Reindeer 101


Like many children the world over, I lived a quiet life of ignorance and happy Christmases for many a year.

But once I learned the truth about Santa, I simply assumed the whole stinkin’ cast was a sham. Oh, the shame and degradation! Elves. Mrs. Claus. Reindeer. Liars, the lot of them!

So imagine my shock and awe when I found myself face-to-face with a real reindeer!

It was mid-road trip across the Scottish Highlands when I saw the sign for “The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre.”

Via tumblr.com.

Via tumblr.com.

The shrill scream of excitement I was emitting could not be alleviated until the car was stopped.

Annie: 1; Uninterested friends: 0.

The Reindeer Centre does daily treks up into the Cairngorm Mountains to see the reindeer herd that roams there…

If not for the reindeer, come here for the mountains!

If not for the reindeer, come here for the mountains!

But I was devastated to learn that we had missed that day’s trek.

Annie: 1; Uninterested friends: 1.

However, even if your timing is off, there is always a band of reindeer that is cared for right there on the centre grounds.

Annie: 2; Uninterested friends: About to ditch Annie.

But I didn’t care! I was hanging in the Scottish Highlands with reindeer.

It's not raining! They're God's tears of joy!

It’s not raining! They’re God’s tears of joy!

Now, the herd in the Cairngorms only goes back to 1952. There’s evidence that there were reindeer roaming Scotland before that, but they died out some 8,000 years ago.

Reindeer are a herding animal, just like cows or sheep. So over the years, lots of rich people tried to reintroduce the species to Scotland by establishing a herd.


But it wasn’t until 1952 that a Swedish dude named Mikel Utsi succeeded.

Via CairngormReindeer.co.uk.

Via CairngormReindeer.co.uk.

If you go on a trek in May or June, you’ll probably get to see babies! And since boy and girl reindeer lose and grow a new set of antlers every year, there’s a good chance you’ll see some reindeer “in velvet.”

Trying to get them to pose for the camera is a whole 'nother story.

Trying to get them to pose for the camera is a whole ‘nother story.

The boys lose their antlers in early winter, and the girls lose them in the spring. What’s that, logic? You’re right, that means Rudolph was probably a girl!

But the gelded males often lose their antlers in the Spring, too. The reindeer we saw in the paddock were adult gelded males trained to harness. (Sled rides, anyone?) And thus, they were in the middle of the painful process of antler-growing.


Poor baby!

They grow their antlers out of little bumps on their head called pedicles.

That's just a funny-looking cow!

That’s just a funny-looking cow!

The growing antlers are soft and sensitive, made of blood and marrow. The nerves grow at the same rate as the antlers, with the newest growth at the tip of the antler. Ouchie!

It’s all covered in velvet skin, which is why this phase is called being “in velvet.”

The antlers actually look like they're covered in velvet!

The antlers actually look like they’re covered in velvet!

Like a baby might chew on a teething ring, the reindeer tap their antlers with their hooves or, in the case of the paddocked reindeer, knock them gently against the wooden fence. That relieves the irritating growing pains and also stimulates growth.

It’s freaking adorable.

Tap tap tap!

Tap tap tap!

The guy on the left is tapping, the guy in the middle...I don't want to know what he's doing...

The guy on the left is tapping, the guy in the middle…I don’t want to know what he’s doing…

Reindeer also have a tendon in their ankle that rubs against a bone, causing a clicking sound when they walk. This helps them keep track of each other in snow storms!


You’re not going to find anyone sitting on your ass, Prancer!
(Santa’s naming system was ironic.)

This was an awesome day, and I was all set to write home about it, when I read Utsi’s “Why reindeer herding is important” spiel.

“The meat is delicious; the animal is bred for meat and can be slaughtered in the right way and at the right time.”


Via tumblr.com.

Calm down, everybody. I think the man’s English was subpar, and he was using “slaughtered” to mean “cuddled.”

So, in conclusion, the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre is a big, fat don’t miss!

Annie Cosby

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  1. You might be on to something with that Rudolph thing…in facat, the whole harness of team might have been females….

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