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.
August has been a fun month. The first half of the month was super busy with holiday makers but as Scottish schools went back the second half of the month got slightly quieter with visitors and we’ve been having lots of free range action which I love. Generally we start to see the free ranging females more as they come down in altitude as the weather gets cooler. Towards the end of the month we also start bringing in the mums and their calves back into the enclosure. They spend June through to August/early September out roaming the hills learning how to be little wild reindeer and enjoying all the best grazing, but when the autumn rolls around it’s time for them to learn what a feed bag is and in time, how to walk on a halter etc. The following photos are a small snapshot of what’s been occurring…
A common question that we get asked on our Hill Trips is ‘how long do reindeer live for?’. The answer is usually anything between 11 – 15 years old with the females typically living a little longer than the males. The oldest reindeer we’ve ever had in our herd was a female called Lilac living to a grand old age of 19, while our oldest male Elvis is still currently living at 17 years old. The older generation in our herd have a pretty good life, the females spend almost the whole year free ranging on open mountain where they know all the best spots for grazing and where they can find the most peace. The older males do free-range on the hills for 3 – 4 months a year and then spend their days at our hill farm near Glenlivet, even with access to the hill they typically spend there time eating and sleeping but that’s totally fine by us. For me, some of the biggest characters in the herd are the older reindeer and even though I’ve only known them since 2017, I thought it would be nice to tell you a bit about some of my favourite females who are on the mature side of life.
Fly – At 16 years old, Fly is the joint 4th oldest reindeer in our herd along with Fern. For years now she has come across as the natural leader and matriarch of the herd and will regularly be found leading the reindeer to a call or to the areas of best grazing. She’s always grown a cracking set of antlers too which have sometimes been the largest female set of the year and usually starts to grow her new set of antlers before any other female. Other herders have told me that Fly was quite an aloof reindeer when she was younger and even to this day she isn’t exactly tame, but she has maybe learned to trust us a bit more in recent years and will happily take handfeed from us now. Being such a big reindeer she’s unmistakable once you get to know them all as individuals and it’s always nice to see her doing so well at her age. These days she keeps herself on the outside of the bigger groups of reindeer not getting involved in the hustling and pushing of other aspiring females, but I feel like her presence is never missed. For her age Fly is in amazing condition and I hope that she can remain a key member of the herd for some time still.
Fern – Fern was one of the first reindeer I ever got to know, and she’s got such a sweet and friendly character. Also 16 years old, she is once again looking amazing for her age and growing another great set of antlers. I sometimes think that reindeer can give a sense of calmness to people in the way they are so relaxed and docile, and no reindeer acts more like this than Fern. I do feel like I abuse her easy-going nature sometimes, whenever I’m in need of catching out a reindeer to help lead the herd or pair a reindeer up with one that needs to come off the hill, I can always rely on Fern to easily put a halter on and help out in such situations, she never seems to mind ands always does a wonderful job. A couple of years ago Fern also did something I’ve never seen another reindeer do and that was to take on another calf while also raising her own, Kiruna had lost his mother on the free-range, he was adopted by Fern along with her calf Dublin and for some time we didn’t even know which young reindeer was her calf because she treated them both equally. All in all, she’s just a wonderful reindeer.
Okapi – Okapi turned 15 in May but in my mind I’ve always thought of her as one of the oldies, I sound so mean to write this but she’s always had older looking face compared to any other reindeer her age. She couldn’t be a more friendly reindeer and has very gentle personality. Very unfortunately when Okapi was 5 years old she prolapsed on several occasions and as a result was no longer able to calve. This meant that since then, she has spent a long life of predominantly free-ranging on the open mountains. It’s always great to come across her on the free-range as she usually heads straight toward us once she realises we have food. She’s quite a greedy reindeer but she doesn’t push it like some of the others in our herd. I like to give her little extra handfuls of food most times I see her because she’s always just so nice and I know she’s a reindeer most herders admire too. It’s also worth mentioning that Okapi’s older brother is Elvis, there must be something in the genes for Okapi and Elvis to be living for as long as they have.
Ryvita – Everyone loves Ryvita! At 14 years old, she’s been a favourite among reindeer herders for many a year now and is the perfect balance of being friendly, cheeky and confident. She will always come over to say hello, or more likely see if there is any food, and will happily follow you around for as long as it takes until you give in and offer her a little hand feed. Over the years, Ryvita has been one of the most photographed reindeer in our herd. Like Fly she grows her antlers early and always knows how to strike a pose for the camera. She’s also quite distinctive for her having a very wide belly and I’ve regularly been asked if she’s pregnant, my usual reply is ‘no, that’s just Ryvita’. Ryvita is part of a large family group and all the reindeer from that line and very friendly and sweet.
Okapi is one of my favourite reindeer, and I think one of the prettiest reindeer in the herd. So, I often find my self taking a photo of her. Sometimes I manage to get a very lovely photo of her looking beautiful. More often though, before I have managed to take the photo she’s come so close that the photo ends up just of her nose! I’m not sure if she thinks my phone is food or if she just really wants a nostril shot. I thought in this week’s blog I would share various Okapi noses over the seasons, plus the occasional successful photo to show how bonnie the rest of her face is. Enjoy!
Every morning, as most of you know, two herders head out to gather the reindeer in and bring them closer for our Hill Trip at 11am. This requires dropping our bags of feed off on route somewhere closer to where we plan to end up with the herd then anything from a 10 minute walk to a 1.5 hour walk out, depending on where the herd are. Most often we have a section of uphill just to really make us work hard and get a sweat on. Most of it is pathless so winter time can be a time of year where reindeer herders can get quite fit! Or that’s what we tell ourselves…
Once we’ve located the herd, usually far in the distance, first of all we will call them in the hope they will come running. However, this isn’t always the case so off we trot and we walk all the way out to them. When we reach them they are usually all lying down looking very relaxed. It almost feels a bit rude asking them to go to the effort to move location. However many people have bought their ticket and want to visit them. Plus they never really complain when they get a big bag of tasty food after their walk in. At this point there are two herders and two different jobs. One herder leads at the front and the other keep them moving from the back. So here is the role of each herder:
You set of with a small bag of feed slung over your shoulder and a halter, just in case you need extra bribery by putting one of the reindeer on a halter to lead as encouragement for the rest of the herd to follow. We don’t often have to put one on the halter, but we’ve got it just in case!
Some of the herd are always first to follow. Okapi, Lace and Sika are three older girls who accompany the front herder. On occasions while letting the rest of the herd catch up these front girls would get an extra handful of feed, much to their delight! Hopscotch and family (Kipling, Juniper, Tub and Fab) are also front runners… ruled by their stomachs.
While leading the herd down inevitably you try to take the easiest route. Not too steep, not too rough but it doesn’t matter how much you think you’ve picked the best line, the reindeer always prove you wrong by taking a slightly different one. Lets face it, they do know the hills better than us. It’s always fairly amusing being the front person when it’s a foggy day. You have to pick the best line trying not to lose your herd or your colleague at the same time. There is lots of calling, or reindeer chat/encouragement which translates to ‘follow me girls’. Shaking the bag of feed, offering handfuls, zig zagging our way down the hill in front of the herd. You do get a good opportunity for photos but it’s a fine line to keep the herd moving and getting a good photo so we cant hang around too much.
On the whole reindeer prefer to follow uphill as opposed to downhill so we are quite canny with our route choices but there are certain points of bringing them in which we know are pinch points so once we’ve got them past that we know they’ll come no bother. Then, once you’ve reached your destination there is a big bag of feed waiting for you which was left prior by us prior to walking out.
So that’s the front herder job, now for the herder following at the back.
Once you’ve reach the herd and font herder starts with the encouragement and trying to get the herd to follow its now the job for the back herder to keep up the momentum from behind. To begin with the reindeer are feeling pretty relaxed and a bit lazy so a bit of clapping, woosh woosh noises and generally pushing those back few reindeer usually gets them going. We don’t need to push them hard, just keep them going so often you act like a sheepdog zig zagging left to right. Like the trend at the front, there are also reindeer who are always at the back of the herd. Gloriana with her 2022 calf Rocket as well as her 2021 calf Beanie are usually ones at the back for us to keep moving.
Once you’re 10-15 minutes into starting the reindeer tend to follow quite nicely then the back herder can just enjoy hanging out with them, pootling (technical term) in slowly behind. This is also a nice time to get photos but you are more likely to get photos of reindeer bottoms at this point, which isn’t all bad, they do have very beautiful bottoms!
I think on the whole herders prefer being at the back. There is less pressure on route choice and you’re not spending your whole time trying to encourage the reindeer, instead you just get to walk alongside them as they follow. Inevitably some herders end up at the front more than others and this is usually down to experience and knowing the lie of the land, route choice the way the reindeer like to walk and the fine line between going too slowly so the reindeer just graze more and getting far enough ahead to keep up momentum. As a front herder you spend less time with the reindeer themselves so obviously we all like being at the back.
At the beginning of winter and bringing reindeer in for hill trips I’m happy to do the front as we’re all a bit rusty having not done it for a year and I’m pretty confident with route choices having done it for so long. Equally I’m happy for others to learn from me. But come March onwards we’ve all had plenty of opportunity to know which way to go and I like to take my turn at the back.
Winter is always one of the best times of year with the reindeer. They are completely free range and we head out daily, locate and feed them so we keep a good management on the herd. It’s probably the time of year we get the most exercise too – a morning work out to find reindeer and bring them into closer proximity of our Hill Trips is a favourite amongst all the herders.
The top followers this winter have to be Okapi, Lace and Fly, usual suspects. However, with a greedy family often some of the first ones all running down together are Hopscotch with daughters Juniper and Kipling, and their calves Fab and Tub so it certainly is a family affair!
They don’t want to make our job too easy through. In January the reindeer often come to a call. We bellow our wee lungs out and the reindeer come running. But in February they like to make us walk, so most often two herders will head out and as good as get to where the reindeer are before turning round – one herder leads whilst the other walks at the back to keep them moving. Otherwise, they’d probably just lie down and we wouldn’t get very far.
On one occasion in January Lotti and I skied out to retrieve the herd. Always a treat getting out on skis and topped off with ski-ing for work… well it doesn’t get much better than that. More recently there hasn’t been so much snow, just a lot of wind so even if it doesn’t look cold outside that wind chill can get pretty brutal.
The reindeer are so good though, without fail they plod down behind us herders ready to meet and greet our many half term tourists wanting to visit them. Chief hand feeders at the moment are – Kipling, Juniper, Holy Moley, Okapi, Pumpkin, Marple, Brie, Ryvita…
Once the visitors have enjoyed spending time with the reindeer the herd wander back out into the mountains and it happens all over again the next day.
It’s the last blog of the month, so here we have a selection of photos I’ve taken during February. The early part of the month was all about crossing jobs off the to-do list ready for us to re-open to the public on the 11th of February for the busy half-term holidays. The second part of the month has been all about locating the reindeer and moving the herd into a suitable position for our Hill Trips each morning, the Hill Trips themselves, and afternoon talks in the Paddocks. Plus all the usual shop and office work. As always, the holidays are over in a blur, but here are some photos of our beautiful reindeer, giving a small taster of February for you all.
A final point – if you are wondering where all the young bulls and Christmas reindeer are in the photos, they spend the winter free ranging in a different herd that Tilly and other colleagues at the farm mostly look after. I’ve not been to visit them myself this month hence why it’s just photos of our beautiful girls and some male calves that you’ll find in this month’s blog.
For this week’s blog, I’ve uploaded a heap of photographs found on my phone during this particularly busy month to give a brief snapshot of what goes on in the life of a reindeer herder. Turns out I don’t take many photographs whilst I’m sat in front of a computer answering emails so the photos are quite biased to all the fun times I’ve had out and about. Thankfully this makes for a much more enjoyable blog… lots of pictures of reindeer!
As you will probably know by now, we have put together a Naked Reindeer Herders 2023 Calendar!
The photo belonging to each month, was taken on, or very close to, that month in 2021 or 2022 so the reindeer look appropriate to the seasons throughout the calendar. Joe had the difficult job of being photographer. It really was a hard task and I think he’s done an awesome job. He had to contend with many challenges including the weather, figuring out 13 different poses, directing the reindeer, generally being around to take the pics (he’s a busy guy and works away quite a lot), and the biggest challenge of all… directing the herders who mostly try to avoid cameras, even when fully clothed.
Oh and Joe (aka “Mr September”) also had another big challenge. He had to face a rutting bull for his photo so he definitely wins the bravery award!
This wee blog shows what went on behind the scenes at two of the naked calendar photo shoots… July and our cover picture.
It is now officially calving season!! As I write this blog it is the last day of April, and we already have two new calves in our ranks. All the calves will be named in September, as is always the case. In fact, every Cairngorm reindeer has a name, and this follows a designated theme each year. Whilst we have not yet decided on the theme for the 2022 calves, we will often be asked about previous themes. In this blog I’ll describe previous themes. Feel free to leave your ideas for themes in our comments section.
2007: A theme centred around all things ‘Green’ (green) – Fern, Fly.
2006: Popstars (silver) – Elvis, Enya, Lulu.
2005: Countries (yellow) – Malawi.
So, there you have it, that is a list of the naming themes (with the corresponding tag colour and some examples of reindeer names) that are currently in circulation with our reindeer. Now, when you visit again you may have a better idea of how old the reindeer you are feeding may be. Although, as you can see, some colours are repeated which can cause confusion. For example, if you see an orange tag, you may not know if this reindeer was born in 2008 or 2017. Well, each reindeer also has a number on their tag and this number corresponds to the reindeer name on our systems. It is a legal requirement to have a tag on any animal that is transported within the U.K., so we’ve made it work for us with specific colours and numbers that help us identify the reindeer if required.
It is worth noting that we also have just under 10 male reindeer still with us that were born in Sweden between the years of 2009 and 2011 and brought to Scotland to provide new genetics for our herd. These older boys were named individually and not within a theme. Spike, Caesar, Houdini, Bovril, and Hook are some examples of these boys’ names, and they have a range of numbers and colours in their ear tags.
It is not just ‘the Swedes’ that have names that don’t fit into a theme. Occasionally we will get reindeer where a nickname from early on in their life appears to stick and stay with the reindeer. Holy Moley, our television superstar, had such an eventful initial few days to her life that one herder exclaimed ‘holy moley!’ after being informed of events (she fell down a hole in a boulder field). Svalbard is another example. He was supposed to be called Meccano to fit in with the 2011 naming theme of Games & pastimes, but that name never stuck due to him looking incredibly alike a Svalbard reindeer (small and dumpy). Hamish is a final example of being an exception to the naming rule. Hamish was born in 2010 and unfortunately wasn’t being fed by his mother. This led to him being bottle-fed by the herders for the first part of his life so that he could grow into a big, strong Scottish reindeer and as such was given a big, strong Scottish name…Hamish.
Previous themes, prior to 2005, yielded some great names. We have been naming the reindeer after a theme since 1971. It has gotten to the point where a lot of the more obvious themes have been chosen by now. Some examples of previous themes are: Musical instruments & genres (2000), Colours (1999), Sweets & chocolate bars (1998), Fruits & nuts (1992), Wines & whiskies (1991), Herbs & spices (1988), Scottish islands (1987), Fish (1984), Trees (1982 & 1971), Mountains (1980), Weather (1975 & 1996), and Birds (1972). Before 1971, Mr. Utsi and Dr. Lindgren (the original owners of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd) named the male reindeer after Scottish places (e.g., Aviemore) and the female reindeer had human names (e.g., Mary).
In our office we have a folder with naming theme suggestions collected throughout the years. I have just had a look through it and some of the suggested themes are: Vegetables, Ice creams & lollies, Mushrooms & toadstools, Condiments & spreads, Indian foods, Teas & coffees, Cocktails (as you can see, we enjoy our food and drink here), Disney side-kick characters, Mountain ranges, Sea creatures, Gods & goddesses, Rivers of the world, and Dances. Who knows what themes 2022 and beyond will bring? Once we decide, the theme and each reindeer name are revealed to adopters in the autumn newsletter.