There is no point in spending time, effort and money developing a good antler crop only to have the antlers lose value through improper handling technique and poor hygiene. This section covers steps necessary to maintain antler quality during and after harvest. Quality assurance procedures including hygienic removal, storage procedures, identification and recording are discussed.
The definition of antler quality in cervids is still largely subjective and is not readily supported by actual measurements and numbers. Colour is a good example: good quality antler has a deep, rich colour. The colour of velvet antler mostly depends on the blood content. How deep and how rich becomes a matter of experience, judgment and opinion rather than scientific measurement.
The quality of velvet antler is primarily determined by:
- antler size and shape
- maturity at harvest
- the blood content
- physical damage or other abnormalities
These determinants of quality are affected by many factors. Some of these are linked to the animal and cannot be changed. Others, such as velvet antler handling during and after removal, can be controlled.
Factors affecting velvet quality which can be controlled by the operator are:
- age of bull
- genetics of bull
- feeding practices
- body weight and condition of bull
- stage growth of antler
- animal handling during removal
- antler handling after removal
- storage conditions
The influences of body weight, age, genetics and feeding management have been established by harvest time. The animal has already grown the antlers and the dimensions and quality of the antlers have been determined. The timing of antler removal is important because it is one of the few that can be directly controlled by the producer. Other factors under direct control are animal handling and antler product handling. Bad techniques or poor decisions at this level can ruin an otherwise valuable antler.
Broken antlers or damaged antlers indicate an accident, which can occur at any time, or poor velveting technique and possible animal welfare problems.
Antler Handling Methods
Proper handling of velvet antler product begins as soon as the antler is severed from the animal. IT is important to cut the antler off cleanly from the pedicle with no tearing of the skin. Insufficient support of the antler and animal, operator movement at the end of cutting or dull cutting tools can cause the skin at the antler base to tear away from the antler. This results in reduced value of the antler.
Recommendations for maintaining antler quality after removal are:
- tag and identify the antler as soon as it is removed
- handle the antler hygienically. Antler is an animal by-product that is subject to bacterial spoilage. Remember that velvet antler is intended for human consumption.
Clear plastic food wrap should be stretched and wrapped over the end cut of the antler immediately after removal to prevent contamination by dirt and bacteria.
- Turn the antler upside down immediately after removal to prevent the blood from spilling out.
- Hang the antler on a rack by the browtime (shovel) or a cord to allow cooling and blood clotting, and move it to a freezer within 30 minutes. Do not stand the antler upright on the ground or floor. This causes damage and flat spots to the bulbed ends of the antler.
- Freeze the antler with the cut end elevated to approximately -18 degrees Celsius as rapidly as possible.
- Use foam or folded towels to pad and protect the bulbed ends from compression or flattening.
- Place antlers in plastic bags to prevent dehydration and loss of weight in the freezer.
- Keep the antler frozen until it is ready for processing. Partial thawing occurs when the antler is removed from the freezer for examination or display.
- Weigh and record the frozen antler quickly.
- Ship the velvet in pre-frozen containers at -18 degrees Celsius.
Food Safety Precautions
Consumers expect that animal products are wholesome and free from chemical residues and bacterial contamination. In order to meet these expectations, velvet antler must be treated as human food product from initial removal to final packaging. It must not be exposed to conditions that could allow bacterial contamination and growth or interfere with processing.
Contact your appropriate state or provincial government department for the specifics requirements for tagging of antlers.
Record the registration of the animal and the number of both antler tags applied to his antlers on the appropriate form. Weigh the antlers and record the weight on the velvet antler report.