Castration Q&A

Q: What determines the number of points and the size of whitetail deer horns?

A: The number of points is determined by genetic factors, and the ultimate size of each set of antlers is determined by a combination of genetics and nutrition.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: Could you tell me if all White Tail Deer loose their antlers yearly in Southern Georgia?

A: All WTD bucks have an annual cycle of growth and shedding of antlers, and the deer in Georgia would be no exception.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: Do any female deer (does) have antlers?

A: The only deer species in which both sexes have antlers are reindeer and caribou.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: I recently heard that deer antlers are made from the calcium that deer eat – that the body of a deer needed to expel excess calcium and antlers was the method it used for this process. If this is true, then why do female deer not have antlers?

A: You are correct in saying that the calcium in antlers is the same as in bones, and the way in which the animals puts it all together is quite remarkable. However, it is not correct that the antlers are used to expel excess calcium. The deer is able to resorb calcium from long bones to supplement the calcium taken in as a part of the diet, in growing and hardening a set of antlers each year. This process of resorption is called “physiological osteoporosis”. Dietary calcium is still very important, and the final size of antlers each year can be affected by under-nutrition. That is, the deer will have a certain genetic potential for antler size, and the degree to which this potential is achieved depends on environmental factors – largely diet.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: What are the names of antlers in order or points in order? Eg: G1 or G2?

A: My knowledge of some aspects of WTD is rather limited, based on little opportunity to work with the species in this part of the world. I understand from a Canadian colleague that the points are named as G1, G2, G3 etc starting with G1 nearest to the head (equivalent to the brow tine in most other deer species). But there is apparently a rather complex scoring system, which depends on whether you are scoring a wild deer or a farmed one. There are also two types of antler – typical and non-typical. I suggest you talk to someone local with a better knowledge of this than I have.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: I certainly wouldn’t recommend this on an energetic wild deer. We penned our adult bottle-reared deer between 2 fence panels, and tied off his soft droopy antler parts with self-adhesive bandage, to restrict blood flow. 10 days later we penned him again. The pieces were blackish brown and looked dead. We anticipated having to cut them off, but they were hanging by a thread so we just grabbed and twisted. There was a little bright blood, and we held a clean cloth tight to his antler for a moment to help stop it. Our deer appeared more stressed by being penned than by the procedure, and walked off and ate corn from our hands afterwards. Did we risk infection going to his brain or any other concern?

A: I guess the main risk from using this sort of ligature is tetanus, and I would certainly cover the animal for this before tying off the antlers. He obviously found the whole procedure to be quite stressful, so of course there is also the risk of his injuring himself in some way. There is also a risk for the handlers, so on balance I cannot really recommend this method.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: I have heard from some Korean students that in South Korea there are deer farms where families cut off the deer’s antler (themselves) for use in oriental medicine. Does cutting off the deer’s antlers hurt it? Do they bleed and do they grow back? Thanks.

A: When deer are in the growth phase of their antlers each year the antlers in velvet are fully sensitive with their own blood and nerve supply. If the antlers are harvested for medicinal purposes there must be some form of analgesia applied and for control of bleeding a tourniquet may be necessary. If antlers are harvested early in the growth period there will always be some regrowth in that season, with the hard antler “buttons” being cast when the full antlers would have been cast if harvesting had not occurred. Growth of the new antlers then starts almost immediately.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: During a visit to a deer farm, I was told that if a stag was castrated at the wrong time, they could grow lots of velvet which could end up hanging down over their eyes. Is the same as perruque head? Or is this a condition occurring in a different type of deer / when the deer is castrated at a different stage of development?

A: You are correct – any male deer castrated after puberty becomes a perruque, with continuously growing velvet antler that never hardens. Not a good outcome.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: I am the veterinarian at the Chattanooga Zoo in Chattanooga, TN, USA. We have a herd of White-Tailed Deer of varying ages that were all acquired by confiscation by our wildlife resource agency and were deemed non-releasable back to the wild. All of the males were castrated after puberty before we acquired them, and their antlers show it. One of the “middle-aged” males has an antler than chronically and consistently has a slowly-enlarging area of bleeding and ooze. If given enough time a cave-like defect forms in the antler. There has been no response to multiple types of topical antibiotics/antiseptics, as well as oxytetracyline and TMS. Twice I have removed the antler, but the lesion forms again near the base and progresses up the antler. Previously I have been unable (for financial reasons) to culture or perform pathology on the antler. CBC and chemistry panels were normal. I have been unable to find anything matching its description in any
literature and no one has responded from the zoo veterinarian association with ideas. Do you have any particular possible diagnoses? I have read about Actinomyces causing “liquification” of antlers and cranial abscessation syndrome, and I am tempted to try penicillin. Does this sound reasonable?
Thank you for your time.

A: The condition that you describe is the inevitable result of post-puberal castration of male deer, referred to as a “perruque”. It is common and is a permanent state of continuous antler growth without the normal hardening taking place. The antlers become misshapen and prone to trauma and secondary infections. They are not very attractive and require regular trimming for their lifetime. This does not occur if castration is performed pre-puberally.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: We have a young (3 years) male that scratches his antlers and every season brakes them off somehow. This time he managed to get himself tangled up in a rope that resulted in splitting the antler. The damaged part had fallen off but the stub keeps staying moist and the flies are pestering him terribly. We are concerned, as we were told that the flies will lie eggs in the wound and that the maggots can burrow down into his brain and we would then need to put him down. Is this true ?
He is quite tame and eat out of our hand, but when we try and apply a spray (Wound – Sept), he won’t let us near him the minute he just smells the stuff.
Please advise if there is any other product that would be easier to apply, or if it is even necessary. Should we rather get a vet in to sedate and treat the wound ? Appreciate the advice. (South Africa)

A: The best way to deal with this problem is to cut the antlers off at about 45 days after he casts the previous year’s antlers. This is the process called velveting which every farmed fallow buck undergoes here. The growing antler is very sensitive and some form of analgesia must be used Commonest approach here is to sedate the buck with intramuscular xylazine (if he is tame you can do this with a hand syringe at about 1 mg/kg, then leave him in a pen until he can be caught – the xylazine produces quite good restraint but not enough analgesia – this is achieved by a ring block with lignocaime. Your vet should know this – use a meat saw or similar and cut the antlers straight across about 2cm above the coronet; and the hard “button” that forms is then cast when the full antler would have cast. You may have to repeat this process if there is significant regrowth, or you can wait until the regrowth just starts to harden, at which point you won’t need analgesia – just cut them off with shears or a saw under xylazine sedation. There is absolutely no truth in the maggot story – do not put any spray of any sort on the cut antlers.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: Happy new year! I would like to know if pain or even fever occurs during (natural)
antler shedding time? Could you give me some scientific details?
Is it possible to have some references (research paper) on this theme? Thanks a lot!

A: There is a vast amount of literature on a number of aspects of antler biology, but I cannot recall any reference to pain or fever during antler casting. Observation of stags or bucks in the weeks before antler rubbing reveals what is arguably only mild discomfort or itching, which is at least partly why the animal rubs the fully grown clean of the drying velvet, being a direct response to the itch. During antler growth the animal has basal levels of testosterone (T), which is therefore the time of year when the males are most tractable. As the growth is completed there is a sharp rise in circulating T levels, with the behavioural and physical changes associated with the rut just a shirt time away. After carrying the hard antlers for the months of the breeding season the whole thing starts again when the antlers are cast and velvet growth begins again. The actual stimulus for casting is ischaemic necrosis with increased activity of osteoclasts. I think that it is unlikely that the process is painful or the cause of a fever. A good summary of the whole antler story can be found in the book by Jerry C. Haigh and Robert Hudson (1993) ”Farming Wapiti and Red Deer “ pp 53-61. Mosby. I hope this helps.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: H I’m a vet in the Netherlands and I had a question from a client. The questions was if it was possible to castrate a young fallow buck. I already warned the client that if you castrate a buck the antlers stay in the velvet and there will be tumour growth of the antlers. My question to you is: Is it possible to prevent the growth of the antlers by removing the horn buds? If this is possible how should you do this and until which age can it be done? (just like removing horn buds in calves?)

A: Peter, If you castrate a fallow buck before puberty he does not develop the perruque antler that you correctly describe. The procedure here is done at 5-7 months using the rubber rings for lamb castration. We catch the young bucks manually in a pen and sit with the buck held with his legs away from you while someone else slips the ring on the scrotum, making sure that both testes are below the ring. No anaesthetic is needed, but it is essential to cover the animals for tetanus, either by 2 doses of toxoid at least 2 weeks apart, with the second dose given with the castration. Or you can give tetanus antitoxin 1000 IU on the day of castration. The animals do not grow any antlers if this is done pre-puberally.
To prevent antler growth in entire bucks this is done by a surgical polling procedure done under xylazine/ketamine 4 mg/kg of each IM. The timing is critical, being done when the antler buds can be palpated – usually at about 7 months. The hair is clipped and a skin flap is raised over each bud. An orthopaedic chisel is then used to remove each bud, making sure you have got it all. Suture the skin flap back in place, ue tetanus prevention as above.
We did hundreds of these 20 years ago, and it is not done now, largely because there is a high failure rate. Up to 20 percent grow antlers eventually, presumably because all ,primordial antler cells are not removed. The antlers that do grow have no perpdicle and do not palmate.

Category: Velvet Antler

Q: a) This deer wandered up on the farm last bow hunting season and I took it in to protect it. I tried to find the owner because it was hand raised, with no success. It had one 7″ long spike and the other was broken off about an inch long. I cut off the other to match . . . This is a very rare deer and I know the danger. I am a holy man and I think this deer was a gift. So I am not in fear and am able to defend myself with hand to hand combat in any case. Thank you for being here for us and am looking forward to your reply.

A: He certainly is an interesting animal . . . I am far more concerned about your own safety, in being with this tame fallow buck. I can only state that tame male deer eventually become DANGEROUS to anyone who approaches them, and I am afraid that your own situation is no different. No matter what personal faith you may have, nor how well versed you are in martial arts, if this buck does attack you or anyone else there is the certainty of serious injury or even death. You can have no idea just how strong and quick an aggressive buck can be, if he decides to attack someone. Can you afford to have that on your conscience? If you think I am over the top with these statements please believe me – it is just not worth the risk of someone being seriously injured by this animal.

Follow up response: Let me tell you the known history and some speculation of this Dama Dama.
I was an avid hunter and had waited until the blush of the Bow season had passed. It wasn’t cold enough for me yet. I needed to be able to hand the deer up in the barn to age the meat.
Finally the perfect conditions presented. My first shot was a clean miss over the shoulder at 40 feet. I am a pretty good bowman and was bothered by the miss. That same afternoon I missed one under at 20 feet and again over at 30 feet. I am not new at this. At 53 buck fever was not the problem. Something was not right and I needed to think on this a few days. That was it for me! Three perfect shots and three perfect misses.
The night of the third day was different. My dog Kody was yapping all night. And in the morning she started again. I asked her what she was barking at, and in the field 100 feet away was this buck just standing there. It wasn’t even looking in my direction so I raised my hand and said “Hello Buck”!
The deer turned and casually walked over to me. It stopped and put its head down about 2 feet away and paused. Now mind you, it was the middle of the rutt: I grabbed a fist full of antler and we danced around for about 15 or 20 seconds. He wasn’t aggressive but didn’t like me hanging onto the spike. And I wasn’t fond of it pointing in my direction, so I backed away and he followed me around the barn several times. When I stopped he stopped. I walked over and patted him on the shoulder and said come on.
We casually walked down to the neighbor about 700 years, where I asked for help to put up a fence. They took pictures and we all visited for a while. And on the way back I was talking with the neighbor and had taken my eye off the deer, who promptly butted me in the butt. Just laying the spike aside my left hip joint. So I learned my lesson early on, and after enclosing him the spike came off.
There was some question here about his handling and treatment with special permits being required for keeping deer in Michigan. The Department of Natural Resources wanted to kill Bucky. But they only have jurisdiction over WTs. So he is classified as a pet like a goat. Even when I confronted them with the facts they wanted to put him down. I think that DNR must stand for “Do Not Resuscitate”.
He has been a wonderful learning experience and I think the Father wants me to stop killing and try taking care of one for a while. We have had some pushing contests and I have observed that he needs to set up first to push straight on at you. If I deflect his head to the side it breaks his concentration and he will have to set it again. If I don’t present a line up stance with him he loses interest. But I am sure that during the rutt things will be different, when he is mature.
There are some close neighbours 7 or 8 miles away who I have talked with. They have huge WTs that they keep inside enclosures all year round. She can go inside with the bucks, always on her guard and never during rutt. Craig The owner of this farm raised sheep for 40 years and is delighted at Bucky’s arrival. He took care of his own vet needs and has much insight on preventative maintenancy. I have been able to trim Bucky’s front hooves with an offset tin-snip cutter. He has interesting trust issues which I can relate to. It only took about 4 days to achieve access for 10 seconds work.
In my discoveries it seems that he was possibly shipped here to Michigan for the purpose of some animal sacrifice for the Persian population about 10 miles south and had escaped. This deer is engangered and is even more rare being white. It has all pink skin, seems to be in perfect health and has interesting eyes that seem to reflect his mood. Sitting in the paddock with him I can observe his eye against the sky with his head lifted up; they are reddish brown. But I have seen them green and even red when he is angry with me.
During the past winter I fed him corn and butternut squash. He always has access to alfalfa hay and clean water. He is a little chubby but not overweight. He has a mineral block that needs to be replaced and has a pretty good life so far.
This year will be interesting as he will have access to a larger enclosure. Your advice has not fallen on deaf ears. I know that you know what you are talking about and will heed your advice.
I am very pleased to have found your website. Thank you so much fore being there for us.

A: You tell a great story, and I have no doubt that you have established a special relationship with this creature. His behaviour has all the hallmarks of a buck that has no fear of you, and I can only repeat my concern. Please be very careful with him, and don’t be lulled into a false sense of security in the belief that you can fend him off if he really decided to attack you. You will not be able to do so. Your duty of care to other people is also an issue. But I am starting to repeat myself, so I will say no more.