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…
I thought I’d write a bit about the family trees of our herd for this week’s blog, since they work a little differently from a ‘standard’ human family tree. Those of you who have been adopting an individual reindeer within our herd for a while will probably have received a family tree at some point, as we send them out with adoption packs in even years of sponsorship (2nd, 4th, 6th etc) normally. I say ‘will probably have received’ however, as the Swedish born reindeer in our herd obviously don’t have them, and if you’ve only ever adopted the herd as a whole then you’ll not have seen one before.
We record the lineage of the reindeer born here in the herd, stretching back to the original ones imported from Sweden in the 50s, through the maternal line only (on the trees at least – of course we record the father of each calf on our database to keep track of their genetics). More dimensions than a sheet of A4 can offer would be required for anything more than the maternal line in this form however. Let’s look at a sample of a tree (apologies, you’ll probably have to zoom in to see it properly):
This tree (above) is the one currently in use for the living descendants of female reindeer Russia (highlighted in red), born in 2005. As an example, you would receive this particular tree if you adopt Morse – you can see that he is the second of four calves for his mum Torch, herself the first of three offspring for Pavlova. Pavlova’s mum was Russia, Russia’s mum was Cherry, and so on. This goes right the way back to Vilda at the top, one of the reindeer brought over to Scotland in the 3rd consignment to join the growing herd, back in 1954. This particular family tree currently stands at 10 generations in the maternal line. In reality it’s actually more than that, as Morse himself is a breeding bull with multiple offspring, but let’s just stick to the maternal line and not confuse matters!
But again A4 paper has it’s limitations, and as Russia’s mum Cherry (highlighted green on the tree above) was such a productive breeding female then this tree has had to be split into multiple ones once all her calves started calving themselves and we ran out of space. So Cherry’s descendants are now on three separate trees, the top halves of which are all identical until Cherry and her nine calves, but then different below. So Cherry’s daughter Cello (highlighted red below) went on to lots of descendants mainly via her daughter Fonn, who are on this tree:
…whilst another daughter, Tjakko (highlighted red below), was also very productive, as seen on this version of the tree:
This explains why sometimes we chat away about a relative of your reindeer in your adoption letter – who doesn’t seem to exist on the tree you’ve also received in your pack. We haven’t made them up – they’re just on an adjacent branch of their tree that you don’t have!
At times we get a family line that effectively runs out of breeding females – a so-called ‘dead line’. Not the nicest of names perhaps, but it is what is says on the tin… Tjakko’s tree, above, is an example of this – the only living female still remaining on it is Ibex, now too old to breed, so this tree will never change. As a result in this situation we stop sending the trees out to adopters once they’ve received it in it’s final state, as there’s no point receiving it again and again with no additions. Ibex does actually have descendants but they are on yet another permutation of this tree, showing her offspring and those of Bumble.
Within the animal world, there is quite a ‘flexible’, shall we say, approach to age and generations, in comparison to humans at least. We tend to breed our female reindeer up to the age of around 12 or 13, but usually only with a bull aged 3-5. This is because we castrate our male reindeer at this age, but females are never castrated as there’s no need for us to do so. Reindeer calve first (usually) at age 3, so a 3 year old bull could be three generations younger than some of his ladies, if he has a 12 year old cow in his harem. Questionable, in the human world anyway, but no reindeer eyebrows are raised.
The shortest family tree I can find is that of Okapi, consisting of only 8 generations in total including Vilda back in 1954. But again this is a family that has calved itself into a breeding cul-de-sac, as it were, with no new additions since 2013. In contrast, the most generations in a tree is 13, with two year old Sombrero and yearling Solero the most recent of the generations.
I thought that as a final part to this blog – and a way of getting some photos of actual reindeer into it – here’s some photo evidence of the 8 generations of Okapi’s tree. Vilda we’ve seen already, and I can’t actually find a photo of Sarah. We will no doubt have one in the albums, but we’ve only digitised up to the early 60s so far so I don’t have one to hand… But then comes Eidart, who was apparently the first reindeer that herd owner Tilly ever met, when she arrived here in 1981:
Eidart’s final calf was Trout, who held the joint record for oldest ever member of the herd (aged 18) for many years, until 19 year old Lilac stole her crown.
Trout was an extremely productive female, with 11 calves to her name, the final one being Amber:
…whose first calf was Esme….
…the mother of Okapi.
And finally – the end of the line – came Oka. Sadly she died before producing any offspring herself, effectively bringing this line of reindeer to an abrupt end.
So there you have it, a bit of info about our family trees. So should you get one in your next adoption pack, you can think about all those reindeer who came before your lovely adoptee.
Here’s a selection of pics taken throughout the month, hopefully giving a snap shot of what we’ve been getting up to. It’s been full on with the rut taking place in the enclosure, our breeding bulls do now seem a bit less enthusiastic after a busy six weeks for them! We’ve also been bringing two calves at a time down to the Paddocks to halter train them. They usually spend around four days here in which we take them out on morning walks to get them used to seeing traffic, bikes, their own reflections in shiny windows and whatever else Glenmore can throw at us at 8am! Christmas sleigh training for our three year old Christmas Reindeer begins too. So far Adzuki, Haricot and Hemp have been trained and they’ve all been total pros. During the October holidays when our 11am Hill Trip sells out we’ve been putting on an afternoon Hill Trip too. Funnily enough, during the rain and wind of Storm Babet we did not require this attentional visit. But after the storm we’ve been treated to some gorgeous autumnal weather and the first decent snow on the hills of the season.
Amongst all of this we’ve also managed to get the October newsletter written, printed and sent out to our lovely adopters! Until it’s safely in the hands of our adopters I’ve left all calf names out of the blog.
Last night I was lying in a tent listening to the wind howling in the trees above and willing myself to fall asleep. I think the general practice for someone who can’t sleep is to count sheep, but as I am a reindeer herder, I sometimes count reindeer. Last night I was imagining counting the reindeer jumping over one of the burns which is exactly what I was doing on the hill in the snow a couple of days before. I took a couple of photos but didn’t quite manage to get one of them actually in mid air as I was trying very hard not to loose count, but here is Dixie taking off and Torch landing!
Whenever we feed the reindeer it is very important that we count them and make sure everyone is present and eating on the line of feed, this is the reason why we put all their feed out in a long line when we feed them. Once all the reindeer are eating their feed we wander along the line and count the reindeer, which can sometimes be difficult if they are still moving around. Sometimes it’s easier to stand in one place and count them through a gateway or over a river. When I am trying to fall asleep this is usually how I am counting the reindeer.
It is very important that we know if a reindeer is missing as often when a reindeer heads away from the herd it is because they are feeling unwell. This is something that has evolved because it protects the health of the rest of the herd. If the ill reindeer stays with the herd then it is more likely to pass the disease onto other members of the herd. If we find a reindeer is missing we will set off around the enclosure to try to find them, this is something that invariably happens on a dreich day. I have spent many mornings walking around the enclosure in the rain in search of the missing reindeer. I had a quick search through my phone to find photos from searching around the reindeer enclosure, and inevitably only found ones taken on lovely days, as who wants to take a photo when it’s raining? The lap of the enclosure includes Silver Mount, from which you can look down to Loch Morlich and the woods at the bottom of the enclosure, usually walking past Utsi’s hut. Utsi’s hut has a visitors book and I stayed there the other day and had a read through the book and found it signed by various reindeer herders who were on a lap of the enclosure searching for a missing reindeer.
When we find the reindeer we will catch them and then try to work out what is wrong with them. This usually involves checking them for injury and then taking their temperature to see if they are ill. If they are poorly we can treat them for whatever they are ill with and bring them back to the herd, so that once they are feeling better they are back with the other reindeer.
So there we go, a wee bit more information about why counting reindeer is so important, and not just for helping me sleep!
It’s the post-Christmas crash. The time of year where most people have completely de-railed from their usual eating habits and are feeling overwhelmed by how much food has been consumed in such a short space of time. Bodies are working at their very best to digest food as quickly as it has been eaten and to be honest with ourselves, not too much will change before the New Year. For some of our reindeer in the herd this food coma state happens all too often and not just around the festive season. We as herders have come together to create an official Top 5 list announcing the greediest reindeer in our herd for 2022. For those of you who know our reindeer well this may not come as a surprise. We created a short list of 10 reindeer before putting it to a vote to get our finalists. Without further ado starting from 5th place, we have…
Joint 5th – Pagan
Just squeezing her way into the top 5, Pagan isn’t a reindeer who is particularly pushy when it comes to food, but she will seize any opportunity that comes her way and is usually always the first reindeer to come down the hill and meet us in the morning. This year we decided to cut off Pagan’s antlers because she is very good at using them on visitors, herders, and other reindeer. With no antlers on her head, she is the master of stealthily getting into the food bags, blending in when we allow the younger calves to eat first. On Hill Trips Pagan loves handfeeding from visitors inhaling the food as quickly as possible. This has been passed on to her 2-year-old daughter Pumpkin who is also very greedy when it comes handfeeding and certainly deserves a mention.
Joint 5th – Magnum
Magnum is probably our largest calf this year and already has a ferocious appetite. He spent the first 3-4 months of his life free ranging before coming into out hill enclosure for the rest of the year and instantly became obsessed with food. When we feed the calves, he will bully his way into a bag and keep his head in there for as long as possible. He’s also devised a way of making holes in the bags so he can steal food when they are closed. We do like him as herders, but he is a real handful and a pest when we are trying to feed the reindeer. At only 7 months old, I worry just how greedy this cheeky chappy will become!
4th – Scully
The apple didn’t fall far when it comes to Scully. Taking after her mother Screel, she has a real appetite for food and has spent almost the whole year free ranging. It’s testament to how good the grazing is for our reindeer on the open hillside as Scully is now officially the fattest reindeer in our herd after a recent condition score on all the reindeer. Even at 4 years old Scully still feels she has the right to put her head into a bag of feed like our calves and I don’t see that habit changing anytime soon. She’s a nice reindeer with the body of a sumo wrestler!
3rd – Kipling
Kipling is a one in a million, this is very biased because she is my favourite reindeer. For the last 3 – 4 years she has been exceptionally greedy and will always be the first reindeer waiting to handfeed from visitors, where she will try her very best to feed from every single person. When Kipling had her first calf Pip, Kipling would happily leave her for the chance of a quick feed even if her calf got lost in the process, we would constantly have to remind her that she was a mother a food wasn’t everything in the world. I’ve seen her so full of food in recent months that she acts and looks ill. Unfortunately, some other herders have become a little less patient with her is recent times, trying to get the attention of other reindeer is now an almost impossible job when Kipling is around as she won’t leave you alone if there is a bag of food in your hand.
2nd – Dr Seuss
Anyone who knows the reindeer herd particularly well might be surprised that Dr Seuss is not first in our 2022 list of greed. If he was a human you would probably class him as morbidly obese however fat reserves are very important for a reindeer to see them through the harsh winter months, even if he does have some to spare. Dr Seuss has been a greedy lad from birth and absolutely loves his food. He can be a bit of a bully when it comes to food sometimes, but he never tends to be that bad. Like Kipling, he tries his very best to consume as much hand feed as physically possible when meeting visitors and will happily plough his way through a group of people when he see’s food from a far. The problem is that because he is so big and determined, if he ever manages to get his head in a bag of feed it extremely difficult to get him out again. With Dr Seuss in second place its time to announce the winner….
1st – Aztec
Coming in first place for nearly every reindeer herder, Aztec is officially the greediest reindeer of 2022. He’s a fun and energetic reindeer who acts like food is the only thing on his mind. You may not see him on Hill Trips very much because he is sometimes banned for his bad behaviour and greed when it comes to handfeeding, he’s exceptionally pushy and forceful you could be lead in to thinking that he never gets enough food. Aztec is also very athletic and uses this to his advantage when it come to greed, he will happily jump over a fence or display pen if he sees a bag of lichen and at the front of sleigh once dragged all remaining reindeer and herders into a pen when he saw the food bowls. I suspect Aztec’s greed comes from his mother Gazelle who is also known to be very vigorous at times when it comes to food. For this year he is the winner, but I can’t decide what to give him a prize, surely not more food?
Now that calving has come to a close for 2022, we are getting ready to send all the cows and calves out to join the rest of the reindeer already free ranging here on the Cairngorms. Once this happens we will only see them intermittently through the summer months as we leave the mothers be, to teach their young ones where all the best spots in the mountains are!
Meanwhile our boys will be in the hillside enclosure for visitors to come and see, and for us to keep an eye on.
So with all that being said, I wanted to round off our regular free range excursions with a little photo summary of some of my favourite moments out in the hills with the reindeer.