Knowledgebase > Deer

Deer

Last updated 12 January 2019

Deer are commercially farmed in Australia for venison (meat) and velvet (antlers). 

There are some 45,000 deer living on approximately 1,400 farms across Australia[1]. The main species used are:

  • Red Deer (Cervus elaphys)
  • Fallow Deer (Dama dama)
  • Canadian Elk or Wapiti (Cervus canadensis)

The industry’s peak body is the Deer Industry Association of Australia (DIAA)[2]. The DIAA controls two product development and marketing companies: Australian Deer Horn and Co Products Pty Ltd and Deer Industry Projects and Development Pty Ltd.

 

Velvet

Male deer (stags or bucks) clash their antlers during ‘ruts’, battles that establish dominance hierarchies and defend or gain access to a group of females known as a harem. The antlers of temperate species undergo a yearly cycle, growing and hardening in time for the breeding season (when they rut), after which an abscission layer grows across the base of the antlers and they are cast off. As antlers grow, they are covered by a thick ‘velvet’ (the periosteum), a kind of skin with many associated blood vessels. If left alone, the velvet dies and the deer then rub their antlers against vegetation to remove this layer, exposing the naked, hardened bone in preparation for rutting.

Velvet antlers are harvested from deer on farms at approximately 55-65 days of growth, before they have matured and hardened. Velvet antler is cut from the deer using a meat saw, and considering the structure is fully sensitive, the process must be done with pain-relieving drugs[3].

Farmers who harvest antlers from deer they own or manage must be accredited by the National Velvet Accreditation Scheme (NVAS). Some 95% of the velvet harvested is exported, primarily for use as an ingredient in traditional eastern medicines.

 

References

[1] Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation, 2014 Report: ‘Animal Industries - New, Developing and Maturing. Five Year RD&E Plan 2013-2018’, page 4.

[2] Deer Farming Industry Association of Australia <https://www.deerfarming.com.au/deer-farming>.

[3] The management of antlers on farmed deer: https://www.ava.com.au/policy/111-management-antlers-farmed-deer

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