Every year when the cows and calves come off the high tops from the summer one group tend to head towards Glenfeshie, a part of the Cairngorms they aren’t meant to be. We have got good communications with the landowners and gamekeepers over there so they let us know and we head over in the mission to catch them. It is always the same culprits. To name a couple– Fern and Wapiti. You may remember a blog in October of Andi and I recovering Fern from Glenfeshie in the autumn so she must have gone straight back!
Alex is chief free range reindeer herder and knows the hills best over there so he headed out the first few times to catch up with them. Once he knew their location he set up a corral with a few gates in the aim to catch the naughty reindeer. This all happened over the Christmas and New Year period, they like to pick the busy times! Alex went out a few times and fed them which gets them used to the feed again and a bit easier to manage. In the group were three calves who weren’t yet trained so they were fairly timid and didn’t let Alex get very close. But then we got the phone call at Reindeer House from Alex that he had them all in… calves included. Ye-Ha!!!
So Chris and I got everything together and headed off in Brenda (this is the name of our wee livestock truck). Alex was going to start putting halters on them. When we arrived it materialised Alex wasn’t on his own. With Emily (his wife) and two month old son in toe the three of them had caught all the reindeer. Start them young! Being the holiday period the hills were pretty busy with people walking and there were a few dogs around so Emily was on people and dog duty while we walked the reindeer up to the livestock truck. Remember the calves are pretty wild and not halter trained so there was a lot of persuasion going on. Luckily all their mothers are halter trained so they were easy. So in two runs, we walked all 11 reindeer up to the livestock truck and loaded them.
On route we phoned the Centre to get extra pairs of hands to lead them across to our enclosure where they have now been for a week. The calves are getting more and more bold everyday, eating the mixture and now joining in with our daily guided tours. It won’t take long for them to get pretty tame… the great thing about reindeer and thousands of years of domestication means working with humans comes second nature to them. We will halter train them over the next few weeks. Their names are Keats, Blyton and Harper to fit into our 2017 naming theme of poets and authors.
It has been an exceptionally mild winter here in the Cairngorms; the ski season never really seemed to kick off, the herders are missing the snow and it has just felt a bit wetter and warmer than usual. I’m sure you’ve noticed how early the snowdrops and daffodils seem to have emerged and we have noticed that the hills are looking a bit greener with the heather and deer sedge starting to grow already. Looking at the Met Office summary for winter 2016-2017, temperatures are up about 3.0°C on average (average being data from 1981-2010) in the UK.
For the reindeer, this warming winter could have lots of effects, and we have recently heard of the reindeer in the Yamal peninsula, Siberia, starving to death due to increased rainfall in the autumn freezing and leaving a thick layer of ice impenetrable to them for foraging.
Our reindeer seem to be coping just fine and it has not frozen here enough for them not to reach their favourite food, lichen. However, research done by previous reindeer herder Heather Hanshaw has shown that weather conditions do definitely affect the proportion of male to female calves born in the spring. Since calving will soon be upon us, I thought it might interest you to know about this research and what our mild winter may mean for us in the upcoming weeks.
Heather studied Physical Geography at Edinburgh University and in her final year needed a project to study. Of course, having an interest in climate as well as reindeer, and having worked at the Reindeer Centre, a project about how climate affects them was a natural interest to Heather. She knew that Mr Utsi and Dr Lindgren had been very meticulous about the data kept on calves born in the Cairngorm herd, and climate data was easily enough accessed, so Heather devised a project determining if weather (temperature and rainfall) had any effect on the proportion of male to female reindeer calves born. A similar study was conducted with Red deer on the Isle of Rum, and their study found that milder winters led to more male calves. Would it be the same or opposite of Rum, or would weather have no effect on the Reindeer?
It turns out that Reindeer are similar to Red deer and when the winter temperature increases, so does the proportion of male calves. So, will that turn out to be true this year? With only a few weeks until calving begins, it will be interesting to look at whether we have lots of male calves this year.
Last year the winter seemed fairly average, possibly on the warm side a little, and our calving ratio was almost perfectly 1 male to 1 female, so it will be really interesting to see if this mild winter has had an effect on what will be born this May.
I thought for a wee change I’d write a bit about one of the most important parts of the reindeer company, without which we could not function as a business and place of many a giggle and frustrated sigh. It is… The Office.
Reindeer herding is an unparalleled job for variety and us herders cover the whole job, we serve visitors in the shop, take visits, cover the paperwork, walk reindeer, train reindeer as well as heading out on tour with reindeer over the festive period. All in all there’s a lot to be done on a daily basis and the office is no exception and we all have our little niche that we’re responsible for. Myself, it’s adoption renewals and advertising, some of you may have come across Hen who is the lady to speak to if you’re buying antlers, or this blog itself which is under the firm control of Imogen.
The office is often a hive of activity and the festive period is no exception, over a period of two months we made over 500 adoption packs. That means over 500 handwritten certificates, ID cards, letters (lots of letters), special requests and addresses… all in all a lot of writing. The calligraphy pens become very coveted at this time of year, woe betide you if you blunt a nib! All in all, we do industriously enjoy our office time and our wee nook is the epicentre of everything reindeer. In one tiny room all adopt records are filed, reindeer movements are noted alongside vet records, locations and family trees.
Our trusty computers must every day wake up and download the day’s queries and requests and today the great delight of an email informing us that our order of replacement mop heads has been dispatched which was a triumphant feeling as it took a surprising amount of online mop education to finally locate just what type of mop head was required. Has anyone else heard of the Kentucky mop…?
There’s always a new something in the office too whether it’s my mound of weird snacks (chia pudding being my current favourite), Hen on her ball, there have been around 5 ‘on the ball’ puns per minute since the appearance of said green sphere! After a trip away on yoga teacher training I’ve been attempting to share some of the cool wee things I’ve learned including myofascial release with a tennis ball.
Here’s Andi working on her back!
All in all it’s a pretty weird place to be in at times… as i write this I’m being serenaded by Boyz 2 Men (& Imogen) singing ‘I’ll make love to you’…. need anymore be said…
The final installment of Emm’s blog from volunteering with us in the summer. It was great working with Emm and we’re looking forward to seeing her later in the year. I’m sure Mo is too! Thanks for writing such wonderful blogs Emm, and we’ll see you soon!
In the morning, we went to check on Boxer and Kota who were doing a lot better. Boxer had his infected antler cleaned again and started to associate the head collar with people poking his antler so he wasn’t a very happy reindeer but he was very brave and loved the lichen we gave him. I helped Fran take the tracking radio collars off the 6 reindeer as her research had finished. The reindeer got fly spray put on their antlers again.
Me and Julia got the job of cleaning out and hoovering the hire car they used for hill trips as it was nearly time to give the hire car back. We made a good team. I got all the mats out and shook them off and swept them. I got the stones off the floor in the car and swept the car floor. Meanwhile, we had Sookie and Murdo wanting to play with us. Sookie kept dropping pine cones and sticks behind me hinting she wanted me to throw it and Murdo kept wanting to attack the broom and play with it and voiced his opinions about wanting to play. It was funny. The tourists found it funny too.
At the 2:30pm hill trip, I did the introduction talk and the history talk. I was so proud of myself. By this day, I knew most of the reindeer by name. The herders were very impressed.
When I adopted Dylan, I did a folder about him and his life. I stuck all the emails the herders wrote about what Dylan had been up to and all his adopters letters, photos, his family trees and any information about him. This included newsletters and anything we had done with the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. I am doing one for Mo and I took it in and showed everyone and they were all very impressed with it. They remembered seeing Dylan’s Folder at 60th Reindeer Anniversary Adopters’ Weekend in October 2012.
In the morning, me, Andi and Julia checked on Boxer and Kota. They were doing so much better. We then fed them, we just sat and chilled with the reindeer and did selfies which was brilliant and amazing. It is such a magical experience chilling and relaxing with the reindeer. I couldn’t believe it was my last day, it had all gone so fast. I would really miss being up there with the reindeer and herders as it was such a magical experience.
Today Mum, Dad and David (my brother) came on the 2:30pm hill trip. I got them to carry the hand feed bags up. I did the introduction talk and the herd history talk at Utsi’s Bridge. It was the busiest hill trip which I have done my talks on. There was about 50 people. I felt like a brilliant reindeer herder and they were so impressed with me with how I dealt with the reindeer, the people and said how I did so well with my talks. I stayed on the 3:30pm tour and chilled with the reindeer.
Before we went home, I spent one day visiting everyone and the dogs at Reindeer House and went on 2 hill trips to say bye to the reindeer. I had lunch with them all and met the volunteer reindeer herder for that week.
Being a reindeer herder is such a magical experience and meant so much to me. Mo, the other reindeer, the reindeer herders and the dogs are so special to me. They are like a second family to me and being there is such a relaxing and brilliant place to be where I feel I can be myself. On the hill trips, it was a brilliant feeling telling the people all about the reindeer as I was sharing my passion about reindeer with me knowing I was teaching something they didn’t know. Seeing people’s reactions when they first saw the reindeer and hand fed and stroked them was a special and rewarding feeling and experience as a lot of the people hadn’t ever seen reindeer before. On the hill trips, I really enjoyed finding out where the people had come from and they told me about their lives and interests. On these hill trips, I met people from Australia, New Zealand (one man owned a Red Deer Farm out there), Israel, Germany, Spain, France, USA, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy, Romania and lots more places. I even met a family who had come from the area I live in and they lived near the hospital I was born in.
6 reindeer spring to mind who always seemed to be around me or follow me when I had the hand feed bag and they were Cambozola, Glenshee, Fyrish, Blue, Merrick and Anster. They were really eager and try to stick their head into the bag or kick it or try to get the feed mid-air whilst I was giving the feed to someone and then their mouth would be excitedly eating the feed from their hand. Bless them!
I was so impressed when really tiny young children who wanted to get out of their parent’s arms and onto the ground to give the reindeer hand feed. It was so lovely giving out hand feed to children and adults and to see their faces when they feed the reindeer. On most of the hill trips, a lot of people are really interested in Blue as he is the only leucistic (pure white with blue eyes) reindeer in the enclosure and Merrick who has only 1 antler. They take a special interest in them and ask all about them. They are always surprised to find out that Blue is deaf as all leucistic reindeer are. A lot of people asked me to take photos of them and it was so lovely to see people taking selfies with the reindeer. My favourite selfies with reindeer are with Mo (my very special adopted reindeer), Glenshee and the selfie with the 4 reindeer.
Update on Boxer
The last hill trip which I went on, Boxer was well enough to be in the herd again. I didn’t recognise him at first as his poorly antler had fallen off and he was left with one antler bless him. But he made a full recovery. Don’t worry, he will still grow 2 antlers next year.
Here at the reindeer centre, unsurprisingly, requests for some modelling reindeer are not uncommon, particularly around the Christmas season. Of course a change of scenery is always exciting for both reindeer and herders, most of the photo shoots and filming sets can be of a similar ilk. However, when we got a call from Land Rover, asking if a few members of our herd could star in a photo shoot up in the hills on the banks of Loch Ordie, we felt that this was something neither us, nor the reindeer, should miss out on.
And so on a beautiful, frosty and cold morning, off we set with four Christmas boys, two herders and two dogs, with a very optimistic, yet slightly unrealistic hope of coming away with a brand spanking new Land Rover.
Two hours south on the A9 and 6 miles of forest track later in Land Rover convoy, we arrived on set to find a wee flat-pack log cabin (much like a tent, yet wooden making it slightly more cumbersome, and a little more painful if you sat up quickly whilst in bed), two small children in reindeer onesies, an incredibly tall elf and a very sparkly (and reflective) Land Rover sport.
After the reindeer experienced several hours of tempting handfuls of lichen, reflection admiring/ suspicious glances, manoeuvring and a lot of snapping, darkness began to set in and it was time to head from one hill and back to another.
We were careful to make sure we loaded the actual reindeer as opposed to the imposters.
Our hairy team shone out as being the most patient of all the models there, captivating everyone on set, especially the two antler-less ones, who were over the moon when they got to charge down some of the forest track.
So at the end of the day, alas no new Land Rover, but two very proud reindeer herders!
2016 has been a very busy year for us here at the Reindeer Centre for both us herders and the reindeer. Of course, the reindeer have been the stars of the show and us herders have just played background roles, so I thought to end the year we would have a little blog with some great pictures of the superstars themselves.
I have included pictures from our Trip advisor page as well as our Instagram account and people who have tagged us on Instagram and Facebook, and our own personal images. I have tried to credit the rightful owner but if anyone sees their picture and it is not credited, please email us at email@example.com and I will try to rectify this.
Thanks for such a great 2016 and hopefully 2017 will be just as successful!