Emm’s Volunteer Blog Part 1: April 2022

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.

Emm and the hand-reared Soay lamb, Derren.

I visited the reindeer in April for 11 days which was over Easter. It was so brilliant seeing all the reindeer, herders and dogs again. I go and say hi to everyone at Reindeer House the day before I start. I went into the living room/kitchen and the room was empty. I started fussing Sookie the dog who was chilling in the armchair when I heard a sudden bleating noise . I had no idea where it was coming from then I realised it was coming from a big cardboard box. I peered in and saw a little lamb. It turned out it was a 2 day old lamb called Derren Brown (named after the illusionist). He is a Soay Lamb who was found without his mum in the field at Tilly’s farm. The herders were hand-rearing him with bottle-feeds. When I bottle-fed him, Fraoch the puppy licked him and cleaned the milk away from Derren’s face.

Most of the daytime, Derren went into Reindeer House’s garden and had a little pen. He was allowed out of the pen if someone was in the garden with him. The dogs were really good with him and I am sure he thought he was a dog. Derren chased the dogs and also loved to chase people’s feet. When we had lunch in the garden or we were just out in the garden and people saw a lamb running around with the dogs, they were so surprised and amazed. They asked loads of questions and took lots of photos and videos. Some even thought he was a baby reindeer. One day Derren helped me hoover Reindeer House and pack the Christmas cards and when I was doing feed mixing, Derren was trying to climb on the bags.  He followed us around everywhere.

Derren trying to help himself to the reindeer food.

Over the 10 days I was helping out there were a lot of fun and interesting things I shared with all the herders.

Finding the Free-rangers

Most of the 11am hill trips were to the free ranging females who were free in the Cairngorm Mountains. We had different visit sites depending on where the reindeer were found in the morning. There were also a group of reindeer in the hill enclosure and if the 11am trip was full, we ran another trip to the hill enclosure reindeer in the afternoon. I enjoyed doing some of the talking parts on the hill trips and in some afternoons, the herders did talks in the paddocks.

Marple, on a free-range Hill Trip.
Witch, happily chilling out on the free-range.
Butter leading the way in the hill enclosure,

Each morning, 2 herders went to find the free-ranging reindeer in the Cairngorm Mountains and brought them down to a suitable visit site for the visitors. It could be a long and steep walk for them as the reindeer like to go high up and also over the hills.  

One morning, I was lucky enough to go and find the reindeer with Ruth and Harry. We had a steep climb and when we got to the top, we located the reindeer.  Ruth tried to get the them to follow her with her food bag and calling them but they wouldn’t follow her so she put Ochil on a head collar and started walking down the steep hill to the suitable visit spot. The reindeer usually follow as they like to stay together as a herd. Meanwhile, me and Harry were pushing the reindeer from the back and made sure they all followed.

When we got to the visit spot, we let the calves (who were nearly 1) eat from the food bags. Ruth and Harry took the calves temperatures to make sure they weren’t brewing something as they are still building up their immune system. We fed them and Trilby had 2 antlers when she was feeding from the bag but after we fed them, and were counting them, I noticed Trilby had lost an antler. We all looked for her antler which we found.

We then realised there was 8 reindeer missing as there should have been 68 but we had 60. We went around the reindeer identifying them to see who was missing. Ruth was ticking off all the names. It was like doing a school register! After the Hill Trip, the reindeer wandered off but were found later on the ski road so Lisette led them away from the road. Later that day Harry was in the hill enclosure and spied the 8 missing reindeer from this morning so Lotti went out to the 8 and led them into the hill enclosure as in a few days time the rest of the free-rangers were going to go into the hill enclosure ready for the calving season.

Harry and Ruth counting the free-range herd and figuring out which cows were missing.

Heavily Pregnant Reindeer

It is an exciting time of year to be up as some of the females are heavily pregnant. They have big tummies and it is amazing to think that a tiny reindeer calf is growing inside them. Hen showed me on a few reindeer where their udders were starting to show. Reindeer have fluffy udders. When they start to grow, the fur is a triangle shape under their bottom.

All the herders have a calving bet each year. Each herder chooses a reindeer who they think will calve first. I chose Scully.

Heavily pregnant Morven having a snooze.

Leading Reindeer

One day, Ruth went to the farm to get some more reindeer for the hill enclosure and paddocks. Lulu and Gazelle went into the paddocks. Me, Ruth and Amy took Morse, Clouseau, Diamond, Aztec, Kiruna and Cannellini up to the hill enclosure. I led Clouseau and Cannellini. A dog off the lead behind them spooked them and Ruth told the dog’s owner to stay as far back as possible as reindeer think dogs are wolves and are very scared of them. When we lead the reindeer to and from the hill enclosure, we have to keep an eye out for dogs as it is a public path. When they spotted the other reindeer in the hill enclosure, it made them jump.

On another day, me, Fiona and Zoe took Celt and Spartan from the paddocks to the hill enclosure. I led Celt. On the way back, we took Aztec and Morse from the hill enclosure to the paddocks and this time I led Morse. When we transport reindeer, we use a big animal lorry called Brenda. I think it can fit 8 reindeer in, depending on how big their antlers are. It has a partition inside it too.

Reindeer in our hill enclosure breaking into a bag of feed.

The Adventurous Hill Trip

I did a hill trip on the free-range with Amy, Harry and Carol.  We met the people in the carpark and we then realised the reindeer were on the path next to the carpark. They had made their way down the hill from the visit spot to the path next to the carpark. It was the first time that it happened to me.

Amy led the visitors up the hill with the food bag calling to the reindeer to follow her. Me and Harry herded the reindeer from the back. I was so focused with herding the reindeer that I fell into a knee-deep bog! My knees to my toes got soaked and I had to empty the bog water out of my wellies after I climbed out of it. Eventually we managed to get the visitors and reindeer to the top of the hill where the visit was happening.

Florence chose to stand in a bog, unlike poor Emm!

The Reindeer Herding Badge

There is a very special badge going around the herders. Whoever has it passes it on to someone who they think deserves it. This could be a herder doing something very special or doing something above and beyond.

I did some Christmas card packing (6 cards in a pack). I did it on and off through the time I was there. When I was a way through packing, I realised some people had been packing 2 designs and some people had been packing 3 designs. And they were all mixed up. So I went all through the packs sorting them into 2 designs and 3 designs. I was so busy and worried about it I missed a hill trip. Ruth who had the special badge thought I deserved it for my work and gave it to me and I was so happy I got it.

I passed it onto Lotti a few days later as on a hill trip Lotti thought Holy Moley’s wee was a different colour so she sat with her for ages until she went for another wee. Me and Amy left her on the free-range sitting by Holy Moley. It was very important to check if it was the right colour or if it had any blood in it. If it has blood in it, it means the reindeer could have Red Water Fever caused by a tick bite. Luckily she was fine.

Emm and Cowboy.

To be continued! Look out next week for the second installment of Emm’s blog.

Emm

Walter and Jesse the Soay Lambs

Back in the summer of 2014, it was not just reindeer that us herders looked after. We had the responsibility of caring for Walter and Jesse. Two Soay sheep that had been left by their mothers.

Walter was the first to come to Reindeer House after Tilly, owner of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, noticed him deserted in one of the fields at her farm on the Glenlivet estate (https://www.wildfarming.co.uk/). Tilly and Alan have a range of animals at Wild Farm, including Soay Sheep, and rather than let them face life without a mother at just a few days old, Tilly decided that Reindeer House would be a good place to help nurse first Walter, and later Jesse, back to health before re-joining the flock.

A young Walter loved to suckle.

The names may well sound familiar to the adult readers. That is because looking after these two lambs came just after the period that we at Reindeer House were watching the television series ‘Breaking Bad’.

Fiona, Hen, Andi, and I were living at Reindeer House. With Zac and Abby also working here at the time. During summer we would often eat lunch ‘al fresco’, basking in the sun that illuminated the front garden, but we would share our garden with Walter and Jesse.

Left to right: Zac, Andi, Abby (far), Hen (close) and Fiona. Sookie is the closest Collie, with Murdoch (Abby’s dog) saying hi to Walter and Jesse who were both a mix of social and curious.

Walter and Jesse were only with us for a short time before they re-joined the flock, but they left a big impression on both us and the visitors. In fact, Walter and Jesse used to greet visitors to the paddock as their outdoor space was located by the paddock door. They even came with their own sign in their garden that read: “These are not Reindeer Calves”. Just in case any confusion occurred.

Guardians of the gate welcoming visitors to The “Reindeer” Centre.

It was obviously a great responsibility looking after these lambs in their most vulnerable months. Feeding occurred every few hours throughout the day and the night. This involved plenty of ‘night shifts’ where a member of the household would wake up, boil the kettle, mix the milk with nutritional supplement and warm it up before a tasty bottle feed occurred. However, Fiona, Hen, Andi, and I were not the only Reindeer House residents. We had the dogs. The late Misty and evergreen Sookie who did not know what to make of their new housemates at first. It didn’t take them long to get on famously.

A Highland face-off. The interior decoration has not changed much at Reindeer House since this last photo was taken.

Ben