The Tradition of Reindeer Herding in Lapland

Posted on January 28, 2013 by

As part of the Ice Run journey, we’re exploring the Finnish Lapland, one of the coolest parts of Europe. We did plenty of fun winter activities like snowmobiling and ice-fishing, here’s a story about meeting a reindeer herder in Rovaniemi.

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I’ve always imagined reindeers to have the power to whisk me into the sky, just like Santa Claus’ reindeer sleigh. But on our reindeer caravan, we are swaying in a slow, hypnotic rhythm. Not that I’m complaining – the pristine nature around us us in Luosto is absolutely gorgeous: powdery white snow cloaks whole area in white, while tall pine firs soar into the sky, with tiny water streams trickling into the valley.

A member of our reindeer caravan

After a short ride around the forest, we meet reindeer Herder Anssi Kiiskinen, one of the many reindeer herders in the Luosto region of the Finnish Lapland. He runs the reindeer farm Kopara with his family. Here in Lapland, most people still make a living from reindeer herding. It’s no surprise since there are more reindeers than people in Lapland (over 200,000 reindeers and 180,000 people). The Finnish government maintains the reindeer population at 200,000 to make sure that the population continues to breed at a healthy rate.

All of these reindeers are semi-wild; they’re owned by someone but they are free to roam wherever they want. Reindeers tend to hang around in the same area all their lives, and usually only go as far as 60km. For these reindeer herders, selling the reindeers’ meat and skin is their main source of income. The most important time of the year for them is in June, the start of the new year for reindeers as they all have calves during this period. Herders then go into the forests at the end of July to mark the calves. Around October and November, they head back into the forest again to count their reindeers and take the selected ones to the slaughter house.

the leader of our reindeer caravan

A Way of Life

Spotting bright blond hair and blue eyes, Anssi is a well-educated man in his thirties. Unlike his peers, he has chosen to stay in Rovaniemi to continue his father’s reindeer herding business which has been running for over 200 years. But to Anssi, it’s not just about keeping family traditions.

“I love being out in the forest. It’s the only place where I can be free!”, says Anssi. “The best thing about my job is that everyday is different. Nature decides and makes all the rules.”

Chatting with Anssi in a tippi tent

Even though reindeer herding doesn’t make him rich, Anssi is extremely happy with his life. “Freedom is more important to me than money.”

It’s obvious that reindeer herding is not just a job, but also a way of life. Sadly, reindeer herding is a dying trade in Finland. These days, the number of reindeer herders in Lapland is decreasing as more people are moving south in search of greener pastures. The presence of bears and wolverines is also lowering the reindeer population and making it an unprofitable business.

How long will reindeer herding continue? Nobody knows the answer but as long as people like Anssi keeps their passion burning, there will still be a future for the reindeers.

Anssi sharing with his story

Anssi's uncle

Anssi’s uncle who runs Kopara with him

That's us in our reindeer caravan


Disclaimer: This trip was made possible by Lapland – the North of Finland, but all opinions expressed are our own.

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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is the co-founder of WildJunket. As a professional travel writer with a special interest in offgrid destinations and adventure travel, she scours through the world in search for a slice of undiscovered paradise. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Guatemala, swam with sealions in the Galapagos and built a school in Tanzania.

11 Responses to “The Tradition of Reindeer Herding in Lapland”

  1. Angela January 29, 2013 12:48 am #

    This looks amazing. I never knew reindeers were so pretty!

    • Nellie January 30, 2013 4:31 am #

      They seem so fairy-tale like right?

  2. Jeremy Branham January 29, 2013 10:25 am #

    Very interesting to learn about the life of reindeers and herding. I can honestly say I learned some things from this. Never would have guessed that they stayed in the same areas for their entire lives. Hope reindeer tastes good!

    • Nellie January 30, 2013 4:30 am #

      Yeh, it\’s hard to imagine reindeers just staying in the same area their entire lives when they can easily roam free. We had reindeer steaks and they were so good – tender and flavorful!

  3. Migration Expert January 30, 2013 9:13 pm #

    I never thought there are people who make a life through reindeers and I don’t know until now that reindeers still exist! I thought they’re fairy tale or myth.

    • @WildJunket January 31, 2013 6:52 am #

      Reindeers definitely seem very fairy-tale like. I've only seen them in Lapland and Alaska. Can you imagine herding reindeers? That must be quite an interesting life.

  4. Jade February 3, 2013 12:36 am #

    Reindeering looks interesting

  5. Susan @ Travel Junkette February 17, 2013 11:42 am #

    So interesting! Reindeers seem so magical — though the diner in my town in Alaska does sell reindeer sausage!

  6. Family Vacations March 6, 2013 7:04 am #

    This is a wonderful as well as interesting article. I like it too much. This animal looks too beautiful. Many many thanks for thine impressive sharing. Keep it on………..As well visit our "Family Vacations" for take the good tips about the travels.

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