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A day with the reindeer

Reindeer husbandry, a source of livelihood that dates back hundreds of years, is still as important as ever in the fells of Lapland. Sledge reindeers tamed and trained using the traditional methods of reindeer herders can be seen carrying a nomad’s equipment in the fells. Petteri Valle, a fifth-generation reindeer farmer and a tourism entrepreneur, is enthusiastic about developing his traditional profession on nature’s terms.

Travellers can enjoy reindeer safaris in the fells throughout the year, admiring the midnight sun in the summer, the glowing colours of ruska in the autumn, and the long polar night, the bright stars and magical Northern Lights in the winter. Petteri has many stories about the traditions of reindeer husbandry to share along the way.

The tale starts to unfold right at the beginning of the journey when the travellers pack their equipment and prepare for the journey ahead. They get a glimpse of what life was like a century ago, at a time when the reindeer represented the only way to transport equipment in the fells.

The names of places visited along the way have tales of their own to tell. According to Petteri, almost every rock has a name, and there is a story behind every name. The Saami families also have their own places of tradition, and each of these places is rich in folklore.

– These places have been the scene of many hilarious mishaps but also some unpleasant incidents.

The shortest reindeer safaris take just a few hours, but longer safaris of up to three days are also available for the more adventurous traveller. At Petteri’s reindeer farm, visitors also have the opportunity to try their hand at some of the daily chores of reindeer husbandry. You can try reindeer herding – and if you are in luck and happen to visit the farm during the annual reindeer roundup, you may also get the chance to help out at the enclosure.

To Petteri, reindeer husbandry is more a way of life than a profession.

– Reindeer husbandry requires perseverance and the ability to look to the future, although you should never forget your past either.

Petteri’s father, Johan N. Valle, came to Utsjoki over the fells from Kaamasmukka, Inari, and established a reindeer farm in the 1970s. However, the years have brought about many changes.

For centuries, life was based on a barter economy. Fishermen, hunters and farmers bartered their catch and quarry, agricultural products and reindeer meat by the riverside. The Arctic Ocean was the obvious direction for trading.

The nomadic Reindeer Saami lived their lives following the age-old cycle of the reindeer. In April and May, they would accompany their reindeer herds to the calving areas by the shores of the Kalddas and Polmak rivers. When autumn came, the reindeer and the people would return to the winter grazing areas.

In the period from 1960 to 1980, the traditional sources of livelihood of the Saami people were radically changed by the market economy. Snowmobiles, mobile phones and radar collars came into the picture. Petteri admits that adapting to the new circumstances has been a challenge, because new methods and practices are constantly being introduced, and people simply do not have enough time to properly adjust to any of them.

Petteri’s father, Johan, reminisces that in his time expenses did not exceed income – and then, all of a sudden, replacing a broken snowmobile belt was suddenly as expensive as a reindeer.

Despite everything, reindeer husbandry remains an important source of livelihood to this day. Petteri feels that reindeer husbandry would benefit from development and believes that tourism will bring added value to the profession.

– The most fundamental principles of reindeer husbandry are in need of modernisation, and other sources of livelihood should be involved in this process.

Petteri feels that a more ecological perspective should be adopted in reindeer husbandry and in the development of this traditional source of livelihood. Smaller reindeer herds would tax the environment less and also increase the income and profits of reindeer farmers by cutting down on costs.

The day at the reindeer farm starts early. Petteri feeds his reindeer at the crack of dawn and then spends the day training reindeer to pull a sledge and carry loads. Before going to bed, he feeds the reindeer again. Trips into the nature are organised when there are visitors staying at the farm. 

Petteri spends time with his reindeer every day and shares a special bond with some of them. An elderly 18-year-old buck lumbers freely around the farmyard. This one is in the habit of taking a stroll in the fells when he feels like it, but he always returns home.

Poronpurijat / Lomakylä Valle Utsjoki
0400 948 210, poronpurijat(at)luukku.com