Velvet Antler

Registered Rocky Mountain Elk

 

Bob and Janet Dahl

Oshkosh  WI 

920-233-0364

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An elk belongs to the deer family known as cervidae. There are many other members of the cervidae family - moose, caribou, red deer and  white-tailed deer - the common trait is an even number of toes.

The branching appendages of cervidae, are not "horns" but more correctly called "antlers". The term antler comes from the Latin anteoculare, meaning "in front of the eyes." Most deer experts believe that antlers serve more as visual cues to potential rivals than as battle weaponry. Since the size of the antlers depends on age, nutrition, and genetics, the larger the antlers, the older, better nourished, and genetically superior the body which produced them. To a rival competitor, a male with a magnificently large set of antlers is clearly dominant, and there is no sense engaging in potentially life threatening battle with him. With this system, all but the evenly matched are spared the physical dangers of combat.

Small platforms called pedicles (rhymes with medicals) on the male's skull give rise to a spongy cartilage-like tissue covered with a hairy skin (velvet) full of nutrient-transporting blood vessels. This antler growth, termed antlerogenesis, occurs throughout the summer months. The grooves you see on hardened antlers are the channels where the blood vessels supplied the mineral nutrients to the growing antlers. Antler can grow at the rate of 1 to 1˝ inches per day in some cases. This makes them the fastest growing tissue in the animal kingdom. Because dietary intake cannot supply enough minerals to support that rate of growth, the buck’s body actually mobilizes calcium from the entire skeletal system to use for antler growth. The body then replaces the minerals in the skeletal bones with dietary nutrients when antler growth has slowed. The similarity of this process to osteoporosis has led many to research antlers in an attempt to find a cure for that debilitating disease. 

In the fall, testosterone levels rise, which triggers the mineralization of the cartilage-like tissue, the drying of the blood vessels in the velvet, and cessation of antler growth. When the tissue has dried, the buck or bull rubs off the velvet on a nearby sampling or bush. The stripping of velvet occurs rapidly once started, usually 24-48 hours. When freshly stripped, the antlers are pure white. The brown pigment in tree bark called tannin, along with some residual blood, stain the antlers with the familiar brown color we see in the fall. After breeding is complete, other hormonal changes (mostly a drop in testosterone) in the male’s body trigger a weakening of the tissue at the base of the antlers, which degrades the attachment and allows the antlers to fall off. After only a few weeks, the next cycle of antler growth begins. It is a rare find to happen upon a shed antler owing to the abundance of rodents which make good use of this large mineral supplement dropped in their home range. Deer antlers are quickly converted to mouse bones, which eventually are converted to soil minerals, then forbs, before some calcium atoms are eaten by a deer to once again record another iteration in the never- ending cycle of nutrients through nature. 

Antler size increases with the age of the bearer, reaching a peak during the animal’s prime and decreasing slightly as the animal becomes old and its health declines. Bucks tend to keep the same general antler conformation year after year. In other words, bucks with wide racks early in life usually grow a wide set of antlers each year, while the racks of narrow and tall antlered bucks look similar each year. It is one of the great wonders of nature how a particular set of antlers can develop the same odd point on one side, in the same location, each time the antler regenerates. 

 

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Only bulls grow antlers.

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Bulls grow a new set of antlers each year.

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Antlers can grow from 1 to 1˝ inches each day.

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In just 90 to 120 days the bulls can grow an entire set of antlers.  

                                  Willow Creek Elk Farm © 2006                                    

5553 US Hwy 45 South  •  Oshkosh, WI 54902
Phone: 920-233-0364  •  Fax: 920-235-3049  •  Email:
jfdahl@willowcreekelkfarm.com

Last updated: November 26, 2007