Recently a Norwegian man got in touch with us while writing a book about the reindeer populations in an area of southern Norway called Setesdal, so I dug out the old records to see what info I could help him with. While most of our herd originated from Sweden (see Looking Back: Part 1), in 1961 the 5th consignment of reindeer joined the Cairngorm herd, arriving from the Setesdal area on the MS Blenheim in the middle of September.
The group consisted of seven cows and one bull, ranging in age from yearlings to three year olds. The still relatively newly established Cairngorm herd was struggling a bit as many had died over the past 9 years, finding it difficult to thrive down in the forest as they were more suited to the mountain habitat above. In the mid-50s Mr Utsi had gained permission to move the reindeer higher up the hills where they managed much better, but new blood was also needed to prevent inbreeding – it was definitely time to bring in more reindeer. The Norwegian import brought the herd to around 30 animals.
One of the pages of our press cuttings scrapbooks from 1961.
Their success was varied however. Breive, Lisa, Olga and Valle had all died before the end of 1961, though I can’t find reference in the records as to whether they simply went missing, or died of a particular illness. Reindeer under the age of three are particularly susceptible to illness, having not had as much time to build up immunity to disease, and the Norwegian reindeer also arrived at a time of year when ticks are rife – still the main cause of illness amongst our reindeer today.
Laila on the left (with the collar) with Mr Utsi in March 1962.
Laila was the only reindeer of the consignment to calve the following year, on the 8th June 1962, but disaster struck when she died less than 24 hours after the birth. The calf was strong however, so Mr Utsi went on to hand-rear him, naming him Boko. Boko followed Mr Utsi everywhere and was extremely tame, going on to become a breeding bull in later years. He survived until December 1967, but as with all hand-reared animals, could be a little bit of a liability – there is a reference in the records which says ‘Very tame to lead if you keep your eyes on him’! Hand-reared animals don’t tend to understand the boundaries of acceptable behaviour – as any of you who have been on the receiving end of Fergus will know, our reprobate in the herd today!
Laila with Boko, a few hours after he was born.
Mr Utsi with the ever-present Boko at his heels, in 1963.
Mr Utsi at the Strathspey Farmers’ Club Show with Boko and bull Vikhta (August 1963).
Of the original 8 Norwegian reindeer, by far the most successful of them were the bull Jacob, and two cows Janet and Bykle. Jacob was used as a breeding bull for several years in the 60s, his bloodlines still very prevalent in the herd today, and Bykle produced one calf, Heather, who in turn went on to produce several offspring. This line died out in the 70s however but Janet went one better, producing three calves whose descendants continued in the herd until well into the 80s, finishing with another hand-reared calf, Wally. Wally was hand-reared by Alan, and a photo still hangs in the living room of Reindeer House of Alan bottle-feeding him, back in 1982.
Jacob in Coire Sneachdha, a familiam background to us all even now…
Alan (with considerably more hair than nowadays!) bottle feeding Wally.
So there we go. The success of the bull Jacob, in particular, goes to show the importance of introducing new bloodlines to the herd, and we have continued to import reindeer every now and then to keep our genetics as strong and as varied as possible. Right now there are 25 reindeer in our herd who were born in northern Sweden, one still remaining from our 2004 introduction (Addjá), two from 2008 (Magnus and Laban), and the remainder from 2011, many of whom are still breeding bulls today.