Reindeer identification is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of the work here at the Reindeer Centre. Of course there are a few individual reindeer that are very distinctive and easy to spot like Sherlock with those enormous antlers and Dr Suess with his with white nose. I’m also pretty confident telling apart the two white yearling males (99 and Mr Whippy) as long as they’re not too far away!
I’ve been taking as many opportunities as I can to try to get to know who’s who for the less obvious members of the herd. During the summer months while I’m here, the hill enclosure is home to a lovely smaller herd made up of some of the bulls. It’s a good time to try to learn a few reindeer while they’re part of a smaller group and I can see them most days.
The ear tags on the reindeer are colour coded depending on the year they are born, for example last years calves all have red ear tags (I was lucky enough to be volunteering the day they were tagged!). As a rule, I tend to look for any distinguishing features first like coat colour, markings, antler shape and size, and body size. After that, I’ll try to spot what colour the ear tag is. Some of the older reindeer are easier because there are fewer to choose from with that year’s colour ear tag.
As well as the more obvious physical features, its been really helpful to speak to the other herders to get hints and tips on how they remember who’s who. For example, Sheena pointed out that Poirot’s antlers come out straight from his forehead like two fingers or the number “11” and his number is “211”. Isla told me how she remembers Arta’s name because the pattern on his nose looks like artwork and Mollie told me that Cicero has the biggest of the silvery coloured antlers.
This week I learned that Merida, Dr. Suess’ mum, also has a lovely white face and I was able to spot my personal favourite, Beanie, thanks to her lovely speckly nose and the fact that she was with a group of two cows with their calves.
However, often, just when I get the hang of this ID game, things start to change. The boys summer coats don’t really last more that a few weeks it seems so no sooner was I was feeling very confident identifying Lupin and Kernel with their beautiful dark summer coats they’re both already growing their winter coats! We’re also bringing some of the girls into the enclosure which is adding ever more complexity to the task. My ID skills are definitely a work in progress and I’m loving taking every opportunity to watch the herd and learn who everybody is.
This is the second installment of Emm’s fantastic blog. Read part one by clicking HERE.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s the last blog of the month and so time for another photo dump! March has been a relatively quiet month, with the Paddocks shut and fewer visitors around, but it’s still felt very busy for us herders! Generally only four members of staff work each day throughout March. The mornings are taken up by two herders heading out to find and move the free ranging herd, and the other two herders lead the Hill Trip at 11am. So, by the time we’ve all had lunch the afternoons seem to totally fly by. We also had some very snowy and wintery weather in the middle of the month, making our lives a little more interesting and keeping us on our toes! Hopefully, we’ve managed to tick off all the important jobs in time for the Easter Holidays which kick off on the 1st of April.
I can’t help but smile when I see a reindeer yawn. They have the most wonderful facial expressions, produce the best sounds, and have the wobbliest of chins. I always try to capture the moment on camera but I’m usually way too slow and miss the moment. Over the past year I’ve been compiling a folder of my best reindeer yawns ready to produce a blog one day. Despite reindeer herding being my full time job, at the rate I’m going it would probably take several years before I’ve captured a decent amount of silly pictures and videos.
Sooo… I mentioned my blog idea to Hen and Andi recently whist *working very hard* in the office. Of course, they came to my rescue and more or less instantly produced many glorious pictures of yawning reindeer to bolster my collection.
So here goes, in no order or for any great reason other than hopefully making people smile. Enjoy!
We lost one of our old girls a few weeks back, Fonn. She was a really sweet character in the herd and got to the grand age of 17, only one month off her 18th birthday. Considering anything over 10 years old is doing well this meant she did really well! Although the last few years she was starting to look her age she continued to stay in good condition, giving us no cause for concern. This was helped by us letting her get her head in the bag of feed of course!
As a youngster she had her fair share of calves of which her son Rubiks and daughter Merida are still going strong. Her oldest daughter Joni we lost in 2020 to old age, however Joni also had a few calves over the years so it’s a good sized family. She has 5 grandchildren currently in the herd – Bourbon, Jenga, Jute, Dr Seuss and Ärta. She also has one great grandson, Jelly. I wont get into cousins and second cousins cos I’ll be here all day.
In the past 7 years Fonn hasn’t had a calf and as a result lived to a grand age. She was always super reliable when bringing the herd in for feeding time and if we ever needed to catch a reindeer out to walk on a halter as a lure for the others to follow then Fonn was a good one to do this. Last year she re-formed a very sweet bond with her 9 year old son, Rubiks. The two of them remained side by side for 7 months through winter, spring and summer 2020 which considering they’d spent no time together in the years previous to that was quite amazing they remembered each other. Dr Seuss, her 4 year old grandson has turned into one of the most recognisable characters in the herd not only through looks with his big antlers, white face and dark body but he also featured as one of the main reindeer in last year’s TV show ‘A Baby Reindeer’s First Christmas’.
Many reindeer come and go throughout the years and although they are all great characters some leave a slightly bigger hole in your heart than others and Fonn was certainly one of them. Of course it is sad, however the sadness is outweighed by knowing she had such a fantastic life up here in the Cairngorm Mountains. She has succession through her wonderful family which is a mix of Christmas reindeer, females and young bulls so the line will go on and she can be proud of what’s to come.
Following on from my previous blog about reindeer coloration, I thought I’d highlight some of the funky face patterns in our herd today. White face markings are super helpful at aiding us in identification of the reindeer, as they don’t change much throughout the year (or their lives). Though they can be harder to make out when the reindeer are in their late winter coats, as they are less distinct.
Other than the few reindeer still out free-ranging who I haven’t seen lately, I’ve otherwise managed to get nice ‘adopt’ photos of everyone in the herd in the last few weeks. These photos are to go on the certificates that go out to all the lovely people who support us by adopting a reindeer, and as autumn is when reindeer look at their best, it is therefore when I take all the photos.
I realise (after sitting down to write this) that I’ve actually written a blog about photos before (to be fair, that was 5 years ago and I have a rubbish memory at times…) but hey, what’s wrong with repetition?! But actually I thought I’d just show you some of the ‘outtake’ photos, ‘cos everyone likes to see photos of reindeer looking daft, don’t they?
Most photos that don’t make the grade are just because of open mouths or closed eyes:
But after my trip over to our farm last month to photograph the reindeer there, I realised that I’d mainly just taken photos of Olympic looking ridiculous!
Then there’s just the odd ones:
Reindeer often need encouragement to look alert for their photo, with ears pricked. This results in my photography assistant (Andi) doing a lot of dancing in the background while making a lot of noise, or sprinting back and forth shaking a feed bag…
And sometimes we resort to throwing things at the reindeer (well, nearby anyway) to get their attention!
Most of the time it seems, this is what the reindeer think of me and my camera!