Whether you are raising elk or red deer for the velvet antler market, or whitetail bucks for hunting preserves, bigger antlers mean more profits. So what are the secrets to growing larger antlers?
Dr. George Bubenik, a University of Guelph zoology professor, has spent the last 35 years studying deer and their antlers. He feels three factors are responsible for good antlers: nutrition, genetics and stress.
Here are some feeding considerations that affect antler size.
The animal feed should contain about 14 percent protein; anything higher is wasteful and may cause damage to the animal's waste elimination systems.
One of the secrets to large antlers may lie in the amount of calories available to deer. However, timing is important. Energy and protein provided in early spring, at least two weeks prior to "button drop," may help set the yield potential for the season. Also, getting bulls/bucks in shape for a month after the rut give the animals a better start in the spring. Overfeeding during the winter months is a waste because of the cervids' slowed winter metabolism.
Providing a balance of livestock minerals, including calcium and phosphorus, is important. The deer and elk will take what they need.
The genetics of the male AND female are important to make big antlers. Producers must know the genetic heritage on both sides of their animals.
Nervous deer should not be used as breeding stock. Stocking rates and handling systems also play a critical role in producing larger antlers.
Research has shown that deer will produce smaller antlers the following year if they are under pressure in the rut, are kept low in the herd hierarchy, or have had to concentrate on foraging or defending small territories. Stress lowers the testosterone level that is needed for good antler growth the following year. Producers need to practice good management techniques to keep stress down if they want larger antlers.
For more on this topic, see these two articles in the Western Producer that provided the source material for this article -- http://www.producer.com/articles/20020221/news/20020221news21.html and http://www.producer.com/articles/20020221/news/20020221news21a.html