Finland has a large population of semiwild reindeer, approximately 200 000 animals. Reindeer are herded in the reindeer management area, which covers more a third of the land area of Finland in the northern part of the country. Reindeer herding is a traditional livelihood of indigenous Saami people, but many Finns own reindeer as well.
Reindeer are herded mainly for meat. Other material products are pelts, skins, antlers and bones. The revenue of reindeer herding before taxes was 23.2 million euros in 2008. There were approximately 4 500 reindeer owners in 2013. Reindeer herds feed mainly on natural pastures such as lichen grounds on forested and alpine heathlands.
Reindeer herding has been practised in Finland since the beginning of the 17th century. In the first half of the 20th century the population size of reindeer was still quite low and stable. Their natural pastures regenerated well. In the 1970s reindeer numbers began to grow along with the demand for reindeer products, primarily meat. Since the mid-1990s the number of reindeer has remained at a high level of approximately 200 000 animals, but at the same the profitability of reindeer herding has decreased.
In the beginning of the 1980s the feeding of the reindeer during winter months became a common practice due to increasing pressure from other land use forms (e.g. forestry, mining) and new infrastructure. Before this reindeer had found all their nutrition on their own from nature. During summer they eat leaves of dwarf shrubs, bushes and young trees as well as wavy hair-grass (Deschampsia flexuosa) and Cyperaceae, among others. Mires are an especially important habitat for reindeer during summer months. In winter reindeer feed primarily on lichens and wavy hair-grass which they dig up under snow cover, and the Alectoriaceae sp. which grows on tree branches.
The real producer price of reindeer meat peaked in the beginning of the 1980s and has decreased considerably since then. The profitability of the reindeer herding is in decline and the cost-effectiveness of the over-winter feeding is low.
Along with the direct benefit of meat and other reindeer products, reindeer herding has great cultural value in the northermost parts of Finland. It is both an integral part of the indegenous Saami culture and acts as important attractor for tourism.
- Updated (29.10.2015)