Summer 2016 Volunteers


So as many of you know we have various folk who volunteer their time and come and work alongside us. This may be for a week or even slightly longer depending on the circumstances. Often they are doing placement work through university or college but sometimes they just want a change of scenery from their lives as you have read in Sonya’s (3-part) blog!

There are our regulars Paul and Kathleen who have been visiting us for many years now and who try to get up at least once but sometimes a couple of times a year. Paul being an ex-carpenter and joiner comes armed with his tool box and basically fixes everything we break throughout the year. We also aren’t allowed to touch the feed bag as we would get our wrists slapped by him if we did. He keeps it filled to the brim and we don’t even have to fill our own daily bags of feed as they are waiting for us in the morning… We love Paul! Kathleen has been a great supporter and ambassador of our herd for a long time now and when she comes up to visit helps out in our shop and taking guided tours onto the hill… It’s a nice break for the girls and boy (Dave) who do the tours the rest of the time so thank you Kathleen. Caroline also manages to join us all the way from Oxfordshire from time to time to donate her arty skills and good humour.

So they are our yearly regulars but we still get a few others for week placements through the summer. You have read all about Sonya’s time with us. I hope it’s brought great entertainment to your weekly blog reading. Fran (who volunteered with us in 2015) joined us for six weeks gathering data for her dissertation… that’s a whole different blog so I’ll let her explain that one. Beth is another great supporter of the herd and whenever she comes up on holiday with the family always pops by for a day or two to help out. This year she did a whole week with us and ditched the family, they were obviously cramping her style! It was great having her around and we have all noticed a big change from the first time she came along till now, she has grown into a very independent young lady.


Sonya helping Hen to train Gandi and some other boys

Joe was with us in May and is a relation from Tilly’s side of the family. Along with Blyth, Leander, Erin and Shannon, he was looking to gain more experience within the animal industry to further his career. Amy came to us in August and for those of you who know the history behind our herd, you will recognise the name Dr Lindgren. Amy is Dr Lindgren’s great granddaughter, so it seems it still runs in the blood. Emm, like Beth, has been a supporter of the herd through our adoption scheme for many years. Her enthusiasm and hard work glowed! She knew most of the reindeer by name after only one week of working with them, and her herd list had notes all over it to help her recognise their individual features… Puts any reindeer herder who doesn’t know their reindeer to shame!


From L-R: Fiona, Blyth and Beth

I’m sure they all have their individual story to tell of their week, maybe many! And we always try to encourage them to take their very own guided tour by the end of the week. After they have heard all our bad jokes and cool reindeer facts they can then pass that onto the public in their own way. Most of them managed to do this, even Leander whose first language was German so good for him!

But I also just want to say thanks to them all as well. Having that extra pair of hands is great and I hope their time spent here was fun as well as informative. They do all this hard work during their time here yet, without fail there is always a box of chocolates (or other cake goodness) left on the table from them to us at the end. Seems the wrong way around, it should be us giving them the treats but hey who are we to complain… don’t let that comment stop any future chocolate/cake giving!


The Rut


Balmoral (left), Ost (centre) and Bandy (hiding on the right)

It’s an exciting time of year here at the Reindeer Centre as we are now well into the rut. Our main breeding bulls are looking fantastic with their bony antlers, thick necks and chubby bellies. The girls are also looking brilliant after a summer out on the free-range getting lots of tasty morsels and running around on the hills.


Youngest bull Ost looking gorgeous

We’ve now got a few bulls in our enclosure with their selected cows and are hoping that they do their one and only job well and we will have lots of babies next year. As most of you know, our herd numbers around 150 and we like to keep it that way. We use the enclosure during the rut to manage our bulls and cows to make sure we get enough calves, but not too many. The single cows we are not breeding from, such as Lilac, Tuppence, Fonn and co., are put out onto the free-range and politely told to go and fend for themselves. Females with calves are kept separate from the bulls, but still in the enclosure. As well as the rut, we are currently halter training the calves so we need them on the hill, but we give most of the mums a year off between calves.


Bandy strutting his stuff with his girls

There are roughly 4 large parts in total to the enclosure. The cows and calves have one, and the other three each contain one main bull, his cows and sometimes a couple of castrates and young bulls. The three main bulls in the enclosure this year are Balmoral, Bandy and Ost. We have a couple of castrates and young bulls in with the main bull to keep him fit and on his toes. Whilst the castrates and young bulls will never challenge the main bull for dominance, he will chase them away from his ladies if he feels they are getting a little too close for comfort. It keeps our younger boys in check and means our bulls work off that belly they have been building over the summer.


Handsome Bovril, with his antlers!

We also have a bull, Bovril, out on the Cromdales with some younger girls. He’s a very lovely boy and his antlers have been cut off (like getting a hair cut when the antlers have hardened!) so he is not too much of a worry if you come across him. Recently Tilly had a very long walk when Bovril’s 8 cows turned up on the road between Bridge of Brown and Tomintoul! I think Bovril was too fat to follow the girls so hopefully they have been reunited up on the hills and he is keeping them in check now.


Balmoral peeing on his legs to make himself extra-attractive to the cows… men out there, please note that this doesn’t work for women!

Hopefully the boys will perform and next year we will have lots of cute little babies again!




Well, he stole the hearts of many a visitor last year and we are often asked for updates on the boy, so I thought I’d do a quick blog about the naughty man. I am, of course, talking about the darling little Fergus!


Fergus looking angelic on the hill

In June 2015, Foil gave birth to a baby boy. She was a relatively old mother at 13 and unfortunately became ill only a few days after having her calf. We did our best to look after her, but sadly she passed away. The average life span of a reindeer is around 12-14 years, and the vet thinks that Foil had a heart problem, probably linked to old age. This left us with a baby reindeer to hand rear and the prospect of it both excited and dismayed us. Looking after a little reindeer is great, but when they need constant feeding and they decide to poo in your living room, sometimes it can be a little trying. I’m sure you parents out there are scoffing at our patheticness but none of us herders here at the centre have babies, and after this experience I’m sure it will be a while before any of us are having our own!


Fergus sleeping in a feed bowl, inside reindeer house.

So, from 10 days old, Fergus lived at the Centre with a few of the herders. Luckily for them he spent most of his time in the paddocks, but herder Mel took a real shine to him and he was often found napping in her room on her rare days off. Fergus needed feeding 5 times a day, and he soon got to know the times to expect a bottle. He would often be found at the end of the paddocks closest to the house, grunting his little heart out for 5 minutes before his goat milk and growth powder formula arrived. It was always fun for our visitors to see him getting his bottle.

Fergus grew up with dogs around him so is not too worried by the resident reindeer house dogs – Tiree, Murdo and Sookie – who used to cuddle up with him. Murdo always loved to lick Fergus, making it look like Murdo had adopted the little reindeer! Fergus loved to sleep in the dog beds too.


Fergus and Tiree guarding the door


Murdo and Fergus on a ride up to the hill


Trying some different beds out for size

Fergus was quite the star last year, ending up in the Press and Journal, our local newspaper. He was even on the front page!


Fergus in the news and up on the hill

In the autumn, Fergus spent more time up in our hill enclosure, eventually living up there full time and just getting a few bottles a day whilst we were doing visits and feeding the other reindeer. Our other calves came back off the free-range and we started to train them to wear a headcollar. Fergus was already adept at this as we had been leading him on and off the hill earlier in the year, and he was a good role model for some of the other calves who were a little shyer around us.

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Little Fergus ‘helping out’ on a trek in 2015

Fergus then went off on Christmas tour and of course, he went in Mel’s team. He is pretty naughty and managed to steal mince pies on one of his events, and was trying to nab some Celebrations chocolate on his posh Windsor event as well!

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Fergus having a cuddle with ‘mum’ Mel

Then the day came when Mel had to say bye to Fergus, at least for a little while. He had tried bonding with the females way back in autumn, but didn’t really have any success, so had to go onto the Cromdale hills with our other boys to free-range for winter. Fergus had been living in the hill enclosure for a while before we took him and the last remaining boys from the enclosure over to the farm to be led onto the free-range. Mel was upset to see her baby boy head off, but it was the best thing for him.

Soon enough the winter was over and Fergus came off the free-range with the other boys, not a care in the world and ready to get fat over summer. He’s grown a lot since he was a calf, so has spent most of the year over at the farm as he has a tendency to jump on unsuspecting children and give them a fright.


Cheeky devil!


Fergus looking great at 1.5 years old

He has been to the Centre for a couple of flying visits, staying in the paddocks, and delighting our visitors. In April, Mel ran the Paris marathon and as a surprise Fergus was brought over here as a well done for her. We made him a little paper collar, congratulating Mel on her run and I’m sure she enjoyed having him round again! He’s been in the house a couple of times over the summer, but he is now far too big for the dog beds he used to sleep in. It’s also not quite so cute anymore when he does his business in the house!

Now Fergus is a cheeky reindeer as you know. His level of foolishness was put up a notch a few weeks ago while we were out painting. Dave was out in the paddocks painting the posts a new and shiny coat of red. Well, you guessed it; he turned his back for only a few moments and Fergus is rubbing his big nose up and down a freshly painted post. And sure enough he turns his face, proudly exhibiting a bright red nose. Though apparently, even with a red nose, Fergus cannot fly. Thanks for the entertainment Ferg!


He’s a hilarious little reindeer who will no doubt make us laugh for many a year to come. Hopefully he’ll get to come up on the hill in a few years, once he’s learnt some manners!


Luciferous Logolepsy


Exploring the meanings of unusual words and the Reindeer hoose Office wall…

To explain this rather dubious title, in our humble office here at reindeer house there is a list of rather obscure words stuck to our wall: things like Jargogles, Apricity and twattle. the latter meaning to gossip or talk idly – a lot of that goes on in our office to be sure!

Quite a few of these words we feel are quite apt for a few of our fluffy friends up on the hill so I’m going to introduce you to a few choice selections!

Snoutfair – A good looking person.

I feel this would obviously be quite apt for all the reindeer as they are such gorgeous beasts but Cheese obviously thinks very highly of themselves here!


Cheese being silly!

Cockalorum – A little man with a high opinion of himself.

If there was ever a reindeer that fit this description it would be Mo, Mo is a cheeky little fella and at four years old he’s definitely one of the smallest males in the herd and he more than makes up for it in attitude!

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Handsome little thug, Mo

Lethophobia – The fear of oblivion

So this is a tad dramatic but definitely applies to one of my favourite reindeer Shinty. Shinty is originally Swedish and was imported back in 2011. He’s a super sweetie (I think) but painfully shy and often looks apologetic for just turning up in the morning. If any reindeer were to fear oblivion it would be him!

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Shinty looking a little wide eyed and worried, as usual

Hugger mugger – To act in a secretive manner

To be honest this applies very well to the female reindeer during the winter months – at this time of year we have to find the reindeer every day and we do all of our visits out on the open hillside. The amount of times we’ve walked out for miles to then turn around and have an entire herd of reindeer smugly behind you is definite hugger muggery if you ask me!


The girls in winter, sneaking off to hide for the night

Jollux  – Slang for being a wee bit on the chubby side.

Without a doubt the Jollux of the herd is Magnus, the lovely magnus loves nothing more than chowing down – unfortunately it’s rather hard to put a reindeer on a diet as the hillsides are covered in lovely grazing. This also brings me onto another great word – Callipygian: to have beautifully shaped buttocks. Magnus most definitely gives Beyonce a run for her money!


Magnus looking majestic and pretty tubby!

The final word, one used almost daily here at Reindeer House is Groaking – To silently watch someone eating, hoping to be invited to join them. Every time lunch hour hits there’s some person with a fantastic looking lunch….


Dave groaking…


Reindeer, anthrax and climate


Recently via Twitter we were moved at the news of an anthrax outbreak in Western Siberia, the Yamalo-Nenets region, which has hospitalised over 90 reindeer herders and caused the deaths of almost 2,500 reindeer. The nomadic families herding reindeer across the area were evacuated or vaccinated – authorities are aiming to vaccinate over 40,000 reindeer. In the last few days, a 12-year old boy and his granny have both died.

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It is thought that melting permafrost exposed the carcass of a long-dead reindeer, and dormant anthrax contained within it was exposed and became active. In cold temperatures the spores contained within the ground are capable of surviving up to 150 years; in warmer temperatures they morph into a more infectious state.

The melting of the permafrost is unusual, both in its location and its extent. Warming of the tundra this year has been unusually high, with temperatures of 35 degrees. Climate change is something you hear of more and more in reindeer literature and research around the world.


The habitats are changing – flora and fauna increase or decrease as ecosystems fluctuate due to climate, disease or human influence – for example, millions of hectares of birch forest are defoliated by outbreaks of moth now confined to northern latitudes due to climate; wildfires are more common as habitats’ defences weaken; lichens are reduced due to increased pressure on remaining areas and competition; more oil is piped out, disrupting migratory patterns; politics confine reindeer to particular boundaries; and as a way of life reindeer herding becomes more economically challenging.

In Yakutia, to the east of Yamalo-Nenets, there are around 200 burial grounds of cattle which died from anthrax. Perhaps hoping that they won’t be affected isn’t enough.

As a small Scottish reindeer ‘family,’ it is sobering to wonder about the slowly unfolding systemic impact on reindeer and herders around the world – but of course this is just a small part of a very large story, and we mustn’t lose sight of this larger picture that affects us all.

Read more:

New Scientist article:

Washingon Post article:

BBC article:



Three old girls


A few weeks ago Julia was doing one of our guided tours onto the hill with the public when Tuppence, one of our 15-year-old females just turned up. She must have been waiting outside the visitor gate and a visitor let her in thinking that’s where she was meant to be. So for the last wee while she has been coming in everyday for her feed along with ‘the boys’. The male reindeer are in the enclosure during the summer months so she looked suitably tiny next to them! One visitor even asked the guide ‘why is your male to female ratio so bad?’… he obviously wasn’t listening when we explained about Tuppence joining us a few weeks back and where the rest of the cows and calves are.


Lilac in 2005, aged 6

Then one morning at the end of August we were driving up the ski road doing our usual check of the roads and car parks looking for any free-ranging reindeer hanging around and lo and behold there were two… not just any two though – it was Lilac, who is now the oldest reindeer in the herd at the grand age of 17, and Fonn, who is now 13. We haven’t seen Fonn in a few months, however Lilac we have caught up with a few times over the past weeks. Fonn is looking fairly old but Lilac still going strong! What a reindeer!!!

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Tuppence in 2007, aged 6

So Andi walked them down to the enclosure, and Lilac being her usual self just wanted to test us a little bit, however in the end decided the food was the better option so followed in nicely. This was a good opportunity to get Tuppence back onto the free range so we plucked her out of the herd of ‘boys’ and joined her up with Lilac and Fonn… much more her scene. Now they can be three wise old women together.

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Fonn in 2009, aged 6

Obviously we won’t be running them with the bull this year, I think having a calf at 14+ (98+ in human years!) is beyond the call of duty so we’ll put them back onto the free range safely away from those bulls. Next year, Lilac will challenge the oldest reindeer we have ever had in the herd. They were Trout and Tuna (guess the naming theme that year!) and they both reached 18 years old.


Three old girls

Three old girls – from left to right: Tuppence (age 15), Lilac (age 17) and Fonn (age 13)

It’s a strip-tease!

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Autumn is definitely here now, even if we have tried to ignore the fact the leaves are turning and days getting shorter… however it’s not all bad cos it’s the time of year that reindeer are looking at their absolute best. The past 5 months have been full on for the bulls growing these enormous antlers. Bovril, Balmoral, Bandy (not all bulls begin with ‘B’), Ost, Houdini, Pera and Kota (there we go) are a few of our main breeding bulls this year and they have all got a fantastic pair of antlers to complement their voluptuous curves (fatties!).


Moskki shedding his velvet

So we get to the end of August and wait with baited breath to who will be first to strip their velvet. Ost was number one. He is a 3 year old bull, just a youngster, so this will be his first year of being the main man. The others took a few days but then we were well underway with velvet hanging off left, right and centre. Balmoral stripped his velvet in the paddocks so with visitors going around we had to pre warn them of his gory state as it can look quite bloody, even though there is no feeling in the antlers at this point. He is now back on the hill with the others. It was fairly amusing walking this huge, quite terrifying looking bull out of our livestock truck, across the Sugarbowl trail to our mountain enclosure and he walked like a true gent. Makes us so proud of them!

The first to strip velvet are the main breeding bulls, then young bulls and females are next in line. The gelded males don’t always strip their velvet clean and end up with velvety antlers over the Christmas period which is fine and means they don’t look so terrifying with big bony antlers, even though we all know they are far from terrifying.


Bovril in full velvet


Bovril stripping his velvet


Bovril looking amazing with his antlers fully stripped

Antler is an amazing thing and there hasn’t been much study on it. For so much bone to grow over such a short period of time, it is incredible! Another cool antler fact is if a reindeer damages or breaks an antler one year, the antler that grows the next year (keeping in mind it’s a whole new antler) will remember the break/damage and it will have a scar in that same spot. At that point it will always be slightly weaker… Hmm, that’s pretty weird you have to admit.