There are more than 100,000 reindeer in Northern Norway. You are almost sure to come across one or two during your holiday, especially if you travel through Finnmark.

Reindeer in Norway

Norway is home to both domesticated and wild reindeer. All the reindeer in Finnmark are domesticated animals owned by Sami reindeer farmers. Nevertheless, they graze freely in large areas, and you will rarely be able to walk up and pat a reindeer without it running away. Reindeer are naturally shy animals, which is hardly surprising as they spend most of their lives on the open plains without seeing anyone other than their herders.

Reindeer herding – where can you see reindeer?

Every family of reindeer farmers has summer and winter pastures, which they switch between to ensure that their reindeer have enough food. Early in the spring, before the reindeer calves are born, the herd starts to head for the coast. The animals spend the whole summer here under the midnight sun, and when autumn rolls around they begin the long trek back to their winter pasture farther inland.

On the summer pasture

This means that in the summer, there is a good chance that you will be able to see reindeer grazing along the coast. In Hammerfest, for example, it is not unusual to see reindeer wandering around in the town itself. It is an amusing sight. You are also almost certain to see some reindeer on the North Cape. The same applies along the coast in East Finnmark. In the winter, however, you will occasionally see reindeer farther inland – around Kautokeino and Karasjok, for example.

Antlers on simla

Did you know that the reindeer is the only species of which both genders have antlers? The female reindeer (also called the simla) has antlers in the winter, which she uses to claim her share of food. The male reindeer use their hooves to dig through the snow to find lichen, and the simla can then use their antlers to fight for the food that the males have uncovered.

What do reindeer eat?

The diet of the reindeer varies greatly between summer and winter. In summer, they eat 2–3 times as much as they do in winter. They do this to put on weight during the summer months. In the winter, they eat a lot less and cannot digest large quantities of food or rich food. Occasionally, thick layers of ice form over the pastureland and make it difficult for the reindeer to find food. In such circumstances, the reindeer farmers have to feed their animals with dry hay and dried lichen. One of the distinctive features of reindeer farming, however, is that it is based on utilising natural pastures all year round, by herding the animals between their summer and winter grazing grounds.

Moulting

In the early summer, you will notice that the reindeer look a little ragged. This is because their summer pelt is growing out, which makes their winter pelt fall off in large clumps. The reindeer’s winter pelt is extremely thick and provides excellent protection against the wind, rain and snow that the animal has to deal with in the winter months.

Who actually owns the individual reindeer?

A knife is used to cut a special mark into the ear of each reindeer. To the untrained eye, it simply looks as if the edge of the reindeer’s ear is a little uneven, but experienced reindeer farmers can recognise their own mark – and the marks of many other farmers – from a good distance. It is very impressive. You may also see that some calves have been given a temporary “hair mark”. This involves shaving the owner’s initials into the animal’s pelt until ownership has been definitively established. The calf follows the mother, which makes it possible to determine who owns the calf.

Sami cuisine

You simply cannot visit Finnmark without tasting reindeer meat, which is a regional speciality. It is served in many different ways at most restaurants. Try a delicious steak with potatoes, sprouts and newly blended lingonberry jam. Or how about a finely roasted tenderloin with tasty sauce, potatoes and vegetables? If you have the chance, you really should try the Sami party dish known as bidus. This is a thick, brown soup made from boiling meat, carrots and potatoes. This is the kind of dish you have to prepare for Sami weddings, where up to 1,000 guests celebrate the event together for several days.