Management of velvet stags

Management of velvet stags


There are a number of factors that will affect the growth and quality of velvet antler production in stags, whether weaner, rising two-year-old (‘R2’) or mixed age older stags (‘MA’).

  • Deer welfare: during velvetting, the welfare of the stags must take priority at all times.
  • Enjoyment: if you enjoy what you are doing you will do it well.
  • Feeding: good feeding is essential to allow stags to express their genetic potential, but good feeding cannot compensate for a low genetic potential!
  • Genetics: breed to a programme and keep good records. Do this rigorously and consistently and your herd will make rapid genetic progress.
  • Stress: animals under stress (whether feed-related or peer-related) will not perform to their optimum potential.
  • Velvet quality: velvet is a low volume, high value product which must be handled with care whether on or off the animal. For best results cut velvet in accordance with industry agreed guidelines >> 
  • Velvetting: The removal of velvet is classified as a controlled surgical procedure under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and can only be performed by a veterinarian or a person specifically trained under veterinary supervision.

Weaner stags

  • Points to bear in mind in the management of weaner stags. Note that weaner/R1 stag management will also depend on whether it is planned to remove velvet spikes or grow them until hard to assess their potential adult heads.
  • It is important to have weaners up to weight prior to their first winter; you should be seeing some pedicle development happening by the end of May. Autumn feed is the cheapest feed whereas putting weight on in the winter is expensive. See feed intake requirements.
  • Wintering large numbers in mobs will leave a tail end. Ideally winter mob size should be no greater than 250 animals with adequate feed to ensure all stags’ dietary needs are satisfied.
  • Deer on crop should also have access to ad lib baleage or silage.
  • In Spring, where wintering was done on crop (e.g. swedes), the weaner stags should be off winter crops and onto grass by mid-August if possible. Use supplements (oats, barley, maize or nuts) until there is adequate grass growth/covers.

Spikers/R2 Stags

  • Spiker velvet is a valuable contribution to farm income if harvested correctly and more than one cut can sometimes be obtainable in a season. However, spiker velvet growth can be variable and some animals will start growing their velvet/spikes earlier or later in the season than the majority.
  • Extra care needs to be taken when working with spikers in yards as they haven’t learnt to respect their velvet, and it can be easily damaged.
  • Spikers that have been grown out to hard antler should have the antler removed by early February.
  • When yarding stags to remove hard antler, never have large numbers in the yard area at one time. Instead, ring the stags into a large enclosed holding pen in groups of 50, and then divide into appropriate numbers depending on pen size. To avoid pile-up and broken pedicles, there shouldn’t be any more than 5 to a pen.
  • When selecting R2 stags based on an evaluation of heads, the thicker the better: thick, multi-tynes are normally above-average velvet stags.
  • In the R2 stags’ second winter, same guidance applies as to weaner stag wintering, except do not winter in as large a mob: a mob size of 100-120 is preferable to avoid stress and a tail end. Obviously winter weather plays a large part in feed availability and wastage.
  • Bring R2 stags off winter feed by mid-September if possible; alternatively you can leave on winter feed until first buttons drop, which is around late September in South Island although earlier in the North Island. Shift onto top quality pasture and supplements.
  • Sort 2 year-old stags into groups of early, medium and late velvet removal. It pays to do this before velvet is much longer than the brow tyne to avoid damage. Mob into group sizes as noted above, dependent on yard facilities, to avoid any damaged velvet.
  • To avoid having a lot of small groups of 2 year-old stags, they can be sorted into their velvetting groups when the first 2 year-olds are velveted. However, it is imperative to break the numbers down to manageable lots before yarding to avoid damaging velvet.
  • Avoid mixing mobs of stags once in full velvet as this can cause fighting and velvet damage.
  • Avoid mixing 2 year-old stags with older stags due to older stags being dominant.
  • The more you work with the 2 year-old stags the more settled they will become; feeding supplements will quieten stags.
  • Care needs to be taken when feeding out supplements in the later stages of velvet growth: if supplements are not well spread out, stags can scrap over feed, causing damage to each others’ velvet.

 Mixed Aged Stags

  • Mixed aged stag button drop takes place early/mid-August.
  • Management same as younger stags.

 Velvetting husbandry and handling

  • Velvetting must only be carried out under supervision of an approved veterinarian. See advice on the NVSB.
  • Velvetting is best carried out in the cool of the day, preferably in the morning to give the opportunity to check animals post removal.
  • Weigh, grade and record velvet at removal.
  • Wipe clean any blood and moisture on the stick before freezing and any hard, dry soil from velvet after freezing.
  • Freezing facilities should be of sufficient size to freeze down the daily velvet cut without contact with other heads or indentation to be caused by the freezer surfaces.