Finland in winter is harsh, but man and animals live side by side existing as they have done for centuries. The Siberian huskies are descended from sled dogs, one of the oldest breeds of dogs. They love to work and as we arrived for our time with them they were ready to run.
The noise in the woodland was amazing as the dogs competed with each other to make the most noise. Those dogs who were not part of a team were friendly and coming to say ‘hello’, investigating their new rides. We were with Kota-husky, a really small, but very friendly company who took us out onto the fells of the Riisitunturi National Park near the small town of Posio. This national park is very close to Oulanka National Park, completely different in feel but both equally beautiful.
We headed out with our team of dogs, though the woodland, heading ever upwards. The trees opened up until we were surrounded by spruce trees laden with snow. This is a unique landscape made even more special with the midday Arctic sun skimming bright orange along the horizon.
The woodland was silent apart from the dogs working, scooping snow from the edge of the track as they ran past and the sledge runners on the track. Controlling 6 dogs is harder than it looks and the skill needed to turn corners without turning the sledge over was never really mastered. There were a number of near misses which resulted in me being voted the worst driver ever. We did however make it back in one piece and the hot drinks in the Lappish Teepee were a welcome end to the adventure.
In contrast our visit to the reindeer farm was peaceful and these gentle creatures were the complete opposite to the over excited huskies. Palosaari Reindeer Farm is family run and is between Ruka and Kuusamo. The reindeer are farmed for their meat and skins although a small number are kept for racing and chores around the farm. The antlers from both male and female reindeer are used for tools and decorations. The farm was beautiful with a red sky and a peaceful setting. Our first job was to learn how to drive the reindeer. In comparison to the dogs, this was more a job of keeping them moving than slowing them down. We did however complete the course!
After the chill of the sledge it was time for a lesson in reindeer use and farming. We were given loads of really interesting facts about how the reindeer live in the forest, are marked by the farmers and how the herds are identified and roam. It was then sausage cooking time! Both boys loved this and tucked in (even the big one who usually hates sausages!), maybe it was the whole cooking your sausage over the fire that fired their taste buds.
Reindeer calve in May and the calves are slaughtered in October in a similar way to lambs at just 5months old. We ventured out into the cold again to see the pregnant reindeer and to hand feed them. They were keen for the moss and there was definitely a pecking order for the treats. It was a risky business as all the reindeer had antlers which they seemed to forget were at eye level for small boys.
After the feeding it was time for a little retail therapy. Everything from trinkets to hats, bowls, rugs and soaps were made from reindeer. The animals really are used to the maximum. The farmers do however adore their herds and this was seen in their care and understanding of their animals.