Summer is the Time of Growth

“In the summer reindeer grow, and in the winter they spare”

Summer is the time of growth for reindeer. The newborn calves learn quickly to follow their mothers and learn to find new food. There are plenty of green plants to eat and nourish themselves with. The inflorescence of cotton grass is one of the most popular plants. Reindeer herders call these black heads (Helle 1982). Also, different kinds of sedges (Carex) are popular early summer food. Reindeer’s diet consists of more than 350 different plant species, and around 100 of them are the most important ones. The fox for example, eats vascular plants and Angelica (Angelica archangelica) which is one of the most popular ones (Kortesalmi 2008). From mires, reindeer look for marsh trefoil, horsetail and marsh cinquefoil. From the forest areas, they look for leaves, fireweed, goldenrod and wavy hair-grass.

Reindeer eat fresh vegetation in June. Image: Aarre Jortikka.

Contrary to elk, reindeer do not eat conifer saplings. Hence, the effects of reindeer only reach deciduous trees. In the mountainous areas, reindeer eat the leaves of mountain birch. In the late spring, reindeer stay in the areas where there is still some snow, because the snow cools them and there are new fresh plants to eat.

Insects are a stress to reindeer

The high season for blood-sucking insects ‚Äúr√§kk√§‚ÄĚ starts in June-July. It is quite stressful for reindeer. In practice, these insects are midges, horseflies, gnats and two different parasites (kurmu and saulakka) that attack reindeer (Helle 1982). When the r√§kk√§ season starts, reindeer gather in herds to open and windy areas such as mires and fells. Sometimes reindeer also go to road areas, as they are open and easier to be in. On warm days, reindeer lie in sandpits. There the warmth and the carbon dioxide raise up with the wind and the insects cannot find them.

Blood-sucking insects are the most efficient shepherds

Blood-sucking insects help reindeer herders to gather their herds for calf marking.¬†For reindeer, a cold and rainy summer is better ‚Äď there will be less blood-sucking insects and there is more time for eating. Also, the plants stay green longer. During hot summers, the calves in particular suffer a lot. The skin around their eyes does not have much fur and they are constantly attacked by insects. When the weather is hot, reindeer run restlessly around and do not eat much. Calves can suffer from anemia and over a longer period, it can add to the calf mortality. Reindeer do not have sweat glands so the extra heat has to be evaporated through the mouth.

Changing fur

During the summer, the thick winter fur changes to summer fur. It moults in big parts and reveals the nice and smooth summer fur. When the fur changes reindeer look matted, but it is perfectly normal. The thicker winter fur starts to grow again in August.

In midsummer reindeer look matted. This is the normal change of fur. Image: Maaren Angeli

Reindeer antler ‚ąí world record in bone growth

Both male and female reindeer grow new antlers annually. The antlers grow around two centimetres per day ‚Äď fastest in the world. It is around 100 grams per day.

During the summer, the antlers are first soft and covered by skin. Later in the autumn, reindeer rub the antlers against something hard such as trees to peel the skin off. The male reindeer use the antlers during the mating season to fight the other males. Females on the other hand, use their antlers to fight for the areas where they dig food in the winter.