A reindeer is for life, not just for pulling sleighs and delivering gifts at Christmas! The most famous reindeer of all is probably Rudolph, a cheeky chap with a luminous-red nose and famous for coming to Santa Claus’ aid by guiding his sleigh during a fierce blizzard one cold and bleak Christmas Eve. But what happens to the antlered critters once Christmas is over, when the snow has melted and Santa Claus heads to a sunnier climate to top up his tan and vitamin D levels? Well, the reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, not forgetting Rudolph of course; join their furry friends at Vaaran Porotila, which translates from Finnish to English as Vaara Reindeer Farm; for a well-earned seasonal rest.
VAARA REINDEER FARM, RANUA, FINLAND – FAMILY FRIENDLY
Our visit to Vaaran Porotila, in Ranua, Finland; had been kindly organised by Tuomas, over at Arctic Guesthouse & Igloos. What a great way for The Callaghan Posse to get up close and personal with the reindeer. Our arrival to Vaaran Porotila was expected and Hannu, the owner; along with his brother-in-law, Janne; greeted us warmly, or should that be coldly, after all, it’s a chilly -6°C. Vaara Reindeer Farm, which is family owned and has been for many generations, is a fully working reindeer farm with in excess of 200 reindeer. But that said, one thing we have come to learn on our annual visits to Finland, is that it’s actually quite impolite to ask a Sami herder how many reindeer they own, it’s a bit like asking you or I how much money we have in our bank accounts! Just don’t do it!
READ: SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS IN A GLASS IGLOO AT ARCTIC GUESTHOUSE & IGLOOS
JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE ALL THE WAY
It’s quite late in the afternoon, around 4pm; and as such we are the only tourists visiting Vaaran Porotila. Great, we have this antlered wildlife-wonderland all to ourselves. And as our guided tour of Vaara Reindeer Farm begins, we are joined by Hannu’s beautiful daughters, Milla and Maiji-Reeta, both keen to practice their spoken English with Lily-Belle and Matilda. Milla towed a plastic sled laden with bags containing moss, or lichen; a staple diet of Finnish reindeer during cold winter months. From the jingling sound of bells coming from the paddocks, the reindeer know that it’s feeding time and long overdue as Hannu elucidated that the reindeer usually get fed in the morning. Hannu explains the ‘enclosure safety etiquette’ that we must adhere to before we are taken to the first of the many reindeer paddocks. Mainly…count your fingers going in, and count them again coming out, reindeer bite, and avoid the antlers! Safety first…always!
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH VAARAN POROTILA REINDEER
Entering the first enclosure at Vaara Reindeer Farm, Lily-Belle and Matilda were a little startled as the reindeer, quite large, muscly and many with pointy-sharp antlers; brushed past them, jostling to find a premium grazing position. It’s obvious the reindeer have just one thing on their mind…lichen! Hannu explained that the reindeer are separated into enclosures depending on their age. Such a wonderful site to see these semi-wild/semi-domesticated reindeer roaming freely among the pine trees and eating lichen from the hand of Hannu, the herder. As the reindeer are semi-domesticated, they are inquisitive (and hungry) of the new farmhands and approach us cautiously…the desire for food conquers their fear! Maija-Reeta offered the large bag of lichen to Lily-Belle and Matilda to assist in feeding the reindeer. Although a little shy and hesitant at first, the girls soon had hungry reindeer eating lichen from the palms of their snug-fitting-liner-gloved hands. Outer gloves had been removed and safely secured in pockets prior to entering the enclosure, reindeer are apparently partial to nibbling and removing gloves from the wearers hands.
LICHEN…GOING, GOING, GONE
Casually strolling through the reindeer paddocks, whilst trying to avoid stepping in reindeer poop; Hannu chatted with us, (thankfully in English, our spoken Finnish is poor to say the least), sharing anecdotes about his life as a Sami reindeer farmer and telling interesting facts about the life of a reindeer at Vaara Reindeer Farm. Bells, which are attached to the reindeers reflective collars; ringing in melodic tones as we are followed closely through the enclosure by skittish reindeer, each desperate for a handful of ‘reindeer candy’…lichen. It didn’t take long for Lily-Belle and Matilda to relax and enjoy being in the presence of these gentle creatures. Finland is a world away from Ireland when it comes to health and safety. Visiting a reindeer farm at home, we would only be allowed to view the antlered reindeer from a distance or from the ‘safe’ side of a maximum-security fence. Not in Finland, we are right in the middle of the boisterous reindeer herd with jagged antlers, stomping hooves and all…and we love it!
REINDEER ARE RUDER THAN PEOPLE
Just to say, Hannu may have explained the ‘enclosure safety etiquette’ to us, but the reindeer obviously make up their own rules as they go along! Having stood chatting for too long without handing out fresh lichen, it isn’t long before you receive a nudge or two in the back from an impatient reindeer with impressive antlers. Absolutely no manners whatsoever! Reindeer antlers are sharp, but thankfully it isn’t too painful when you get jabbed in the back or butt as I did…several times! Matilda let out a shriek now and then as the reindeer tried to nuzzle on her ‘fur’ coat. No doubt with repugnance seeing her faux fur-lined hood, quite possibly wondering if it was a distant reindeer cousin. Many of the reindeer at Vaara Reindeer Farm either had huge antlers, one single antler or no antlers at all. Broken off in fights, or antler shed…who knows! Nearly every reindeer (if not all), had deep score marks on their hides, almost certainly gauged by the antlers of other reindeer. A stark reminder to be on our guard at all times.
10 FUN AND FASCINATING REINDEER FACTS
And here are a few fun and interesting facts that we learned on our visit to Vaara Reindeer Farm:
- reindeer calves can walk within 15 minutes of being born and run within 1 hour, this is a survival instinct,
- antlers start off as a bony nub on the head of the reindeer called a pedicle,
- antlers are made of bone and covered by a furry skin called velvet,
- reindeer are the only species of deer in which females also grow antlers,
- reindeer shed their antlers annually, growing a new and bigger set each year,
- the preferred food of a reindeer is lichen – a fungi, moss-like plant that’s 94% carbohydrate and 6% acid,
- reindeer are fast, they can run at speeds of up to 50mph (80kph),
- reindeer are exceptionally strong and fast swimmers, often covering long distances at 4-6mph (6-10kph),
- the average life-span of a reindeer is 15 years in the wild, and 20 years in captivity,
- and last but by no means least, and our favourite fact…reindeer actually do have red noses just like Rudolph…well, sort of! Reindeer noses are full of tiny veins that circulate warm blood around their nose, the warm blood heats up the air that the reindeer breathe in so they don’t get cold…how clever is that!
And another fact, which we struggled to get through to Matilda; is that female reindeer are called cows, and male reindeer are called bulls. As we live in rural Northern Ireland with lots of ‘cows’ and ‘bulls’ in the fields, trying to convince Mat-Moo of this ‘reindeer’ fact, was liking trying to find unicorn poo in a forest made of candy floss….impossible! And in all honesty, Lily-Belle thought we were just trying to play a prank on them until I showed her the ‘cows’ and ‘bulls’ evidence with the aid of a smart phone and Uncle Google. Hilarious and frustratingly funny to say the least!
SANTA”S REINDEER ARE…FEMALES
Everyone knows that Santa Claus’ reindeer are special, but not everyone knows they are female! Although, to be fair to Lily-Belle, she has made this claim every Christmas for the last 4-5 years. Up close and personal the Vaaran Porotila reindeer look just like any other reindeer, but add a sprinkling of ‘magical flying dust’ to their lichen and it’s up-up-and-awaaaaaay! Matilda was convinced she saw the lichen sparkling, and who were we to burst our little ‘believers’ bubble.
One thing we wanted to know during our visit to Vaara Reindeer Farm was whether or not Santa’s reindeer were male or female. As a family we all had a differing of opinions. Thankfully Hannu was able to shed a little light on the matter. Turns out that the majority of male reindeer shed their velvet antlers in early December, which indicates the end of the mating season. But the female reindeer tend to keep their antlers throughout the full winter season. So, with that in mind, and Christmas Eve being toward the end of December; we put Hannu on the spot and asked the ‘male or female’ question! And, we can ‘categorically’ conclude that…drum roll please (drrrrrrrrr)…Santa’s reindeer are females (probably). Okay Lily-Belle, you can take that smug ‘told-you-so’ smirk off your face now before it freezes and stays that way forever…clever clogs!
READ: A MAGICAL TRIP TO SANTA CLAUS HOLIDAY VILLAGE
ON THE TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE
Having spent an hour or so exploring Vaaran Porotila, Hannu asked the girls if they would like a sleigh ride with one of Santa’s reindeers…excitedly, they said yes! Matilda asked if the reindeer was Rudolph, but with the absence of a bright red nose, other than our own, it was now -9°C and temps were dropping rapidly as nighttime began to close in; I had to tell her that this particular reindeer was Dancer! Hannu guided Dancer, with giddy girls and Lappish sleigh in tow; meandering between pine trees and along a well-trodden snow-covered trail in the forest, Dancer pulled us effortlessly over the crisp white snow. A damp smell of wet moss and pine needles filled the chilled air. Such a beautiful and peaceful way to take in the Vaara Reindeer Farm and the Arctic wilderness! And, feel free to laugh (we did), Matilda was aghast when Dancer decided to drop, how to put this politely, a ‘doo-doo’ right in front of her and Lily-Belle as he pulled them along in the traditional sleigh! Maybe it was ‘muck for luck’!
IN FINLAND, THERE ARE MORE REINDEER THAN PEOPLE
Upon our return to base at Vaara Reindeer Farm, Dancer was tethered to a post and given a feed of lichen, well earned after pulling The Callaghan Posse around the grounds in a sleigh! Matilda asked why Dancer was tied to a post, and I had to fob her off with…‘stops him flying away’. Janne beckoned us to a nearby traditional Lappish hut where a large set of antlers adorned the wall above the door, a snow shovel leant against the wall and the smell of smokey pine filled the air. A cup of hot coffee for the adults, and warm berry juice for the nippers along with traditional Lappish biscuits. A lone sausage sizzled on the griddle. As the yellow-orange flames danced and flickered, we shared warming stories of Finnish and Irish life and how Hannu’s family got into farming reindeer. Hannu also explained that there are more reindeer in Finland than there are people, and that nearly every reindeer is owned by someone. In fact, we are led to believe that there are very few wild reindeer in Finland!
THE SUN WAS SETTING AND OUR VISIT WAS OVER
The children played in the snow for a short time making snow angels and throwing snowballs, anything to try and make their stay last a little longer. And who can blame them, Vaaran Porotila is special, as are the people who run it! And with that, our guided tour of Vaara Reindeer Farm had sadly come to an end. The reindeer had been fed, and the bells began to fall silent as they bedded down in the snow. No doubt dreaming of flying across the Finnish night sky with a sleigh full of presents and Santa Claus at the helm. As for us, a moment to wipe reindeer poop off our shoes in the snow before our onward journey to spend a night in a Glass Igloo at Arctic Guesthouse & Igloos! There’s a well known saying that goes ‘ don’t eat yellow snow’….well, same rules apply to ‘brown snow’! Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!
WATCH OUR HIGHLIGHT VIDEO BELOW OR VIEW ON YOUTUBE
WOULD WE GO BACK?
Yes. The weather in Finland may be cold during the harsh winter months, but the hospitality and friendliness of the Finnish people is exceptionally warm and welcoming. Hannu, Janne, Milla and Meiji-Reeta were the perfect hosts, and what they don’t know about reindeer farming, well…probably isn’t worth knowing anyway! The knowledge they have gained in reindeer farming has been passed down from generation to generation, with each new generation being shown the skills required, plus adding a few skills of their own; to be a successful reindeer farmer. Vaaran Porotila is both fun and educational and it’s clear to see that Santa’s reindeer look happy and are well looked after by Hannu and his wonderful family.
With a very special THANK YOU to::
- Hannu, Milla, Maiji-Reeta and Janne – for being the perfect hosts, and for your extended kindness in allowing us to visit the reindeer farm.
- Tuomas Haapala (Digital Marketing Strategist at Arctic Guesthouse & Igloos) – for arranging our visit to this magical reindeer wonderland.
- Dancer – for taking us on a magical sleigh ride and introducing us to all of the other reindeer.
We are grateful to each and every one of you for your hosting and friendliness. Our visit to Vaaran Porotila has formed many special memories that will stay with us forever. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for making our visit special. It was a true pleasure working alongside Vaara Reindeer Farm on this collaboration.
Hyvästi, nähdään taas kaikki pian.
If you would like information on opening times or pricing, please visit Vaaran Porotila.
LILY-BELLE SAYS (11)
I didn’t think we would be able to go inside the reindeer enclosures, so that was a nice surprise. The reindeer seem scary, but really they are quite tame and obviously used to humans passing through.
MATILDA SAYS (5)
The reindeer are really big and I was scared of their antlers, they could jab my eyes out! I really liked our reindeer ride and stroking Dancer but I didn’t like him doing a poop in my face! Feeding the reindeer was fun, they are so cute! I like my new friends Milla and Maija-Reeta.
Date(s) of visit: 11th March 2020
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[disclaimer: Our visit to Vaara Reindeer Farm was gifted. Gifted item(s) were provided in return for social media and blog coverage. This blog post contains external links, we do not receive any commission or payment if you click through these links.
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