Reindeer husbandry

Reindeer husbandry as an industry, culture and way of life is unique, both nationally and internationally.

Reindeer husbandry is found in nearly 140 of the 485 Norwegian municipalities, covering about 40 % of the land area of Norway.
Reindeer husbandry is found in nearly 140 of the 485 Norwegian municipalities, covering about 40 % of the land area of Norway. Credit: T. Gustavsen/Markesdutvalget for reinkjøtt

Reindeer husbandry is a small industry on a national scale, but in Saami and local communities it is of great importance for the economy, employment and culture. 

In Norway, Reindeer husbandry originated within the Saami population. Today, Saami Reindeer husbandry is centered mainly in mountain pastures and rangelands in the northernmost counties of Norway: Finnmark, Troms, Nordland and Nord-Trøndelag, as well as parts of South Trøndelag, Møre and Romsdal and Hedmark in Mid-Norway. 

Somewhat over 3000 people are active in Saami Reindeer husbandry, 2200 of them in Finnmark alone, which is the largest reindeer county. 

In southern Norway there are an additional four herd cooperatives: Lom, Vaagaa, Fram and Filefjell Reindeer Association. Rendal Renselskap (Rendal Reindeer Company) operates a particular form of Reindeer husbandry, mainly processing privately owned animals in Rendalen, Engerdal and Trysil. 

The number of reindeer varies anually, but today there are about 250.000 herd animals in Norway, more than 185.000 of them in Finnmark. The herds are composed of about 74 % females, 20 % yearlings and 6 % bulls.

Area dependent industry

Profitable Reindeer husbandry requires large areas - a given pasture range can only sustain a limited number of animals, and migrating reindeer herds each need eight different seasonal pasture ranges.

The natural treks of the animals and a nomadic style of herding is the backbone of optimal production.

Reindeer husbandry is found in nearly 140 of the 485 Norwegian municipalities, covering about 40 % of the land area of Norway.

With time, the Reindeer rangelands have become reduced. Maintaining sufficient areas for Reindeer husbandry is therefore a paramount responsibility for the authorites regulating Reindeer husbandry.

Other industries, tourism and Reindeer husbandry will from time to time have conflics of interests in Reindeer herding areas, which generally leads to vigorous debate.

Traditional common herding 

The Saami rangelands are divided into six regional pasture ranges, in turn divided into 82 districts.

In each district, groups of Reindeer owners operate one or more common herds, sharing in day to day operation. Reindeer carry an owner's mark.

These herd groups are called "siida" and "sitje" in North and South Saami, respectively. In recent years there have been around 100 individual summer siida and about 150 individual winter siida.

Legslation and administration 

The administration of Reindeer husbandry is the responsibility of the Directorate of Agriculture, Reindeer Section, headquartered in Alta in Finnmark.

In 1976 the Reindeer industry in Norway signed its first Reindeer Agreement, renegotiated annually, with regard to current industry needs and challenges. The present Reindeer Act came into force in 2007.

The complementary Reindeer Agreement and Reindeer Act are the Directorate's prime instruments for fulfilling the objectives and regulations that make up Reindeer husbandry policies.

Reindeer husbandry was established long before the borders of Northern Scandinavia were officially drawn. Nordic cooperation is therefore important. Reindeer owners of Sweden, for instance, have pasture rights in certain rangelands in Norway.