November has been a busy month. We’ve had the first decent snow higher up on the hills, the free ranging reindeer have been showing their beautiful faces at the hill enclosure every few days, adoptions are coming in thick and fast so lots of letters are streaming out of the office, sleigh training has continued in Glenmore and the first Christmas teams have been on the road! The ‘Christmas reindeer’ have all been totally super and have made us very proud. So this truly is a mixed bag of pics that I’ve taken over the past few weeks! Enjoy…
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I love September! The reindeer look super, we’re busy with free ranging reindeer, we name the calves and we start learning their individual personalities, plus the rut kicks off. Having said that, I planned a two week holiday in one of my favourite months – must remember not to do that again! So there is a big gap in the photos for this month’s blog, but I’ve made up for it by just sharing more from the same day.
Just a reminder – we don’t reveal the names of the calves online until our adopters receive their newsletter next month.
During the summer months it’s a good time of year to work on our reindeer handling for both reindeer and herders. With a fair few new faces this summer with seasonal staff picking up a few weeks here and there it’s not just good practice for the reindeer but really important that us herders know the best way to approach, put on halters, putting on harness and generally knowing how to act and move around the reindeer in close proximity.
First of all we pick which reindeer will go through the ropes that morning then we split them off into a separate enclosure at their morning feed and bring them up to our shed on the hill. This is where we do all our handling, whether it’s taking temperatures, tending to unwell reindeer or doing a bit training where the reindeer have a halter on and wear a bit of harness. From our shed we can walk out into a quiet enclosure so they get a feel for wearing the harness while walking. Within the group of chosen reindeer there is always an ‘old boy’ who has done lots of training before so already knows the drill and therefore gives off the right vibes. We stand any newbies next to him so they have a calming influence. As well as being the role model to younger reindeer our older trained reindeer are good ones for new staff to learn how to put harness on as they don’t fuss or move around making it a lot easier to explain and learn. Some of our older boys who are trained are: Aztec, Dr Seuss, Poirot, Sherlock, Frost, Clouseau and Athens. We then train anything who is 1, 2 or 3 years old next to them. The 2 and 3 year old have of course done this for the past few years so it tends to be the yearlings who are a bit more twitchy doing it for their first summer. Of course as 5-6 month old calves they went out and about at Christmas so its not completely new to them.
Once we put some harness on we walk them out into another enclosure to get used to it. Our two hand reared calves Winnie and Alba sometime join us for this little excursion each morning so they can get a bit of extra hill grazing. Being the size of a medium dog sometimes the young trainee reindeer forget that the calves are actually reindeer and decide to unnecessarily have a brief panic, before realising how silly they are worrying about a little reindeer calf… or two. It’s quite funny watching them work it out. The old boys are pretty savvy to the calves and just ignore them.
Working closely and being able to handle our reindeer is really important for them and us. As many of you know we run a Christmas tour through November and December so any extra handling prepares our reindeer for some of that work they do. We also handle our reindeer should they need any treatment, vaccines or antibiotics and the more used to this they are the less stressful the situation for both animal and human. Some take to it quicker than others, like us they all have their individual personalities and characters. We change our handling sometimes depending which reindeer it is you’re working with. It’s really important we know our reindeer so if there is one ‘off colour’ then it’s picked up quickly and dealt with.
Here are some photos of us training our reindeer in the summer and also in the autumn time when we are getting ready for our Christmas tour.
I know you will look at the title of this blog and think… What?!?! Christmas is ages away. However, this isn’t about Christmas itself, more about our tour and what we will be doing this year with regards to Christmas events across the country.
Over the past 33 years we have covered the length and breadth of Great Britain and Northern Ireland visiting various town and shopping centres as well as garden centres, schools, hospitals, care homes… the list goes on. When it comes to Christmas everyone loves seeing our reindeer, and our trained Christmas reindeer are an honour to work with. Their naturally friendly nature and ability to remain unfazed in most situations makes us feel so proud of them. Of course extensive desensitising training has taken place over many years to prepare them for these moments, but nonetheless they make us feel so proud of them.
Times are changing and our business changes with it. Once upon a time the income from Christmas events was a crucial part of the year to help maintain the reindeer herd in the Highlands of Scotland for the rest of the year. Like every business we have bills to pay. Whether it’s paying the lease for the land the reindeer roam or staff wages, naturally there are plenty of outgoings, and Christmas events helped to support this. However, The Reindeer Centre itself here in the heart of the Highlands has really grown into itself and with a great team of herders with many visitors to the area to entertain we are becoming much more self sufficient here at home. As a result we have re-evaluated how much ‘Christmas’ we actually need to do.
Some of our longest standing events are in the far south. Basingstoke, Windsor, Llanelli, Carmarthen, Cowbridge and Usk to name a few. Some of these events have been going ahead for over 25 years. They are fantastic events and always well organised with the organisers and public giving our reindeer the up most respect. For some of the people visiting these events when they were children 25 years ago are now attending with their own children so it really is lovely to see and be part of. With COVID making the last two years tricky for everybody whether it be budgets being cut or just the fact that event organisers didn’t want to be attracting big crowds of people for public safety meant that some of these events didn’t go ahead. Naturally there was huge disappointment, but everybody understood. Off the back of less demand to travel further south we have taken this opportunity to look at our own business and where we are going and have now decided that we won’t be taking part in events south of Manchester. Obviously I feel terrible for the fantastic events that these venues have put on over the years but with such good relationships with them all I have explained our situation and they have all replied and completely understand our situation. They have thanked us and our lovely reindeer for being part of their Christmas festivities and wished us well going forward. We couldn’t have asked for nicer comments from them all.
So going forward we are still doing Christmas events but we will be sticking to Scotland and the north of England. We will run less teams as a result and concentrate much more of what we do at home. We hope you can visit us either here in the Cairngorms or while we are out on tour in November and December but for now I just want to say a massive thank you to all of our events based further south than Manchester for all your support over the years. We will miss working with you and we wish you all the best going forward.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !!!!
June and July are the months when our reindeer have to complete a full moult from their incredibly thick winter coats to their short, sleek summer coats. They don’t quite look at their most glam at this stage (though obviously they’re always beautiful!) but there can be some entertaining looks going on, which we thought you might all appreciate!
Reindeer don’t eat carrots, and other myths to ruin your new year… 😉
Myth 1 – Reindeer are made up
It seems silly when you work with them every day, but it is easy to forget that for a lot of people the only reindeer they know of fly around the world in a single night, so perhaps its not that surprising that they assume they aren’t real.
I’m glad to be able to confirm that reindeer are in fact real and are great fun to work with.
Myth 2 – Reindeer eat carrots
Recent surveys have suggested that British people leave out around 3,000 tonnes of carrots for Rudolph to eat every Christmas Eve. But we aren’t sure where this tradition stems from as they do not grow in sub-Arctic habitats, and reindeer physically can’t eat carrots. Their lack of top teeth prevents them from chewing them down into a digestible size.
The food of choice for most reindeer is lichen, a fungi-algi symbiote, that grows here in the Cairngorm mountains and keeps the herd healthy. We also use it to help entice our reindeer during handling, or sometimes just give it out as a treat!
Myth 3 – Reindeer can fly
This one really goes hand in hand with Myth 1, but I am still yet to see one fly.
I do hear things are different on Christmas Eve though…?
Myth 4 – Antler points correlate with age
Antlers do tend to increase in size (and therefore often the number of points) with age, however this doesn’t necessarily align with exact ages in years. Also, over the course of their lives, the antlers are susceptible to change. For example, a cow’s antlers tend to be smaller any year she has a calf, a more senior reindeer tends to grow a smaller set, and damage or breaks in antlers can change the growth pattern permanently.
Myth 5 – Who pulls the sleigh at Christmas
This is an interesting one because the fact that some reindeer keep their antlers through winter leads to confusion about who might be pulling the sleigh. Many people’s first assumption is that it is all boys, due to the antlers. However, the fact that bulls will drop their heavier antlers before winter sets in has led many people to believe that sleigh teams are led by female reindeer (who tend to keep their antlers until the end of winter). While we may take female yearlings and calves out with the sleigh, the reindeer we have pulling the sleigh are castrated males. This is due to their laid-back nature, but also, they tend to hold their antlers longer than entire bulls. Additionally, mature female reindeer could be pregnant at Christmas time.
Castrates have long played an important role in reindeer herding culture. They tend to be more docile and better for training than bulls or cows, and in herds of thousands of reindeer a well-trained castrate male can be used as a ‘decoy’ to influence the movement of the herd in a desired direction.
Myth 6 – Antlers are made of wood
While the various textures and colours of antlers throughout their life cycle can often make them look wooden, fully grown antlers are formed of bone. They grow throughout the summer months, while covered in a thin layer of skin and a fur called velvet, and then in autumn the skin will be shed, and the bone shows through. At this point there is no more feeling in the antler, as the blood supply has fully stopped – which is the reason the skin sheds. The reindeer often look quite dramatic at this point, as residual blood can make for a scary looking reindeer! But after a rainy day or two the antlers will look lovely and clean.