The Spring is the Time for Calving

Most of the reindeer calves are born in May, but the calving continues until June. Calves are born when the snow has partly melted and the likelihood for cold weathers and snowing is not very high anymore. The high point of calving in Finland is usually said to be on 18th May. Reindeer carries a calf around 220 days. If it is a male reindeer, the calf is born in average around two days later than a female. Mostly there is only one calf born. Twins are rare and their survival is even rarer.

“Calf in the snow on First of May” – old Finnish proverb

If the calving happens later in the summer, it is not very good for the reindeer as most of the important growing season is lost. The calves have to be as big as possible before the winter to survive.

Reindeer calf gently rubbing its head against the mother reindeer.

Reindeer calve in peaceful places and are very sensitive to disturbances. A week or two after the calving, the females drop their antlers. Calving is usually fairly easy for reindeer and it lasts around 20-30 minutes.

Reindeer calves are well developed when they are born. The fur insulates well after it dries out. Hence with it and the brown fat that the calves have, they survive if the weather is cold for a few days. All the hairs in the fur have air pockets. There are around 3200 hairs in one square centimetre. After a month, the baby fur starts to change and by autumn, it is the same as the adults’ fur. (Nieminen 1999).

When calves are born, they weigh about 4-6 kilos. It is totally dependent on its mother for food. Reindeer milk is very nourishing and the weight increases quickly – around 500 grams per day. The calf needs 3-4 litres of milk per one kilo of weight, whereas other deer animals need 6-10 litres. The suckling lasts only a few seconds at a time.

The brown fat improves the calf’s ability to cope with the cold. There is brown fat around the internal organs and it is around 1-2 % of the total weight. It disappears in 3-4 weeks. The birth weight doubles during the first month. Antlers also start to grow in the first weeks.