A REINDEER HERDING YEAR – A year in the life of a reindeer herder

The reindeer herding year is a cycle based on season, weather and reindeer migration patterns. Every year is unique. In some years, unusual measures have to be taken. Old truths no longer apply in a changing climate and an environment that is constantly being challenged and reshaped.



There is ice inside my collar. A biting cold that makes you feel cold to the bone. I put my gloves back on after securing my hat against the harsh mountain wind and I’m pleased that this is only my workplace for a few weeks. It is the reindeer herder’s workplace every day, no matter how cold or bad the weather gets. Ola prizes off the side panel on the scooter, which has clocked up almost 30,000 kilometers. There seems to be something wrong again, but I can’t even begin to guess what, so I gaze out over the white expanse of Vindelfjällen as he knocks his Sami knife against what I assume is the starter motor. The wind whips my face and the snowstorm’s every snowflake feels like a needle piercing my skin. When he finally gets the scooter started, we are able to drive the 60 km to the reindeer along with the other scooters. This is when the work really begins.


“JAHKI II LEAT JAGI VIELLJA” One year is not the other’s brother / no two years are ever the same



“A reindeer grazing in the mountains in November is the best thing ever, when the animal is at its strongest”



giđđa, giđđageassi



geassi, čakčageassi



The mosquitoes and the heat drive the reindeer westwards. After Midsummer, it’s time to bring the herd together for the calf marking. The family and many relatives accompany the reindeer herders to their summer pasture. It is a popular event in the reindeer herding calendar. It’s light around the clock and the reindeer set the daily rhythm. Several times during the calf-marking period, the reindeer are gathered together using dogs and off-road vehicles and driven to one of the siida’s nearby enclosures. The calf marking usually takes place at night. It is light thanks to the midnight sun and cooler than during the day, which reduces the stress on the reindeer. After 6–8 hours, the herd has to be released to graze and rest. Every reindeer is owned by someone. A unique ear tag shows who the owner is. Each calf is marked with the same tag as the mother, to show that the calf also belongs to the same owner. After the last calf marking of the summer, the reindeer are allowed to graze freely and fatten themselves up for the autumn and slaughter.





At the beginning of September, the reindeer herders have to gather all the reindeer again for the bull slaughter. The reindeer herd is driven to the slaughter enclosure at Björkfjäll. By this time, the bulls have grown significantly and are ready for slaughter, before the rutting season begins. Most of a reindeer herder’s annual income comes from the sale of meat in connection with the cull. The bull slaughter is a tough job. Systematically going through the entire reindeer herd, the large bulls are caught and pulled away to the slaughter area. Slaughterhouses and vets are on hand to check and inspect the reindeer. Some of the meat will become food for the reindeer herding family for the rest of the year. It is taken for granted that the children can see where the meat comes from.







At the end of autumn, the siida’s entire reindeer herd is gathered together and then divided into smaller winter grazing groups. The pasture is much less abundant when the snow settles. As soon as the snow falls, the reindeer herders start to patrol the edges of the herd and then collect up the reindeer. The separations start during the period October–December. The winter is long and demanding. A wet winter with snow that melts and freezes gives a thick ice cover on the ground that “locks away” the reindeer fodder. In a good winter, the reindeer have no problem accessing food. A good winter for grazing is dry and cold, and the snow cover must not be too deep, as reindeer then expend more energy digging down to the ground.










giđđadálvi, giđđa


At the end of April, the reindeer can be moved back up to the mountains. The long spring migration of 360 km is demanding for the reindeer, reindeer herders and dogs alike. The reindeer herders move the herd 10–30 kilometers a day, with the migration tailored to the strength and well-being of the reindeer. Each night there is a stop at an enclosure where the reindeer are shut in overnight and given hay and pellets, ready for the next leg of the move from the forest to the mountains. Pregnant cows must be protected when they reach the mountain as they can “lose” their calves if they become stressed. This is why there need to be scooter-free areas in the mountains during this sensitive period. As they emerge from the treeline and come across exposed patches of fresh spring grazing on the southern slopes, the reindeer taken on new momentum and vigor. The reindeer herder can breathe out a little – winter is over and he can look forward to new calves and a new reindeer herding year.


Read more about Eva Bromée here!