Mountain reindeer herding

“That is an intensive period. You sleep by day and are awake at night. Eventually you don’t know whether it’s day or night. You travel to the neighbouring communities and their calf marking.

It is the weather and wind that decide how it turns out. It is not certain that the reindeer are on the same mountain. It’s not certain it went all right last night. Then you have to look around a little. Where do we have the reindeer? Make a strategy according to the weather and wind. It can get done in one day, or take three solid weeks’ work.

Then you come with the reindeer herd to the enclosure. This is the life, you feel. The joy of hearing grunting. There are calves, cows and bulls. It went well this year too. They survived. You’ re incredibly happy to experience this.”

Helena Länta, Jåhkågaska tjiellde

Year after year, season after season, the reindeer migrate in search of forage. In the cold winter days the mountain reindeer dig for lichen beneath the white snow cover in the forests. When summer approaches, the reindeer herds make their way westwards, hunting for the grass and crisp plants that grow in the mountains.

For reindeer herding Sámi, the year begins in May, when the calves are born. At the end of June work begins to round up the reindeer for calf marking. Marking is carried out during cool, temperate nights to spare the animals both the heat and the insects.

Mountain reindeer herding is characterised by the long migration between different foraging areas, from mountain to forest. Different families move different distances, and the distance covered depends on how the foraging looks. In difficult winters with poor forage, everyone longs for the warming rays of the sun that soften the snow cover and make the ground accessible again.

When spring is coming, they say that the reindeer cow lifts its snout and turns it to the west. That is when the migration back to the mountains begins, to the green pastures where reindeer can eat their fill again. The new year begins. Everything reawakens.

Reindeer slaughter in Harrå

  • Baste čearru collect their reindeer for slaughter.
  • Everything has to happen in a few hectic days at the beginning of September.
  • With modern transport, the reindeer are rounded up much quicker than when the only means of transport was your legs.
  • The reindeer herd is rounded up and taken to the enclosure where animals are separated for slaughter for household needs.
  • Before the animals for slaughter are taken out of the enclosure, the calves are marked which do not yet have their owner’s mark. Marking is supposed to take place in the summer, but there are always a number of calves that have slipped through.
  • This is the last chance to mark the calves, since it cannot be done in winter when the reindeer’s ear is unable to heal due to the cold.
  • The morning after slaughter, it is time to finish off to work. The skins are to be nailed up to dry on any available wall, intestines are to be rinsed and utilised. A reindeer skin can either be dried or scraped clean and cured to be used in handicraft.