Reindeer can cope well without extra feeding in vast nature reserve areas, such as national parks and wilderness areas.  However, due to the declining availability of winter time nutrition, fragmentation of the pasture areas and their weakening quality, some of the reindeer are fed in the reindeer husbandry area. The challenge of feeding reindeer is that it brings additional financial burden to the herders, particularly on difficult winters.

Feeding in the winter time has been done in small scale for decades, if not centuries. Back in the days, herders collected lichen and leaves in the summer to give to reindeer in the winter. They also broke the hard surface of snow to make it easier for reindeer to dig and lichen was dropped down from the branches of the trees. Long travels were accompanied with a couple of sledges filled with lichen. In the southern reindeer husbandry area, trees rich with lichen were cut down to give reindeer food. These areas were also used for herding reindeer and protecting them from carnivores. Later this tradition caused conflicts when forestry developed. Hence it slowly ended during the 20th century. In Hammastunturi area, up north, sticks with a blade from a scythe were used to cut lichen from the trees. The sound of the axe and the stick attracted reindeer to come and eat.


Current feeding is more efficient. It aims to keep reindeer healthy through the winter and make sure that the calves are born in good condition. Reindeer are fed mainly with hay, lichen, leaves and horsetail. If the reindeer are fed in their natural pasture areas, they still look for additional food from the forest. If kept in a fence, reindeer are more dependent on the food given by the herders.

Feeding is necessary in the commercial forest areas where felling and soil cultivation have clearly changed the nature. Elsewhere, the need for feeding reindeer varies depending on the weather and the situation of the pasture areas in the cooperative. The feeding of the reindeer is started when digging lichen becomes too difficult and reindeer cannot get enough nutrition from the nature. When the snow melts until it snows again, reindeer are able to get food by themselves.

Decreasing amount of forests with beard lichen

Beard lichen is an important food for reindeer in the spring time. However, it grows best in the forests older than 80 years. The results from the inventories made in the Finnish forests tell that the portion of old forests has decreased from the beginning of the 1920s till the end of the 1990s from 71 percent to 16 percent. In other words, 78 per cent of the total area of the beard lichen forests has disappeared. Most of the beard lichen forests grow in Kuusamo, and southeast and northeast Lapland (Helle 2013).

Beard lichen, the spring delicacy of reindeer, hanging from trees. Image: Tuomi-Tuulia Ervasti.



Feeding Reindeer in Ivalo Reindeer Herding Cooperative

Youtube (in Finnish) video on feeding reindeer to nature in the central and southern parts of Ivalo reindeer herding cooperative, Lapland University of Applied Sciences, published 3/2013.