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

Experiencing the Four Seasons (Part Two)

Emm volunteers with us several times a year usually, and has been doing so for years now. Here’s her story of working in the summer and autumn seasons! Her recent blog about the winter and spring can be found here.

Summer

In summer I have been up in both July and August. The visitors are meeting the male reindeer in the hill enclosure. The female reindeer and the calves are free ranging on the Cairngorm Mountains.

The reindeer’s antlers have done the majority of their growth and the velvet is getting ready to strip away at the end of August. The reindeer are looking smart in their dark summer coats.

Dr Seuss and Pratchett in the hill enclosure

The weather can be hot in the summer. The flies bother the reindeer by flying noisily around them, sometimes the reindeer rush around to try to get away from the flies which tend to sit on their antlers as they can sense the blood supply in their growing antlers. We spray the reindeer’s antlers with citronella spray to protect them from the flies. Midges are also a problem in the summer for both reindeer and humans.

Monopoly in his summer coat

In one part of the enclosure, the reindeer have access to a shed for shade. One time when we got up there with the visitors, the reindeer were nowhere in sight. All 41 of them had gone into the small shed. The shed doesn’t look like it can fit 41 reindeer in but it is does, it is like a Doctor Who’s Tardis. One Hill Trip, I was herding them out of the shed, I realised that I hadn’t seen Blue – I found him in a small part of the shed asleep. Blue, who was deaf, didn’t hear his reindeer friends move on. The reason Blue was deaf is because he was leucistic (pure white with blue eyes). Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation.  Leucistic reindeer are camouflaged in the snow.

Selfie with Glenshee, back in 2016

There are three Hill Trips a day (during the week) in the hill enclosure and last year we did ‘Summer Fun’ in the Paddocks which involved feeling the weight of antlers, feeling the weight of a feed sack, Paddock reindeer talks and much more fun (N.B. This will return in 2021!). Reindeer House is busier as the seasonal summer staff are working as there is a lot going on with three Hill Trips a day and Summer Fun in the Paddocks.

One of the jobs in the summer is to water the garden as it is hot.

Last July, Olympic would stand by the gate like he was guarding it and wouldn’t let visitors out of hill enclosure. I kept having to go over to him and move him on.

Olympic

Autumn

In the Autumn, I normally come in October half term. The scenery is changing with leaves changing colour and leaves falling off the trees.

The reindeer’s winter coat is growing and most of the velvet has stripped off revealing the hard bone antler underneath.

It is the rutting and breeding season. Normally in different areas of the hill enclosure there is a bull with his girls. My two favourite breeding bulls are Houdini and Kota as they have massive magnificent antlers. When we feed the breeding bulls with their girls we have to be careful as they can be protective over their girls. We don’t take the visitors in with the bulls and their girls.

Breeding bull Kota

We do one Hill Trip a day in the hill enclosure. Normally in the afternoons we do sleigh training with the ‘Christmas reindeer’. We put the harnesses on them and harness them up to the sleigh. The reindeer pull the sleigh around Glenmore (where the Reindeer Centre is based). They even go on the road. It is so funny to see people’s faces when they drive past reindeer pulling a sleigh.

Sleigh training

We also get to handle the calves to get them used to people. We sometimes take them on a walk around Glenmore in the morning.

Calves Athens and Helsinki in October 2019

I am busy learning the calves names and if I hadn’t been up in May, I am learning which calf belongs to who and meeting all of them. The calves are also getting their new ear tags.

One year, I was lucky enough to help out at a early Christmas parade at the very start of November which was very special. It was at The Cairngorm Mountain. We wore red Christmas jumpers and woolly hats with reindeer on them. The reindeer team were Mo, Spike, Sooty, Aonach and calves Morse and Poirot. Mo and Spike pulled the sleigh with Santa in it. It was so wet and so windy. The wind was 60 miles per hour. Santa was holding his hat on in the sleigh. Not many people turned up. We had to tie things on to the pen railings otherwise they would have flown away.

Holding Mo and Spike after the parade

One of the other jobs in the autumn is to sweep up the leaves. At 4 o’clock it is starting to get dark. So we put the Paddock light on in the Paddocks so the visitors can still see the reindeer. When we put the reindeer to ‘bed’ in the woods and give them their tea, I normally put my head torch on.

My 2 Favourite Seasons

I have two favourite seasons which are autumn and spring.

Sleigh training with Slioch and North

In the autumn, I love doing the Christmas sleigh training, helping the calves get used to being handled, learning the calves names and seeing the reindeer with their newly formed antlers.

With the cows and calves

In the spring, I love seeing the newly born calves, seeing the reindeer being mums and hearing the grunts between mum and calf.

Emm

 

Experiencing the Four Seasons (Part One)

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!

With my adopted reindeer, Mo

Over the years volunteering for the reindeer herd, I have experienced the different seasons. I decided to write a blog about it.

Winter

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.

Fly and her grown-up son Anster

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.

Pony and her calf Poirot in winter ’18-’19

Frost

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.

Ibex posing for a selfie!

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.

Spring

In the spring, I normally come up in April in the Easter Holidays or May or both.

April

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.

With Ochil and Bumble in April 2018

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.

Austen

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.

Ibex and Clouseau in May 2018

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.

Bottle-feeding Starsky in the woods beside the Paddocks

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.

Emm

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!