Best time to visit Sweden

Marking the Reindeer in Sweden

For Sami, the people who live in Northern Lapland, reindeer means life itself

Best time: June–July

Marking the Reindeer
Marking the Reindeer

Sami are a native population scattered all over Sweden, but most settlements are located in the North of the country. During different parts of history they were decimated and restricted in many activities. The earliest mention of Sami and the way they hunted deer dates back to 9th century. However, during the 16-17th century, Sami began their transition to domesticating reindeer instead of only hunting. Nowadays there are around 51 Sami communities of around 20,000 people in total, out of whom 900 are reindeer herders.

The herding of reindeer is of a nomadic type, which means that they graze from season to season in different pastures. The year for reindeer is divided into eight distinct seasons, one of them is especially spectacular. During the spring months of April and May, the reindeer cows give birth to their cute calves. Typic​ally, each of them has one calf every year. The mothers care for their children for some time but eventually reject them. They mostly graze alone with their kids, and it is most important not to interfere.

Later, around June-July herders need to distribute calves among themselves. The only way to do this is by the calves' attachment to their moms. The calves that recognise their mothers are captured by a long wooden pole with a loop and then pulled down to be marked with a knife mark on the calves' ears, which is believed to be painless for the animal. Every group of Sami has their ​distinctive way of marking the calves. This spectacular tradition is important for Sami se​lf-identification.

Practical info

When is the best time to see the marking of reindeer in Sweden?

Tourists visiting Sweden will be delighted to witness the marking of reindeer around June-July every year. This is the time when the Sami herders need to distribute the calves among themselves, and you can witness the unique spectacle of capturing the calves with a long wooden pole and marking them with a knife. Keep in mind the importance of respecting the Sami herders and not interfering with the reindeer, particularly during the spring months of April and May when the reindeer cows give birth to their offspring. Show more

Where are the Sami communities located in Sweden?

Although the Sami are a native population spread throughout Sweden, their settlements are mainly located in the northern region of the country. Sweden has a total of 51 Sami communities, and the Sami population includes around 20,000 people, including 900 reindeer herders. Various museums and cultural centers, including the Ájtte Museum in Jokkmokk, offer an immersive experience in Sami culture, and travelers can enjoy events like the Jokkmokk Winter Market held annually in February. Show more

What is the way Sami traditionally hunted reindeer in Northern Lapland?

The Sami people have been hunting wild reindeer since the 9th century, but they started domesticating reindeer in the 16-17th century. Their nomadic herding style means moving them from pasture to pasture every season. The Sami community depends on the reindeer for food, clothing, and other necessary items, showcasing their symbiotic relationship. This cultural heritage is most respected by people visiting the Lapland region. Show more

What is the significance of marking of calves by Sami communities?

Marking the calves by Sami herders in Sweden is emblematic of the community's self-identification. Sami people from every group have distinct ways of marking calves, which is the only way to differentiate one group from another. A small piece of the ear is cut for marking the calf, which is considered a painless procedure. This tradition has passed from one generation to another, and it is an important part of Sami culture. Show more

Is it possible for tourists to observe the distribution of calves among Sami communities in Sweden?

The distribution of calves is an essential part of Sami's culture, but it is also a private matter for the herders. Although it may be possible for tourists to observe this tradition, it is crucial to respect the Sami traditions and not interfere with their way of life when visiting their communities. If tourists want to immerse themselves in Sami culture, they can visit museums, cultural centers, eco-tourism activities approved by the Sami community, and attend cultural events like the Jokkmokk Winter Market. Show more

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Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin