Reindeer Round Ups

In the autumn, reindeer are at their best condition. Particularly, if there have been plenty of mushrooms to eat and strengthen the layer of fat for the winter.

Image. Aarre Jortikka.

The rutting season starts in September with the male reindeer and female couple weeks later. The Finnish term “rykimä” comes from the sound that the male reindeer make. The leading male collects female together and guards them carefully from competitors. One male can have around 30 female in its harem.

The herders use this natural event in the herding work. These harems are gathered to bigger herds and again to fences by foot, motor cycles, ATV’s and helicopters. In the southern and central part of the reindeer husbandry area, the herds are gathered before snow comes in September-October. Most of the work is usually done by foot. In the northern parts of the reindeer husbandry area, work is usually started after the waters are covered with thick enough ice. Then they are also able to use snow mobiles. Sometimes helicopters are also used to help.

“Autumn is the harvest time of a reindeer herder”

In the round ups, the male reindeer are caught first usually with lassos. They are marked to the books under the list of their owner, given an antiparasitic medicine and let loose. Catching the male first from the fence prevents them from causing dangerous situations with their big antlers and heated temper.

A small part of the female reindeer and calves are taken from the whole herd at a time. They are directed to a smaller fence called “kirnu”. There the reindeer are separated to those that are left alive and those that will be slaughtered. Reindeer are caught by hand or lasso. The ones that are left alive are medicated as the male reindeer and let back to the nature. The reindeer that will be slaughtered are moved to other small fences.

All reindeer are marked to books or “read” as the herders call it. “Reading” reindeer means that they are counted and registered to their owners. It is legally required to do this. In practise, each reindeer is caught, the earmark is checked and the owner is told to the person marking the information down. The furs are slightly cut from the side of the reindeer so that herders know that this reindeer has already been counted. This prevents herders from counting same reindeer again and in the end, they have the real amount of reindeer in the books. The marks on the fur disappear before the next reindeer husbandry year because the fur changes in the early summer.

Reindeer that have come to the area of another cooperative are taken back to their own cooperative.

Also slaughtered reindeer are listed and around two million kilos of reindeer meat is produced annually. Other important products are hides, leather and antlers. All parts of reindeer are used if possible.

Before Finland joined the EU, there were field slaughter houses next to the round up fences. Today, the meat that is sold out has to be slaughtered in EU-regulated and approved slaughter houses. These rules apply also to spaces where reindeer meat is processed. Only the meat that is used by the herders themselves, or are directly sold by the herder, can be still slaughtered in the fence area.