For a southener reindeer is northern exoticism, for a northener daily livelyhood. Even these days reindeer offers primary income for almost a thousand families, despite the business being taken over by other means of earning a living.
There are more reindeers in the northern parts of Finland than people; in the whole reindeer keeping area altogether around 200 000 reindeers. 100 000 are slaughtered annually - mainly calfs. One reindeer provides approx. 60 kg of meat (calf only approx. 20 kg). Annually about 3000 reindeers collide with a vehicle.
Reindeer has been tamed very long ago from fell reinderr (Rangifer tarandus/R.t.tarandus), and is nowadays half-tame domestic animal. Every reindeer is owned by someone - they have been earmarked to an owner. Owners have organised as reindeer herding cooperatives, of which the southernmost are in the eastern parts of the country, far from Lappi in the province of Oulu. The reindeer herding area is considered to be north of the line starting from the northern end of Perämeri, along Kiiminki river to Puolanka, and ending at the eastern national border following the southern border of the Suomussalmi county.
Reindeer is different from other Cervidae in that also the female reindeer carries horns throughout winter. The horns come useful to the female during spring in order to be able to defend itself and its calf against beasts and to take good grazing spots from the males. Another difference is that you can meet a reindeer on the move at any time of day or night. It follows its own rhytm that includes many shorter sleeping periods during 24 hours.
Reindeers are in heat during september thru november. During heat male reindeers may even attack humans, where in other times reindeers avoid humans, and are half-tame but timid. Reindeer's - like many other animals' - reproduction rhytm is controlled by melatonin hormone. Heat begins in autumn when the nights get darker. It is important that the heat is at the right time so that the calves are born in spring (at the end of May) when the frost is over and snow has melted, but the mosquitos are not present. Mosquitos suck blood off the calves and the mother will not stay put to give milk.
A female reindeer gives birth in spring after about seven months pregnancy so that the first calves are born around the First of May, and mainly after mid-May. A reindeer calf gets on its feet after only an hour after its birth. It has to hurry since beasts are around. E.g. bears kill approx. 500 reindeers annually in addition to wolves and wolverines. The biggest threat, however, are cars, killing approx. 3000 reindeers annually.
Reindeers switch areas based on food availability. Especially North-American caribus migrate in huge herds to the tundra in springtime (where abundant grass is found during summers, and the mosquitos are not as bad a problem as in southern forests (taiga) because of the windyness. In scandinavia the reindeer migration patters are much shorter. During summer they mostly feed on birch leaves, grass, and lichen. During autumn and winter on lichen, grass, and sprig.
Forest region reindeers have a little more varied diet. For example during summers they like to use plants from natural plains (e.a. flood plains). During winters tree-lichen is an important source of nutrition.
However, lichen regrows very slowly: it takes almost 30 years before an eaten-up lichen pasture is usable again.
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