Reindeer husbandry

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

Reindeer farming can be found in nearly 140 municipalities.
Reindeer farming can be found in nearly 140 municipalities. 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

Viable reindeer husbandry requires large areas - because a given pasture area can only sustain a limited number of reindeer, and because reindeer use eight different seasonal pastures.

The Sami reindeer herding area covers about 40 percent of Norway's total land area, and in these areas the particular rules for Sami reindeer husbandry apply. This, however, does not mean that 40 percent of Norway consists of reindeer pasture available to the industry. Within the Sami reindeer area, extensive development areas have become unavailable for grazing. These include cities and towns, agricultural areas, roads, as well as industrial and tourist facilities. Within the Sami reindeer area, the right to pasture only includes the mountains and outback regions. Over the years, much of this grazing land has been lost through expansion of urban and rural centers. Even in areas that are still considered pristine wilderness, the reindeer lose pastures to the development of roads, hydropower, wind power, mining, etc. Reindeer will not only lose the limited space where a road, wind turbine or power mast is built; the reindeer will also shy away from a much wider radius around such installations, though the extent may vary. The actual grazing areas therefore cover far less than 40 per cent. Protecting reindeer herding areas is a key objective for the reindeer herding authorities. Other businesses, outdoor activities and reindeer herding sometimes have conflicting interests in pasture areas, which often leads to heated 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.