What is a reindeer roundup?
There are about 200.000 reindeers in Lapland, owned by approximately 6.500 reindeer owners, which are also called herdsmen.
Twice a year some of the herdsmen of the same area and their families meet to gather their reindeers in roundish, specially made corrals, that are made out of wooden fences. These corrals feature one main corral, which is the biggest one, where all the reindeers are gathered, a medium one where the marking happens and several smaller ones, that are connected to the medium corral.
These roundups happen in summer and autumn and sometimes in winter as well. During this gathering reindeer fawns are marked at their ears with the same mark as their mothers, so the herdsmen know to whom the fawns belong. Some marks look like little tacks, others are just a recognizable cut in their ears.
The autumn roundup serves to mark those fawns which were not maker during the summer roundup, to count the animals and to separate those who will be slaughtered.
Depending on how big the herds are the roundup can take between 5 to 12 hours.
The bus departed at 7:45, so we had to get up at 6:15. I know life is had especially as a student. We arrived at the university where some forestry guys/students were already waiting. They were wearing all proper forestry or camouflage cloth. I did not. But thanks to our awesome university I could borrow a pair of wellies for the day. With several warm layers of cloth, sandwiches and proper shoes we arrived in the middle of nowhere at the reindeer roundup.
It was impressive to see so many reindeers (no, not all 200.000 of Lapland, but still a lot) inside the wooden corral, but also sad at the same time. You could tell that the animals were stressed. Fawns called their mummies, males tried to make some new baby’s and the females were annoyed and worried about their babies.
First, we had to wait outside the corral, while they caught some strong male animals with a lasso, which looked quite strenuous. It needed four or five men to hold the biggest reindeer on the ground. After the females plus fawns and males were separated we were allowed to enter the main corral.
I have seen reindeers before, but it is a completely different experience if they stand just an armlength away from you, or run towards you with their pointy antlers. Every single reindeer looks different. Some had very simple antlers, others have many branches which looked very pretty. Some have completely white, or dark fur, others are a mixture of both. My favorite reindeer didn´t have any antlers but a beautifully dotted muzzle instead. I hope he or she didn´t get slaughtered.
I asked one of the herdsmen by which criteria’s they decide which reindeer will be set free and which one will end up on someone´s plate. He explained to me that 40% of the fawns, and some males and females get slaughtered. Independent, active and strong fawns, that would survive the strong winter have a higher chance to be set free than others. The same applies to the male and female animals, if they are healthy, strong and active they will probably survive the roundup.
We were allowed to help with the separating and marking of the reindeers but I preferred to take pictures (almost 200) and try to stroke them. We could also watch the slaughtering process, which happed right after the roundup, but I declined with thanks. I didn’t want, nor need to see that. Instead, I learned who to catch a tree trunk with a lasso. After a few missed attempts I succeeded twice. It is not so difficult as it looks like, you just need to figure out at what point of the throwing movement you have to let go of the rope. But to be fair, the wooden trunk was just standing about 10 meters away, and it was not moving 😀
Our trip ended with tea, coffee, biscuits, and sausages at the campfire. Now I know how to build a seat out of two pieces of firewood and a lot about reindeers. Thank you for such an interesting and different trip!