How is Deer Antler Velvet Harvested?
Deer antler velvet is soft growing antler tissue which is cast off every year and re-grown by Cervus spp (deer). In Latin, the word from which antler is derived, anteoculae, means “in front of the eyes,” and this is where they grow, from thick, bony cores that rise from skin covered pedicals. Antlers differ from horns in that horns are permanent (Church, 1999).
In the wild, stags grow and cast off a set of antlers every year.
On deer farms, deer antler velvet is harvested approximately 8 weeks after the antlers begin the growth cycle. Around this time, antlers have reached their most nutrient abundant growth stage. Genetics is the most common cause of variation in these time tables.
The harvesting process begins by bringing the deer into indoor pens. The deer are minimally restrained and the new antler growth is hygienically removed with a cutting tool such as a saw, cooled and frozen (Suttie et al., 1994). Velvet yield is subject to a number of intrusions, including parasites, nerve supply injury, and season (Burgio).
Deer antler velvet is dried prior to its manufacture into various medicinal forms.
The method of drying used to involve boiling the antlers and then allowing them to dry 60-700C, and is sometimes referred to as preservation. In 1963, one investigator noted that the drying process increased active substances, and that the active principles in pantocrin are the phosphates, biogenic bases, amino acids and their by-products, produced in the process of preservation (Fisher et al., 1999).
Studies reported by Russian chemists in 1974 (Yudin and Dubryakov, 1974) suggest that boiling antler tips destroys bioactive potential, however, and newer methods of extraction used today involve a freeze-drying process that does not include boiling water (Suttie and Haines, 1996).
Additionally, a food-grade drying process has been developed by researchers at the University of Alberta (Sim and Sunwoo, 1999). Such a process is currently sought after as a means of preserving the collagen content of deer antler velvet, which is therapeutically active but destroyed in the heating phase of most drying methods.