In My Heart

The reindeer Is An Important Symbol of the Lapp Way of Life

The reindeer is the life and livelihood of the reindeer herding Lapps. The domesticated reindeer is widespread and quite numerous in the Arctic Region.

"Where are the reindeer?"

reindeer are adapted to life in snow This a common question among tourists crossing the Artic Circle. In spring most of the Norwegian reindeer migrate to the Arctic Coast. In the autumn they are moved back to the inland areas. Altogether there are around five hundred thousand of them in the three parts of Lapland. In Swedish Lapland they migrate to the high mountain areas on the Norwegian border.

Reindeer and Cold Climate

The Lapland reindeer can endure a very cold climate with much snow. One reason for this is the property of the reindeer's nose.

Reindeer manage well in thick layers of snow Reindeer hooves adapt to the seasons. During summer the footpads become spongy and provide extra traction possibilities. In winter the pads shrink and tighten. The sharp rim of the hoof can cut into ice and crusted snow to keep the animal from slipping. This also makes it possible for them to dig down through thick layers of snow to reach their favorite food which is a type of lichen known as reindeer moss.

The coat has two layers of fur with a tremendous insulating capacity. The woolly undercoat is dense, and the longer-haired overcoat consists of hollow, air-filled hairs.

Food for Humans

The low fat reindeer meat is considered the best treat in Lapland. Dried reindeer meat is a Lap delicacy. In february they hang lightly salted meat and reindeer hearts outdoors to dry. Dried meat can be stored for a long time without refrigeration. It's nice to bring with you on hikes. Reindeer meat is prepared in a variety of ways.

What Do Reindeer Eat?

They mainly eat various lichen in winter. The favourite is reindeer moss. But they also eat willow and birch leaves, as well as sedge and grass. It may even eat lemmings, arctic char, and eggs. During winters with scarcity of food, the reindeer herders supplement with grass.


In spring reindeer go to the calving grounds. A reindeer swims easily and quickly. Migrating herds will not hesitate to cross a lake or a broad river. In Norwegian Lapland some of the reindeer owners have their summer dwelling on islands off the Lapland Coast.

Traditionally the reindeer swam the straights to get over. Nowadays their use landing ships to relieve the reindeer of the tough ordeals of swimming the straights.

Reindeer Husbandry

In Lapland all reindeer are domesticated. Thus all reindeer hunting is prohibited.

Reindeer have been herded for centuries by the Sami. Other Arctic and Subarctic people have been doing this also. These people all kept reindeer for meat, hides and antlers. Earlier they also milked the reindeer and used them for transportation.

In Siberia they even used the reindeer for riding. But then we need to remember that the Siberian reindeer are larger than their Lapland relatives.

They roam freely on pasture grounds. In traditional nomadic reindeer herding, the herders migrated with their herds between coast and inland areas by the same migration routes, and herds are keenly looked after.

Even if they were tamed for milking and for use as draught animals or pack-load beasts. Still the large majority of reindeer have never been bred in captivity. The female reindeer calves in the spring in May. At this time the doe can nurse its calf without worrying about annoying insect swarms that come later. During summer the most important food for the reindeer is birch leaves, grass and lichen.

Even if the reindeer has been domesticated, they still are quite timid and will avoid people. During the mating period in autumn you should be a little careful if you are near male reindeer. They may attack if provoked. Lapland's predators, such as the wolverine, bear and wolf, are the natural enemies of the reindeer.

See this video with the Norwegian explorer, Lars Monsen, who follows a Reindeer family in winter.


In a self-sufficiency society, people used reindeer for many things. Reindeer were used as draught animals and pack-load beasts. They gave meat and milk and materials for clothing and tools.

The reindeer provided the family with a large part of the food. The rest of the reindeer body was used to make many kinds of items, like clothes and tools and equipment. The reindeer is utilised in a variety of ways and very little is left unused. I guess it is difficult to find any other animal that is utilised to such an extent.

The reindeer has had - and still has - an important economic role for many circumpolar peoples. Among these are the Lapps and the Nenets. A single owner may own from just a handful to hundreds and even thousands of reindeer.

The fur and meat is sold and is an important source of income for thousands of families throughout Lapland. Reindeer meat is very popular in Scandinavia.

Reindeer owners seldom tell you how many reindeer he has. If you ask, she'll probably ask you to tell him of the size of your own bank account.

Utilizing Skins

They nail the skins on a wall to dry out. When the fat of the skin dries on the surface of the hide, it gets water-repellent. The dried skins are nice to lie on. Thus these skins are much used on sledges in winter. Otherwise you can use the reindeer skin even in summer to sit or sleep on. When you visit a Lapp "lavvu" (the Lappish teepee), you'll notice the ever present reindeer skins.

Reindeer skins are used for making footwear. One type is called "nuvttot" which has the hairy side out. Reindeer suede and leather are suitable for making clothes. Reindeer skin is thin and easy to shape. It's also comfortable to wear.


The Lappish language has a wide range of names for reindeer. Names vary according to the colour of their coat. Ownership to reindeers is marked by cutting marks in the ears.

Reindeer Parks

In Lapland there are several reindeer parks where you can walk among reindeer and learn about reindeer husbandry The reindeer park gives a glimpse of the traditional local lifestyle.
You will learn about the woodlands and the mountains and and the conditions for reindeer herding and about the predators that come after reindeer. At the different parks you will experience the beauty and diversity of Lapland nature.


During the middle ages people caught wild reindeers by chasing them into pits. Traps and snares were used as well. Some hundred years ago the reindeer was domesticated.
From early times, reindeer have been privately owned. According to old sources, the Norwegian tribal chief Ottar, who lived in the 800's, was said to have owned 600 reindeer. The reindeer may have been owned and herded by the Lapps in Ottar's tax area.

In traffic

When driving in Lapland you have to concentrate because of the many reindeer roaming the roads. Each year there are several thousand reindeer road accidents.
Roads go through the reindeer grazing areas. The vegetation on roadsides attract reindeer to the road areas. During winter the reindeer seek roads because there is less snow. And in summer the open spaces of the roads can give some relief from mosquitoes. Many reindeer are also killed by trains.


The world's most famous aphrodisiac is probably made from reindeer antlers. And it's quite expensive. If you, or someone in your company are in need of an afrodisiac, let me tell you that reindeer antlers are powdered and sold as an aphrodisiac especially in Asian markets. There it even goes as a nutritional and medical supplement.
The funny thing is, you won't find it in shops on a regular basis here in Lapland.

Reindeer and Santa Claus

Especially in Finnish Lapland the reindeer is closely linked to Santa Claus. On the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi you can visit the Santa Claus Village and visit the reindeer park there.

Free Reindeer Photography Tips

We have prepared some short tips aimed at amateur photographers who travel in Lapland. The pros already know what to do and how to prepare and do the necessary research beforehand. Check the free Reindeer photography tips

Where the Reindeer Roam