After sitting at the computer for what seemed like an age trying to think of a topic for a blog which could include lots of reindeer pictures, I finally stumbled across one which means you guys get to look at numerous pictures of reindeer bottoms!
“Acting sheepdog” is a term us herders use when we are trying to manoeuvre the reindeer. Depending on how willing the reindeer are we might only need one person to call and bribe them with food to a new position or if the reindeer are more reluctant two of us can go out with one leading the herd and the other staying behind the herd making sure that they do not stray off in the wrong direction, because once one reindeer wanders off in a different direction they all can go! We can also use this sheepdog technique to our advantage when the reindeer are lethargic and don’t feel like moving far. All we must do is put a head collar on a friendly individual that we know is a pro at leading and the rest of the herd aren’t long in following.
My preference out of the two roles is to be at the back of the herd, in this position your job can either be a breeze or you’re racking up your daily miles trying to ensure the reindeer stay on the right path! The picture above was from a day where the reindeer were not playing ball and Lotti had to put one of the girls on a head collar and lead the herd to our destination, however once we got to the top of the hill at the left-hand side of the picture, the herd found a good lichen spot, so I had my work cut out trying to move them again. This leads me on to my first reason for liking being at the back of the herd and “acting sheepdog”, which is that it gives you a good chance to take lots of photos! Below is a picture of Witch wondering why I’m so red in the face.
Being relatively new to the job I find that walking along behind the herd gives me a chance to look at and notice what defining characteristics each reindeer has, for example, Witch on the left here has the typical reindeer colouring but I find her easy to distinguish as she has quite a narrow face. It also gives you a chance to see how the reindeer behave around one another – who’s a “bossy boots” or who is more timid in nature and sticks to the outskirts of the herd. My final reason for preferring to be at the back of the herd is because currently my navigational skills are rubbish and on cloudy days when you can’t really see where you are going I don’t want to be responsible for getting myself lost as well as a herd of reindeer! [Editor’s note: Amy’s nav skills are better than she thinks!].
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.
Throughout the year The Reindeer Centre has its core staff with a mix of full time and part time Reindeer Herders. Many of you will know us well, so we’ve got – Fiona, Hen, Andi, Lotti, Ben B, Ruth, Olly, Sheena and Lisette. We also have our hill farm contingent consisting of Alan, Tilly, Derek and Colin. We are here all year round seeing the reindeer (and other animals on the farm) through the different seasons, however we cannot manage all the work ourselves… that would be impossible!
Editor’s note (Ruth): not every herder features in the photos, please do not be offended if I’ve missed any of you lovely herders out! Check out this page on the website for more info and photos about who we all are: Who’s who – The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd
So we call upon seasonal staff who dot in and out throughout the year to help out. The parts of the year that can be busy are: February half term, Easter holidays then of course right through the summer with schools breaking up in Scotland first and English schools going back at the beginning of September. Although we aren’t so busy with tourists through September it is the start of our rutting season so we are busy with reindeer management. At this time of year we are carrying a lot of feed up the hill so it’s a reindeer herders work out! We usually have around 4 different groups of reindeer in various enclosures either running with a bull or the herd of Christmas reindeer and females we aren’t breeding from so plenty to keep us on our toes. Its busy through October half term just before we gear up in preparation for Christmas and our own Christmas tour which runs through November and December. We can all breath a big sigh of relief in January when we take a month off and close the doors to the public. We do however keep the office and reindeer management ticking over amongst the core staff.
Seasonal staff that worked throughout these busy periods in 2021 consisted of – Joe, Nell, Harry, Kate, Mel, Izzy, Colin D, Ben H, Dave, Manouk and Leonie. We even roped in ex reindeer herders Jack and Eve for a busy weekend in December… Once a reindeer herder, always a reindeer herder!
If you’ve been up to visit us in 2021 you’ll have no doubt bumped into a few of these herders both core and seasonal along the way. We are very lucky with our team here at the Reindeer Centre. Everyone works well together, is great with the public and of course fab with the reindeer. Every day we are learning more when it comes to reindeer management but we all take it in our stride and everyone mucks in which is the important thing