Over the years of dealing with antlers, I have been asked many times about the environmental friendliness of antler products. For me, and for the vast majority of our customers this is an obvious and clear issue. However, there are many questions about this matter recently, and I have realized that this is not a part of the common knowledge. In this article I will do my best to describe the cycle of antlers’ life and explain why it is one of the most unusual tissues or raw materials, depending on what stage of antler development we are talking about. As this process is similar in different animal species, with the difference that in individual species the stages of the cycle occur at different times of the year, I will discuss the whole cycle using the example of the red deer.
Shortly, deer antlers have a life cycle of one year, after which the animal naturally sheds them and puts on new one. This process repeats every single year. In case of a red deer, the growth process begins when all nature comes to life, most of the times during the early spring. The antlers grow from skull pedicle, which are the part of the deer skull near the top of their head, and only grow in males (the only exception among deer is reindeer, where females also have antlers). The entire antler growth takes less than 4 months, which is the most amazing phenomenon, because such antlers can be up to a meter long (the largest antler among deer is elk one), which makes it the fastest-growing tissue among living organisms, and the daily growth of antlers can be even several centimeters.
During growth process, the antlers are made of connective tissue, which in summer, when the antlers reach their final size, quickly harden and transform into bone tissue. Initially developed antlers are still covered with the so-called deer rub, which is a kind of fur-covered skin, and at this stage the tissue is still supplied with blood. In the second half of the summer, deer wipe the rub which they no longer need, and at the same time burdensome (for example because it can cover the field of view). Deer rub their antlers against tree branches or bushes to achieve it.
Deer with grown antlers, but still covered by rub
After all, in September, the antlers are fully hard and no longer covered with any additional tissues, and thus fit for their purpose, which is the fight for females. In the second half of September and at the beginning of October, the so-called the rut takes place, which is the mating season during which male deer fight with each other for the favors of females, using antlers to fight. As an adult red deer can weigh up to 200 kilograms, and during fights the males hit each other with their antlers with great force, even lifting each other up, it is incredible that antlers, which is a tissue that was soft and growing at such a fast pace a few weeks ago, can be so tough during the rut.
The following months -. from autumn to more or less the end of winter, the antlers are still on the heads of deer, but after the rutting season it is no longer used and finally the antlers fall off around the end of February and March, and the whole cycle begins once again. In this way, the antlers are a resource that various items are made, such as chandeliers, furniture, or engravings that we make. Those antlers have already fallen off the deer and have been collected as part of forest litter by enthusiasts - antler collectors. The whole process is quite amazing, and its phenomenon is mainly due to the rapid growth of this tissue, as well as its rapid hardening and, of course, the repeatability of the cycle. Finally, we would like to bust the popular myth that the age of a deer can be judged by the number of antler legs it carries. It is not true, and that the age of a deer can be judged by its dentition. The exception is young deer that put on the antlers for the first time. Such deer has poorly developed antlers, called spikes, which usually have only one leg and look like a stick. Additionally, I would also like to add that the deer puts on the largest antlers around 7-8 years of age.