Antlers make fantastic dog chews because they are 100% natural, 100% one ingredient, free from additives and chemicals, unprocessed, are hypoallergenic, long lasting, and contain all the proven health benefits of antler.
So where do the antlers come from?
Antlers are grown by male deer, moose, elk to name but a few. These animals grow their antlers as defence for protection against predators, and other males and for battling (rutting) other males in the mating session, to prove who is the most powerful deer to mate with. Amazingly these deer grow a new pair of antlers every year. They start growing in the springtime, around April, (depending on the climate and location) after they have shed / dropped their previous pair of antlers, just after the rutting season has ended.
They start off covered in soft, velvety, fuzzy covering, that supplies the blood supply to the growing bone. Incredibly they can grow up to an inch in length per day, (Yes, isn’t that amazing! ) making this one of the fastest growing tissue forms on the planet. Once fully grown, around late autumn, the velvet skin dries and falls or is rubbed off by the deer, against tree’s etc, leaving the fully hardened and formed antler behind.
These antlers are now ready for use, for territory marking by rubbing against tree’s, digging up the grown for dust baths, knocking fruit from trees or displaying to the other males and more importantly the females, their fine set of antlers or antler rack.
As a male deer (Buck) matures, the antlers grow larger. So a young male deer will start with a small set of antlers, and every year, they will grow a larger set, having a huge magnificent set of antlers when fully matured, 12 to 15 or even 20 years of life. When the rutting season begins, male deer, aggressively battle by engaging their antlers with the opposing male deer, in a fight to see who is the strongest. This involves lots of pushing and shoving to see who can gain the most ground. The winner of these battles tends to be the larger, maturest male deer, the Stag, and thus gains the attention of all the female deer. The younger bucks, waiting in the background.
Once this and the mating period is over, the male deer’s testosterone levels fall and the joint of the antlers to the scull becomes week and the antler fall off onto the ground. After a short period, the whole process starts again, and a new set of antlers start to grow.
A Few Facts.....
Antlers are made of honeycomb bone - they are different to horns grown by other animals which are usually made of keratin.
Male deer like to carry vegetation they have picked from the ground on their antlers to make them look larger and more powerful.
The abundance or lack of minerals and protein in a deer's diet can affect the size of the antler rack grown that year.
Even though antlers are shed every year and grow back again, but larger, they still have the distinctive form of each individual deer. Mangers of deer herds can tell from one year to the next, individual deer by their antler shape and the number and formation of the “Points”.
But there is more ...
All the above tells how antlers are grown and shed, but how do they get from the ground to becoming an antler chew?
Most “wild deer” are actually managed herds, that are allowed to roam wild in designated areas, such as parks and estates in the UK or larger reserves in Europe and the northern hemisphere. As part of the management and good husbandry of these herds, the antlers are collected from these areas and sorted into grades. Antler that has been freshly dropped that season and are undamaged, are Grade AA or A, depending on size. Antler that has missed collection and been lying on the ground for a few years and has normally gone a silvery grey colour are grade B. Antlers that have been lying around for a good number of years in the undergrowth and turned a very light grey or even white or damaged with open breaks, exposed to the woodland smaller inhabitants are classed as grade C.
Obviously, the best antler for dog chews are from grade AA and A antlers as these are the freshest antlers and have not had any insects gaining access to the inside of the antler, due to breaks and being laid around in the forest for years. Red Deer are the best breed of deer for antler chews as some of the others breeds are far too hard, the bone being almost pure hard bone with no honeycomb structure.