In summer, reindeer looks matted.
No need to worry for, they are still doing great.
During the summer, reindeers’ thick winter fur changes to summer fur. It gets off in bigger parts and, at time, reveals the nice and smooth summer fur. When the fur changes, reindeer looks really matted. It is perfectly normal.
Especially white reindeer often looks like “plucked chickens” in June-July. By August they have shed off all old fur, being shiny haired and beautiful again.
Both male and female reindeer also grow new antlers annually. In this time of year, the antlers grow around two cm’s per day. That is the fastest growing bone tissue in the world.
During the summer, the growing antlers are sensitive, soft and covered by skin. Around August, the antlers are fully grown. Then reindeer rubs them against something hard, like trees, to get the skin off.
The male reindeer use the antlers during the mating season to fight the other males, and to attract females. Females use their antlers to show their strength and get a good position in the herd.
Calve markings in our cooperative
In reindeer herding, summer is the time for calve ear markings. In Finland, every reindeer is privately owned by someone, and the ownership is marked to the ear of each reindeer.
Reindeer herding work grow from the reindeer and nature, traditions of our herding cooperative, and adjustments needed in the environment our reindeer are grazing during the year. It is still following centuries old traditions.
Of course, like the rest of the society, reindeer herding also develops constantly and acquires new technology. Our grandparents and parents did reindeer herding on foot, and by skies in winter. Especially in summer, we still do reindeer herding work in an old-fashioned way: on foot. In winter though, and in autumn, we use ATV’s and snowmobiles.
Even in summer, working on foot, we do use modern technology which is greatly helping us: about 30 of our female reindeer are wearing GPS collars that give rather exact geographical information of their location. This way, we know when reindeer have grouped together in large herds, and where the herds are. This means we do not have to walk around the forests and wetlands, trying to find them. Instead, we can walk straight to them, and then try to get them into the marking enclosures we have in different parts of our herding cooperative. Thanks to the collars, we typically walk only up to 10 kilometers during a night, not 20-30 like we did still a decade ago.
Modern technology is a great help, but not as great as the oldest available one: Blood-sucking insects help us to gather the herds. That is the reason calve markings are done in the midsummer. Biting and blood-sucking insects make reindeer group together in large herds. The high season for insects is called “räkkä”. It starts in June and is rather stressful for reindeer.
Räkkä makes reindeer gather into open and windy areas, in our environment mostly in wetlands. There the warmth and the carbon dioxide from large herds raises up to air. This confuses the insects, and they cannot find reindeer so easily. When reindeer have a natural need to stay in large herds, it is possible for us to move the herds inside the fenced areas and enclosures for marking the calves. Without the insects, this would be impossible. So, we need mosquitoes here. They are the best reindeer herders.
Reindeer is not very good handling the heat. For a reindeer, cold summer is better than a hot one. During very hot summers, reindeer run restlessly around and do not eat much. They do not have sweat glands, so the extra heat must be evaporated through the mouth. Due to this, reindeer can overheat easily. That is why all work related to ear marking in summer are done late in the evening and at night, when the weather is always much cooler. This minimizes the stress.
When reindeer have been gathered to the nearest fence, the unmarked calves are caught by hand or using a vimpa (which is a wooden stick with a rope at the end). A plastic number is hanged into each calf’s neck. Then they are let to run after their mothers. The calves find their mothers with a voice. In this phase the fence is full of reindeer voices, calves and mothers calling each other.
When all calves have found their way back to their mothers, the fence area goes silent again. Calves visit their mom’s “milk bars” and then fell in sleep. At this point, we walk very slowly around the fence in pairs, and draw on paper the ear mark of the female each calve follows. When we are ready, the drawings of all pairs are compared, and the marks we disagree or are not sure yet, are checked once more together. When all the owners are found, and the marks drew on the paper agreed on, the calves are caught again and marked with their owner’s earmark. After markings, all reindeer are let back to freedom.
The calve markings lasts 1-2 weeks all together, depending basically on the luck and the nature, mainly räkkä and weather. The calves which we cannot reach in summer markings are marked later, during the autumn round ups.
Exhausted but so happy
Calve markings make me feel like Christmas did as I was a child. I am always very excited to see what kind of gifts are born this year. Seeing a familiar reindeer doe with a strong healthy calf, is one of the best feelings I know. It tells that life will go on. Even though I get really exhausted with the night work. After the markings, I truly remember to appreciate all those workers who do night shifts year around! For us it is only a couple of weeks in a year, and in our area, the midnight sun and 24/7 daylight also help to cope. One needs less sleep in summer than in winter. Still, my summer tradition is, after the markings, to spend one week as a zombie, trying to sleep at night and stay awake in daytime.
Even though, I’m loving it.