Our adult ‘Christmas reindeer’ (castrated males) are trained to harness at around 3 or 4 years old, so they can take part in a few events and parades in November and December each year, bringing in part of the income that then supports the herd for the rest of the year. About 25 of our males are trained so this enables them to take their turn at events, most of which are at weekends, and no-one is overworked at Christmas time (except, perhaps, us…)! Between weekends all the reindeer are back on the mountainside getting some good grazing and some downtime.
What happens during a training session? This photo blog will hopefully give you a taster of what we get up to during afternoons in October and early November here in Glenmore in preparation for Christmas tour.
These photos have all been collated over the past few days over several training sessions involving different reindeer and reindeer herders.
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 up volunteering with the herd at the beginning of October for 12 days last year. It was really great fun as always.
I got to meet Sunny the hand-reared reindeer calf. He was born in May and his mum Rain had died when he was 6 days old. He was 5 months old when I met him in the kitchen at Reindeer House. He slept down at the Reindeer Centre in the Paddocks with the other reindeer at night and in the daytime he went up to the hill enclosure to spend the day with the reindeer in there. His mode of transport was mainly in the back of the reindeer van where there was some food for him to eat. Sometimes Sunny travelled up with the dogs in the morning. He had 3 bottles of warm goat milk a day; one was first thing in the morning, one was on the 11am hill trip and the 3rd one was either on the afternoon hill trip or when he got back down to the Reindeer Centre for the night.
When we walked him to the hill enclosure and down to the carpark, it was funny to see the hill walkers surprised faces. Some wanted to stop and chat to us too. At the end of the afternoon Hill Trip, Sunny would be often found waiting at the gate waiting to come off the hill knowing he was going to go back down to the Paddocks for the night. One time when Sunny came back to the Reindeer Centre, he was in the outdoor area where the reindeer feed and hand feed are kept and he kept trying to get to it so I had to guard the feed whilst his milk was being made for him. Lol. One day on a Hill Trip, Sunny was so chilled out and lay down. He let people sit down next to him and have photos with him. On my second to last day the decision that Sunny was old enough to stay with the rest of the reindeer in the hill enclosure was made. That day, we found him as usual after the afternoon visit waiting at the gate to come off the hill and it was so hard leaving him up there. When we walked away he looked at us and started walking up and down by the gate and fence grunting wondering why we were going without him. He however did very well spending the first night up in the hill enclosure and got used to spending his nights up there.
The Calf Found On It’s Own
One day, a man phoned up The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre saying there was a reindeer calf who was on its own and was following him whilst he was out walking in a nearby area. Andi and Lotti took Clouseau and Olympic to the man’s location to see if they could catch the calf. They managed to catch him and identify him as Zoom. Zoom’s mum was nowhere to be seen and they hadn’t seen her for while. They took Clouseau, Olympic and Zoom back to the Reindeer Centre and put them in the Paddocks. Lotti and I took Zoom on his first ever walk with Clouseau and Athens with Zoom in the middle of the 2 older reindeer to make a “calf sandwich.” The older reindeer are good role models for the calves and they make the calves feel calm. Also reindeer love to stay as a group as they are a herd animal. We walked to Glenmore Visitor Centre and back to the Reindeer Centre. We had to wait for a bin lorry but the reindeer were all really good and waited patiently. Over the next few days, Zoom got attached to Clouseau and followed him around lots even when they went into the hill enclosure. In the hill enclosure Zoom got confident and was feeding out of the feed bag and hung around with us herders and the visitors.
The Special 70th Adopters Weekend
Whilst I was up, it was the special 70th Adopters Weekend where the reindeer herd was celebrating 70 years of the reindeer being in Scotland. The Saturday was based at the Reindeer Centre in the day and at Glenmore Lodge in the evening and the Sunday was based at Tilly’s farm in the day. Lots of reindeer adopters from all over came to this special weekend.
On the Saturday people could go on the hill to see the reindeer. There were 2 Hill Trips and an ‘open hill’. The open hill trip is where people could make their way up to the reindeer on their own to spend time with their reindeer. I helped on the open hill trip based in the hill enclosure with the reindeer welcoming adopters and talking to them. There were sleigh training sessions throughout the day and I helped out with one with reindeer Dr Seuss, Spider, Clouseau and Rubiks. I wore a reindeer herders’ Christmas jumper and we stopped halfway, whilst on route, and the adopters got to sit in the sleigh for a photo. I got to sit in the sleigh with my mum for a photo and also had a photo with me at the front of the sleigh and mum at the back of the sleigh. Near the end, I got to lead the sleigh pulled by 2 reindeer with 2 reindeer at the back which was very exciting.
There were activities people could do down at the centre. There was guess the weight of Sunny the reindeer calf, a silent auction for Holy Moley’s antler, lasso a reindeer’s antlers, make their own reindeer adopters badge and a memory board where adopters could write down their memories or put photos on. There was also tea, coffee, cake and biscuits and a Cairngorm Gin stall. People could walk to Utsi’s hut in their own time and explore it.
At the end, we tidied things away and put things in Tilly’s van ready for the Tilly’s farm the next day. On the Saturday evening, Tilly did a reindeer talk at Glenmore Lodge. She did 2 sittings. There was a 5:30pm one and a 6:30pm one. Tilly did a very good talk with lots of lovely photos and a lovely video.
On Sunday, Fiona and Lotti and me took Spider, Olympic, Anster, Rubiks and Sunny to Tilly’s farm. Tiree and Fraoch the dogs travelled with us in Brenda the lorry cab. We stopped off near some woods near Tilly’s farm to get some lichen lollipops (sticks covered in lichen) in the woods so the adopters could give the reindeer some at Tilly’s farm. We put Spider, Olympic, Anster, Rubiks and Sunny with the rest of the older male reindeer in Tilly’s garden at her farm. Adopters could walk amongst the reindeer and give them the lichen lollipops.
Tilly did farm walks around her farm for the adopters to see the Soay sheep, the pigs, the Belted Galloway cows, the 2 hand-reared Belted Galloway calves, the Red deer and her other animals. The walks ended going into an enclosure to see the young reindeer bulls where people could walk amongst them. There was a BBQ, some handmade soup, tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. Whilst setting up, I had to guard the cake and biscuits from the chickens who were roaming around, lol. There were also some items from The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre shop in a gazebo. There were some activities from the Saturday too. At the end the day, we started putting the reindeer from Tilly’s garden to a big barn. I led Olympic and Hamish. Sunny and some other reindeer went back to the Reindeer Centre in Brenda. Moskki, one of Tilly’s dogs jumped onto Tilly’s quad bike and looked like she was driving it.
Free-range Reindeer Turn Up
One of the days when we got to the hill enclosure gate for the afternoon Hill Trip visitors, a group of 20 reindeer who had been free-ranging on the mountain were waiting by the gate. Cameron and I continued with the visit whilst Sheena, Shona and Stuart led them into the hill enclosure through another gate so they could check on them. A calf was running back and forth along the fence as it had to get use to going through a gate, eventually it got through. In the group was Morven and her calf called Mochi which was amazing because a few weeks before, Morven had turned up without Mochi. She still had an udder so the herders knew she still must have her calf so they sent her away to go and find her calf. Hey Presto, Morven had found her calf came back together so we were all very happy. What amazing mums they are. Andi and Lotti came up to check on the group of free-range reindeer and put 10 reindeer back out onto the free-range and keeping 10, including Morven and her calf Mochi, in the hill enclosure.
Following on from the blog last week, with lots of silly photos of reindeer yawning (click here to see that) I thought I’d post a blog show-casing the various sleeping postures of reindeer!
It does seem like the perfect time to post this blog as with the busy Christmas season now over, and the Reindeer Centre shutting on Monday the 9th of January until Saturday the 11th of February, most reindeer herders are generally looking in need of a decent sleep too!
So, for no other reason than hopefully to make a few folk smile, here comes lots of photos of snoozing reindeer…
Well, that is Christmas here at the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre done for another year and I have to say it has been A LOT busier than 2020 when COVID restrictions didn’t allow us to go about our usual business. Although it wasn’t as busy as the years before COVID-19 I think this year has been an eye opener for us and how we go forward in the future. The income we receive over the November/December period through Christmas events is something we once completely relied on to help support the reindeer herd and running costs for the rest of the year but nowadays we are busier than ever and as a result the income through the Centre now provides a bigger ratio than it once did, so I think a quieter Christmas tour in years to come could actually be better in the long run, concentrating more on what we have here at home. I’m not saying we won’t carry on with our Christmas tour completely, but I will look into downsizing, which it has naturally done this year anyway and it’s been very manageable.
We went through all the normal training with the reindeer through the October period. The 5-6 month old calves being trained to wear and walk on a head collar and the new young male Christmas reindeer being trained to wear harness and pull the sleigh. They all did great and I think gold stars in particular go to Christie’s calf Akubra, who I can only describe as a born Christmas reindeer and Frost, our 3 year old who pulled the sleigh like he’d done it his whole life, taking part in some huge events and taking it all in his stride. They make you so proud when out and about on tour its hard not to shout their praises from the roof tops!
I also have to sing the praises of all our wonderful reindeer herders including core employees, seasonal reindeer herders and volunteers. Without this ridiculously capable team of folk we would not be where we are today. It takes input from every single one of us to make it work so thank you to everyone! I have to mention one person in particular who I know won’t want me to make a fuss, but I am going to anyway, because she has been a total super star. Carol thank you so much for just being you. Your kind and caring nature not to mention a special way you have when talking to the public about reindeer is wonderful to watch and you are an asset to our already great team. I know the reindeer also bring a huge amount of joy to Carol as well so I think it works both ways.
We finished off Christmas with 6 events on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The team of reindeer were quite a young bunch with the oldest being 6 years, but what a team they were! Scolty, Dr Seuss, Frost, Clouseau, Holy Moley and Akubra. Handlers over the two days consisted of Tilly, Fiona, Joe, Ben Hester, Ruth, Carol and Aurélien. Although icy and cold the weather was kind to us bringing bright blue skies and sunshine on Christmas day. The public were delighted to see the reindeer bringing huge smiles to both adults and kids… and herders of course. Carol was in charge of 7 month old Akubra all day and the two of them got on really well. Introducing him to lots of people delighted to see the reindeer over this festive time. Though Akubra was a little tired by the 4th event so he took a wee nap mid performance! What a dude! Aurélien and Holy Moley were on top form, although Holy Moley can sometimes be a little bossy with small children so Aurélien did a great job of anger management… she’s a wee toerag!
At our second last event of Christmas day a couple of our youngest reindeer herders joined us and even mucked in helping to handle the reindeer. Oscar and Tilly (little Tilly, not big Tilly) were excellent in taking instruction when it came to leading and handling the reindeer… I see a couple of future reindeer herders in these two for sure! Newbie Christmas reindeer Frost and Clouseau both pulled the sleigh at three of the events each alongside role models Dr Seuss and Scolty. A-star team so bravo boys and girls… you all get an extra handful of lichen… the favourite food of a reindeer.
So that is it for another year and when I thought at the beginning of November that the end was nowhere near in sight. Suddenly Christmas is over. I’d worried that the reindeer would forget what to do on events having had a year off but that was absolutely not the case. If anything it was the humans that needed reminding and reassuring that they knew what to do, the reindeer were fab.
Emm is one of our regular volunteers, and has sent us this lovely blog. Here’s part one, with another part to come later in the summer!
Over the years volunteering for the reindeer herd, I have experienced the different seasons. I decided to write a blog about it.
In the winter, I normally come up over New Year in the Christmas Holidays. The Reindeer Centre is very busy as people want to see reindeer after Christmas. The last time I was up over New Year which was this year 2020, we had at least 80 people queuing outside the door before we opened 10 o’clock. There is normally one Hill Trip a day. We had to do two trips a day because there were so many people and two trips-worth was selling out by about 10:30am.
In the hill enclosure the visitors are meeting both male and female reindeer. Most of the male reindeer in there are the ‘Christmas reindeer’ which have been to Christmas events and parades in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The reindeer are looking lovely in their winter coat and most of the reindeer have got antlers.
The weather is cold so my thermal hat, gloves and coat keeps me nice and warm. It is getting dark just before 5 o’clock so when we put the reindeer to bed and give them their tea, I normally put my head torch on.
The Reindeer Centre is closed on New Years Day, so I get a day off to explore the area with my mum and dad. This year on New Years Day we went on a long walk to explore An Lochan Uaine (The Green Loch) and the Ryvoan Bothy. It was really nice and everyone we passed wished us a Happy New Year. On the way back, we walked down hill on the path behind the Reindeer Centre and I saw beautiful views of Glenmore and Loch Morlich.
The Reindeer Centre is getting ready to close for a month and the reindeer are getting ready to go free ranging on the Cairngorm Mountains and the Cromdale Hills.
I help take the Christmas decorations down.
In the spring, I normally come up in April in the Easter Holidays or May or both.
Normally in April there is a Hill Trip once a day onto the free-range where some of the reindeer are free ranging on the Cairngorm Mountains. The hill enclosure is not normally in use. Every morning some of us go out to find the herd to give them their breakfast and to bring them down to a suitable place where we can do the Hill Trip as they are normally high up. It is a special feeling when you are leading the reindeer down to a suitable place for the trip. One time, I got to see the reindeer leap over a stream which I hadn’t seen before. They leapt over the stream well and they were very springy. That was spectacular to watch. It is magical and special seeing the herd on the free-range knowing they can go where ever they want with no fences stopping them. Reindeer can swim.
After one trip on the flats nelow the ski centre , the reindeer started to move towards the road heading for Windy Ridge which meant they were going to cross the road. Me and Dave parked by the road and he started calling them which they responded to. I stopped the traffic and was the “lollipop lady” in the middle of the road whilst the reindeer crossed and went onto Windy Ridge. Dave was leading them high up there. I went to find the stragglers who were coming up the hill in the ski car park and got them safely onto the ridge.
Most reindeer have lost their antlers and have started to grow new ones. Some reindeer have lost their antlers when I have been there. One year, I found Hopscotch’s antler in the Paddocks wood. The reindeer’s coats are very pale as the sun light over the winter has bleached them. The reindeer are hard to identify as most of them have no antlers and their unique markings have faded. The reindeer antlers are one of the key parts to identify a reindeer as each reindeer has their own unique antler shape. It is like their fingerprint.
Some of the female reindeer are heavily pregnant and their tummies look big. It is amazing to think there is a baby reindeer calf growing.
It is normally the time that the reindeer herders start to reseed the grass in the Paddocks. Sometimes I am in charge to move the sprinkler around the Paddocks. One April, Roman kept coming to the sprinkler and drinking from it or just stood by it like if he was cooling himself down. He even came to drink from the hose.
One April, I did the gardening in the Paddocks and Fergus (who was hand reared) kept following me around and kept kicking my bag thinking there was food inside.
The only time I have seen the reindeer in snow was in April 2018. I have never seen so much snow in my life. The snow was so deep. It was magical and special seeing them in the snow in their natural environment. It was such an exciting time. It was like being in Narnia.
The snow is not a problem for reindeer. The reindeer are at their happiest in the snow. It is their natural environment and their bodies are made for the it.
It was so special seeing their natural behaviours. Seeing them walking in a line one behind the other to save energy. Seeing them dig in the snow with their big splayed hooves to find heather and mosses to eat. The reindeer seemed more excited to see us with the feed sacks as it is an easy meal for them as they will have to work hard digging in the snow to find food. Following their hoof prints in the snow was very exciting.
At the Reindeer Centre, we had to shovel the snow to makes paths as it was very deep and put out grit. Before the Hill Trip, we put down grit on some of the icy parts. We offered people walking poles to help with walking in the snow and it was so lovely seeing visitors helping one another. Walking down hill, we had to dig our heels into the ground to stop us from sliding down the hill.
The frozen tarns and puddles looked spectacular. It was my first time seeing skiers skiing in the mountains.
In May, it’s calving time. I get to see the reindeer being mums to their calves which is lovely and special to see. The calves are so cute and adorable. I get to see the reindeer being more vocal as the mums and the calves grunt to each other to communicate. It is a lovely and special time.
I was very lucky to be up when the twins called Starsky and Hutch were calves. The Reindeer Centre had a lot of interest as a reindeer having twins surviving is a rare thing. There was only one other case in the world of reindeer twins surviving birth which was in Finland. In Finland, they took the reindeer twins away from their mum to hand rear them. Starsky and Hutch stayed with their mum Lulu and Lulu gave them as much milk as she could. We topped up the milk by bottle feeding them. It was special bottle feeding them but they are unfortunately no longer with us.
The reindeer are continuing growing their antlers which are covered by velvet. The reindeer have scruffy coats as they are getting rid of their winter coat. Big clumps of fur come out of their winter coat.
There are two Hill Trips a day and they are in the hill enclosure.
There’ll be more from Emm in a future week, when she’ll tell us what she gets up to while volunteering in the summer and autumn seasons!