Finland's legally defined reindeer herding area covers 36% of Finland although it is primarily in the northernmost areas of Finland. There are about 203 700 reindeer and 5,000 reindeer owners. Of these, c. 1000 of these are Sami. Annually some two million kilos of reindeer meat come on to the market.
In total there are about 9000 official Sami people in Finland and they are the only indigineous peoples recognised by the European Union. Whilst lots of information can be found online about the Sami (eg ) culture, it is worth remembering that the reindeer herding culture is also part of the Lappish culture.
Reindeer husbandry is defined in reindeer husbandry legislation, which was passed for the first time in 1932. The current Reindeer Husbandry Act dates from 1990. Under the law, reindeer can be owned only by EU citizens and reindeer owners associations residing permanently in the reindeer husbandry area.
The reindeer husbandry area is divided into 57 reindeer owners associations, which operate as the administrative and functional units for reindeer husbandry. Reindeer owners belong to reindeer herding associations and the National Federation of Reindeer Herding Associations acts as their joint body. Control is exercised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, which stipulates the maximum permitted number of reindeer. The decisions are based on what the reindeer grazing areas can tolerate.
Reindeers can consume many natural plants ranging from twigs to moss and lichen. Reindeers exert a significant influence on nature and they graze freely also in nature protection areas.
The reindeer husbandry area covers around 114,000 square kilometres, around one third of the entire area of Finland. Weather conditions, particularly the winter snows have a decisive impact on reindeers well-being. The snowmobile has revolutionised reindeer husbandry methods. Reindeers are no longer tended in winter time as they once were; they are gathered together from extensive areas for sorting and then allowed once more to graze freely. Winter feeding has become more the rule than the exception also in fell areas, although natural grazing still has an important role to play in reindeer husbandry.
Food Department, Reindeer Husbandry, tel: +358 (0)295 16001.
Visits to working reindeer farms can be arranged through a number of companies. Just across the road from us, for example, lies Minna's Reindeer Farm which offers c. 3 hour farm visits, rides and reindeer meat tasting tours. Their tours are insightful and Minna speaks both English and German pretty fluently.
During your tour with Minna, she promises to cover questions such as: How do the local people live in Enontekiö? What do they do with their reindeer? What is the reindeer lifecycle and what is life as a local herder family in Lapland like?
Everyone is given the opportunity to see some of our reindeer and get to know them better by feeding them in our corral as well as seeing a lasso demonstration and to try throwing it for themselves. Minna also has one of the northernmost horse stables in Finland where two breeds of trotters are bred: Finnish Horses and American WB Horses. She will talk more about this side of her life to those interested. She concludes her standard program in her traditional farm kota (Lappish cottage) by serving hot drinks and a tasty lunch of reindeer sausage, Lappish bread and salad, whilst seated around an open fire. There will also be an opportunity to taste dried reindeer meat (vegetarian option available).
Minna's tour can be conducted in Finish, Swedish, English and German. The lunch lasts 2-3 hours and costs €65 for adults, €45 for children under 12. Infants under 2 are free. Minimum group size: 2 people. Reindeer skins, antlers and meat are also for sale.
Short visits are also occassionally possible (One hour, without lunch, for €25) - preferably on Thursdays.
Another person offering reindeer journeys in and around Hetta is Esko Kultima. Esko is a reindeer herder whose family also drives buses and taxis locally, so don't be surprised if you quite literally meet him wearing two hats! Esko often has larger groups and can carry 1-2 per sleigh with multiple sleighs in a row (he calls it a reindeer caravan) although his minimum group size is 2.
Between December 1st and April 30th, you have the choice of participating in a short reindeer ride of 1-2km, a half-day trip (3-4 hours, for up to 10 people, including winter clothing, snacks and a campfire coffee) or a longer wilderness safari (for 2 or 3 days for 2-4 people, including winter clothing, full board and accommodation in a hut, shelter or winter tent).
In Autumn, (from Sept. 1st-October 10th), Esko also offers reindeer trekking. This is the traditional way to hike the Pallas-Ounastunturi National Park highlands, with Taamotut (domesticated) reindeer carrying your gear. Full-day trips / longer journeys are possible for groups of 1-8 people. Each reindeer can carry about 25kg and participants need to come fully equiped with the kit and clothing they will need, although lunch and an overnight stay along the route can be organised for you. Contact: Esko Kultima 0400-313 332, ([email protected]) or Markku Kultima, ([email protected]). Markku speaks English.
There are two other reindeer farm visit options which are slightly further afield...one to the east of Hetta, (Hannun porofarmi) and one to the west (Jouni Eiran porofarmi).
Jouni Eira's reindeer farm, is to the east of Hetta, in Peltovuoma, (c. 25 mins drive / 30km away) and offers longer tours out to the pastures c. 30km west of Hetta in winter and in summer he runs a 1 hour program for bus tours at €8 / person. Ounastie 2944, FI 99420, + 358 40725 1014. [email protected]
Participants in Finland's '100 days of Polar Night' Expedition spent -40C week with Jouni and his sons in Finnish Lapland in 2016 and the video of their time there, can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJimtdBIzfk
Palonporofarmi (sometimes called Hannun porofarmi) is located in Kutanen, the tiny village half way between Hetta and Karasuando, (c. 30 mins drive / 45km away). In the summer, the farm is open to passers-by, so it definitely the easiest place to just 'rock up and see some reindeer'. Group bookings are also possible (call Anneli on 0408248539). One of the women in the family is English by birth so a good service in English may be available if you call ahead. They sell smoked fish, sauteed reindeer, coffee, snacks and souvenirs and people are welcome to look around, ask questions etc.