. Ruth who had the special badge thought I deserved it for my work and gave it to me and I was so happy I got it.

I passed it onto Lotti a few days later as on a hill trip Lotti thought Holy Moley’s wee was a different colour so she sat with her for ages until she went for another wee. Me and Amy left her on the free-range sitting by Holy Moley. It was very important to check if it was the right colour or if it had any blood in it. If it has blood in it, it means the reindeer could have Red Water Fever caused by a tick bite. Luckily she was fine.

Emm and Cowboy.

To be continued! Look out next week for the second installment of Emm’s blog.

Emm

Volunteer Blog: Oct-Nov 2021

Emm is one of our wonderful regular volunteers, and has written many blogs for us in the past. You can find out more about Emm by reading one of her previous blogs here: how reindeer herding changes me.

I was last with the reindeer in October/November 2021 for 10 days. It was so brilliant seeing all the reindeer, herders and dogs again. I hadn’t seen them since October 2020 due to Covid. I thought I would tell you what I did when I was with them over this time.

Emm and Dr Seuss.

When I was up in October 2020, they were bringing in parts for the new Utsi’s bridge into the valley by helicopter. So this time I was excited to see the new Utsi’s bridge. I got to see the new completed bridge and go over it lots of times. It is wider than the old bridge and has steps either side and the reindeer go over it quite well. Another change is that on the walk to the reindeer with the hill trips, we don’t stop at the bridge anymore.

Being up at this time of year, I get to see the bulls with their girls. It was nearing the end of the rut. In one part of the hill enclosure, there was Poirot and his girls and in another part of the hill enclosure was Spartan and his girls. When you go and feed the bulls with their girls, you have to be careful as the bulls can be territorial and protective of their girls. With Poirot and his girls, we put the food out first and then let them in to the part of the enclosure where the food was where they will spend the day or night. Spartan and his girls were in a part of the enclosure called Silver Mount a big hill in the hill enclosure. A lot of reindeer have their calves on Silver Mount and it was my first time seeing a bull with their girls over in Silver Mount.  We had to walk a little way across the hill enclosure to Silver Mount with your bags of feed.

Poirot – safely on the other side of a fence!

It was my 1st time being there when the rut has finished. Poirot and Spartan came off the hill and went back to the farm. All the reindeer in the hill enclosure got separated into 2 groups; one group was castrated males and  the other group were females. A few females had their 6 month old calves with them too. Some females hadn’t seen each other in a long time, so there was a lot of clashing antlers and charging around to sort out the new pecking order. Kipling even had lost an antler in a tussle. It was the first time I had seen the females being feisty with each other. The next day, some of the females were released onto the free range.

Holy Moley at the front, with some calves and ‘Christmas Reindeer’ in the background.

It was also the 1st time for me having a bull in the paddocks as Morse was in there as he jumped a fence and had hurt himself so they had pulled him out of the rut and were keeping an eye on him in the paddocks. When he was better, he went back to the farm.  

Morse in the Paddocks, along with Cowboy and Jimmy.

Another thing being up this time of year is that walking calves and Christmas sleigh training happens. It is very exciting. We have to look out for dogs as the reindeer are scared of dogs as they think they are wolves. We walked the calves (2 at a time) with 2 adult reindeer.  The adult reindeer are the role models for the calves and are a calming influence on them. I looked for lichen lollipops along the way to give the calves which they enjoyed. People sometimes came over to us to say hello. Handling the calves at this age gets them used to people and used to being handled.

Emm holding on to the calves during a sleigh training session in Glenmore, Trilby closest to the camera.

Before we start Christmas sleigh training, we get the reindeer warmed up by walking them and running with them along the path. In the training, the experienced reindeer are buddied up with inexperienced reindeer at the front of the sleigh or the back of the sleigh. There are 2 reindeer pulling the sleigh at the front and 4 reindeer (2 are calves) are at the back of the sleigh. The experienced reindeer are training the inexperienced ones. The Christmas reindeer are usually the castrated boys. Sometimes people come over to watch and this is also good experience for the calves. It is lovely to see the calves having bell harness on for the first time.

Sleigh training – Anster and Houdini at the front.

Sometimes the reindeer and the sleigh go in the road. We have to have hi-vis bibs on. It is funny to see the people’s faces in the cars as they drive past the reindeer and the sleigh. They look very surprised and excited.

Ruth with Olmec and Aztec.

The reindeer go around the UK in November and December. There are lots of teams and they do Christmas events, garden centres and Christmas parades.

When the calves come off the hill to go into the paddocks to have their walks and to do Christmas sleigh training, it is the first time they get separated from their mum and wear a headcollar. They are fed lichen from a bucket whilst someone puts the headcollar on. The mums comes off the hill with them into the paddocks and then the mums goes back into the lorry to go back up the hill leaving the calves in the paddocks. They are normally separated for a few days. It was the 1st time I had seen the calves come off the hill with their mums.

The calves have their shiny new ear tags put in at this time of year. I saw Andi put Cowboy’s and Jimmy’s ear tags in.

When I was up this time 2 people got married up on the hill surrounded by the reindeer which was lovely. Olly made sure the reindeer behaved themselves although I heard that Holy Moley stuck her antler up the bride’s dress !!!!!

I also helped out in the office. I helped pack Christmas cards, stuck the information onto the photos which went with the October newsletter, put the October newsletters and information photos in the envelopes, made up the 1st year adoption packs and packed up the adoption gifts for each adoption pack. It really helps the herders when they do the adoptions of the reindeer.

A busy office! From L-R: Emm, Lisette, Lotti, Ben B and Olly.

I also helped do the feed mixing making up the reindeer feed. We do the feed mixing in a big cement mixer. We mix lots of ingredients together by measuring them out in buckets and then putting them in the mixer. The ingredients we use are barley, sugar beet, ewe and lamb mix, dark grains and haymix. We also put calcium powder in and oil to help mix the calcium powder in. We use lots of reindeer feed this time of year as there is lots of reindeer up on the hill as it is the rutting season. Feed mixing happens every 1 – 2 days this time of year as it runs out quickly.

I also led reindeer up the hill which came from the farm or when we switch the reindeer around from the paddocks. When you lead a reindeer, it is different from leading a horse. You wrap the rope around your hand and mustn’t let go even if the reindeer pulls. When you walk the reindeer should be behind you or at the side of you but mustn’t try to get past or pull you. We must look out for dogs as well as we are on a path. 

Stenoa having a snooze after a Hill Trip.

When I was there, it was Hen’s birthday. I went to Reindeer House for Hen’s birthday meal. It was a really good night with very yummy food and really good company. There were 7 dogs and when we sang Happy Birthday to Hen, the dogs sung too by howling and barking. Lol.

I am so looking forward to my next trips in 2022 !!!!

Emm and one of her adopted reindeer, Scully.

Emm

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