First impressions of a new reindeer herder

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As a new herder asked to write a blog post, I thought I would share a few of my first impressions of the herd with you all. There has been a lot to learn and a lot still to learn, but one thing’s for certain: the life of a reindeer herder is never boring…

Things I have learnt so far:

  1. The title of reindeer herder does not just include herding reindeer. In the last few months, I have not only found out how to very slowly herd reindeer down a hill and keep the attention of a group of 50 people through a health and safety talk, but have also found myself painting arctic scenes, fixing fences, hoovering, carrying wood up a hill, lighting fires, fixing biomass boilers and hand-writing many a letter. Reindeer herding also includes, much to my delight, drinking copious amounts of tea and, on sunny days, eating lunch outside whilst bathing in the sun. Days can be both hectic and peaceful, split between manning a bustling shop to walking down a quiet hillside with a herd of reindeer in tow.

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  2. There are a lot of reindeer in the herd, and so A LOT of reindeer names to learn! Much of my time on the hill until now has been spent squinting at different reindeer and racking my brains to try to remember who on earth it is. With some hints from other herders, and no help from the reindeer losing their antlers at any given opportunity, I am finally on my way to recognising the 60 that we have here on the Cairngorms at this time of year. But alas, the day the rest of the herd turning up is near approaching..

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    Now who is she?

  3. Reindeer are constantly full of surprises! Some days they come bouncing down the hill at the slightest whisper of a call, some days they stubbornly sit and stare you out from an unreachable hill, and some days they just cannot be found. They are characterful, frustrating, lovable and peaceful animals all at once, and I feel the luckiest person to be able to work with and around them.

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    The 67 reindeer here on the Cairngorms coming down to our call, on a sunny friday morning.

  4. There are a lot of words in the English language that I do not know. Before becoming a reindeer herder, I never knew it was possible to ‘groak’, ‘twattle’, ‘lunt’ or be a ‘sluberdegullion’. But with a board in the office that lists all the words you never thought you’d need, I am learning the true meaning of being a herder..

Morna

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Scottish Rural Awards

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A few months ago, we found out that we had been nominated for an award for rural tourism at the Scottish Rural Awards ceremony being held mid-March at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. We still aren’t entirely sure who nominated us so if anyone can shed light on this please do. There were 13 awards altogether given out during the night. Some of the categories were Education, Conservation and the Environment, Artisan food and drink, agriculture and more… It was a black tie event so for those of you who know us, you’ll know that black tie isn’t something we do on a regular basis but we made an effort and myself, Tilly, Alex and Emily went down to Edinburgh for it.

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Ex-herder Heather let us stay at her house in Edinburgh so it was all very easy. Tilly and I had our first experience of Uber Taxi’s… When in Rome and all! So we made our way to Dynamic Earth in our posh frocks and kilt to be greeted by many more posh frocks and kilts. There was even quite a few tartan trousers! We were certainly out of our comfort zone, considering that morning all four of us were up on either the Cromdale hills or the Cairngorms being blasted by the wind and feeding the reindeer… oh how things changed. Free champagne on arrival… ye-ha! Then we sat down at our tables as guest speaker and Scottish comedian Fred MacAulay opened the night. He certainly knew how to capture an audience. We then had our three-course meal, which was super and afterwards the awards commenced.

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You know it’s posh when there’s more than one set of fork and knife, and doubly posh when you get three wine glasses!

We weren’t really sure what to expect but with 150-200 people there, all in their glad rags making the most of a night out it was certainly a good atmosphere all round. The Rural Tourism award came up towards the end and so Fred called out all the finalists. Other business’s we were up against were – Isle of Aaron Distillers, Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, Findlay’s Cream O’ Galloway Farm, The Famous Grouse Experience, Luss Estates Company, Oban Winter Festival, The Enchanted Forest, Aaron The Island and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh at Logan. So after all the finalists were announced they came to the three who had won. Cairngorm Reindeer got the highly commended award, runners up were Oban Winter Festival and the winners were Findlay’s Cream O’ Galloway Farm, so a representative for each went up onto stage to collect their award. Naturally Tilly was our representative so off she went with a big smile on her face to collect our award from Fred MacAulay. Fred also mentioned that many years ago he worked on Cairngorm Mountain and during that time came across the reindeer and that they enjoyed a bit of shieling pie!

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Tilly accepting the Highly Commended award for Rural Tourism

This really is a great reflection on what the Cairngorm Reindeer and Wild Farm mean to Rural Scotland and this recognition means so much to all of us so thank you to whoever nominated us! I hope Mr Utsi and Dr Lindgren, founders of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, are smiling from above and that we have done them proud.

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Fiona

What happens in the office stays in the office…

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I thought for a wee change I’d write a bit about one of the most important parts of the reindeer company, without which we could not function as a business and place of many a giggle and frustrated sigh. It is… The Office.

Reindeer herding is an unparalleled job for variety and us herders cover the whole job, we serve visitors in the shop, take visits, cover the paperwork, walk reindeer, train reindeer as well as heading out on tour with reindeer over the festive period. All in all there’s a lot to be done on a daily basis and the office is no exception and we all have our little niche that we’re responsible for. Myself, it’s adoption renewals and advertising, some of you may have come across Hen who is the lady to speak to if you’re buying antlers, or this blog itself which is under the firm control of Imogen.

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Imogen showing how she will imprison us if we don’t supply her with blogs

The office is often a hive of activity and the festive period is no exception, over a period of two months we made over 500 adoption packs. That means over 500 handwritten certificates, ID cards, letters (lots of letters), special requests and addresses… all in all a lot of writing. The calligraphy pens become very coveted at this time of year, woe betide you if you blunt a nib! All in all, we do industriously enjoy our office time and our wee nook is the epicentre of everything reindeer. In one tiny room all adopt records are filed, reindeer movements are noted alongside vet records, locations and family trees.

Our trusty computers must every day wake up and download the day’s queries and requests and today the great delight of an email informing us that our order of replacement mop heads has been dispatched which was a triumphant feeling as it took a surprising amount of online mop education to finally locate just what type of mop head was required. Has anyone else heard of the Kentucky mop…?

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The Famous Kentucky Mop

There’s always a new something in the office too whether it’s my mound of weird snacks (chia pudding being my current favourite), Hen on her ball, there have been around 5 ‘on the ball’ puns per minute since the appearance of said green sphere! After a trip away on yoga teacher training I’ve been attempting to share some of the cool wee things I’ve learned including myofascial release with a tennis ball.

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Hen on her ball

Here’s Andi working on her back!

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Andi looking to be in a little pain!

All in all it’s a pretty weird place to be in at times… as i write this I’m being serenaded by Boyz 2 Men (& Imogen) singing ‘I’ll make love to you’…. need anymore be said…

Abby

Emm Cassidy Volunteer Blog 3

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The final installment of Emm’s blog from volunteering with us in the summer. It was great working with Emm and we’re looking forward to seeing her later in the year. I’m sure Mo is too! Thanks for writing such wonderful blogs Emm, and we’ll see you soon!

Day 5

In the morning, we went to check on Boxer and Kota who were doing a lot better. Boxer had his infected antler cleaned again and started to associate the head collar with people poking his antler so he wasn’t a very happy reindeer but he was very brave and loved the lichen we gave him. I helped Fran take the tracking radio collars off the 6 reindeer as her research had finished. The reindeer got fly spray put on their antlers again.

Me and Julia got the job of cleaning out and hoovering the hire car they used for hill trips as it was nearly time to give the hire car back. We made a good team. I got all the mats out and shook them off and swept them. I got the stones off the floor in the car and swept the car floor. Meanwhile, we had Sookie and Murdo wanting to play with us. Sookie kept dropping pine cones and sticks behind me hinting she wanted me to throw it and Murdo kept wanting to attack the broom and play with it and voiced his opinions about wanting to play. It was funny. The tourists found it funny too.

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Murdo who wanted to play with me while I was cleaning the hire car, and Sookie in the background who had given up

At the 2:30pm hill trip, I did the introduction talk and the history talk. I was so proud of myself. By this day, I knew most of the reindeer by name. The herders were very impressed.

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My finished reindeer herd list

When I adopted Dylan, I did a folder about him and his life. I stuck all the emails the herders wrote about what Dylan had been up to and all his adopters letters, photos, his family trees and any information about him. This included newsletters and anything we had done with the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. I am doing one for Mo and I took it in and showed everyone and they were all very impressed with it. They remembered seeing Dylan’s Folder at 60th Reindeer Anniversary Adopters’ Weekend in October 2012.

Day 6

In the morning, me, Andi and Julia checked on Boxer and Kota. They were doing so much better. We then fed them, we just sat and chilled with the reindeer and did selfies which was brilliant and amazing. It is such a magical experience chilling and relaxing with the reindeer. I couldn’t believe it was my last day, it had all gone so fast. I would really miss being up there with the reindeer and herders as it was such a magical experience.

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Selfie with North, Byron (Mo’s second cousin), Bhuachaille and Fyrish

Today Mum, Dad and David (my brother) came on the 2:30pm hill trip. I got them to carry the hand feed bags up. I did the introduction talk and the herd history talk at Utsi’s Bridge. It was the busiest hill trip which I have done my talks on. There was about 50 people. I felt like a brilliant reindeer herder and they were so impressed with me with how I dealt with the reindeer, the people and said how I did so well with my talks. I stayed on the 3:30pm tour and chilled with the reindeer.

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In my element!

Before we went home, I spent one day visiting everyone and the dogs at Reindeer House and went on 2 hill trips to say bye to the reindeer. I had lunch with them all and met the volunteer reindeer herder for that week.

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Leading the reindeer into the East Enclosure

Being a reindeer herder is such a magical experience and meant so much to me. Mo, the other reindeer, the reindeer herders and the dogs are so special to me. They are like a second family to me and being there is such a relaxing and brilliant place to be where I feel I can be myself. On the hill trips, it was a brilliant feeling telling the people all about the reindeer as I was sharing my passion about reindeer with me knowing I was teaching something they didn’t know. Seeing people’s reactions when they first saw the reindeer and hand fed and stroked them was a special and rewarding feeling and experience as a lot of the people hadn’t ever seen reindeer before.  On the hill trips, I really enjoyed finding out where the people had come from and they told me about their lives and interests. On these hill trips, I met people from Australia, New Zealand (one man owned a Red Deer Farm out there), Israel, Germany, Spain, France, USA, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy, Romania and lots more places. I even met a family who had come from the area I live in and they lived near the hospital I was born in.

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Doing my history talk at Utsi’s bridge

6 reindeer spring to mind who always seemed to be around me or follow me when I had the hand feed bag and they were Cambozola, Glenshee, Fyrish, Blue, Merrick and Anster. They were really eager and try to stick their head into the bag or kick it or try to get the feed mid-air whilst I was giving the feed to someone and then their mouth would be excitedly eating the feed from their hand. Bless them!

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Atlantic chilling

I was so impressed when really tiny young children who wanted to get out of their parent’s arms and onto the ground to give the reindeer hand feed. It was so lovely giving out hand feed to children and adults and to see their faces when they feed the reindeer.  On most of the hill trips, a lot of people are really interested in Blue as he is the only leucistic (pure white with blue eyes) reindeer in the enclosure and Merrick who has only 1 antler. They take a special interest in them and ask all about them. They are always surprised to find out that Blue is deaf as all leucistic reindeer are. A lot of people asked me to take photos of them and it was so lovely to see people taking selfies with the reindeer. My favourite selfies with reindeer are with Mo (my very special adopted reindeer), Glenshee and the selfie with the 4 reindeer.

Update on Boxer

The last hill trip which I went on, Boxer was well enough to be in the herd again. I didn’t recognise him at first as his poorly antler had fallen off and he was left with one antler bless him. But he made a full recovery. Don’t worry, he will still grow 2 antlers next year.

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Boxer with 1 antler

Emm

Emm Cassidy Volunteer Day 2

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The second installment in Emm Cassidy’s volunteering blog. This is the second of three and this week Emm got to meet lots of dogs as well as the reindeer!

Day 2

I turned up at Reindeer House at 8am forgetting it was an 8:30am starts as it was a week day and I met Dave who is originally from New Zealand. When Imogen arrived she started doing some knitting, which I found interesting and I enjoyed talking about knitting with her as my Granny had knitted clothes for my teddies.  With Imogen, I did poo picking in the paddocks whilst the others went to check the reindeer on the hill and give them their breakfast. Some reindeer had been in the extra paddock on the Saturday when it was the changeover day where they had been swapping reindeer from Tilly’s farm, the hill enclosure and the paddocks. One was Boris, a lovely reindeer with an odd shaped nose who is Mo’s cousin. We put out breakfast for Beastie, Ost, Aonach and Nutti (the 4 paddock reindeer) in 4 bowls and then put lichen on top of each. Imogen said we don’t mix the reindeer feed and the lichen together as the reindeer don’t like that.

I went with Dave on the 11am hill trip. He wears a really cool green hat with a ptarmigan feather sticking out of it. When Dave did the introduction talk in the carpark, I realised that different reindeer herders had different sayings when they gave their talks. I thought that is really nice and makes the hill tour their own. When most people had gone, we started to make our way down to the enclosure gate. We found the reindeer relaxing and lying down again by the fence sunbathing! I was slowly identifying a few individuals too as I had been making notes on my herd list every time I go up there.

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Glenshee and Sargasso chilling out in the sun

 

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Mo sunbathing

I ate my lunch in the front garden looking out on to the mountains and trees with Fiona and we talked about lots of things. I then played fetch with the 3 dogs and they barked with excitement all wanting the toy – bless.

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Blue, the leucistic reindeer

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Selfie with Glenshee

On the 2:30pm hill trip, which I did with Abby, we met Fran and her mum. Fran is a research student doing a study on where the reindeer graze each day, with radio collars on 6 reindeer in the hill enclosure. It was very interesting and I was there when we took the radio collars off them and she showed me them and how they worked. She also had made them reindeer proof and weather proof. Fran found out why Bourbon (who had a radio collar on) had a poorly tummy by looking back at the data where he had been the night before. It turned out Bourbon was down in the forest eating the wrong type of mushrooms.

I found out my mum and dad had seen me through binoculars and when I got back to my car, they had left a note saying:

3:30pm, lol! Saw you leading them up! Ha Ha! We were up the top looking down!! Mum, Dad xx

Me and Fiona were on duty to give the paddock reindeer their tea and put them to bed in the woods. I put the dark grain pellets in their trough in their stable then went to get some buckets of reindeer feed and lichen. The reindeer were getting very excited as there was food so they followed me up to their troughs. Whilst I put out the reindeer feed and their lichen on top I had to dodge their massive antlers. It was quite funny as one reindeer was trying to eat from the bucket whilst I poured the reindeer feed in the trough.  We then closed the paddocks for the night.

Day 3

Met Imogen’s dog called Brock, Dave’s dog called Tui and Alex (Fiona’s brother) and his dog Tip. At one point, there was 6 dogs in Reindeer House. I put Dave’s hat on Brock and took a photo of him, he looked so cute. I met Sarah who is a part time reindeer herder. Later we separated 8 reindeer from the herd and Fiona showed me how to put a head collar on a reindeer which I enjoyed learning about. I put a head collar on Blue and Duke. In the shed, we had 5 yearlings which included Scolty and Bhuachaille, then a 2 year old called Baltic and the 2 older reindeer called Blue and Duke (the role models) who will show the younger reindeer how to be led and behave on a head collar. For training, we went on a walk around the top enclosure. I led Duke and Baltic up the hill.

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Sleeping Tiree

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Broc with Dave’s hat on

Baltic was stubborn at first but then Duke started trying it on as I was new to this. But by the top of the hill, Duke knew who the boss was and Baltic was happier with being led as he was getting used to it. The training is important for the reindeer as this will get them used to being handled, health checked and to become brilliant Christmas Reindeer.

On my 2 hill trips today, I herded all the reindeer out the shed as they were all cooling off in the shade. The shed doesn’t look like it can fit 41 reindeer in but it does, it is like Doctor Who’s Tardis! One time when I was herding them out of the shed, I realised that I hadn’t seen Blue, I found him by the shed asleep. Blue, who is deaf, didn’t hear his reindeer friends move on – bless him. Near the end of the hill trip, the reindeer leisurely make their way up to the shed gate knowing they will be let back in soon. I really like this time as it is just us reindeer herders approaching them after everybody has left.

We are met by reindeer lying down relaxing and sunbathing. I really enjoyed that quality time relaxing with them and sitting by them giving them some fuss, talking to them and getting to know them more. This is where I did my selfie with Mo!

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Selfie with Mo!

We then let them into the shed for shade if they wanted it before we went back down to Reindeer House. I also learnt the reindeer language today which Utsi did with the reindeer.

Day 4

In the morning, we counted and herded the reindeer into the front enclosure and gave them their breakfast. Kota and Boxer didn’t seem themselves as they were very slow about moving into the front enclosure with the herd so we took them into the shed to check them over. They had their temperatures taken which revealed they both had high temperatures. That can be a bit dangerous for reindeer so Hen gave them both injections to bring their temperature down. Boxer then had an infected antler treated and then had sun cream on to protect his antler. We rewarded Boxer with some lichen. Kota and Boxer were so brave. We then put them out in the pen near the shed enclosure making sure they had plenty of food and where we can keep an eye on them.

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Poor Boxer with an infected antler

We then let the reindeer into the shed as Hen needed to fly spray (citronella) them to keep the flies and midges off their antlers. Hen did the spraying in two groups as it would be chaos if all the reindeer were in at the same time. Mo stood quietly in a corner behind me after he had his done as he realised if he kept running around that he would get more spray on him. I gave him a big fuss and talked to him saying he was a very clever reindeer.

I did the introduction talk at the start of the 11am hill trip and the herd history talk at Utsi’s Bridge on the 2:30pm hill trip. That was such a massive thing for me to do. I was so proud of myself.

Whilst I was poo picking the paddocks, mum visited and Imogen told my mum how well I had done that day with doing the two talks. Everyone was so proud of me and I was very proud of myself and I was getting so much more confident dealing with new people.

 Emm

 

Landrovers and lovely locations

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Here at the reindeer centre, unsurprisingly, requests for some modelling reindeer are not uncommon, particularly around the Christmas season. Of course a change of scenery is always exciting for both reindeer and herders, most of the photo shoots and filming sets can be of a similar ilk. However, when we got a call from Land Rover, asking if a few members of our herd could star in a photo shoot up in the hills on the banks of Loch Ordie, we felt that this was something neither us, nor the reindeer, should miss out on.

 

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Loch Ordie

And so on a beautiful, frosty and cold morning, off we set with four Christmas boys, two herders and two dogs, with a very optimistic, yet slightly unrealistic hope of coming away with a brand spanking new Land Rover.

 

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Fiona and Origami admiring the view

Two hours south on the A9 and 6 miles of forest track later in Land Rover convoy, we arrived on set to find a wee flat-pack log cabin (much like a tent, yet wooden making it slightly more cumbersome, and a little more painful if you sat up quickly whilst in bed), two small children in reindeer onesies, an incredibly tall elf and a very sparkly (and reflective) Land Rover sport.

 

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Jonas getting into the festive spirit with Christmas lights

After the reindeer experienced several hours of tempting handfuls of lichen, reflection admiring/ suspicious glances, manoeuvring and a lot of snapping, darkness began to set in and it was time to head from one hill and back to another.

 

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Tiree waiting patiently to get home

We were careful to make sure we loaded the actual reindeer as opposed to the imposters.

 

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Which reindeer are we supposed to be loading again?

Our hairy team shone out as being the most patient of all the models there, captivating everyone on set, especially the two antler-less ones, who were over the moon when they got to charge down some of the forest track.

 

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Tiree and Sookie after their run

So at the end of the day, alas no new Land Rover, but two very proud reindeer herders!

Eve

Olympic

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We all have favourite reindeer in the herd and over the years I had a very special reindeer, Beauty, who I hand-reared, back in 1993. Beauty’s mother Sorrel died when Beauty was born and I became her mother, a relationship which lasted her whole life even though she had calves of her own. Indeed I felt a bit like a granny as a result!

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Beauty

Beauty died an old lady and for many, many years there was never really a reindeer for me who filled the gap. There have been some great characters since Beauty but none of them were really special enough to replace her. Various reindeer were hand-reared, but not solely by me and although each reindeer has a distinct character there was no real favourite. But over the last 4 years a reindeer has grown on me and now I can honestly say, I have a favourite again.

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Baby Olympic

Olympic was born in 2012, in the year of the London Olympics, hence his name. His mother Glacier came from a long line of white reindeer and so when Olympic was born dark coloured, that was a bit of a surprise to say the least.

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Olympic with mother, Glacier

So he was the ‘black sheep of the family’. He grew tame and friendly like all the other calves once they are handled, indeed Olympic became quite outrageous when it came to hand-feeding, terrorising many an unsuspecting visitor on the hill visits. Which meant, in time Olympic was banished to the quieter life at our Glenlivet Farm, where visitors to the herd are less frequent and so life with Olympic and hand-feeding became manageable.

Strangely enough although Olympic is a very bold reindeer and eagerly comes up to us, amongst the reindeer he seems to be quite low down in the pecking order, almost to the point that he is a little bullied! Although he is a big strong reindeer he is just a big softy and another reindeer only has to so much look at him and he’s off. So Olympic often seeks out human companionship and whenever I am bringing the reindeer down off the hill for the daily feed Olympic is often right there beside me.  So we have developed a close relationship and as time has gone on Olympic has grown on me and become my new special reindeer.

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Olympic as a yearling

Last autumn we trained Olympic to harness and he joined the teams at Christmas time. Handling reindeer, gaining their confidence and harnessing them to pull a sleigh is a real joy for me. I love the close contact with the Christmas reindeer, feeling so responsible for them when away from home and proud of them as they delight the crowds who come to see them. Olympic was a delight to train and looks fantastic in full harness. He is as much at ease pulling the sleigh alongside another reindeer as pottering along at the back of the sleigh with the 6 month old calves. And I think Fiona, who organises Christmas now and decides which reindeer goes where made sure I had Olympic in my team! Thanks Fi!

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Big boy Olympic, in 2015

 Tilly