The Finnish reindeer was tamed long ago from the wild fell deer. The reindeer is a hoofed, long-legged, four-toed animal in the moose family. It is a ruminant and has four stomachs.
Both sexes have antlers, which they shed every year. The reindeer also changes its fur every year. Its size varies in different regions of the reindeer husbandry area. On the whole, females over three years weigh around 60–100 kilos and males over three years as well as castrated males weigh about 90–180 kilos. The lifespan of the reindeer is relatively long – females can live for as much as 18–20 years and they produce good calves up to their ninth calving season. Males can live to be over ten years old.
The reindeer has adapted well to the harsh conditions of the North
It endures temperatures of up to thirty degrees Celsius in summer and freezing temperatures of minus forty degrees Celsius in winter. In summer, the life of a reindeer is made difficult not only by the heat but also by blood-sucking insects that may be deadly companions to the calves. In the heat of the summer, the reindeer gather in large herds and they try to move to felled clearings and windier areas such as on the tops of fells and in the marshes, but also to the roads where they may be run over by cars.
The fur of a reindeer is extremely heat insulating so the problem for reindeer in winter is not the cold so much as the thick covering of snow. As the mantle of snow gets thicker, the reindeer has to dig ever deeper for forage. Due to the small weight distribution of its hooves, the reindeer easily manages to stay on the surface of the snow without sinking. In spring, as the surface of the snow hardens to a thick crust, digging for forage becomes increasingly difficult. Around this time, the reindeer have traditionally started to eat the beard moss that grows on the trees or they have moved to the fells. Even in normal winter conditions, a reindeer loses 20 per cent of its autumn weight.
New life every spring
Every spring, a female reindeer of three years and over generally gives birth to a calf weighing around 4-6 kilos. From the time they are born, the calves are extremely well developed but completely dependent on their mothers’ milk. A calf gets up on its feet as soon as half an hour after its birth. During its first summer and autumn, the calf follows its mother. A reindeer generally becomes sexually mature at the age of one and a half years. The rutting season for reindeer (rykimä) is in October-November, when the majority of females three years and over once again become pregnant. During the rutting season, the males three years and over gather a harem of 10–20 females around themselves. After rutting, the reindeer prepare for the long winter ahead.